Our 30th Wedding Anniversary Cruise – My Advice For Vacation Shopping

On December 28th my wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Being in the jewelry business we are never able to travel in December. So two weeks ago we took a Caribbean cruise to commemorate this milestone event.

When we boarded the ship on Sunday afternoon we began to acquaint ourselves with the ship’s many daily activities, as well as the shopping and dining venues. It very quickly became blatantly obvious to me that almost everything on the ship is designed to either sell you something or one way or another relieve you of your money. From the shipboard shops to the casino, bingo and free flowing alcohol and other beverages, I began to wonder whether the cruise line makes more money from the cost of the cruise itself or from the money you spend once you get there.

Being a jeweler I took particular notice of the ship’s fine jewelry store, which by the way is owned and operated by a major US fine jewelry manufacturer. From the first evening to the very last day at sea, every day had its own very special jewelry sale, special promotion or raffle with free gifts. All of it was designed to excite you into thinking that this store on this ship at this very moment had the best prices and the best quality fine jewelry in the world and you only had seven days on ship to make the purchase of a lifetime.

And this wasn’t limited to the jewelry store on-board the ship. We stopped in three ports and each one had at least one jewelry store owned by another big NYC based jewelry manufacturer whose name I’m sure you’d recognize if I told you. Some ports had two and even three shops owned by this same company. A woman who worked in one of them told me that on a busy day when several ships came into port all three stores were crowded with tourists. I thought we were there to experience the local culture and visit the local shops. So why was everyone crowded into this NYC based jewelry store, totally missing the local experience a few steps away?

Before we arrived in the first port of call it was drilled into us via the ship’s daily newspaper detailing the day’s activities, and by the daily shopping seminars given by the cruise line to insure we made the most of our local experience in port, that the best deals were at this NYC based jewelry store. They told us that we were buying directly from the manufacturer so we were paying wholesale prices. And of course everything we purchased was duty free and tax free.

Having also just celebrated my 40th year in the fine jewelry business and believing that I had a pretty good understanding of how these things work, I was skeptical of these claims. So I decided to visit this particular jewelry store in one of the ports we visited on our way back to the ship, after enjoying the local culture for most of the day of course. It didn’t matter which store in which port we tried this experiment because every one of these stores is exactly the same both inside and out.

My wife and I browsed the showcases occasionally asking questions about the merchandise. One salesperson showed us a 14k white gold ring set with several small diamonds and a 3/4ct round center diamond. We were told it was only $7000 but today we could have it for only $6000. I thought to myself, “Really? ONLY $6000?” Was this a joke? Was I being punked? This was, at most, a $4000 ring.

Then I asked about a pair of 1ct total weight round diamond earrings. This is a popular item in any jewelry store around the US and something I am very familiar with. Here in San Diego I would expect a pair of 1ctw diamond earrings to sell for around $3000 plus or minus depending on the quality of the diamonds. So when the salesperson told me I could have them for only $3500 I thought to myself “where are these awesome wholesale duty free and tax free prices we were promised?”

When you’re on vacation, having a great time, relaxing and enjoying being away from work and all the stresses of our normal daily lives, I think we let our guard down and want to believe our hosts when they tell us that here and now is the absolute best time and place to buy that fabulous gift for yourself or that wonderful person next to you. When you return home you’ll have missed the shopping opportunity of a lifetime. We get caught up in the moment and the sales pitch and the exotic locations.

Twenty five years ago I managed a jewelry store in La Jolla, California, a popular tourist destination. People came into our store every week who were passing through on their way to some far away international location. They would tell me that they planned to make a major fine jewelry purchase when they got there. They wanted to buy gemstones that came from the place where they were going because the prices overseas in the place where the stones were mined were so much less than here in the US.

If they were going to Australia I would ask them, “do you know a lot about opals?” Or if they told me they were traveling to Japan I’d ask “do you know a lot about pearls?” The answer was always the same. They were not experts about opals or pearls or whatever gemstone was native to their destination. But well, opals come from Australia and pearls come from Japan so the prices must be cheaper there.

My answer to them 25 years ago was the same as two weeks ago meeting new friends on the cruise ship. If you’re not an expert in fine jewelry or sculpture or painting or any other area where you’d like to make a significant purchase, don’t believe the local sales pitches. You’re never going to see this person again so they can tell you anything they want and you won’t know if it’s true or false. And you know what they say about something that sounds too good to be true.

My advice hasn’t changed in 25 years. When you’re on vacation, of course buy some items to remind you of your trip and the local ports of call and the local culture. Its always fun to bring something home that reminds you of what a wonderful time you had. But don’t make a major purchase so far from home.

When you return home you should research local jewelers. Ask your friends who they buy from and trust. Inquire about their reputation with the BBB. And I tell people to interview a few jewelers. You wouldn’t hire an attorney without first meeting with them to see if you like them. This is good advice before you hire almost any professional, and the same applies to finding the right jeweler.

I advise people to speak to several jewelers before you buy anything. Find out who will take the time to get to know you and let you get to know them, without you making a purchase on that first visit. Find someone who you like and trust and do all of your major fine jewelry business, both purchases and repairs, with that person. As a fine jewelry professional of 40 years, I’m interested in building lasting relationships with my customers, relationships that will last for years. A few years ago a new customer told me that their family had done business with a local jeweler for 35 years and that he recently died. I told them that I hoped that their children would say that about me someday.

So whether you’re on vacation across the country or on a cruise ship in some tropical location, be wary of offers that sound too good to be true coming from a salesperson who has an answer for every question and a smile and an exotic accent that causes you to let down your guard. Buy a few mementos of your trip to remember your vacation. But reserve your major important expensive purchases for the local jeweler with whom you have a long standing relationship and who has a vested interest in being honest with you and providing excellent customer service both during and after the sale.

My wife and I had an absolutely wonderful time on our 30th anniversary cruise. And I’ve got the t-shirt to prove it.

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