Jewelers of America is testing a first-time policy and the American
Gem Society is revising its standards
BY WILLIAM H. DONAHUE JR.
In the past few years, the subject of ethics has generated much discussion
in the jewelry industry. Issues range from the highly philosophical to the
more concrete, but you might ask why any of it should matter to you. The
reason is simple ethical issues touch practically everything you do
every working day. Following clear ethical guidelines is critical to the
long-term success of your business.
"I have always had the strong conviction that doing the right thing
is also doing the smart thing," says Cecelia Gardner, the new executive
director of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. Ethical business practices
will build your reputation, which will build a strong customer base.
While there are disagreements among those in the industry as to how to
establish ethical business practices, there is a consensus that ethics policies,
clearly and simply stated, are the individual jeweler's best chance for
success and the industry's best hope for revitalizing what many see as a
reputation badly damaged by TV exposés about a few dishonest jewelers.
"Jewelers who act ethically relate to their customers and to all
with whom they have business relationships such as suppliers, wholesalers,
bankers and lawyers in a way that makes them feel secure and trusting,"
says Paul Cohen of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, DE, chairman of the
ethics committee of the American Gem Society. "This is a hallmark of
jewelers who have succeeded not just for a few years, but for many years
JA Tackles Ethics
Jewelers of America recently announced the next phase of its ongoing Ethics
Program, which it describes as a "comprehensive program developed to
demonstrate retail jewelers' commitment to professional and ethical service
to consumers." The Ethics Program began in 1995, responding to members'
calls for JA to raise the level of professionalism practiced by member jewelers.
JA sought input from retail jewelers across the country and the leadership
of state jewelry associations in developing its Code of Ethics and Rules
of Professional Conduct. The current phase is a pilot program in which the
following state affiliates are educating members about the code: Intermountain
Jewelers Association, Iowa Jewelers Association, Missouri Jewelers and Watchmakers
Association, New Mexico Jewelers Association, Ohio Jewelers Association,
Oklahoma Jewelers Association, Pacific Northwest Jewelers Association, Pennsylvania
Jewelers Association, Rocky Mountain Jewelers Association and Texas Jewelers
Association. The pilot program concludes at the end of this year.
JA's plan includes a provision eventually requiring members to sign the
code as a commitment to ethical standards. One part of the pilot program
is determining whether such a requirement would affect membership, says
JA spokesman Misha Glezin.
Codifying ethical standards is important to JA because it will make members
feel there's an inherent value to membership, says David Rocha, deputy executive
director. Jewelers who can point to their JA membership as strong proof
to consumers that they do business ethically will reap the rewards, he says.
Rocha stresses the importance of the pilot program in helping the association
work out the logistics of providing members with educational materials defining
ethical behavior. It also will help JA determine how to handle complaints,
questions and grievances. "This is much more than a fine-tuning of
a document," Rocha says. "We are looking to see how the whole
The process for dealing with grievances privately worries some jewelers.
They wonder whether JA will come up with an effective means of dealing with
violations reported by jewelers or consumers. Rocha says JA will make enforcement
of the standards an important part of the program. The current plan is to
establish a grievance review committee with an appeal process to the JA
Board of Directors.
Gwenae Barker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewelers Association,
the second largest JA affiliate with 650 retail members, says PJA kicked
off its pilot program at its annual convention in August. Her organization
provides volunteer members with a copy of the code, an explanation of how
to use the complaint-and-review process, details on how to evaluate its
effectiveness and other educational material. The volunteers will brainstorm
how the code can be used as a marketing tool by jewelers committed to following
AGS Revises Rules
In its more than 60-year history, AGS has been dedicated to dealing with
questions of ethics. Now AGS is revising its separate "Rulings"
and "Recommendations" documents into a single document to be known
as "Standards." The revision is part of the process of reconfirming
the society's ideals and standards, says Robert Bridel, executive director.
He compares professional ethics to the test drivers take to get a license.
Though everyone starts out knowing the rules, people tend to remember only
the ones they use all the time. When confronted with a question about a
practice not used often, many people need help and guidance. That's the
role ethics policies play for jewelers, he says.
Ethical standards are built into the society's application process, Bridel
points out. Before gaining membership, a jeweler must show AGS he or she
has a reputation for ethical business dealings in merchandising, marketing
and customer relations. AGS also requires its successful applicants to undergo
continuing education. AGS has a process to investigate grievances and take
action against offending members ranging from reprimand to dismissal from
the society. As JA plans to do, AGS provides its members with marketing
materials that can be used as part of an overall advertising and communications
program. The materials stress AGS members' commitment to ethical practices.
JA, New York City; (212) 768-8777, fax (212) 768-8087. AGS, Las Vegas,
NV; (702) 255-6500, fax (702) 255-7420.
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.