Professional Jeweler Archive: Protect Yourself

January 2002

Managing/Legal Issues


Protect Yourself

You need to know the rules before scrapping or reselling unclaimed repairs


Every day jewelers tell the Jewelers Vigilance Committee they have repairs that date back years. They’ve tried to contact the owner, but without success. “Can’t I scrap or resell the jewelry?” they ask.

Choose the statement below that best fits your situation. Then read on to find out what else you need to do.

  1. I have a posted store policy and am using that as my guideline.
  2. I’m aware of the time limits for holding repairs required by local laws and I use that as my guide.
  3. My local time-limit for holding repairs isn’t specified or I don’t know what it is.

1. You have a Policy

You’re on your way. However, it’s not enough to post a sign; you must ensure your customers acknowledge your policy. If your policy was written on the receipt your customer signed at the time of take-in, you may dispose of the jewelry as you wish. If it wasn’t, check answer No. 3 to find out what else you need to do.

2. Know Your Local Laws

Many states spell out the time limits too. For specifics, contact JVC, your local consumer affairs agency, state attorney general or attorney. Once you pass your state’s time period, you may dispose of the jewelry as you wish. In the interest of goodwill, however, you should still try again to contact your customers and ensure they get their jewelry back and that you get paid for your work.

3. Unspecified or Don’t Know

Stop everything else to draft and post your store policy and set up a receipt system. Your policy should define how long you will keep an item, along with such details as return policies and credit policies.

Posting means hanging a sign explaining the policy in a location where everyone can see it. You also can implement a sign-off system whereby you hand your customer a written copy of the policy at the time of take-in and ask him or her to sign it. Place a copy with the piece to be repaired. It’s also a good idea to add your policy to your receipts, brochures or other items where customers may look for information.

As for jewelry left behind, you must take a few steps before disposing of it.

Step 1. You must keep records that show you were diligent in your search for the owner. For each piece of jewelry, send a letter (certified return receipt) to your customer. Keep the returned mail or receipt. If you have no address for the customer, call the last-known telephone number. If no one answers, keep records of when you called. If the phone is disconnected, try directory assistance for a new number. Document these and other avenues you pursue to find your customers.

Step 2. You also must place an advertisement in your local newspaper for at least one week, citing the time limit and indicating that jewelry left on your premises will be disposed of. Retain this posting for your records. The ad also should ask the customer to contact you within a certain time (at least 10 business days). If you don’t hear from the customer in that time, you may dispose of the article as you wish.

Remember, if you have your customers sign off on your store policy when they drop off their jewelry, you can eliminate Step 2 entirely.

Related Questions:

Q. I have repairs dating back to the mid-1960s. Isn’t there some sort of outside time limit on keeping old repairs that would free me from having to go through all the steps above?
A. If you’ve already checked for a statutory time limit and found none (or nothing specific) for “old” repairs, no matter their age, you must follow the previous steps before you dispose of the jewelry.

Q. May I charge my customer for storage if he or she shows up after five years to pick it up?
A. Only if a storage cost was disclosed at the time of take-in.

Q. What if my customer owes me money for the repair that exceeds the cost of the item? May I assume that one would cancel out the other and do whatever I wish with it?
A. No! At no time can you arbitrarily decide that because of the cost of the piece or the amount owed you don’t have to contact the customer. See the previous procedure and follow it.

Q. What can I do to prevent losing track of repair customers in the first place?
A. Make sure you have complete contact information for the customer. Call the customer when the work is complete and then again on a regular basis until he or she picks up their jewelry (keep notes on when you called, whom you spoke with and any other relevant information). If an item isn’t picked up several months past the posted deadline, try to contact the customer one last time with a final deadline. Then proceed accordingly and clean out your files! (One important reminder: While it’s not absolutely necessary to keep items well past the deadline, it’s an important component in keeping your customer’s goodwill and in showing him or her you went above and beyond what you had to do before you confiscated the jewelry.

Stay on top of repairs that aren’t retrieved – you need the space and the repair dollars. It’s easier to track customers and remind them about an item when the details are fresh in your mind. While you never want to tell a customer an item is gone, you must take steps to protect yourself if that happens. A little foresight now will save you a lot of trouble later.

While the proceeding information is not meant to replace specific legal advice, it’s fashioned to address common questions, with general consumer protection laws and guidelines in mind. Call JVC in New York City for more information or for a membership packet at (212) 997-2002.

– Caroline Stanley, Marketing/Development Director, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, and Jo-Ann Sperano, Paralegal Specialist, Jewelers Vigilance Committee


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