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Mario Basso, Mario’s Jewellers, Victoria
Mario Basso, Mario’s Jewellers, Victoria

Under-appreciation is our own fault

My wife Sonia and I have been in the jewellery industry since 1971. In fact, we’ve worked in the same street, Smith Street Collingwood (inner city Melbourne), for all that time.

I first worked for my father-in-law in a gift shop not far from where we are now. We specialised in Royal Dalton items and Bohemian crystal. For a time we bought and sold the products by the truckload.

After 15 years’ experience, Sonia and I set up our own jewellery business in 1986. We saw a lot of changes in the area but what didn’t change was our love and appreciation for 18-carat gold jewellery because, traditionally, that was practically all our clientele were interested in. Like me, the Europeans in our area had grown up with 18-carat gold jewellery.

Everyone gave gold jewellery as gifts … for weddings, birthdays, baptisms and confirmations. Most customers spent around $200 on a piece and we moved a lot of stock.

Lately though, the price of gold has almost killed off 18-carat jewellery sales and I can’t see 18-carat gold becoming popular again unless the metal drops below $1,000 an ounce … and personally I don’t think that will ever happen.

I have recently noticed a new type of customer coming into our store. For so many years, customers would come in seeking our advice about rings, necklaces, watches, gold, diamonds … everything to do with jewellery.

Now, this new breed of customer is armed with print outs from the internet, price lists of stones or settings, their own drawings or copies of something they’ve seen.

While they think they are knowledgeable because they “know” the four Cs, really, all they have is information. There’s a big difference.

We now spend a lot of our time explaining to customers why prices differ, based on the quality of stones, settings, precious metals and labour.

I ask though, what are we doing as an industry to counter the objection that jewellery is too expensive in Australia?

I think a lot of the objection exists because most of the general public don’t appreciate what jewellers do. Other trades haven’t suffered from this phenomenon. Plumbers and electricians still are paid handsomely even though most of the product they use is made cheaply overseas. Have you noticed their prices drop lately because the materials used are cheaper than they were five or 10 years ago?

It concerns me that traditional jewellers are losing their credibility in the marketplace because customers have easy access to research (a lot of it useless, too) and think making jewellery is dead easy.

A lot of mass produced product is easy to manufacture, but some things in our industry are still highly valuable, like handmade rings, necklaces and bracelets, skilled artisans who design and create them, professional advice, exceptional service and extensive range of product.

It’s up to us to protect our industry by promoting what we do and telling customers why they should expect to pay more for the opportunity to secure an item of beauty and quality.

Sure, we can sit back and blame it on progress, but jump forward a few years and ask yourselves this – do you think your business will survive competing with commodity jewellery that is readily available on the internet?

While I’m saddened by the impending demise of the 18-carat gold market, what really concerns me is who is going to create and care for top quality jewellery in the future?

I, for one, don’t want to see the demise of the skilled artisan. It’s already tough. I had to beg my repairer to come out of retirement for another year to work for me.

He has an amazing eye for detail and a wealth of experience but I’ll be lucky to get him to work for me next year.

Don’t let jeweller training disappear, hire great salespeople and pay them well, educate customers about the value of a good jeweller and jewellery store and support the industry by sourcing quality product.

Promote your expertise so that consumers appreciate what we do and are happy to pay for our services.

Mario Basso from Mario’s Jewellers, Victoria

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Wednesday, 11 December, 2019 07:39pm
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