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Soapbox & Opinions

Setting the mark once and for all

We have a problem. It’s not a new problem; it’s a long-held quandary that our industry has been grappling for years.

I’m talking about marking systems or, more specifically, the lack of a cohesive, comprehensive and enforceable marking system for precious metals.

While I have no doubt that local jewellers maintain the utmost integrity in their manufacturing processes, convincing customers of this integrity and gaining trust isn’t easy when an enforceable set of standards doesn’t exist.

I’ve owned a retail store for 19 years and I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing the increased difficulties of winning over consumers.

Let’s face it – in this digital age where everyone is becoming an ‘expert’ in their own right, jewellers need all the help they can get establishing trust.

It’s worrying that there appears to be little to no control over the standards of precious metal objects imported into Australia. These concerns were recently highlighted when the government announced it would impose anti-dumping measures on two exporters of Italian canned tomatoes.

On some levels, it may seem like a case of ‘buyer beware’ but there are serious implications for our industry – suppliers can be misled by dubious international operators with lower standards and controls, hurting the reputations of local businesses.

"When consumers can see who made an item and that this manufacturer complies with the Australian Standard, it offers a greater sense that the product is genuine, safe and reliable."

There are implications from the manufacturing side too or, more specifically, those performing repairs. Think of the damage that can be caused to businesses by unrepairable, sub-standard goods or attempted repairs that lead to the total destruction of a beloved piece of jewellery.

Some readers may be thinking, “But Tim, we have the Australian Standard in place that deals with marking precious metal objects and how those precious metals are alloyed.”

We do; however, the Australian Standard is essentially a voluntary code of conduct – it’s not enforceable and there are no serious measures that can be undertaken to prove products meet those standards.

Industry groups such as the Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia (Guild), of which I am currently president, and the Jewellers Association of Australia (JAA) set high standards for members. The Guild has created and upheld a high standard for marking precious metal objects made by its members since 1988 but the problem is that this pertains to no more than 200 members. Even though these standards are obligatory, 200 members is a small proportion of the industry.

I’m not entirely convinced there is a solution to these issues – certainly not a simple one – but I’ll have a go nonetheless.

We could try lobbying government to assist local industry in the same way that has been done with the tomato issue. Alternatively, we could look to the same group of industry organisations that managed to move the government into creating the current standards to develop more than just a voluntary code of conduct.

This would take a lot of willpower, coordination and cohesion on the part of our industry. It would also raise enforcement issues, associated costs and the battle over who takes overall responsibility for policing such standards. Perhaps this role could lie in the hands of a subsidiary arm of the ACCC or a stand-alone organisation with ties to ministries involved in industry, manufacturing and trade?

It’s a complex issue and perhaps the simplest, most effective action we can take right now is to inform and educate consumers on the Australian Standard. We all listen to the consumers; we go out of our way to provide what they want. If the Australian consumer is informed and starts asking for precious metal objects that meet the Australian Standard and rejecting those that don’t then it will send a very strong message to businesses that choose not to comply with the code.

Reinforcing consumer confidence is key.

The Guild not only enforces the standards in its membership constitution but also records all marks that members use on their pieces. When consumers can see who made an item and that this manufacturer complies with the Australian Standard, it offers a greater sense that the product is genuine, safe and reliable. Such peace of mind is worth a mint!

If we don’t take action now, I see the industry losing the respect and trust of the consumer, especially at the retail end. At the very least, we’ll all have to work a lot harder to retain that trust if changes aren’t made in the future.

Name: Tim Peel
Business: Silvermist Studio
Position: Managing director
Location: Healesville, VIC
Years in the industry: 26

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