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Soapbox & Opinions

Where is the accountability and integrity in the jewellery industry?

With our industry association refusing to lead or enforce quality standards, how consumers can trust jewellers, asks EMIL OZER.

The number one thing that frustrates me about our industry is the Jewellery Association of Australia (JAA), because I want them to create some accountability in the jewellery industry, as there is in other sectors.

Anyone can come to Australia and sell jewellery pieces to retailers, but nobody asks the jewellers who buy that product to take responsibility for what they ultimately sell on to the consumer. I don’t want to criticise anyone, but it’s about being solutions-focused and doing what’s best for our industry.

It’s up to the JAA to maintain standards of quality and accountability. There are several ways they could do this. Firstly, make membership mandatory for manufacturing jewellers and retailers with simple, low cost fees – say, $100 for basic membership and platinum membership for $500.

Then, create and enforce a true Code of Conduct with membership numbers that must be stamped on every product sold – specifically imported products. That way, when low-quality or faulty products are sold to consumers, we know who imported it, or who made it, and they can be held accountable, whether through a fine or a ban from trading.

It’s about integrity. That should be the number-one priority for our industry.

What is even more surprising is that other countries have far better protection for jewellery consumers. The ‘membership number’ hallmarking is not a new idea – it is used in Singapore, Turkey and even Afghanistan.

In the UK, gold and silver jewellery have three compulsory marks: the sponsor’s mark (the manufacturer, importer, wholesaler, retailer or an individual who must be registered with a UK assay office), the guaranteed standard of fineness, and the assay office where the piece was tested and marked. 

"Persistent discounting doesn’t work, particularly if you want to attract high-end customers. Discounting simply erodes trust and value. That’s another issue that our industry needs to address collectively, perhaps through our association"

It would be great if Australia had the same standards, and that is something the JAA should be trying to make law. The Gold & Silversmith Guild of Australia also use a hallmarking system, but consumers aren’t aware of this and the standards of the Guild should be universal in our industry.

If consumers are spending $10,000 or $20,000 on jewellery, they deserve to have protection. Right now, there’s more accountability when you buy a toy from Kmart. It’s not fair to consumers and it’s not fair to our industry.

Yes, our customers can go to Consumer Affairs and complain about a faulty or low-quality item – but we, as jewellers, should be the ones taking responsibility. I’d love my industry association to step in. They would be able to independently judge whether an item should be referred to a higher authority.

I’d happily pay my membership fee if the association were able to address these problems. At the moment, I’m not a member because the $500 I was paying each year didn’t go towards making our industry more accountable and responsible. Non-members can’t be held responsible by the JAA. The association would say that consumers make the choice to buy from a non-member, but ultimately membership doesn’t mean anything without enforcement of standards.

It’s frustrating. When consumers come to me with complaints about jewellery they’ve bought elsewhere, all I can do is write letters to Consumer Affairs stating what’s wrong. They might then get help or get their money back – but that shouldn’t be my job to do. The JAA should do that. They should appoint a member jeweller in every area to support the consumers.

There is clearly a problem of trust between jewellers and our customers. I have heard of people spending upwards of $25,000 on jewellery while travelling overseas, with jewellers they have never bought from before. Why aren’t those customers spending their money with a jeweller in Australia?

Some might assume that the price paid overseas was cheaper – but that is often not the case. In fact, the consumer could have purchased a similar item from a local jeweller for a lower price. That is part of the problem. Persistent discounting doesn’t work, particularly if you want to attract high-end customers.

Discounting simply erodes trust and value. That’s another issue that our industry needs to address collectively, perhaps through our association.

Alternatively, another type of customer might see a jeweller’s designs online and then take them to be made elsewhere. Intellectual property is not well-protected when it comes to jewellery, and that is another area our industry association could help to fix; if membership was mandatory, the association could discipline those who devalue our industry by copying and undercutting.

This is our industry. If we don’t help each other, who is going to help us?

Name: Emil Ozer
Company: Gabriel Jewellers
Position: Owner
Location: Castle Hill, Sydney NSW
Years in Industry: 45

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