In the U.S., virtually any supplier of specialized goods or services is required to have some form of licensing and/or certification beyond a standard business permit. In most cases additional training and testing is required to qualify for the license. If you want to sell houses or cars, do nails, cut hair, give a massage or work on plumbing you’ll need to prove to the state that you have the proper training and skills in your chosen product or service. If you don’t, you can’t work. You can be liable for large fines or jail for operating without a license.
Yet there are no legal requirements for working in the jewellery industry. A repair jeweller can work on a customer’s treasured heirloom worth tens of thousands of dollars with no formal training or proof of skill and ability. The customer trusts a jewellery sales person to provide detailed information and accurate grading to guide them with a buying decision that may be equal to the price of a fine car or even a house. Yet there are no requirements for a jewellery sales person to prove their knowledge or ethics. An appraiser prepares a legal document describing the features and values of a piece of jewellery that third parties will use to make financial decisions. Yet legally someone with no training can be an appraiser. Anyone can open a gem lab and grade to their own standards without even proving that their technicians have any gemmological training at all.
Indeed, the multi-billion dollar jewellery industry is an unregulated free-for-all where anything goes with very few consequences. Occasionally problem jewellers will be exposed and taken to task but all of the action takes place in the media or civil court, rarely in criminal court. Two recent cases illustrate the point: A Nashville jeweller made the news by using lab reports that exaggerate the grades of diamonds. And several well-known department stores were called out on national television for not fully explaining lead-glass filled rubies. But on the whole very few jewellers will be caught for misrepresentation, non-disclosure or any number of unethical practices that are common in our industry.
Maybe the time has come that our industry needs regulation. A bench jeweller should have certification for a variety of skills such as sizing, stone setting, or engraving just like an auto mechanic is certified in brakes, engines or air conditioners. A professional jewellery sales person needs to fully understand and communicate the complexities of gemstones, treatments, metals and style. Licensing could include requiring continuing education to stay current with the newest information. Appraisers would need training in valuation and legal procedures to get a license.
Licensing would be a big step in cleaning up our industry and getting us respect as professionals…but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. So that leaves us to regulate ourselves and we don’t seem to be doing a very good job of it. If we want a clean, ethical industry we need to clean our own yards first.