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Inflammation at Tiffany’s August 6, 2008

Posted by voolavex in Uncategorized.
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Tiffany & Co made gift giving and jewelry buying a no brainer in 1974 when they signed Elsa Peretti to their company and started what became a very engaging habit for me since then.  I am not a jewelry lover per se (fancy diamonds and Mikimoto pearls notwithstanding) but Elsa’s perfect silver designs spoke to me in two words “Buy me”.  And I did. In New York and Los Angeles.  The prices were ridiculously low even for the times – it was easy to go to the Elsa case and buy something for $20.  From the age of 14 I bought my daughter Tiffany for every special occasion.  My best friend and I made countless trips there in 33 years answering Elsa’s simple call.  Corporate owners came and went and until about 1998 it beat out Disneyland for the happiest place on Earth.  And then something happened and they broke my heart (and my one stop jewelry shopping).

It started with the chains which got noticably short –  not shorter because there were few long ones on anything anymore . What might have hung gracefully mid-chest was now sitting around the clavicles.  Then came the crummy silk cord; replacing in many cases any chain at all.   Years back their long, finished silk cord came  in a range of colors – I still have two.  At first this new cord just tied and good luck if it fell off. I believe now it may have a clasp – not much of an improvement but I assume there were complaints.  Repairs and reshines?  These also used to be gratis or inexpensive for customers.  Now there’s a price chart.  And on the subject of prices – I wish I knew where to start .   At this writing silver is a little over $16.00/oz –  and slowly going down.  This is the everyday low price for anyone who buys silver today.  And while the prices of Elsa increased- she stayed affordable.  True they clopped along with times but the place was still packed with 20-Somethings buying Elsa -affording Elsa – Elsa with integrity- a little piece of style icon we could all afford.  Even when Avon ( you know Ding Dong) owned it, the bean crunchers seemed to be reasonable; balancing prices with the joy of lots of happy customers. And then one day not too long ago, a big holding company knocked it over and threw out the welcome mat, inscribed with GREED in big letters. Selection narrowed, prices soared (and after all silver is silver – Tiffany shoppers are paying for style and hallmark) and then, as if nothing worse could happen – quality changed.

So this brings us to Summer of 2008 when a thoughtful gift from the big T came my way.  Elsa too – by chance – the giver had no clue.  I wore it immediately until I started to notice red,  itchy bumps along my hairline and right when the piece lay on my breast bone.  So I scratched for a few days -it never occurred to me it was the pendant.  Why would it?  I never itched from Elsa before.  When it stopped being uncomfortable and became sore and I looked into the mirror, I saw the piece was discolored from chain to pendant.  This in a span of four days.  When I took it off I noticed there was some minor roughness to the piece itself and I started to research how this may have happened.
Ever worn cheap earrings?  They usually have silver looking stems that are actually mostly nickel.  Nickel is what cost cutting jewelry makers use to make silver workable – it’s cheap and plentiful.  Quality jewelers usecopper to alloy silver to make it sterling and for it to be marked sterling it must .925 silver.  Pure silver is too soft to shape.  And copper is used because it is non-reactive except in extraordinary cases. Platinum and titanium may also be used – but the low end alloy is nickel.   Many people are allergic to it – the reaction is tiny bumps, red spots and itching – fast.  Even without scientific analysis (and this is not CSI) it was not hard to conclude that there was  substantial nickel in the alloy – which of course considerably ups the profit and I guess many people wouldn’t notice.  I noticed and I was not happy.
Customer service at Tiffany in Beverly Hills is no longer the pleasure it was once.  Less than a decade ago one could go in with a problem and some really professional and charming person would fix it.  One way or another.  Along with the above changes – customer service has become quite sucky.  I brought my little pendant to the desk and explained the situation without any ruffles or flourishes – just offered it as a bad piece and said I felt terrible because it was a special gift and what did they think?  They thought I was crazy.  The person who handled my query informed me that it was merely tarnish and that once it was polished it would be fine.  That “silver does tarnish and it was tarnish.”  The word got into the conversation far too many times.  What began as a conciliatory approach quickly got heated.  When this happens – and it’s rare – I like to unload my purse on the counter and establish territory right away.  So that’s what I did as I asked for a second opinion.  When it arrived, the word tarnish was conspicuously absent.  The second opinion giver and I chatted amiably about alloys, copper, nickel, allergies, quality assurance and the fact that coincidentally I too worked with silver often and knew what I was talking about.   The Tarnish Lady said nothing.  She didn’t look happy at all. She asked me if I wanted to exchange it for another but I demurred and said I would go back to the case and see what else I could find.  And so I did.  Slim pickins’.
What have I learned from this?  That even revered companies eventually become corporations driven by greed.  That a new generation will not have anything to compare so why not cut corners and hence quality and get all you can from a $16 oz of silver.  And hope there are not too many complaints.  Tell them it’s tarnished.  Look intimidating. Sadly this has concluded my business with Tiffany after 34 years.  I have the old,  really good  stuff and I am grateful for that.  The Tiffany mark has became tarnished in recent years; as have the items on which it is stamped.  Let there be eBay.  Let there be buyers.  At this point I personally think the silver in the copies may be even better. And I no longer care much at all.

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