I have been very fortunate to have the support and shared knowledge from some wonderful people who have been in the Indian Arts business for many years. One of my favorites is a third generation Indian Trader who grew up in a Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation and whose son is now the fourth generation in trading. What follows is what he recently wrote about the deep discounts and constant sales seen in some “Indian Jewelry” stores and on websites:
“Something I have always disliked and never understood very well is the “discount mentality” that a person often encounters in the Indian jewelry business.
Anyone who has stayed in a hotel in the Phoenix area has walked by a gift shop with a sign in the jewelry case that says, “50% off Indian Jewelry.” Airports are notorious for these discount signs. We have all seen them. In some parts of Santa Fe, there are now 20 plus stores, all owned by the same people, that post these types of signs. In addition they post “Going out of Business Sale” and “Moving Sale” signs. And, in fact, they rotate the signs from store to store!
A month ago, in La Jolla, California, one of the wealthiest communities in the country, I saw that the same trend has hit the fine jewelry stores. Diamonds filled the windows of five “upscale” jewelry outlets with big discount signs.
Here is a secret:
There are only two ways to sell something with a declared high value for deep discounts like this, and stay in business.
The first, which is really pretty common in the jewelry business, is to sell fake stuff. If the jewelry you are selling was made in the Far East, or with fake turquoise, or with nickel silver or any combination of the above, your cost is a lot less. Awhile back, the famous Navajo jeweler, Tommy Jackson (who recently passed on), was amazed to find work with his name on it in a Santa Fe store. It was being offered at deep discounts. Of course, it wasn’t his work! He camped out at the New Mexico Attorney General’s office until they finally closed the store down for violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. This doesn’t happen often enough.
And fine jewelry? Don’t kid yourself that all of those diamonds are real!
The other way to offer huge discounts is to mark everything way up, and then sell it at a big discount. In La Jolla, we walked into a store that had a large sign outside and one in every case offering an 80% Off Sale! The woman behind the counter was very nice. She and her family had been in the jewelry business in Gallup, NM for years. Like most of these discount stores, the cases were filled with real Indian jewelry, mixed in with fake Indian Jewelry and mixed in with costume jewelry. The walls had a few Navajo rugs, quite a few Mexican knock off rugs and some sand paintings. This store was in a very high rent district. I saw a pendant in the case made by an artist that I represent, with beautiful Royston Turquoise. I asked if I could see it up close and it was gorgeous! “How much is it?” I asked. Without batting an eye or looking at a calculator, she replied, “It is $1250.00 but we are having an 80 percent off sale and your price is $250.00.” I have sold this man’s work for years. His jewelry is also sold at some of the top galleries in the country. This beautiful small pendent should sell for about $250.00!
Believe me, you don’t own a store in Santa Fe, La Jolla, Sioux City, Big Fork or Durango and pay for your rent, utilities, taxes, payroll, insurance, upkeep, supplies, travel, advertising and all the other things you have to pay for, and survive very long if you sell at huge discounts.
Ask yourself this: “If the place I am buying this piece from is willing to tell me it is worth five times more than it really is worth, what else are they willing to tell me to sell me something?”
Here are the rules: Buy from people who are well established and are members of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association (IACA), the Antique Tribal Arts Dealers Association, the Better Business Bureau or other established organizations. If you are shopping while on vacation, ask locals who they recommend. Be certain to get a receipt and a guarantee of authenticity.
There is no law against selling something for more that it is worth, so, if you don’t know or trust the dealer you are working with, do your research. Of course, there are real reasons that a good store sometimes puts items on sale, but it won’t last for 365 days a year!
The bottom line is to work with galleries and stores that you can trust.
If it is too good to be true, it generally is.”
Thank you to Jackson Clark for letting me share his sage advice with my customers. Hopefully it will help shed light on why I price my pieces reasonably and don’t offer “discounts”!