Saturday, January 22, 2022

Mea Culpa


For those of you who don’t know Latin, the term Mea Culpa means through my fault or I apologize. I learned (or should I say, memorized) Latin as a young parochial student/altar boy, the latter as a career was short lived. Only one other time did my limited skill in Latin come in handy, when I translated the writing on a painting in a museum in Florence, Italy. Boy oh boy were my wife and daughter impressed.

The reason for my “apology” was due to the continuance of an old adage: “No good deed goes unpunished.” Is that ever true in my goldsmith/jewelry shop.

A small sign out in front of my shop reads, “Free cleaning and inspection.” It’s written plain and simple. The first thing any person who considers him/herself a jeweler must do before cleaning anyone’s jewelry is to inspect it for damage, including missing gemstones, and especially damaged diamonds. This is because after a piece of jewelry is cleaned, the sins and missing prongs and damaged gems stick out like a sore thumb. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

In other words, after skipping this first crucial step (which I rarely do!), it is now my fault for bringing out a fact that has been before their eyes for over ten years or more. Mea culpa! This scenario becomes a double-edged sword. Now don’t get me wrong, most folks take the news of “Oh FYI, did you know you are missing a couple of prongs?” or “Did you notice the chip in your diamond?” or “You are missing a couple of little stones,” and have the problem addressed by a simple repair. Then there are the folks who refuse to believe what I’m saying. I will usually hand it back without cleaning it because who knows what else will fall out during the cleaning process. (I have enough work to do other than spending my valuable time trying to put lonely neglected little diamonds back in a prong-less Humpty Dumpty ring.)

I personally clean hundreds of pieces of jewelry a month; sometimes my staff can miss a minor detail like a missing prong or miniscule micro diamond, this is where the good deed and punishment thing comes in. I’m looking at what is now a squeaky clean ring with worn off prongs, and there are now four tiny diamonds sitting on the bottom of my ultra-sonic cleaning machine. I now have to apologize and add new prongs and reset the diamonds back into the ring for no charge (some people understand and offer to pay, most do not), when in fact the dirt and grime were holding the diamond in.

As in life things happen, so I suck it up, write up an envelope and ask if they can please come back tomorrow, I’ll take care of everything, and tap my heart three times: “Mea culpa!”

Presently, my shop’s employees have been indoctrinated with my new SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) — or should it be SITRFP (Show It To Richard First Please)? By this procedure I hope to avoid this money losing, good deed experience.

I will admit the free cleaning and inspection sign brings the folks in and all things considered it is a positive experience for all involved most of the time. The result… happy, shiny jewelry and new faces in the shop, and add to my amazement, occasionally someone actually buys something.

For those of you untrusting types (Yes you, you know who you are), the inspection and cleaning process is all done in front of you, while you intently watch our every little move.

Normal, trusting folks can ask for our full service cleaning and polishing that will include a boil out, scratch and nick removal, and complete refinishing of the jewelry that will make it look like new again. And yes, there is a charge for the Full Monty Refinishing Service, and yes, you will have to leave it for a day.

The inspection thing is not only a free service, but also a necessity to anyone with nice quality jewelry. I suggest at least every six months or sooner, especially if you smacked your diamond ring against a stucco retaining wall or did a washboard scrape on that shopping cart.

Small but noticeable chips on your diamond require immediate attention; a re-cutting or polishing will prevent the chip from growing larger, thus rendering your diamond worthless. Precious but lifeless gemstones that are scratched or worn can be re-faceted and polished to brilliant perfection again. And prongs that snag or are non-existent can be built up or replaced to actually hold your valuable diamond in the setting. What a concept! Diamonds fall out for a reason; it is usually due to the owner’s neglect in not having it checked regularly for security.

In a nutshell, if you have not had your ring cleaned and inspected since Jimmy Carter was president, it might be a good idea to come in and do so.

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of the Harbor Goldsmith at the newly renovated Island Plaza and welcomes your questions and comments about All That Glitters. Email:, phone 239-394-9275, website:

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