By Tom Weishaar
Editor’s Note: This is the final instalment in a six-part series that aims to break bad habits and do away with shortcuts bench jewellers often pick up. This time, the author turns his attention to repairing chains.
I’d like to begin this article with a short discussion about pricing chain repairs. These jobs are a great source of dependable income for bench jewellers, as they take very little time and the cost is low. An experienced jeweller should be able to fix approximately eight chains an hour. When I began repairing jewellery, the shop I worked for typically repaired 30 to 50 chains each day. Way back then, we charged a flat rate of $2.50 for each chain solder. That was considered good money 35 years ago for such a simple task, but it pales in comparison to today’s average retail price of $15.
I categorize chains as either open-link, flat-link, or woven, each one more difficult to repair than the last. These categories can be further subdivided according to difficulty. Take, for example, a wide herringbone and a small cobra chain. Both are flat-link, but the herringbone, given its width, is much more difficult to repair. Rope chain is another example, requiring two solders (i.e. top and bottom), while a snake chain needs only one. Both fall into my woven category, but should they be priced the same to repair, or should jewellers charge more for the multiple-solder rope? Most jewellers I’ve spoken with find it easier to simply charge a flat rate for chain repairs. The price is generally too high for simple chains and too low for complicated ones. In the end, it all evens out for the jeweller, although it is not necessarily fair for the customer.
For years, I was an advocate for using a complicated step pricing system for chain repairs. It nearly drove me crazy trying to educate our sales staff on the subtle nuances of these types of jobs. In the end, I found I had neither the time nor the energy to use it. I hate to admit defeat, but I am now happy when the staff just remembers to charge for the repair.
Another oddity about chain repairs is how critical people can be when a repair is first inspected. This particular job is always held to the highest standard, perhaps because chains are worn on the neck, high up and near the face. I don’t have a good explanation why a customer will turn a blind eye to a more expensive and poorly done repair on other jewellery, but will hold one’s feet to the fire when it comes to a modestly priced chain repair. Whatever the reason, I know I need to pay close attention when I repair a chain.