Some local jewellers are guilty of passing off poor quality gold jewellery as top-of-the-line, high-carat items, stakeholders say, insisting that the largely unregulated nature of the industry poses a near insurmountable challenge to efforts to stamp out the practice.
Recently, representatives of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, the Gold Board, the Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS) and several local jewellers met Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce Manniram Prashad to discuss what is widely believed to be the worsening problem of jewellery being offered for sale at prices in excess of their actual value.
The jewellers who agreed to speak with this newspaper on condition of anonymity all agreed with the view expressed by Prashad that the practice has implications for the reputation of the local industry but said they were not optimistic that it could be eradicated easily.
“Frankly, I do not remember a time when the local jewellery industry was ever an entirely honest business. There have always been so-called jewellers who set out to rob people,” one jeweller told Stabroek Business. He added that these days the high price of gold has seen the situation worsen. He explained that the high price of gold meant that items of jewellery were becoming more expensive. This was confirmed by Executive Secretary of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) Edward Shields several weeks ago. While Shields had expressed skepticism about reports that large quantities of gold were being smuggled out of Guyana he told this newspaper that much of the gold not being sold to the gold board was being funnelled directly into the jewellery trade.
Another jeweller told Stabroek Business that much of the jewellery trade was being conducted outside the ambit of the formal industry, which meant that there was no reliable means of verifying the quality of the jewellery being made. “You have to understand that in many, many cases it is really a matter of trust between the jeweller and the customer and sometimes visitors to Guyana and people who appear not to know much about gold are targeted.” According to the jeweler who operates a local establishment and who says he issues receipts that are designed to allow for queries by dissatisfied customers, much of the poor quality jewellery manufactured locally is made by “bottom house jewellers. In some cases, in fact in many cases, the authorities do not even know that these people exist.”
A third jeweller told Stabroek Business that the extent of the dishonest practices in the industry may be far more considerable than the authorities even suspect since some of the cases involve deliberate collusion between buyers and sellers. He explained that the high price of gold has meant that the demand for jewellery as a store of value has increased considerably. “It’s simple. You have these middle men who order millions of dollars in various pieces of jewellery and get receipts that state value and prices that are higher than what the jewellery is actually worth. The jewellery is taken abroad and sold to unsuspecting customers many of whom know little about gold and are really not in a position to query anything. It a racket that goes on and on all the time.” He said the nature of these operations mean that as a whole the jewellery business is “not always a straightforward business” which means that neither the buyers nor the sellers are anxious to subscribe to any official quality assurance measures.
At the recent meeting Prashad advocated that jewellers become part of the GNBS Product Certification Scheme which he said would provide confidence in the quality and purity of their jewellery. Asked about the likelihood of such an eventuality the jewellers all said that it would have to be made mandatory and that to do so the authorities would have to register all of the jewellers across Guyana and require them to buy into such a scheme.
Responding to a remark attributed to Minister Prashad in the Guyana Chronicle, which said that jewellers should “disregard the fact that they are competitors” and “work together to ensure that quality product is offered”, the jewellers all said it was unlikely that the industry, given its nature, would ignore the competition. The jewellers did not rule out the possibility that the advent of a Consumer Affairs Act and the attendant requirement that jewellers use the National Standards Mark, may cause some small operators to go underground since it would be difficult for them to operate effectively in a regulated environment.
Meanwhile, Shields told Stabroek Business that while the manufacture and sale of poor quality jewellery was nothing new there were simple mechanisms which the Ministry of Tourism and the GNBS could put in place to help reduce the scale of the problem. “Since tourists and visitors are likely to be the main targets for unscrupulous jewellers it would help if the Tourism Ministry and the Bureau of Standards collaborate to have signs posted at the airport and other places listing those jewellers registered with the bureau. That kind of information can also be placed in tourism handbooks and brochures.”
Shields is also advocating that visitors to the country be advised to, as far as possible, purchase jewellery with their credit cards since the credit card companies have facilities for investigating customer complaints and in cases securing refunds for dissatisfied customers.
Shields noted that gold is usually alloyed with other metals in the manufacture of jewellery and that unscrupulous jewellers simply use smaller amounts of gold in their work which means that the buyer is paying more for the product than he or she should. “The problem in most cases is that by the time the buyer of the sub-standard piece of jewellery recognizes that it has changed colour he or she is in the United States or somewhere else.”
And according to Shields the logistics of registering the hundreds of small jewellers across the country “who operate quietly and sometimes from the smallest conceivable spaces” would be well nigh impossible. “The thing to do is to try to persuade consumers to purchase their jewellery from reputable jewellers where the jewellry is hallmarked and where there is recourse if you are not satisfied with the quality of the product you receive.”