The Greatest Jewelry Salesman in the World — Guest Post by Stephen Parrish

I’d like to give a warm welcome to Stephen Parrish, a writing friend whose debut novel, The Tavernier Stones, comes out May 1st (although rumor has it you can already get it online and, as Stephen puts it, “in courageous bookstores everywhere”).

Stephen has helped me in the past when I was working on my query letter, and he’s one of two writers (the other being Erica Orloff) who pulled the internet together when friend-of-the-blog Travis Erwin‘s house burned to the ground in 2009.

Kinda makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, right?

But on to today’s business. Stephen is giving away a one carat diamond to the first person who can find the image of one he’s hidden somewhere on the web. A diamond! I don’t know about you, but I could use a diamond. Get the contest details at

Now on to Stephen’s post.

The Greatest Jewelry Salesman in the World

I started out with more or less the same attitude as most people: salespeople want my money, and in order to get it, will tell me whatever I want to hear. Nevertheless I needed a job in college and I’d always been fascinated by gemstones, so I responded to a newspaper ad for a part time jewelry salesman. To my surprise, they hired me; I guess you could say I’d made my first sale.

Naturally I wanted to do the best possible job, so when I finished my first month something like #37 on the ranking of all salespeople in the region, I thought, “That won’t do.” During the next four months I climbed to the top of the list.

I considered myself the greatest jewelry salesman in the world.

After college I wasn’t able to get into my chosen profession right away, so I bided my time selling jewelry. Now the job was full time, and I was working for a different company, one that catered to the carriage trade. Big ticket stuff. Customers with so much money you could smell it. The learning curve was steep once again, but I was determined to be #1 in this realm as well. After all, I considered myself the greatest jewelry salesman in the world.

The difference between a great salesperson and an adequate one is this: the great one recognizes that it is the customer who must make the purchase, not the salesperson who must make the sale. If that sounds subtle, well, that’s why there are so few great salespeople. A great salesperson knows how to read customers, even during the minute or so it takes them to enter the store. At some crucial point during the encounter he shows them exactly what they want, or what they think they want, and because he is a company employee and must earn as much money for the company as possible, they end up buying the most expensive thing they can afford.

That’s the part that eventually tripped me up. One day a young couple entered the store. Just getting engaged, looking for a ring. Since I considered myself the greatest jewelry salesman in the world, by golly they were going to buy one from me. We ended up settling on a diamond solitaire worth several thousand dollars. I’ve never forgotten a diamond, and I’ve never met one I didn’t like; this one fluoresced the most beautiful golden color under longwave UV light I’d ever seen. The young fiancée was captivated. As I knew she would be. This time it wasn’t the customer who made the purchase, it was me who made the sale. They put $100 down. That was normal.

What happened a week or so later was not: she came back to make a payment, handing me thirteen crumpled one-dollar bills.

That’s when something snapped. Like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes one day, I realized it was possible to be too good of a salesman. So good that the transactions aren’t win-win. So good that the customer gets taken for more than she can afford. So good it becomes bad. What these kids needed, as their wedding day approached, was a washer and dryer, not a rock.

I adjusted my attitude. My sales slumped some, and the store manager began admonishing me gently. The next big turning point came when a woman returned a sapphire ring to the store, complaining that the culet was broken. The culet is the sharpened point at the bottom of a round-cut stone.

The manager examined the stone through a loupe and judged the phenomenon to be a “natural,” an original part of the rough gem that the cutter left uncut. Naturals are often found on the girdle (outer rim) of a stone, and are considered fair by the industry. But they aren’t normally associated with culets.

The woman wasn’t satisfied. To her it looked broken. The manager asked another salesperson to examine it, and she also claimed to see a natural. “Nothing wrong with this stone,” the two women assured the customer, who was growing increasingly frustrated.

I reached for the ring to see for myself, and as I did so, I noticed the manager stiffening and pressing her lips together. Her body language was clear: “Toe the line, boy.”

The culet of the stone was damaged. The customer’s assessment was entirely correct. There was no mistaking the uneven fracture characteristic of corundum, the mineral name for sapphire.

“It’s broken,” I said.

The woman got her money back. I got the cold shoulder for the rest of the day.

They came just before closing time. The burlies, the men with eyes set too close together. There were three of them, and they approached from three different angles.

It was normal procedure. They had to make sure I didn’t try to pocket something, in retribution, at the last moment. One of them asked for my showcase key. I handed it to him. The others each took an arm and escorted me out of the store and into the mall.

“The company has no further need for your services,” the leader informed me. The men let go of my arms. I left the mall. I had to go home and explain to my wife that I’d been fired.

But I was okay with it. Because that was the day I became the greatest jewelry salesman in the world.

You can learn more about Stephen at his website Now go order your own copy of The Tavernier Stones!


23 Responses

  1. The difference between a great salesman and a merely adequate one is highlighted in one of the finest scenes from Glengarry Glen Ross, when Al Pacino is laying down his patter to the guy in the bar. It’s the communication, understanding (even the faux kind) and gentle push which sells people on the idea they want to part with their money.

    I look forward to picking up the book.

    • I just bought it on Amazon yesterday — I can’t wait to read it!

  2. Nice post. And now you’re on your way to becoming the greatest jewelry salesman in the world who wrote a novel. Congrats on the impending release!

  3. An interesting post. I figure I have to live with myself, so I’ve never been huge on sales; I want customers that want what they’re buying and will be satisfied with it, otherwise they won’t come back for more.

  4. I love this post! Please tell me it’s a true story – it’s a very inspiring one. And the writing is solid, too – I bet the Tavernier Stones will be a great read.

  5. That’s a great story! I’ve never been comfortable with selling stuff for exactly that reason. I was horrible at Mary Kay in high school, and once my husband got the truly terrible notion of joining one of those pyramid schemes selling thingies. I wore a paper bag over my head, until he bought himself a matching one, and we stopped.

    The poor kid with the crumpled dollar bills!

  6. Great post and congratulations on the book!

  7. Thanks everybody!

    Yes, the story is true. They did me a favor by firing me, because then I was forced to move on.

    By the way, I notice that some guys are showing up in the comments section as green blobs. I’m all for diversity and individualism and all that, but you ought to know, it’s not going to get you any dates.

    • So what did you do after leaving that job (other than writing a novel)? I want to know more about your jewelry career. Thanks!

  8. I’ve been there, on the sales side.

    As a customer I almost always know exactly what I want. Especially when it comes to design and building. I worked in the industry for a number of years and I’ve done a lot of work with my own hands. I’ve also worked in customer service for a few industries.

    I hate salespeople. I view them with suspicion and hatred from the instant I lay eyes on them. Sorry to say, very few ever meet my expectations, meaning, they don’t do their job and let me do mine (which is the actual decision making process.)

  9. Great post. I loved this and I loved how honest you were with the lady. I look forward to reading your book!

  10. *giggles at green blob comment*

    I sold jewelry for a year at a JCPenny. We could swap some stories :) Great post. Also looking forward to your book! You keep some good company, Stephen ;)

  11. I just got my copy in the mail today! Squee!

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