HOUSTON - From their relationship to his proposal to her wedding ring, everything was pretty picture perfect for Sophie and Aaron Long.
But six weeks before the big day, doctors diagnosed Sophie with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For Sophie, it meant chemotherapy and weight loss. But after seven months, she beat the cancer.
When she regained the weight she had lost from treatments, Sophie needed her wedding band and engagement ring resized. She said Kay Jewelers, where Aaron purchased the set, said the rings couldn't be altered as she needed, so the store would replace the rings with new ones two sizes bigger.
“At that point, I was ecstatic because I would rather wear something than nothing,” Sophie told consumer expert Amy Davis.
Sophie picked up her new rings at the Galleria store a few weeks later. It wasn't until six months later when she dropped into another Kay Jewelers to have the rings cleaned and inspected — as required by the warranty — that she was alerted to a huge problem by a store employee.
“She asked me, ‘Do you know about your center stone?’" Sophie recalled for Davis. “I kind of looked at her like, ‘What about it?’ And she said, ‘Well, it's fake.’"
Fake and worthless — even though Aaron shelled out $6,500 for the rings just two years prior. What's worse was that Kay Jewelers claimed Aaron came in months earlier with Sophie's center stone missing, and asked to put in a fake cubic zirconia, saying he couldn't afford another diamond.
“I don't know if it's at the Galleria store, or at their factory, (but) they're trying to cover up some crooked business that's going on,” Aaron told Davis.
Crooked, because Aaron said the Kay Jewelers warranty he purchased guarantees the company will replace any diamond if it chips, breaks, or is lost. If he did lose the diamond, the claim that he asked Kay Jewelers to put in a fake stone makes no sense.
“What I think happened is they basically swapped diamonds,” Sophie said.
The Longs are not alone.
On Facebook, frustrated customers are posting to a page called "Boycott Kay Jewelers." Kay is owned by Signet Jewelers, the same company that owns Zales and Jared, but most of the complaints are against Kay.
Chrissy Clarius in West Virginia said she discovered her diamond was replaced with moissanite, a cheaper stone, when she left it at a Kay Jewelers in Maryland.
Heidi Rivera told Davis the same thing happened to her at a Kay store in Rochester, New York. Nicole Largent's entire ring disappeared after she dropped it off at a store in West Virginia.
“Corporate management is at fault for allowing this to happen,” Houston jewelry appraiser Ben Gordon said. “As soon as they heard about the problem, they should have gone in and tightened up the intake and outgoing of repair jobs.”
Signet wouldn’t comment on specifics of any of the cases, but we do know in each instance that a customer claimed a ring was lost, or a diamond swapped, the jewelry was sent out of the Kay's store for repairs.
When that happens, employees should check the stones before they leave the store under a microscope and again immediately after they get back.
“They should make a sketch of the inclusions in the diamond,” Gordon said. “That way, when it comes back, they'll make sure those inclusions are still in the diamond.”
Sophie saved every receipt from when she took her ring in for inspection or cleaning. You can see the inclusions employees marked on some visits, like in October 2013. But in January 2014, employees made no notes of any inclusions.
If your diamond comes with a Gemological Science International, or GSI certificate, the stone has a number inscribed in it. Gordon said you should ask to see your diamond under the microscope, too, when you leave it and then when you pick it up again. Look for the GSI number. If your diamond doesn’t have one, look for and note any inclusions or flaws in the diamond.
Kay Jewelers eventually replaced the jewelry, or stones, of all of the women after the chain said it investigated their claims, but no one ever told them if the corporate office determined what happened.
Sophie and Aaron still have to take the ring to Kay for the biannual inspection, but they say they'll be more careful from now on.
“We'll definitely be taking it and watching them,” Sophie said. “We won't be dropping it off, or anything like that.”
Getting your ring appraised by an independent third party is always a good idea. You can also buy insurance independently. Most jewelry stores like Kay Jewelers will clean your jewelry for you free any time you take it in.
Kay Jewelers spokesman Frank Cirillo didn't answer Davis' questions about how the customer's diamonds were swapped, but he sent this statement: "Delivering an exceptional customer experience is our number one priority and we regret any instance where a customer is less than completely satisfied. To help ensure that we deliver that exceptional experience, we maintain rigorous product and service quality procedures that are consistently monitored and refreshed. Greater than 99% of our service and repair transactions are completed without inquiry to our customer service centers each year. Nevertheless, we take every customer concern seriously and work hard to ensure that when issues do arise, we do everything we can to make things right. That is what we have sought to do with these customers. We are humbled by the trust our customers have placed in us for more than one hundred years and work hard every day to continue to be worthy of that trust."