Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why Diamonds International is the Same Price as your Mall at home.

Hello, Readers, and thank you for tuning in to trumptettravels - the true accounts of my 11 year career on cruise ships as a crew member aboard Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, P&O Cruises, Premier Cruises and the Holland America Line.

Thank you for staying in touch with trumpet travels over the last months.  I've enjoyed blogging about my career on cruise ships and so many people have shared their thoughts on my stories and money saving tips.  My previous posts are not chronilogical and not meant to go in any order. I've learned so much about the business of cruising over the past 11 years that as I think of something I like to go in depth in share everything I know.

This topic is a big one.  In fact there is really no other place in the world to learn the information that I am about to give you here.  If you learn something, please pass the information along to your fellow cruisers or friends or family who cruise. Also, I've seen people copy/pasting my info into forums.  I don't mind, but if you do, can you do a link-back to my blog or give me credit? I don't know if I'll be able to cover everything in one post, but let's see.

St Thomas, St Maarten, Aruba, people go to the Caribbean for sun and fun, but also Duty Free shopping. Maybe even to buy a Neil Lane diamond!!  HA! At least you are told that from the moment you walk on the gangway.  At least "40% off US retail prices" on famous brands and loose diamonds! WOW!  There is an amazing marketing mechanism in place between the ships, off the ships, and with a third company on every vessel you are on.  They all benefit together if you spend more moeny. It really is genius.  You spend on the ship.  You spend off the ship.  Most people just want to go to the beach, not shop.  So how does everyone work to get you, the vacationer, to spend more money than you wanted to on vacation? The mechanism works like this:

As you arrive on the ship you are told on the television in your cabin, in public lectures and pretty soon by your fellow guests all about the shopping.  There is a talk where they hand out prizes and maps where you can learn "how to make the most of your day."  The only purpose of this talk is to make sure you don't go off and have fun all day without visiting stores that have paid a promotional fee to get "into the program."  The authenticity of the merchandise or quality of the shop has absolutely nothing to do with the "recommendation" by the cruise line.  In fact, the cruise line doesn't even really know which shops are "recommended" and which aren't.  It is all run through a marketing company that runs the Port Lecture Program.

The "program" is companies Onboard Media (OBM) a division of Louis Vitton, and PPI, who run Porthole magazine and other travel media outlets.  There is one representative (or a couple) on the ship who give the shopping talks, mingle with passengers, and guide them to spend as much money in the stores ashore.  As you make your purchase they ask you which ship you are on and all the numbers are registered in that account.  The OBM and PPI companies pay a fee to have their agents on the ship and the ship makes a cut of the roughly 10% of every sales that goes to the media company.  The 10% is split between the ship, the media company, and the sales representative on the vessel.  For those of yo who are thinking about 10% of that Tee Shirt you bought in Cozumel as on 50c, consider that the average cruise ship today leaves $250,000 in spending PER PORT on a cruise.  Take 10% of THAT and split it up!

You see, the ships love the extra revenue.  They can't track all the spending you do and collect from merchants and they don't understand the business.  The stores have to pay a flat fee plu 10% of sales to get in the program, but if they don't - no one will walk in the door.  So, there needs to be a middle man.  An expert who lives on the ship and on a sea day can whip the passengers into a frenzy so when that gang plank goes down, all the ladies drag their hubbies and credit cards to the Diamond's Internation, the "#1 recommended store of ______ Cruises."

Why IS "DI" as it's known the #1 recommended store?  Quite simply, because the marketing company wants it to be.  DI, run by the Gad family out of NY through a company called ALMOD, owns a Diamond store in just about every single port of call in the world of cruising.  Notice in their business listing they don't tell you which stores they run. Their whole existence relies on cruise ships and cruise ship passengers.  Passengers rely on the cruise line to look for them and the cruise line relies on DI for extra revenue. Ya dig?

I can tell you right now that the these stores take inferior stones and match them with false certificates from companies like "EGL International." This is quite close to legitimate companies like "EGL," but unrelated.  Customers, unsuspecting of the trickery, pay top price for these stones "guaranteed to appraise for higher" in the US.  The whole company works on the premise that it is easy to dupe passengers when they are far from home, relaxed, and have a vacation budget to blow.  They also advertise the stones as a "good investment" and promise they will be "valued ten times as much" when the "mine runs dry" that is mining "rare" stones like tanzanite.  These promises are made on the ships and I think a great liability to the cruise lines.  I heard salespeople tell passengers to buy tanzanite to help pay for their children's education 15 years down the road!  One other thing - how could I be saving so much money when a full 10% of my purchase price is going to the marketing company?

Why do I know all this? How did I learn all this?  Well, TrumpetDad got duped himself.  I had a free one hour education on the diamond business when I took my stone to be appraised by Thom Underwood in San Diego. I bought an engagement ring for my now wife and when I opened it, it was cracked. DI wouldn't take it back without an appraisal.  I brought it to Thom and he looked at it, took some measurements, and took out a calculator and asked me, "is that what you paid?"  He was within $50 dollars on a stone that the salesman promised me was "worth" 3 thousand MORE than what I paid.  Thom said it is the EXACT price what a ZALES or retail store would sell it for at a mall. I was shocked because I was a crew member and went with the Port and Shopping guide who knew me well.  If I had any idea I would get ripped off on bad merchandise obviously I wouldn't have bought that stone.  The 40% off they promise you is a fraud and a lie.

Thom told me about the fraudulent certs and I didn't believe him.  Everything seemed so legit and I knew about this company for years and years.  Even the salespeople on the hsip literally do not know it's all a lie.  They are making so much money they are paid not to care.  Thom told me to go to and read about how certs like EGL USA or EGL INTERNATIONAL are NOT affiliated with EGL at all.  They are proven to over-exaggerate the quality in a blind test - they are fraudulent.  He told me the store has a known reputation in the business that they market large inferior stones with fake documents to unsuspecting buyers.  I was really shocked and felt stupid.  Thom recommended to go to some "middlemen" websites like Blue Nile or to browse for prices and to stick to GIA certified unless I was an expert. After all this, I sent my stone back to ALMOD who replaced it with a smaller, inferior stone than the one I paid for.  Wouldn't you know that on the ship I had a job mixing with some of the wealthiest people who constantly would ask me where to go jewelry shopping!?!?  You can imagine what I told them.  And even DI KNEW what I did for a living, too! They made me fax them a contract and employment papers to make sure I wasn't lying!  Still they gave me that crappy stone as a replacement.  My wife knows everything that happened and is disappointed in the stone and the way they treated us. What a sham.

I couldn't understand why the prices were so high if DI was such a big diamond buyer and the ports were duty free.  Well, it turns out that the rent in the stores in front of the cruise ships is SO high the only stores that can survive are jewelry stores with HUGE markups and one or two tee shirt stores that do amazing volume.  Even if they are "site holders" at DeBeers (meaning they buy alot) the overhead on the whole operation is such that if you took a stone to Thom Underwood he could look at it under a microscope, look up the wholesale cost, look up the full retail price and literally nail the price within 1%.  The price he will quote you would be exactly the retail price you would pay in the mall around the corner from your house.  So how is that a discount?

Of course, the defense is, the documents provided state the stone is of a certain quality.  It is well known in the industry, or common knowledge, that the companies they use to authenticate their merchandise are fraudulent.

If you enjoyed this blog post and found it insightful, this whole blog is filled with usefull information, as well as some ramblings.  I hope I can save someone from suffering the same embarassment that I did.  I felt humiliated and my engagement ring is quite sentimental.

Please forward this to someone who is about to take a cruise so they can do their research before taking a cruise.  Everything stated is is true and all happened to me, but maybe it was an isolated incident and after doing research your friends and family will decide to shop at DI.  Good luck to them! For me, for the rest of my life I would only buy something from a "middleman" as recommended by Thom or a family owned jewelry store that I trust.

Anonymous Nurse Guest Blogs on Trumpettravels!

Dear Readers,
I received a great comment from a former nurse on cruise ships who wanted to share some of her travels as well.  The nostalgia for the sea must have been pretty heavy after reading my blog - she was inspired to share these thoughts. 

BTW - for those looking for the slot machine theory on cruise ships, click here.  It is a former blog entry, you can find them all on the right (click on the HOW IT ALL STARTED).

Please read the below comments from an anonymous nurse:

Aeropostale logoTrumpetDad Many many years ago (29) I worked for HAL as ship's nurse. The medical area was a joke compared to what I see on modern ships now. Except for one doctor, they were good, given what they had to work with. Most of the nurses had ER, critical care or good general experience prior to being hired on. Equipment was limited but we did our best. The company generally bent over backwards to satisfy passengers. Ship's crew, staff and officers were well taken care of. Port agents were helpful in expediting any care needed ashore.

On board we were able to do simple blood and urine tests and some x-rays, although the latter was a bit of joke since we had no x-ray techs and we more or less taught each other. I often wonder how much harm we did to our patients and urselves with improper exposure. The nurses were on call 24/7 so office hours were a suggestion. Any time of day or night a passenger wanted to be seen, no matter how minor the issue was, we were to see them ASAP. I once got in trouble for leaving thermometers at the consierge (where they already had Tylenol, Tums, and Dramamine). I figured if a passenger wanted to know if they had a fever they could check themdelves and then self medicate with the Tylenol and then be seen during regular office hours in the morning. Why wake me at whatever time for that? Oh, there was hell to pay for proactive move. On the avererage, most night I was on call, my sleep was disturbed. And that would be every other night. There was a 10 week period I was the only nurse (smaller ships) and I was called every single night. And that meant getting dressed. The Hotel Manager wanted us to make face contact, not a phone consultation. All that said, it was a good experience. Lots of free travel, good times and fond memories.

To these thoughts I would like to add that the medical facilities was incredibly accomodating on both Carnival and Princess when I needed to visit them as a crew member.  I hope the nurse wasn't inspired to write these comments because she thought my comments in my blog post were negative.  I've had only great experiences.

I hope everyone appreciate the time the nurse took in sharing her expeience.  Let this be a call to any other crew members:  What's YOUR story of working on a ship?  I'll let you "guest blog" on here within reason.  Obviously if I get too many it may get cumbersome.

Happy travels everyone.  We're heading into a slow cruise season but spring break and summer is coming soon.