As many of you know, I founded the Caribbean Gemological Institute 18 years ago. This was after living on the islands of St. Thomas and St. Maarten for a while, working with Amsterdam Sauer on St. Thomas and being Island Manager for Colombian Emeralds International on St. Maarten.
http://www.schoolofgemology.com/CruiseLines/CTL.jpgAfter meeting my future wife on Orient Beach in St. Martin, I put my Dodge pickup truck on a boat back to the US where I drove it to San Francisco and got married. But that is another story. (yes, our 20th anniversary is in October)
http://www.schoolofgemology.com/CruiseLines/CT.jpgUpon my return to the states I ended up writing over 50 jewelry
shopping articles for travel magazines around the world. As you can see in the first article in Caribbean Travel and Life at left, my experience with the island shopping industry resulted in my writing articles for magazines such as Caribbean Travel and Life, Cruise Travel, PORTHOLE, Caribbean World (London), Latitudes South (American Eagle In-Flight), and a variety of the onboard cruise ship magazines such as the one for Regency Cruises seen in the banner of this edition of our newsletter. That picture was my head shot from my acting days doing national TV commercials….but that is also another story.
The real story of today is the purpose of these articles; jewelry shopping in the Caribbean islands. And while some may think that this is an expose’ of problems, it’s really a celebration of a lot of wonderful jewelers down there who are getting totally schtupped by some of the cruise line’s port lecturers and cruise directors.
What are the Port Lecturers and
They are your buddies. Your onboard “insider”
resource for the best places to shop at each port of call. They know all of the
good places to shop and eat. In short, the port lecturer and sometimes the
cruise director are the source of all of the really juicy information regarding
where to shop and get the best deals at each port of call. Or…..are
As Island Manager for Colombian Emeralds
International, whenever the large cruise ships dropped anchor in St. Maarten bay
we were guaranteed a great business day. That great day was partly because of
the CEI name, and partly because we paid the port lecturer to promote our stores
to passengers during their St. Maarten port lecture about the best places to
The port lecture was a bona fide advertising
campaign all dressed up as a reference pep talk by the port lecturer to get
people fired up about duty free shopping.
But it went two steps beyond this. First, the
envelope of cash that I gave to the port lecturer when they visited my office
was the payment for the “insider” information that was given to passengers. But
if I really wanted a good “push” during the cruise I had to also push a wad of
cash into the port lecturer’s pocket before they left. That often went with a
good bottle of Scotch also. If I did not, I could well expect some other store
down the street to get the “push” next visit while my stores were simply
mentioned as a good place to shop. That was the system. You pay, or you don’t
get the push. No push, no business.
The Real Problems with Port
The real problem with this system is obvious:
Stores selling fraudulently who pay enough money to the port lecturer can get
major cruise line promotion. And stores who sell fraudulently usually
HAVE more money to spend! When the anchor is weighed and the
ship leaves port, the store’s misrepresented goods go with the passengers back
out into international waters along with major problems with their purchases.
Consumers don’t realize that they may have a problem until they get home where
they have to deal with the cruise lines, credit card company, and an island
jewelry store that is in another country. Major problem!
The situation is made even worse since many of
the port lecturers are actually working for outside promotion companies, not the
cruise lines. These companies pay the cruise lines for the right to publish
shopping guides and put the port lecturer onboard the ships, and in turn charge
the island jewelers for this promotion. This makes for a highly volatile
situation since the port lecturer is pressured to push the highest paying
jewelers…who may or may not be the best jewelers…. by the independent promotion
company that handles the on-board promotions, and must pay the cruise lines for
Getting some honest information to cruise
line passengers was the motivation behind my publishing the Guide to Caribbean
Jewelry and Gemstones in 1994, that was supported by the Visa credit card
company. This hand book was the first to get quality information into the hands
of consumers that went beyond the paid promotion of the port lecturers that
simply gave the big “push” to the stores willing to pay the highest dollar for
promotion, and the biggest wad of cash into the pocket of the port
The efforts of this book were featured in Conde
Nast Traveler, the American Airlines inflight magazine, and Jewelers
Circular/Keystone magazine among many others. The concept even led to my
becoming the Caribbean Editor of Vista Joyera, one of the JC/K publications for
the Caribbean and South America.
The result over the next 8 years was a much
higher awareness by the cruise lines of the information being given out by the
port lecturer and cruise directors. It also brought about a heightened effort by
the cruise lines and promotion companies to be more aware of the actions of
their port lecturers, and to provide consumers with improved resources for
problem reporting and solving regarding island jewelry purchases.
For a while…..
reports from cruise line passengers regarding island jewelers who get major
cruise line promotions but who are grossly misrepresenting their products to
cruise line passengers. For instance, here are two rings sent to the ISG office
for gemstone identification. These were sold by a major international diamonds
company with stores all over the Caribbean. These came from their location in
Cozumel that was highly recommended by the port lecturer and received major
cruise line promotion. They were sold as a tanzanite and alexandrite,
zirconia. And believe it or not, the customer is having a heck of a
time getting a refund.
Before the US jewelry industry starts pointing
those boney, accusing fingers at the island jewelry industry, you should know
that to date all of the real fraud that I have uncovered in the island jewelry
industry came from US jewelry companies. These are US jewelry companies who
either exported it through misrepresentation of their products to island
jewelers, or US based jewelry companies who moved down island and set up stores
to perpetrate their gnarly schtick. So the US jewelry industry needs to
understand that this is YOUR problem that is being exported to
the islands. And yes, those on-board media companies who squeeze the life out of
the island jewelers through these “behind the door” payments……all are US based
companies. So let’s be very careful about pointing fingers at the island jewelry
industry. All of this was exported to the islands by the US jewelry industry.
And just where is the Jewelers Vigilan ce Committee anyway?
The Real Losers
Consumers lose in more ways than you may think.
Obviously the problems of misrepresented goods and the myriad of problems
consumers have getting refunds are ubiquitous. But there is another major loss
for consumers……missing out on the really wonderful island jewelers who cannot
(or do not) get cruise ship promotion. And even those who do pay for promotion
often get pushed into the back seat by the big boys who pay big bucks to run the
show. And make no mistake, the big island stores who pay big promotional bucks
do indeed run the onboard promotions by the port lecturers. Money calls the
shots regarding port lecturers.
As a result, there are hundreds of wonderful
and highly ethical jewelers throughout the islands who present some of the
finest jewelry and gemstones in the world, but are treated like the red headed
step children by the port lecturers because they do not get enough money from
them. As a result the port lecturer instills a reluctance to buy from some of
these good jewelers because they are not on the “recommended” list of
But that list of reputable island jewelers that
may not be at the top of the list of the port lecturer is far longer than anyone
may realize. Names like Maurice Correia at Correia’s Jewelers on Barbados, Hans
Smit at The Gold Smitty on Antiqua, Jennifer and Gerald at Pierre’s Diamonds on
St. Thomas, the Kirkconnell’s and Kirk Freeport on Grand Cayman, Jules R Sauer
and Amsterdam Sauer on St. Thomas, Love Mahtani and the Gold Mine on St.
Maarten, the Cates and Galleria Harbourside in the Bahamas, along with the
Daswani’s, Khiatani’s, Samtani’s and far too many more to name in Jamaica…. and
a host of other names both familiar and exotic to most cruise ship passengers.
You may or may not hear these names or the excellent jewelry stores that are
part of them, but they are indeed there in the various island ports of
Word to the Cruise Lines
The cruise lines need to take a greater
awareness of potential problems of port lecturers and their programs.
Recommending a store simply because they are willing to pay the most promotion
money may seem like a great idea for the short term, but the long term anger
from passengers at getting ripped off by a cruise line recommended merchant is a
something not soon forgotten. The long term frustration and just plain bad PR is
something that will carry far and long with consumers.
And US jewelers need to stop and think
before bad mouthing the island jewelers. The absolute worst offenders in the
Caribbean are based and owned by companies on 5th Avenue and 47th Street in New
York, NY, USA. So be careful how you throw stones here.
Consumers need to know that a port lecturer is
just a paid advertising spokesperson who often gets a special “perk” by getting
you to buy from their “recommended” stores. Nothing more. They are not giving
you “insider” information. They are told exactly what to tell you. They are not
providing you with personal experience since most of the jewelry they are
wearing is on loan or given to them by the island stores they
Perhaps most important, in most cases if you
purchase from a store recommended by your port lecturer….the cruise line, the
port lecturer, an independent promotion company and/or a combination of all
three….are getting paid a percentage of your purchase price as a
Nothing wrong with that on its face. But when
the island company being promoted is a rip off, and the cruise lines are making
profits from recommending them without concern of what is being done to you,
then that is a problem. For you. For the cruise lines. And for the
Be aware….the cruise line port lecturer may
seem like a friendly person with insider information who is there to help
you….but they are in truth a very well-orchestrated marketing scheme designed to
get you not only to spend money, but to spend it where they tell you to spend
The cruise lines need to be on alert that some
of the folks you are recommending are ripping people off.
The real loser is going to be........the cruise
President, International School of
We welcome any response from the cruise
line industry, and will publish your thoughts or responses in their entirety in
a future issue.
PS: Regarding that photograph of me in the
Regency Cruise Line magazine at the top of the page? Here is a shot from last
week at a fossil hunting site in Texas. The hair has gone grey, but the love of
this industry continues.... even after 40 years in this business.
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here: ISG: Cruise Line Alert!