Local Jewelry Store forgoes Russian Product

Though located in Southeast Texas, Alter's Gem Jewelry conducts business on a global scale.

"This industry deals globally," the store's managing owner Brian Alter said. "We don't get diamonds from (the United States), we don't get colored gems from here for the most part -- most gold doesn't even come from here anymore."

Diamonds and other jewelry in the store are sourced from countries around the world, including Russia, which is responsible for about 30% of the world's production of rough diamonds, Alter said.

 

 

But earlier in the month, the store's Facebook page disclosed that, after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the business would no longer be placing orders with manufacturers that source from Russia.

"I have inquired of virtually all of our manufacturers, designers and suppliers what positions they are taking, what efforts they are making to deal with this situation," Alter said. "We belong to a very powerful buying organization called Continental Buying Group, and the group has always taken a front step on any of these things that are important like the Patriot Act or blood diamonds, or any of these issues."

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Alter said he was the first member of the organization to contact the head of the buying group to ask what they planned to do to address the situation. 

"(Their) first response was, 'We haven't done anything yet, what do you suggest?'" he said. "Well, within 48 hours, the attorney of the buying group had prepared a document that we have forwarded to all of our manufacturers that basically says they are no longer using directly or indirectly products that are supplied by or manufactured in Russia."

So far, about half of the more than 200 manufacturers have signed the document, Alter said.

The remaining half have another week to follow through, though Alter said some may not and some may not be able to because they can't identify the sourcing of their diamonds or they have Russian investors.

"People who cannot sign off, I won't place orders with-- just that simple," he said. "And anybody that doesn't sign off that I have an existing order for, I've already told them they need to put it on hold because I won't accept the inventory."

Alter said the invasion of Ukraine hit home for him.

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"If you are at all, in my opinion, a student of history, the excuses and the arguments and the statements that (Vladimir) Putin made himself in his (February 21) speech, mimic the same stories that Adolf Hitler used when he started expanding out of Germany," Alter said. "It's the same argument that every autocrat or dictator uses in order to try and claim lands and it's done in a way so it's not an attack -- 'Oh we just don't recognize (the country) anymore, so it belongs to us. We don't believe you ever were independent, you really belong to us and we're going to take you back.'"

Those arguments resulted in the Holocaust and millions of lives lost in World War II, Alter said.

"I happen to be Jewish. So, that hits home a little bit because I'm watching history repeat itself," he said. "The real question is, if (Putin is) successful in Ukraine...where he goes next. This is scary. This is an attack on democracy in a massive way."

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While Alter said he is favorable towards the economic sanctions that President Joe Biden has put against Russia, he wishes the United States was doing more.

"It bothers me because we have the ability to stop it and we're not," Alter said. "We're helping, and I understand the reason not to confront, and I'm not arguing that point. But when I was growing up, you didn't stop a bully by taking away his allowance. You had to stand up to him and if you needed to, punch him back in the nose to get him to leave you alone. And we're punching in a different way."

Alter said the online response from his customers has been completely positive. He hasn't heard anything from in-store customers.

But Alter said he didn't make the decision to get comments from people in his store.

"I have to sleep with myself at night," he said. "And I needed to do something to be able to take a position to help. Honestly, if there were a way to go pick up all the children and all the dogs that were being left on their own there, I'd go and bring them all here, but that's not realistic."

Alter said he had to do whatever he could within reason to help and he doesn't want anything to do with Russia at this point.

"The sad part is, I had the privilege of going to Saint Petersburg a couple of years ago -- it is one of the single most beautiful cities on the planet and I hope everybody gets to visit, it's got an amazing history," he said. "This is the one place, with my small company, that I can try and hit back. And we're doing it as an entire organization. Our organization (CBG) is 110 retail jewelers across the country and we do well over a billion dollars a year in volume combined. It's still a drop in the bucket for the total amount of jewelry business done around the world but it's not an insignificant amount."

There's not anything Alter can get from Russia that he can't get somewhere else, he said.

"Am I willing to pay more if I have to? Yes," he said. "But right now, I don't have to."

Alter said he doesn't believe this decision will have a negative financial impact on his business.

"Not unless somebody refuses to shop with us who's pro-Russian," he said. "And you know what? That's OK. There's a lot of jewelers on this street and if you don't want to shop with me, there's 20 places on Dowlen you can go shop."

There is nothing currently in the store that is of Russian origin that Alter is aware of, he said. 

"If there's a ring (in the showroom) with 30 diamonds in it, I couldn't tell you if one of those is a Russian diamond or not, there's no way to identify it," he said. "But I'm not buying and I really haven't been buying anything (of Russian origin)."

Alter said in the future, depending on the outcome of the war in Ukraine, he might reverse his decision.

"You don't have to be enemies forever," he said. "We're not enemies with Japan and Germany, even though we fought them in wars. They're some of our greatest allies. The world goes on. But this is what I can do now. This is my way of helping Ukraine stand up to a bully. It's the only way I've got, realistically, to make an impact. I don't want a single penny of what we do to directly or indirectly head back to Russia right now."