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from the archives: The Case of the Missing Amber Necklaces

December 15, 2004 1 Comment

Tambourine_necklace_mixed_colorsIt’s hard to believe it has been three years since I wrote this:

It is December 15th, 2004. In August, when we started to make amber jewelry selections with the holiday season in mind, we found a treasure trove of amber bead necklaces & matching bracelets we knew we had to have. We had placed one order with this company before- & the goods were like nothing on earth, delicate, light, handcrafted, luminous- almost otherworldly. Soft, polished amber bead nuggets in every color you can think of, radiant, romantic. Hand stitched in crocheted collars of gleaming beauty. Heirloom quality, each one. Close to the fundamental spirit of amber, no silver, nothing between you & a floating ring of pure magic lying against your skin. Over the years, we’ve carried a lot of amber beads from many different sources- Lithuanian amber beads are rightly famous for their precision handcuts, their sheer inventiveness, the hand faceting. 

But this shipment- this one is unlike anything else we’ve ever seen- & we’ve seen a lot of amber beads…

Cherry_rose_lithuania One reason we don’t carry as many as we would like is that there
are literally hundreds of kinds- When we visit Amberif or the other
fairs, it is actually overwhelming to walk the floor & browse the
stalls- each company or house has thousands of strands of radiant amber
beads- each completely unique & of varying quality.

The show is rushed, hot, crowded & extremely surreal, especially
if you don’t speak the languageYou’re expected to make snap decisions
that could impact your
business for the next year- on the spot! There are lectures, awards,
fashion shows, new lines, new companies, old sharks. Each stand is lit,
dazzling, sparkling, designed to be eye-candy. The lines everywhere are
long, whether for wickedly dark revitalizing Espresso or glowing silver
chains. And there’s that sense of being utterly disoriented, turned
around, impressions smearing together… Where did I see what?…And
everyone is smiling, beckoning, everyone is eager to talk, everyone
makes promises… The Red Light District of Amber, ha! Then, months
down the road, reality sets in when the orders- always late, always
more & more expensive, always less accurate… WHY did we order so
many of those!!???? That’s cognac in whose world???!

These amber bead necklaces & bracelets were to be a big part of
our Christmas offering- matched sets for amber purists, something
really really special. They come from a place where you need an
invitation to visit & you would have to be foolish, stupid, naive-
or a combination of all three- (or well-armed)- not to literally hire a
bodyguard as an escort. Have we been invited? Yes. Have we gone? Well,
you can understand our hesitation…

Our first order with this company arrived "by boat" as Andzia likes
to say. We placed the order, the payment of course went through in an
eighth of a second- "Whoosh!"

And then we heard absolutely nothing back about it. Not a peep. Not
a question, not a progress report, not an estimate as to delivery-

And one day, a little over two months later, it just appeared. "Knock knock plop!"
It was wrapped in dirty linen with a no-kidding red official rubber
seal! You could still see drips from the hot rubber from when they
applied the seal. It looked like it came from a pirate ship, not just a
boat! This is the "unofficial way!" Straight from the 18th century! But
the goods, my god were they beautiful.

So, this new shipment- This one "official way" has been dragging on
for weeks. Fears of the famous Russian mafia start to percolate in my
brain… First I’m told our "letter" has been delayed in customs. "Uh,
it’s not a letter it’s a package– it weighs nearly ten pounds! I’m a little disturbed you’re describing it as a
letter… Oh, no, we have a lot of confidence in FedEx, we just have no
confidence in….err, well, the Russian mafia is an actual concern in
our line of work…"

No one here would think of making off with such a package, but in Russia a package labeled "amber" would disappear into the black market in a matter of seconds.

Where is it? Locked in a cage, in Moscow. Where it has been sitting for uh, ten days. Oops! Make that eleven. Tick tock, tick tock. Ok, at least they’re saying it is under lock & key.

First, the order itelf is very late in terms of fulfilment- by about a month. Then, there was the comedy of errors with the wire transfer- which had to be sent in advance, not once, but three times taking a total of an extra eight days as we sent it & then watched the funds inexplicably bounce back into our account. And the "I’m getting irritated" lines wrinkle around the eyes & mouth of our international wire agent’s face at our overburdened credit union each time the complicated transaction was attempted yet again. Seven banks in eight days!

This should have been a simple no-muss no-fuss everyday business transaction. But no, three times, eight days. Phone calls, emails, desperate faxes… the difference in time zones made is six hours later there than here… Tick tock, tick tock.

Then, finally. Finally, we get word the package is moving. We should expect it in X days. A tracking number. Viola! Christmas is saved! But then… an information black-out. What package? It never registers electronically with the shipper… no answer, frantic emails. Then it surfaces in Moscow. What the…We thought it was going to Gdansk. ?? Huh?

Where it sits. And sits. For days. Ok, I convince someone to contact someone who over a period of days finally conirms that some information is missing. They don’t specify what information, just "information." Then I cobble together the originator & the shipping company by cell phone, & the missing information is sent.  D a  y  s     p  a   s    s     b   y  . . .

But no, now I’m told they need it electronically. A fax simply won’t do. They want pixels & they want them now. The source tells us- "I have filed ten pages of documents. But now they say they need it electronically. It’s wild Russian law, still very Soviet."

Ok, at least we get a little laugh for our trouble. Ok, everything is okay. Wait, everything is not ok. Dec. 12-13 is major Russian holiday, Constitution Day. Now we get really, really, really nervous. Is this true? Yes, Google, thank you. It seems to be true. Federal holiday, no one is at work. The parcel sits. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday.

My phone calls turn into, "Well, we need someone from your company to act as shipping advocate or expediter at this point, not just make an inquiry…Of course you have employees in Russia that speak English, correct? Or maybe an employee in your ahem International Division ahem that speaks Russian? You know, I’ve known a lot of Russians & most of them speak better English than I do… It just can’t be this complicated…"

And now, December 15, 2004- the package has allegedly cleared customs. We are informed it will be here Friday…

The question is: Will it? Wait & see- we are. 🙂

Update: Well, it’s Friday. Nope, no sign of the necklaces. But supposedly the parcel does exist, the contents have been verified, & it has been both scanned & manifested- cleared for takeoff.

No. There is no service over the weekend. Maybe… just maybe we’ll have it Tuesday.

I suppose there are worse things than ringing in the New Year with a fabulous new collection. 🙂

Re-update: Did this really start in August? It is December 20. I stayed up until 2 a.m. to speak with the shipper & their representative in Moscow. Who puts me on hold for 20 minutes- with insane hyper-Muzak awful hold music. & then tells me- Bad news. It is prohibited to ship jewelry from Russia. Ouch!


Not looking good, is it? Andzia is NOT going to like hearing that…

Update: December 23, 2004.

Finally- some good news. Sometime during the night, our package left Moscow & went to an airport in France, then onto Paris. It has now left Paris, & was last seen in good old Memphis, Tennesee- USA!!!!! What a great Christmas present. Yes!! Of course, the midwest is currently in the throes of extremely bad weather plus the shipping lanes- or routes, whatever you would call them- are overflowing with holiday shipping- but, still. MEMPHIS!!!!!!!!!


Update: Dec. 16, 2004

The final surreal leg of the life of this package: at 2:36 this morning (don’t ask why I was up, just couldn’t sleep…) the tracking message shows: Shipment Exception. i.e., this package has been grounded from further travel- customs delay.

Weather? Or worse? I call.


They don’t "know" what’s in the package. Now, you KNOW there’s a pro-forma invoice in this parcel & one stuck in a plastic sleeve on the side of the box. And NINE ADDITIONAL PAGES OF NOTES! You’re telling me after three sets of documents, manager escalation here & in Moscow they don’t know what’s in the box. So this isn’t a weather related delay? This package has been in your custody for over three weeks! Okay, okay. Just give me a fax number, please.

Okay, okay- what is needed is a Valuation & Materials Breakdown. No problem. I whip one up.

Problem- our fax machine has been acting up. Faxes in- No problem. Faxes out? Not so good. We changed the cartridge- I think we need a new one.

Well, we got a new computer 68 days ago. Of course, all the Microsoft trial products ran out- I haven’t had a chance to break down & get them, it pains me to pay for this particular everyday software that should come bundled on a new machine- but what can you do. It’s like buying a car, then on Day 61- the power steering & brakes go out! But, at least I have Notepad.

Then I run the fax line into the computer- install the fax software. Suspiciously easy.

Then, the fax number goes nowhere…just trails off the saddest little bleat & goes dead. The "To the Attention of" phone number goes to the what hours later turns out to be the wrong office, which in any case does not open until 6 a.m. Now it’s 4:30.

Call back, get put on hold. Talk to the same agent who I spoke with 20 minutes ago who cannot remember talking to me- she has a pretty Irish-inflected accent- Jamaican, I think. Totally blase. She understands my frustration. No, sorry but this woman in no way understands my frustration!!!

This package should have expedited white glove treatment… why didn’t they fax or call… I can understand a weather delay, but we should have been notified there was an issue… Can she look up the number of the tracing agent on the case… can’t find it, etc.

I send the fax, I send a fax to two different numbers on opposite sides of the country.

At 6 a.m., I call. The wrong office. They do try to help, but…it is Christmas Eve day! "Unfortunately, no one from Customs Critical is in today" – or for the rest of the weekend, for that matter. Wowsers! So much for global 24 hour shipping! Our global shipping pros have Banker’s Hours!

This package is NOT moving this weekend- Monday at best.

You know what? It’s just time to focus on other things for a few days. 🙂


Jan. 4:

The shipment has arrived after much ado… & these should start appearing late tonight…

Lots to do! They’re absolutely amazing, each is like an exotic little jewelled sea urchin…

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