When you work with materials as valuable as precious metals and gemstones, you need to take measures to keep them safe — which could mean anything from Rover the attentive watchdog to installing a security protocol that would be suitable for the likes of Fort Knox.

In recent years, however, jewelers have benefited from technological advances that have resulted in new or improved methods of ensuring shop security. What follows are three of those methods. All reduce the risk of theft, and some even offer additional benefits in such areas as sales, training, and overall inventory management.

High-Sensitivity Metal Detectors

The risk of loss from employee theft is greatest, naturally, at operations with numerous employees: The more hands that touch the product, the more likely that some precious components will go missing. To deter loss, jewelry manufacturers have the option of installing high-sensitivity metal detectors.

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“The key is not to impact the workflow too much in the facility,” says Nick Belenky, loss prevention manager for CEIA USA Ltd. in Twinsburg, Ohio. “This usually means setting up a checkpoint not unlike an airport security check, only backward: Instead of looking for what’s going in, you’re checking what’s going out.”

With today’s advanced metal detection equipment, employers can screen employees as they enter the facility for their shift, thus capturing their “metal profile” — essentially, how much metal is on an employee at the time of entry. The detectors do another scan when the employee exits the building, then automatically compare that profile with the one captured earlier, determining if he or she added any metal while at work.

CEIA’s Loss Prevention System works in this fashion, enabling an employee to be fully screened in under a minute. “The sensitivity of this system allows a jewelry manufacturer to tailor the settings for the detection of various ferrous and nonferrous metals, reducing the nuisance of alarms going off unnecessarily,” says Belenky. “This also reduces the time employees spend being screened, providing a method to detect and deter theft without negatively impacting productivity.”

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Hi-Def Video

The superb video quality available today may be a channel surfer’s dream come true, but it could also be a jewelry manufacturer’s or retailer’s new best friend. “Most anti-shoplifting video systems are inadequate for the jewelry industry, as they don’t provide sufficient resolution,” says Elie Ribacoff, owner of Worldwide Security Network in New York City. He suggests that jewelers who manufacture or sell high-value items should look to megapixel High Definition IP (internet protocol) video cameras.

“Well-placed cameras can document work in progress, alert you to visitors at your front door, and provide evidence in case of an accident or crime,” he explains. “Video captures everything — it’s an unblinking eye that assures you won’t miss a beat.”

In addition to capturing the video footage, you need a way to store it in case a security breech arises and you have to review it. Consequently, a Hybrid Network Video Recorder, which is capable of recording the fine detail of IP cameras, is essential. It should have enough hard drive capacity to store the data for a sufficient period of time, typically about 30 days minimum. Also, if you want to stream the video live to an off-site device, some available systems enable you to view what your cameras are seeing 24/7 on a PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet.

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Ribacoff suggests working with a professional licensed installer to find the best system for your jewelry manufacturing operation. “Lighting should be taken into consideration to avoid dark or blind spots and glare from lights and torches,” he says. “And ask the installer to show you sample videos from the equipment he is proposing, and allow you to try the software so you can see if you are comfortable with it.”

Ribacoff adds that while the main reason most jewelry makers install video systems is to feel safer in the workplace, the benefits go way beyond safety. “Today’s HD video can be up-loaded to your retail clients’ websites or to YouTube to visually illustrate how you sort and set stones or make jewelry,” he says. “You can also document repair work or quality-control inspections, as well as use videos to train staff. The benefits to sales and training are just as important.”

RFID & Laser Engraving

Keeping tabs on jewelry or diamond inventory has never been easier since the introduction of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. Small tags containing microchips are encoded to match the numbers in the user’s inventory system and attached to jewelry items or diamond parcel papers. The tags can then be identified by an RFID reading device that puts out a radio signal — the chips respond to the signal. The process is quick and easy — large numbers of tags can be read at once, thus enabling thousands of items to be inventoried in a fraction of the time it would take to do manually or with barcode scanners.

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“Daily stock takes or even multiple scans per day are possible with this technology,” says Johnny Hazboun, chief marketing officer for TJS in Boston.

Frequent scans are a significant deterrent to theft, adds Tim Murphy, vice president of sales and marketing for TracTech in New York City. “A discrepancy report comes up when unsold items scanned previously don’t show up in the next inventory taken,” he says. “While it’s not a real-time alarm system, it’s going to quickly identify that a problem exists somewhere in the operation.”

RFID technology also allows retailers and manufacturers to track the location of items as they move through a store or shop. “Knowing exactly where each item is has been proven to dramatically decrease shrinkage,” says Hazboun.

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Manufacturers who want to track work in progress can keep even closer tabs on items and employees by giving each employee a unique RFID tag to swipe when he or she receives an item to work on. “Each person handling the item swipes his or her tag and the job tag, which creates a record of the time they received the job and when it left their desks,” says Murphy.

Another, more permanent way to track finished goods inventory — even after it leaves the retail store shelf — is by laser engraving a unique serial number on the product.

“Machines today have 10 to 20 times more pulse energy than those of five years ago, allowing for engravings that are 20 to 30 thousandths deep, as opposed to just on the surface,” explains James Gervais, president of LaserStar Technologies, which is based in Riverside, Rhode Island. “These deep marks can be placed in an inconspicuous spot on a piece of jewelry, making them difficult to locate or polish off. If a thief tries to pawn the goods, you’ve got them.”

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Because the technology has advanced to the point that you can mark a unique serial number or trademark without contact — there is no probe that will destroy any handwork on the piece — the laser marking can be the last step in the manufacturing process before the piece goes out the door, adding another layer of security.

Such advances go far beyond Rover, and will no doubt keep thieves up at night wondering how to overcome them — while you sleep very well, knowing your precious materials are protected.