Texas jeweler worried by growing trade war

J. Craig Shearman
NRF Contributor

Tariffs approved so far in the United States’ growing trade war don’t affect the gold, silver and gemstones Amber Gustafson needs to produce the handcrafted custom jewelry that is the hallmark of her small shop in suburban Houston.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t worried about what could happen as tariffs expand.

“Whatever it costs to get it to the United States, those costs are passed on to me,” Gustafson said. “So if there are going to be higher taxes, it’s going to cost me more in the long run, which is going to cost the consumer more in the long run.”

"If there are going to be higher taxes, it’s going to cost me more in the long run, which is going to cost the consumer more in the long run.”

Amber Gustafson
Amber’s Designs Fine Jewelry

Gustafson, who has been making rings, necklaces and other items as a “bench” jeweler for nearly four decades, is the owner of Amber’s Designs Fine Jewelry in Katy, Texas. The 2,700-square-foot store that she started on her own 17 years ago now has 16 employees, including five other bench jewelers turning out one-of-a-kind items for occasions ranging from engagements to anniversaries.

With the trade war building up, Gustafson was glad to welcome Representative Pete Olson, R-Texas, for a tour of her store, arranged by NRF and the Texas Retailers Association during Congress’s summer recess. Olson, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who represents Katy, saw jewelry being made, met with employees, posed for photos and discussed public policy issues affecting the retail industry.

Olson also presented Gustafson with a certificate thanking her for being a “driver and job creator of greater Katy’s economy."

“I want to make sure they’re connected with small businesses and know what it takes to run a small business,” Gustafson said, referring to members of Congress and explaining why the visit was important. “If we’re going to grow, they have to really stay in touch with the small businesses to know how they can help and what laws will affect us.”

The precious metals, diamonds and other gems Gustafson turns into finished “Made in the USA” pieces aren’t included in the tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods already finalized. But they could be part of the next round of tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese products expected to be decided on in September — a serious concern because few, if any, of them are available in the United States. And some of the custom-made boxes her jewelry goes into are already covered, along with bags and store displays.

“Imports are part of my business — really all of my business,” she said. “We don’t mine the gold here, we don’t mine much of the silver here, and diamonds aren’t really found here. So everything comes from another country.”