Are you headed this year to holiday gatherings with friends and family in Minneapolis or Miami? Or New Year’s Eve in Park City or Paris, Chicago or Charleston?
A record number of Americans—107.3 million—plan to travel this holiday season.1 While on the road, many of us may be traveling with presents, skis, swimsuits and festive attire. Regardless of the climate of our destinations, we’ll often be wearing nice jewelry, or hoping to receive it, around the holidays. Personally, I’ll be donning my seasonal favorite, a Martin Grant jingle bells necklace.
Holiday travel can be fun, especially if the destination offers sand, slopes or time with our favorite family members. Yet this time of the year can also be distracting. One downside of travel is that it tends to increase the risk of something happening to your jewelry. In fact, over 75% of insurance claims submitted to Berkley Asset Protection (a Berkley company specializing in insurance for personal and commercial art and jewelry risks), in the past five years occurred when clients were either traveling or away from their home.
Losing a beloved item—whether sentimental or valuable—can be frustrating and heartbreaking. Usually, losses resulting from theft or disappearance (like losing an engagement ring while snorkeling) can be prevented with some foresight and planning, and some practical, perhaps unusual advice.
Think like a kangaroo
Marsupials have a built-in pouch for their most valuable item. While the jewelry you travel with doesn’t need to be as near as a newborn, it is best to keep it close. The kangaroo strategy is simple: Select a pouch, secure your valuables, and keep them physically close.
Purchase a jewelry travel case or other designated storage “pouch” to keep jewelry and watches you are not wearing secure during transit. Select the pouch that meets your needs, considering the size of your tote bag or carry-on luggage. I once purchased an elegant white leather lockable traveling jewelry box that I thought was ideal. However, I quickly realized my amazing jewelry traveling case didn’t fit into any of my tote bags (at least, not alongside a laptop, wireless headsets and a bottle of water). My needs are better met by a large zippered pouch with pandas on it. It is important that your pouch not be see-through, otherwise its contents become visible to all. While one might assume my whimsical panda pouch contains gummy bears or hair pins, it in fact holds my jewelry and watches when I’m traveling.
The pouch goes into a larger piece of hand luggage (tote bag, backpack, purse, etc.) that I can lock. Always bring a lock for your carry-on item, even if you are not checking it. Keep in mind there may be delays or unexpected events during your trip where you may be separated from your carry-on or handbag, and locking it can help prevent others from gaining access. Many of us have had that moment of anxiety when we’ve been selected for a random search at the airport security line, and we watch while our personal belongings are in bins just steps away from us, yet accessible to others.
Caution! If your “carry-on” has luxury brand monograms all over it, anyone who sees it will assume that you have paid over a thousand dollars for it. This makes it a target for opportunistic thieves, who may assume that the contents of a luxury brand bag are even more expensive than the bag itself. I like to travel in style, too, so when I bring one of my favorite handbags with me, I always carry a dust-bag and place the bag into it so it stays out of sight and doesn’t get scuffed or spilled on in the bin to go through the security scan. Once on the plane, I place the bag-within-a-bag under the seat in front of me, so it is always within sight.
Create and repeat the ritual
As a former frequent flyer, I have developed some habits to simplify my packing. My travel rituals give me peace of mind so I can focus on work and enjoy my Bloody Mary at ten thousand feet.
1-2-3. Count and repeat. When I travel with jewelry, I decide on the pieces I will bring on each trip based on the events and need. Before each trip, I note the number of items I am taking: both what I’m wearing and the number of items that go into the pouch. For last year’s New Year’s ski trip, I took seven items of adornment and five pairs of thermal socks. While the latter are easily replaced, my grandmother’s ring is not.
I wear some pieces, and the rest go into the panda pouch in my travel tote bag. At night, I remove the items I’ve worn that day and put them in the pouch. The next morning, I select from these options, knowing the number that should be in there: seven. Whether I’m traveling for work, vacation or visiting family or friends, the ritual and the travel pouch are the same. Only the number of items changes, and that number needs to be the same every morning and evening.
Advice in flight
When traveling, the key is to be inconspicuous during the period of transit. Wear modest jewelry items when traveling by way of public transportation, so as not to draw attention to yourself. During security checks, if you are pulled out of the line to have your luggage searched, request a private room so other passengers cannot see the contents of your bags.
DO NOT place jewelry or watches into your checked luggage when flying commercial airlines. Ever. Like many other holiday travelers on the road, I want to be festive, but am also conscious of the increased risk. Since I prefer not to board the airplane decked out like a glittering tree, I choose a few discrete pieces to wear and carry the rest. Yet the cramped quarters of airplane cabins present other challenges.
If you fall asleep, earrings may fall out when tossing and turning in those uncomfortable seats. Even while you’re slumbering in the reclining beds closer to the cockpit, personal ornaments can fall into the crevices of seat cushions.
Because hands and wrists can swell at higher altitudes, it’s a natural response to take off a ring, bracelet or watch that now feels uncomfortable. But if we fold the item into a cocktail napkin, or toss it in a purse or suit jacket pocket, we might not remember where we put it when we land. Again, repeat your ritual. Any item of adornment you remove, place it in your designated pouch. THEN return to finishing your presentation, watching a movie or enjoying your chardonnay. If you realize you are not wearing your watch an hour after you land, simply retrieve it from the pouch where you always place it.
Decorative at your destination
Don’t post it
Learn from the experience of a certain media personality, who suffered a high profile home invasion a few years ago while in France: oversharing one’s habits is a risk you may not want to take. When you announce your travel plans via tweets, posts and pictures, you reveal:
- That your home is vacant—leaving it vulnerable to robbery
- Your location while traveling, which lets thieves know where to find you and your jewelry treasure chest
Consider waiting until after the holidays are over to post vacation pictures. If you do post a general location, consider not posting the name of your hotel. And if you do take pictures of yourself, try not to draw attention to items of significant value you may be wearing.
Take it off before you go
While on the beach or participating in sports activities, consider not wearing your jewelry. Jewelry gets lost while surfing, snowboarding or even playing tennis. Some people take off their jewelry to apply sunscreen, only to forget to put it back on. There is a reason you see people with metal detectors combing the beaches—they’re looking for lost or forgotten jewelry. You don’t want your heirlooms to be someone else’s pawn shop cash-out.
In addition, metals can discolor or corrode when exposed to saltwater, and jewelry can easily get damaged upon impact if you fall on the slopes. In the winter, taking scarves, mittens and gloves on and off can loosen a bracelet or watch band. Prevent a loss, and take it off.
Decide how you’ll lock it up
If you stay at a hotel this holiday season—or any time of year—you have a few options to secure your valuables, depending on the caliber of your accommodations:
- Put valuables in your room safe
- Put valuables in the main hotel safe
- Put valuables in your locked luggage
The main objective is to lock up your valuables while you are not in the room. Personally, I always keep my jewelry in the panda pouch in my locked suitcase. However, this is my comfort level for jewelry that is modestly priced. If I had a very expensive diamond necklace I was wearing to a gala dinner, for example, I would likely place it in the hotel’s main safe.
If you do deposit your valuables in the general manager’s safe, again, place your jewelry in a non-conspicuous pouch or jewelry case that you can lock. Also, check the provisions on your insurance policy. Some jewelry insurance policies provide coverage for a theft loss only if you are wearing the item, or if the item is in a hotel safe when you are traveling. Check your policy wording, or contact your insurance agent for specific coverage details.
If you use your room safe, put a reminder into your phone to empty the contents before departing the following day. In my professional experience, more people forget items in hotels safes than lose them in robberies of these safes.
Open, then add it
If you are fortunate enough to receive a beautiful watch or piece of jewelry this holiday season, be certain to add it to your insurance policy as soon as possible. A good policy will allow you a “grace period” of coverage, usually up to 90 days, for newly acquired (or received!) items. This automatic coverage usually is for items up to 25% of your jewelry value currently insured. So if you have $500,000 of jewelry and watches insured, and you received a $100,000 bracelet over the holidays, you would have coverage. But, to help avoid a loss while on the road for work or play, put your jewelry in its pouch at night, refrain from wearing it at the terminal, and keep it safely secured while you head out on the catamaran. That way, you can pursue your travels with peace of mind.
Katja Zigerlig is Vice President of Art, Wine + Collectibles Advisory at Berkley One.