All he wanted was a battery replacement for his watch, and a small gift for his wife of 65 years. So how did 90-year-old Maurice ("Maury") Branch end up purchasing a $25,000 diamond bracelet?
That's what his children want to know. "He's never bought her something like that in his life!" said Maury's daughter, Carol Branch. "They lived a very frugal life."
The saga began in late January, when Maury, a retired economics professor in Chelsea, Mich., visited La Jolla Fine Jewelry, a local shop, to buy a new watch battery. According to store owner and designer Curtis Gough, Maury and his wife, Helen, 88, were frequent customers. "I re-designed their wedding rings last year," said Gough.
On the day in question, Gough greeted them but did not wait on them, he said. Instead, another employee helped Branch buy his battery, along with a little something for his wife. "I thought it was a $20 rhinestone bracelet, and that it was pretty," Maury told ABC News. He charged it on his Visa card and went on his way.
And that would have been that, except for one minor detail: The bracelet was not made of rhinestones -- it was made of real diamonds, which Carol discovered about a month later when she saw the credit card statement in her parent's apartment.
"I saw this $25,000 charge and I said 'Dad, do you know this La Jolla Jewelry?'" Carol recalled, adding that her father suffers from cognitive impairments. "He said, 'I bought your mom a real pretty rhinestone bracelet there for $20."
Carol called up Gough and explained what happened, asking if he would be willing to refund it. "He said, 'We don't rent out costume jewelry,'" she recalled. "I said, 'They're not going to the Oscars! It's in her drawer, she never used it, and they have no idea what the value is.'"
Gough tells another story. "At any level, we try to work with customers, but we do have a no-return policy on. It says so on our receipts and in the store. This is a small family business."
"I've never argued with him about whether legally he has to issue a refund," said Carol, a retired school social worker. "I never disputed that. But once I presented him with the facts it would seem a humanitarian thing to do, just a kind, compassionate thing to do for a couple of elderly people."
Both agree that Gough offered to sell the bracelet on consignment, but that they disagreed on the commission terms. After going back and forth a few times, Carol called the attorney general's office, the Better Business Bureau, and an NBC affiliate in Michigan, which aired a story.
She also appealed to her father's credit card company. It ultimately ruled in the store's favor.
Gough says he has been working to find another buyer for the bracelet to help Maury Branch with his debt. "I would love to have this thing resolved," he said. "I'm a designer. This is my life, this is what I do. Certainly I don't need anything like this to go on."
The Branch family also hopes to re-sell the bracelet, with or without Gough's help.
"The only concern my siblings and I have is to make sure my parents have the resources to live out the end of their lives in the comfort and safety that they've planned for," said Carol. "I'm there to make sure it happens."
Meanwhile, the $25,000 credit card bill is due later this month.