It's easy to kick a company while it's down. Former Fool contributor Stephen Simpson did exactly that to jewelry retailer Zale (NYSE:ZLC) last May, while I joined in the act back in November. When it comes to courting customers (and investors, for that matter), Zale has resembled nothing so much as Back to the Future's bumbling George McFly approaching the woman of his dreams with that awkward line: "You are my ... density."

If replaying that example of cinematic greatness in your head isn't enough for you, check yesterday's Fool by Numbers for the details. Yet there are reasons to suggest that a brighter future may not only be the stuff of science fiction.

For one, the company has struggled, but it hasn't done enough damage to completely tarnish its brand name. This is exactly why a strong brand is so valuable: It can hold a company through years of poor managerial decisions.

Second, while it may defy logic, management isn't attempting to sell us on some kind of imminent turnaround. Regarding the full-year earnings estimate, Wall Street analysts are somewhat more bullish than the company itself. Zale is playing the conservative card, refusing to project much better than flat growth for 2007, which I greatly prefer to an attempt to pretty up a cubic zirconium like it's something more valuable.

And third, the company is taking a few steps in the right direction, which were detailed in last month's take. I believe the most promising is its investment in employees. Having a number of friends who have recently married, I understand the value of customer service in this industry. Tearjerker commercials might be nice, but only motivated employees can provide customers with the sense of confidence they need to walk away happy from such a major purchase.

For fiscal 2007, of which two quarters remain, Zale estimates $1.52 in earnings per share at the high end. At this morning's stock price of $27.70, you're looking at an earnings multiple of 18.2. With Signet Group (NYSE:SIG), one of the industry's best performers, trading at a slightly lower multiple and paying a 2.5% dividend yield to boot, it still isn't much of a contest choosing the most eligible suitor for your dollars.

On the other hand, like we say here in Kentucky, "investin' ain't marryin'." If you find the retail jewelry industry appealing, there's no shame in putting most of your money with a well-managed competitor like Signet while placing a side bet on Zale. After all, if George McFly got the girl, you never know.

For more on the jewelry business, check out:

Fool contributor Jason Ramage holds no financial interest in the companies mentioned here. Also, he just made up that saying, "investin' ain't marryin'" -- so as far as he knows, nobody actually says that. His CAPS rating is 11,839 out of 23,228. The Fool's disclosure policy makes two months' salary last forever.