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I’d be grateful for your ideas: I have had a couple of experiences
just lately where customer’s order a one of a kind x and then, in
spite of extensive conversations and drawings, when the piece is
finished to exactly their specs, they have changed their mind, and put
both of us in a difficult position. I haven’t been using an “order
contract” , but now I am building one. I’m sure other people have a
form they have developed: what would you call “must haves” in this
form? Is there a disclaimer that once all the discussed needs have
been met, then that client is responsable for the costs, regardless?
Any thoughts would be most appreciated.

Thanks, Kim

I would also like info on this topic. I realize how lucky I have
just been. I spent 20 hours on design and consultation of a crown
design, before I received any money. Things are going well (this
time) but I can forsee problems another time.


Kim, The most important thing on all custom work is to get your money
up front first. You will be surprised how much more agreeable the
customer is when they change the design after the piece is made and
find out that it will cost additional money to make the adjustments.
I have been there too many times and no longer accept custom work.

Gerry Galarneau

they have changed their mind, and put both of us in a difficult

I’m not sure a contract would help with this type of customer. If
they can’t find fault with what was done, they will with how it was
done. I don’t know for sure but I believe that after you have gone
through the process of sketch and long talks, that if the customer
doesn’t “like” the piece you produced, it has more to do with buyers
remorse that you not producing what was ordered or a misunderstanding
on what they wanted…

This is where one of the CAD / or Drawing programs would be nice, you
could actually show them a “Photo” of the item before producing it.
That still might not resolve the problem but as the say, it wouldn’t


Kim, You are stepping into a kind of iffy area here by asking people
to sign a contract about custom work. It is unlikely that it would
hold up in court if it came down to that as the courts tend to protect
the consumer (most of the time rightfully so). No matter what you
tell people about it they still won’t cough up the dough unless they
are happy. You might get away with a nonrefundable deposit but you
will still probably have to give them something for their money.
Remember that most customers are not designers and do not really know
what something they describe, or you suggest, is really going to look
like. Might I suggest that you charge enough for your custom design
work that it doesn’t matter if you have to redo the piece and that
occasionally you have to let a customer walk away without getting
paid for your time. We have a policy that we will make up to three
models for a customer before there is an additional charge added on.
We also charge enough that it usually doesn’t matter if the first one
or two don’t fly. Often the rejected models (since we always start by
making something we think will be attractive) turn out to be highly
profitable, very saleable items, regardless of whether the customer
liked it or not.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140

You might charge a nominal fee for your time in preparing the
drawings or models which could include two revisions. The fee would
apply to the commissioned work if they choose to proceed or to be
retained for your time if not.

Pam Chott
Song of the Phoenix

I have gotten burned ( worked without reimbursement on a design) in
the past. I now ask for a design fee up front. If the customer
accepts the design, the fee is deducted from the final price. If the
customer chooses not to order they receive the design and I have been
compensated for my time.


When taking in special orders I always get a deposit at the time I
take in the order, then when I have the customer come in to OK the wax
I get another payment. Usually this amounts to the cost of some time
and material and sometimes a little profit. Also getting a deposit
upfront commits the person more to the sale, in their minds if they
have not put any money down they have not bought anything. In reality
you never know why someone changes their mind, they might not have the
money anymore etc etc etc.

If they don’t want to put any money down refuse the job. Well that’s
my input.

Best to all

Bill Wismar

i had a similar experience. A client ordered a bracelet made to HER
specifications. i had reservations about the design, tactfully told
her so and suggested some modification, but she insisted that she
did not want any changes, but wanted it as per her sketch… I
made it up, and took it to a show where she was to meet me to
pick it up. She bought it, paid for it with cc, went off, and came
back a few hours later to tell me she did not want it after all, ,
as she had seen another one at a different booth which she
preferred. To my amazement she produced the preferred one, and it
had exactly the kind of modification I had suggested in the first
place. I cancelled the credit charge, and took back the bracelet.
Such is business.


Doing customized work, whether it be graphic design, websites or
jewelry, can be tricky when you get a fussy customer. However, there
are some ways to successfully balance customer satisfaction with
business profitability. My mother started her own graphic design
company 20 years ago and I’ve been able to benefit from her

First of all, it’s not uncommon or unreasonable to ask for a partial
non-refundable deposit (30-50%) up front or once the particulars of
the design are down on paper. If you have a detailed sketch of the
design, you can also get the customer to sign off on it. The more
detail you can put into the sketch (like sizes, etc.) the less chance
there is for dispute later.

If you finish the piece and the customer is unsatisfied, ask if the
customer’s dissatisfaction is with the craftsmanship (“it doesn’t
look like the sketch” or “the ring shank is uneven”, etc.) or if the
customer’s expectations were different than the original sketch (“it
looks a lot bigger/smaller/flashier than I thought it would”). If the
customer is dissatisfied with the craftsmanship, and the complaints
are legitimate (be honest), then fix them free of charge.

If the you and the customer had two different interpretations of the
original sketch (if you’ve seen “This is Spinal Tap”, remember the 10
inch tall Stonehenge), find out what it would take to match the
customer’s expectations. If necessary you may be able to re-negotiate
the final price. If you can’t come to an agreement about a corrected
design or if you’ve redesigned more than once on a particular project,
ask if the customer is having second thoughts about spending the
money. If the customer admits that it is a money issue, I suggest
acknowledging the customer’s feelings AND refunding the non-refundable
deposit. Yes, you may have put a lot of time and effort into the
piece, but when the customer does have the finances, you can bet
he/she will be back because of your integrity and goodwill.
Additionally, you may be able to sell the piece to someone else.
We’ve done that on occasion.

Sometimes, you will get a customer that just likes to complain.
Nothing is good enough no matter how carefully you sketch things out
ahead of time and no matter how much expert craftsmanship you put into
it. Sometimes you just have to say, "Mr. Jones, I understand that
you’re not happy with how the piece has turned out. I want you to get
your money’s worth and I certainly want you to be happy with your
purchase. Unfortunately, I’m not really sure I can meet your needs.
You might want to try a different jeweler who could better serve you."
The customer may protest (strange, but true), but if you don’t think
you can satisfy him/her, you are better off to fire yourself from the
job. Your piece of mind is worth it.

I would also suggest reading some books on negotiating. Also check
out for articles on this subject.


JoAnna Kelleher, owner
Pearl Exotics Trading Company, LLC
Phoenix, AZ
Phn# 623.845.0998
Fax# 623.845.0917

Don Rogers–

My way of dealing with this situation is this, for what it is worth:
I require a substantial deposit (usually half), with the
understanding that the customer is not obliged to accept the piece,
unless it is so customized (name on it or some such) that it is
unlikely to sell elsewhere. However, I will not refund the entire
deposit. On a salable piece (something I might do anyway), I keep
10%, but on a piece that took a lot of upfront effort (consultation
etc) I might make it higher. I make sure that they understand this.
Writing is best. If you keep most or all of the deposit, or if they
balk at the arrangement when you explain it to them, you lose that
customer, but they weren’t serious, so it isn’t really any loss.If
they were serious enough to justify you working hard to please them,
they would not expect to turn down the piece, so wouldn’t be
concerned. If they won’t take that chance with their money, I won’t
take that chance with my time and materials.

Hope this is of some use.


While I accept suggestions and conditions to some extent, I make it
clear that I am the final arbiter of whether I’ll attempt a particular
job, and I also reserve the right to declare it a disaster and refuse
to continue. In some cases I’ve refused to accept a deposit on a job
until I’ve actually succeeded in proving to my own satisfaction that
it is possible.

All of my jewelry is “special order”, unless someone buys something
from me in person after discovering that it is the right size already.
When I take an order over the 'net or the telephone, I ask for a
deposit before I will start the work, which has never caused a
problem. Then, depending on the nature of the piece, I will either
complete it directly, or make a prototype, and will place a picture
online where the customer can examine it, and express their approval.

So far, I have never had occasion to worry about returning a deposit,
so I’ve never explicitly mentioned any minimum non-refundable amount.
I guess I’m very lucky, but I hope to continue with things as they
are. I place enough hurdles in the path of a potential customer that
by the time they see what they’re getting, both the customer and I are
very confident that they will be satisfied.

Just my take on the situation. If I worked on things designed by the
customer, perhaps I would have to modify my position. :wink: