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Custom jewelry - Deposit and Refund

Part of my business involves the design and creation of custom
jewelry, and I require a deposit from the customer prior to
initiating work on the order. I currently find myself in an unusual
situation and would appreciate your shared perspectives.

Four years ago I met with an elderly woman to discuss a bracelet she
wished me to create for her. The design was organic and required me
to obtain stones first and then create a rendering for her approval
prior to starting work. She placed a deposit, and stated that she
was going away on a trip for two months and would get in touch with
me to see what I proposed when she returned.

When I did not hear from her by summer’s end, I left two separate
messages on her answering machine, advising her I had found stones
and had a rendering ready for her consideration. There was no
response, so I assumed some personal circumstances had arisen to
interfere. I did not feel safe proceeding with the fabrication of
the bracelet as too many details remained unresolved and the
customer has been rather difficult and demanding.

Today, after four years of no contact, I received a letter from her
reminding me of the commission process we had initiated and stating
that I had failed to contact her. (Not so!) She noted that, while
she is still interested in my work, perhaps I am “too busy for
individual commissions”. (Don’t I wish!) I have long ago used the
stones I purchased for her bracelet in other pieces and frankly feel
that she is likely to prove “one of those customers.” While I hate
to loose a good commission, my gut tells me to just refund her
deposit, apologize for the miscommunication, and count myself

Your thoughts?
Walk in Beauty,
Susannah Ravenswing
Jewels of the Spirit
Germanton, NC


A bit of a spot you seem to have gotten yourself in. Two phone calls
does not (IMHO) constitute a reasonable attempt to make contact with
someone who left you money in good faith. You should have continued
to call on a regular basis and after more failures to communicate you
should have sent a letter. If there was no response to the first
letter, you should have sent one with a return receipt requested.
That being said, it’s too late to do any of those things so you have
to decide how much you want the job. I would call the customer
immediately, explain that I had attempted contact repeatedly and ask
her how she would like to handle it. Would she like her deposit back?
Would she still like some custom work, and if so, could I get her
back in the shop to show her the renderings in a reasonable time
period? (You can always get more stones for the job.) I’m not sure
she has qualified yet as a potential problem but then I didn’t deal
with her as you have.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Always listen to your gut feelings about a customer. I had one this
past Christmas that wanted to buy one carat each Diamond earrings.
Having had her as a repair customer for nearly 20 years, I knew her
as a difficult person to deal with. I referred her to a friend
Jewelry store owner here in town. As it turns out, I was right, she
called me a few weeks ago wanting me to sell the earrings for her,
as she did not like them. I told her I didn’t have the market for
such a pricey set of earrings, but would keep her in mind if I got a
call. I never second guess my gut feelings and I am usually right.
And luckily I don’t need the business enough to worry about being

Janine in Redding CA.

While I hate to loose a good commission, my gut tells me to just
refund her deposit, apologize for the miscommunication, and count
myself fortunate. 

Go with your gut, girl. This type of customer is nothing but trouble.
Four years??? Forget it. There must be some kind of statute of
limitations on how long you’re supposed to wait before giving up.



I generally put on the receipt terms like non refundable, and work
will be approved by a certain date and full payment will be rendered
at that time.

In your case, I would just give her deposit back, it will be less
trouble, but count this as a learning experience.

Myself, I would have replied to her in writing with something like
this: Your alive, I have been trying to contact you since (fill in
the date), I have been so worried as that I have not heard from, I
was afraid that you had passed". Take it from there.



Hey, ask her for an additonal deposit. We have been doing custom
orders for 25 years. It was the first non-negotiable policy I
initiated when the business started. Over the years, 99% of the
people have been great. Want sketches, initial non-refundable
deposit is required! Rarely have a problem. If questioned, my
response is very simple: we are about to do work on your behalf, we
expect to be compensated pure and simple. Don’t show up to see the
sketches, we keep the deposit. The rarely happens. We get a 50%
deposit before beginning work.

Four years later!, really the woman has an early version of
Alzehimemer’s or is just plain flaky!

If the client won’t give you a deposit don’t compromise, don’t do
it! Why would someone who seriously want work done balk at payment?
Write back, tell her you attempted to contact her and if she is
still interested kindly forward the 50%. Don’t apoligize.

For Information and sample chapters from my new book:

 While I hate to loose a good commission, my gut tells me to just
refund her deposit, apologize for the miscommunication, and count
myself fortunate. 

Yep, you got it. Apologize, refund and walk away, grateful that you
have retained your sanity.

I appreciate all these little reminders on Orchid of why I don’t do
custom work.

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay


I always use Certified Mail with a return receipt in such
communications. Maybe 2 or 3 mailing over several months if needed.
The signatures establish a paper trail. You have their signature. If
not, you still have proof that you made a good faith effort to
contact them.

I would return her money, apologize, and run… fast. This job will
be trouble to no end. If she still wants to go with it. Double the
price… at least! Call it a nuisance fee. Besides 4 years have
passed and material prices have changed.

The best bet is to pass on the job and send her to a competitor that
you don’t like.

I have come to enjoy my work and life too much to be dictated to by
someone who is wants to be “difficult and demanding”. I even get
students who try to get away with it too. Hence guidelines and
policies. It may come down to who is in control. It is my business,
my artistic abilities. I control how and for whom they are used. If
push comes to shove, I am the artist, it is my prerogative to be

Let us know how it works out.

Bill Churlik

Hi Susannah,

Ive done custom work for tons of years and had a similar situation
three times. All three times it was the darn fault of the answering

Other family members pick up the messages and don’t get them to your
client or the client themselves have a hard time operating the
machine and unintentionally erase the message or do not pick it up

When I figured this out…only took 25 years…I changed my approach
to things. First, at the design appointment meeting always schedule
the wax approval date. Second, if that goes south and you need to
make a phone call to reschedule (or they stand you up) never give up
until you talk to a ‘live’ person. Try 6 diffent times of the day if
necessary. Voice mail and answering machines are not a positively
dependable way to connect with a client.

My approach with this client would be that it was your responsibility
to contact them and if they give you another opportunity to complete
the job, you would be humbly and eternally grateful. If you do this
well, I guarantee that you will have a client for life.

T Lee
T Lee Fine Designer Jewelry
18 University Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(612) 789-2656
(612) 677-3700 fax

Hello Susanna,

If the answering machine was indeed the lady’s, it sounds like she
might have been short of funds and chose not to respond. As you
said, she could be “one of those customers”, but it wouldn’t hurt to
check the phone number to be sure it was hers. I’ve had people
leave a message on my machine after dialing a wrong number, and
there is no way to let them know of their error. (If she remembers
the commission after 4 years, I don’t think senility is her

You don’t want her to bad-mouth you to others, so it wouldn’t hurt
to be apologetic on the miscommunication part. But if she wants a
refund, give it to her gratefully.

Let us know how this turns out,
Judy in Kansas

     While I hate to loose a good commission, my gut tells me to
just refund her deposit, apologize for the miscommunication, and
count myself fortunate. 


One must consider also that there could have been some
misunderstanding and miscommunication here and that this woman may
turn out to be a great customer, but I think this one smells like
trouble. Refund her deposit and politely turn down any future
commissions from her.

Milt Fischbein
Calgary Alberta Canada

 I appreciate all these little reminders on Orchid of why I don't
do custom work. 

I don’t take all the precautions others posters have mentioned. I do
take 50% down and I meet with the customers at various steps along
the way. My skill at listening and my skills at creating custom
pieces over the last 12 years at my present location would indicate
I am doing something right I have no problems with unhappy customers.

Creating pieces that are treasured and are heirlooms is something
that I am very proud of. I am meticulous and obsessive about
casting, finishing, setting, and the quality of stones used.

To have reached the level of skill in communicating , and to have the
skill to accomplish the work, including using other craftsmen to
achieve the standard of quality that is acceptable to me has taken me
30 years to learn.

The gift I was given was to be able to learn how to be precise with
people and with jewelry techniques. And to recognize my limitations
and find someone who knew more or did better at some skills that
would take me to long to learn, or I was not going to get good at.

I do not advertise. I have months of custom and repair work at this
point. And my customers are patient, and willing to wait, as I
prioritize wedding, engagement, birthday, anniversary ect. and put
other work off for 4-6 months if need be.

I had a customer come to me to do some work for her and she
apologized for having had a ring made somewhere else, and she
regretted it because of what they went through, and it was not done

I put myself through a virtual college of hard knocks to get where I

The rewards of meeting the challenges I created for myself is like
feeling like my heart is singing and my soul is dancing.

My wife has been in the hospital three times in the last year. It has
been extremely challenging to manage my wife’s health care and run a
retail business. In that order.

I have had to let go of fear, anxiety, and stress and live in the
moment and see every challenge as an opportunity. I did not know how
things would work out, but I knew the task was larger than I could
manage, and I had to develop trust. Trust that I needed to be open to
solutions I could not perceive at the moment.

And what happened was, fewer custom jobs; but higher ticket ones. A
new employee, extremely capable, jewelry arts major in college and in
love with jewelry, came to me as the one I had for 8+ years was
moving to another state because of her husbands job, and patience and
understanding from all my customers this last year.

I did bust my — to organize, delegate, meditate ect. as best I
could, but you know, it seems like, I had help. Some things "fell
into place. like it was luck, or coincidence, or…?

Richard Hart

Hello Susannah:

If you take a deposit to do a sketch and you do the sketch and the
customer disappears then it is not your fault and you have fulfilled
your part of the bargain. In this case you even laid out money to
buy stones for the design. Money you could have used to buy
something that you could have turned a profit on. You tied up money
and the Lady walked away. It is not your responsibility to call her
6 times a day and waste more of your time chasing someone who failed
their side of the deal. Call her and give her the sketch that she
paid for then start a new deal if you want or fire her as a

Think about it logically. A deposit is taken in to protect you from
theft of service. If you, after performing the service, refund the
deposit then you are enabling the customer to steal from you. Write
her off but keep your money that’s my opinion.



Call this the commission from hell… I had one of these and
swore never again.

The person saw a piece, but wanted it changed just a little… that
was where the problems started. Ok, I said… I went on to make a
sketch and she initialed the drawing. So far so good. I called the
next week and made arrangements to hand deliver. She was late coming
home, so I waited at the front of the gated community until she
arrived and followed her to the house. She said to me, please wait
in the driveway while I get the money… She went inside and for
what seemed an eternity (actually 20 minutes) and finally came back
out. I showed her the piece… she said " I wanted the stone on
the left corner and not the right", I showed her the drawing that she
approved and initialed. " No go" in her book, so back to the bench.
I offered to give her the money back, but she reminded me that this
was a gift from her mother and that her mother would be very
disappointed if I did that… oh well, back to the bench. This went
on two more times. This commission came to me by me taking a booth
at a charity show, where you sell items, they take a percentage and
then you get money for your work, so I had already been paid in
full. The price was also steep, which was good for me, the artist.
It turns out that finally after doing two more pieces, she accepted
the work. The only good thing is that I got several more
commissions from people that she knew and that was excellent… I
did charge a very hefty price for each and every other piece out of
that group, lest another person give me a hard time like she did. I
learned to put into my “commission agreement” that the piece created
as a one of a kind piece shall be only altered one time and if the
work is not acceptable at that point for any reason, the signing
party is still responsible for full purchase price once the person
initials and approves the creation of the piece. No money will be
refunded, nor the sale negated and the item is to remain the property
of the artist until paid for in full. The deposit forfeited if the
piece is not accepted.

I always make sure that the deposit more than covers materials and
my estimated labor, so I am in the win, win situation, not the
person who ordered the piece. Remember, you are the best person to
make the deal in your favor. As for first piece that I did for the
original commission, I entered a competition and won first place and
some money to boot. Now, that piece is in my permanent collection.

You never know. It also turns out that the person who was the
original consignee never let anyone into her house… there was a
running joke in the community and the others who I did work for,
asked if I got to see her house. People are indeed funny.

Beth Katz
Paste Solder and Powder Solder for Jewelers and Metalsmiths


We can all tell similar stories. It comes down to making a business
decision. Will the poor word of mouth hurt me more than biting the
bullet and re-doing the job. None of that can appear on your custom
design agreement. Seems as if you did get the benefit of her good
word of mouth and as they say what goes around comes around. Never
was quite sure what that meant but how about, “friends come and go,
enemies just stay and grow”.

Enough home spun wisdom.

For Information and sample chapters from my new book:

To have reached the level of skill in communicating , and to have the
skill to accomplish the work, including using other craftsmen to
achieve the standard of quality that is acceptable to me has taken me
30 years to learn.


I am proud (in the South that’s a positive word) to be sharing the
same forum with you. You have accomplished what I am striving for.
I know there has been a lot of give-and-take about whether one is a
true jeweler if he or she doesn’t do everything from design to final
polishing without help from anyone else. I am solidly with you–if I
know someone who can do it better, or help me make a deadline, I tell
my client that I will be taking that particular job or phase of a job
to a wonderful, trustworthy jeweler whom I respect. My clients seem
pleased that I don’t think I know it all and am willing to get help
when I need it.

I have a great auto mechanic whom I respect and trust. If I take my
car to him and it needs something done that he doesn’t have equipment
or skills to accomplish, he takes it to someone who can do the job
and then stands behind the work as if it were his own. I feel much
better about that than having him tell me to go somewhere else. Why?
Because I trust him and his confidence in the mechanic he jobs it out
to. If something goes wrong, Ijust deal with my mechanic and he
deals with his jobber.

Richard, my thoughts are with you as you face the additional
challenge of taking care of your wife in her times of illness. The
fact that you place her above your work just adds to my respect for
you. I have never met you, but I feel I know you just from reading
your post. Please know that I will be praying for you and your wife.

Del Pearson of Designs of Eagle Creek in Beautiful South Texas where
we are proud of hard, honest work–no matter who does it.

First of all, I want to express my thanks to those of you who shared
your personal perspective on this situation. As I work in relative
isolation, I really wasn’t sure how others might have responded in
my situation. Also, this was the first time in 30 years that I’d
encountered such a problem. I am an independent craftsmanwith no
storefront, working from a studio near my home, and will frankly
admit that I’ve probably been entirely too informal in my dealings
with customers.

Your comments brought home to me the realization that I need to
establish a design fee, separate and apart from any charges for the
actual production of a custom piece of jewelry. Previously, I
regarded the creation of potential designs as part of my general
marketing process, and just rolled the design time involved into the
overall production labor time for the piece. I retained the design
and the rendering. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that the design
rendering was an actual product being purchased by the customer in
addition to the finished jewelry.

I agree with the importance of clear communications with customers,
since most problems seem to occur when the parties have conflicting
expectations. I generally consider myself a good communicator, but
your responses have helped me to realize the need for a more formal
contractual agreement with customers that sets forth in writing the
exact schedule of what happens when. (It’s tough when your
free-spirited artist side is so much stronger than your pragmatic
business side!)

A number of you felt that I had not made enough effort to contact
the customer, or noted that messages do go astray. I might also add
that this customer had stated that she was going out of town for the
rest of the summer and would contact me when she got back to town
(which she did not do.) I’m still struggling with what constitutes a
"good faith" effort to contact her and at what point repeated calls
on my part cross the line into caretaking someone who should be more
responsible. (To be honest, if I had placed a substantial deposit
with a craftsman for the design of a custom item, you can bet I
wouldn’t have let it slide for four years without seeing what was
up! In her letter, the customer commented that she’d “just come
across the receipt”, which prompted her to get back in touch with
me.) Having worked very hard in recent years to change an overly
responsible caretaking pattern in my personal life, I am loathe to
perpetuate it in my professional one.

With the exception of a few writers, most of you reinforced my gut
sense that it was in everyone’s best interest for me to just refund
the customer’s deposit and count myself lucky to be out of the
equation. I work very hard to accommodate my customers’ needs and am
proud of my ability to create well-made and deeply meaningful work.
I have built my business by word-of-mouth, earning a reputation for
quality workmanship and insightful design. There were many lean
years when I didn’t feel I could afford to be selective about
commissions, even from customers who were clearly difficult or who
requested work that didn’t reflect my personal taste. However, I
have learned that there are some customers who are “energy sponges”,
individuals who believe that their money entitles them to monopolize
your time and suck your attention. My thirty years of hard work have
earned me the right to be selective and taught me to trust my gut.

So, while I could have called up this lady and offered to meet with
her again and see whether we could reestablish an active commission,
I ultimately chose to write her a very polite letter expressing
regret that our respective circumstances had prevented the
completion of the commission and stating that I felt the appropriate
solution would be for me to refund her deposit. The enormous sense
of relief I felt upon reaching that decision made me sure I was
doing the right thing, and your kind feedback has simply reaffirmed
my instincts.

Walk in Beauty,
Susannah Ravenswing
Jewels of the Spirit
Germanton, NC

 In her letter, the customer commented that she'd "just come across
the receipt", 

Reminds me of a jeweler’s joke:

A guy brings his ring into a jeweler to be sized down. The very
next day he’s called overseas on business for 3 years. When he
finally gets back to his home he’s looking through his stuff and
finds his receipt from the jeweler. He says to himself that he has
to go see what happened to his ring. He goes back to the jeweler
and hands him the receipt. The jeweler goes in his back room,
rummages around for awhile, then comes back out and says: “It’ll be
ready tomorrow.”

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Hello Susanna,

Thanks for sharing the outcome of your dilemma with the 4 year
customer. I believe in that “gut” feeling - our subconscious usually
knows best. If you felt great relief upon terminating the
relationship, it was the right thing for you!!

Judy in Kansas