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Custom orders, I dislike them

I’m wondering if I’m the only jeweler who strongly dislikes doing
custom orders? Okay, I’ll come out and say it-I HATE custom orders.
They zap my life essence and my desire to make anything at all (in a
Skesis/Gelfling kind of way) because the requests that I usually get
fall so far outside of my preferred/current body of work I’m engaged
in. I would probably feel differently if the custom orders were
related to what I do. -In fact, I do enjoy the related assignments
now that I’m recalling a few.

The thing that pushed me to ask the question today is that I just
had a friend ask me to make a replacement pair of brass and probably
nickel silver earrings because she lost one of the originals. [I am kicking myself for saying I would do it.] I don’t work with brass
except for prototyping. Nickel silver? -I don’t use it in my jewelry.
With these base metal materials, my labor cost is going to end up
being much more than the cost of the supplies. And on top of that, I
would have to order a few of the raw material items because I don’t
usually use them and therefore don’t have them in stock (and, of
course, I’ll end up being stuck with the excess inventory).

I’m sure you’re probably asking–can’t I just suggest doing it all
in precious metals? Of course I could and I usually do-but folks want
the quick, cheap fixes, and they think that repairs/replacements are
supposed to be basically next to nothing in terms of cost.

I’m sure you’re also probably saying, “But it’s revenue!” and as
such, I’d be a fool not to take in the orders. I don’t think it’s
that simple, though. By the time I’m done with some of these orders,
I know I’m barely making a profit on them because I feel bad for
charging my full per/hour rate, and I try really hard to make sure
that I’m being “equitable and fair” because the materials are so

Don’t I want to see people happy? (And they usually are when I’m
done no matter what the material.) Sure. But I can’t run a business
on “happy.”

And this friend’s request is just one of a few from friends/family I
have at the moment. I have a couple of other requests for custom
orders, and I don’t want to do any of them. It’s really a
distraction, because I’m working hard on selling the stuff that I
already have in my inventory (and making more, marketing it, etc.). I
don’t want to get into replacements and repairs-not until I’m into a
certain kind of work which is a bit further into the future.

To clarify, I guess it looks like I’m talking about two different
things-repairs/replacements and custom orders, with some of those
custom orders being the fabrication of replacement items.

So, am I the only one who HATES custom orders and repairs?

Tamra Gentry

Thanks for being so honest!

I ALMOST always find custom orders traumatic. I’m an enamelist and
nothing is worse than having someone walk into my booth with a fabric
swatch! There is almost no chance that the image they have in their
head is anything near what I’m picturing when they describe it. Quite
frankly, sketches aren’t a whole lot better.

That being said I will do them for clients who pass this test. They
must be previous clients, like what I do in general and then when I
tell them that it’s likely that our visions of how this will turn out
bear little resemblance to each other they have to respond in a way
that makes me comfortable. My favorite is “oh, I know I’ll like
anything you will make me.” Those folks usually get some of my best


Why does your time suddenly become worth less when you switch from
precious metals to base metals? And why do you have to eat the costs
of being trapped by minimum orders when you make a special order for
base metal findings you don’t stock as part of your regular

An “equitable and fair” business is still a business, not a charity.

Willis Hance

Hi Tamra,

You said it yourself: you can’t run a business on “happy”. So say no.

If you know you’re going to lose your shirt on a job, don’t take it.
Even worse if it’s going to detract from pieces that do make
money. Nobody said you had to take everything that wanders by.

There are some (very rare) clients for whom you should stand on your
head while filing a gallery, but those are one of two classes:
either clients who’ve already paid you for a large number of
full-freight items, or your favorite grandmother.

For the rest, learn to tactfully say “errr…I’m really busy right
now, and don’t have the time to do it justice…” (or variations

For whatever that all’s worth.


I used to really love the flow of creativity that can happen when a
customer and I are working together on a custom piece. I’ve always
enjoyed finding out what they really want and learn a lot by
listening to their perspective/how they view jewelry. It forces me
to think outside my usual “grooves”, which envisions me to come up
with new ideas.

That being said, in June of last year I had a customer that just
about squeezed the life out of me. Although I made everything
according to her directions (even used a photo) she, being mentally
unstable, became abusive to the point that I had to cut off
communication. I don’t like custom orders nearly as much after that

I don’t hate custom orders, but I look at them very differently now -
I screen the work and turn down any and all that smack of
"vagueness", especially from people I haven’t worked with before. I
also refuse to work in any base metals except copper, since I have a
devoted set of files/tools for that metal. And don’t be afraid to
charge what you’re worth for repairs! It doesn’t matter (IMHO) what
the materials are that you’re working in, it’s your expertise that
they’re paying for. My friends and family get a discount for repairs
or custom work, and they know that full paying customers’ work always
comes first. That keeps everybody happy.

No you are not alone. I actually used to love doing custom work when
I first started out (part time). Later I often underestimated what I
should have charged & ran short on the deal…my own fault. Sometimes
a customer has lost 1 earring & it may be really weird…one I about
went nuts trying to find the exact beads & match another feather. I
finally gave up & returned her one earring. There are times when we
all need to learn to say no…I’ve been one of them.

Sharon Perdasofpy

First of all, there is one word that would help you a lot,NO.
If you “feel” you “have” to work on these orders, let them know your
hourly rate, what you think it is going to take in time to do the
work, that you have to buy the material (and usually extra) and that
you will have to charge them for the entire order as you do not carry
these materials in your materials inventory and after that, it they
still want you to do the work, then you can charge a fair price for
your work and costs. If they balk, look at you like you are
absolutely crazy, that is THEIR problem, not yours. Would they work
for literally peanuts at their job for their boss?!?!?!?!?!?!?! One
of’s are always costly, ALWAYS. What would a single sock, or one car
or a new replacement kitchen knife cost them to “have it made to
their order” even when copying the “original”??? It is up to you to
educate them about these things so that hopefully they get the
picture, but if they don’t get the picture, you will not be having to
do the work. Also, family and friends are “the worst” in expecting
work to be done or things to be made for next to nothing. Be firm on
your hourly and materials costs and if they are ok with it fine, if
not, you are not going to have to worry like you are

Hope this helps.
John Dach

Thank God for jewelers who hate to do stuff like this. I make my
living doing stuff your artsy jewelers hate. Feel free to write me

As to making jewelry for family and friends, I suggest you bow out. I
won’t sell jewelry to friends, but I will to friends of friends. If a
close friend or family member wants something fixed or custom made, I
do it for free. Saves tons of headaches and bad feelings.

Tamra, I love custome orders. They are $$$ in the bank every time…
if you let them be.

Now, that being said, I work in Gold, Silver & Platinum. I don’t
care if you want a farm tractor out of these materials, I’ll make
it. If you came to me and wanted something out of copper… I’ll be
nice and send you to someone else. :wink: AND… if you aren’t on a
VERY short list of folks, (thats three) you are going to pay
me…and I am going to profit…or I won’t do it. You’re right…
you can’t run a business on “Happy”. I deserve to be “Happy” too!

Get tough Tamra. Set your guidelines and stay within them. I’ve been
doing this for many years and I can promise you, folks will have you
making jewelry out of street lamp posts if you don’t. I hear it
almost daily… “Can you just…” “Would you mind…” Yep, I
can… in Gold, Silver, & Platinum! Nope, Don’t mind at all… In
Gold, Silver or Platinum…IT WILL COST… XXX$$$$ ! Want me too?
Then its up to them.

Be Fair, Do Nothing Less Than Perfect Work…, Be tough. Get Paid!


Hay Tamra–

Repairs?? i won’t go there— But on custom orders i see it sort of
like finding a mate on-line. sometimes it does work, and when it does
it is really great and fantastic… but you only have to have a few
sucky experiences to get a bad taste in your mouth about the whole

my advise is, —don’t be afraid to say “NO”…

one can often tell right off the bat how the deal is going to go…
even on-line one can develop some sort of intuition as far as who is
fun reasonable person and who is a nood-nick…

just because they ask you out does not mean you should say Yes… i
know of one guy that, to blow them off always recommends his most
ardent adversary…

a rose generally has more thorns than flowers and the real trick is
to just pick out the flowers…

take care
mark kaplan


well Tamra, I’ve had this type of customers and “friends”. By
writing “had” explaines already what happend with them. The point is
that friends are real friends when they understand the differends
between friendship and business. They stay friends when you setup a
price which is more then they think it whould be. However, if you
believe that you need to do something special for someone as a
friend, you need to accept the backdraft of this special deal.

It happends that I do something of a “lower grade” but believe me
that I clearly and with no space for error expain the customer that
this is a one-time happening in order to hep him/her out. No second
deal of this kind and no “buts”. If you still perform in the next
future this kind of work,deals or whatever, then the chance may be
that people mark you as a lowgrade artist of jeweller. The lowest
budget I can work for is the one as a jeweller working with silver
and that’s what people need to pay for. All customers of this type
can go in peace and the may go gladly to another gold or silversmith
and that’s the type of help they can have from me…for free.

Stay honnest to yourself in the first place and then stay honnest
with the customer and/of friends. You can’t serve two kings Tamra

Have fun and enjoy

Dear Tamra

We define “custom” piece differently. For me a custom piece is what
I always do. My customer will tell me what they want as an end
product (ring, necklace, bracelet, etc) and I design and make the
piece. That is custom work.

I also turn down work if it doesn’t fit into my model and abilities.
If I don’t have the metak or supplies, then that cost goes to the
customer. They can even keep excess metal, etc.


If you really hate them that much, I have an idea. REFER them to me,
I’ll do them. That’s about all I do along with repairs!


So, am I the only one who HATES custom orders and repairs? 

Nope, you’re not alone. Not at all.

One of the best things that happened to me, two years ago Christmas,
was agreeing to make a mother’s birthstone necklace for my
mother-in-law, designed by my two sisters-in-law. Now, to be fair,
I’ll say they’re nice women, intelligent. But they’re not jewelry
designers. And they’re giggly. Said “bangle” when they meant
"dangle", said “nuggets” when they meant briolettes, and so on. My
efforts to help with terminology didn’t go far.

They drove me nuts.

Yes, I did finish the damn necklace on time. My MIL loves it.

But I’ll never do custom work again. I’m approaching retirement from
an IT job, and I can do jewelry “mostly for fun” if I want; ie, a
hobby that pays for itself plus a little over. Mostly I’ll enjoy
making beautiful things.

I consider this lesson learned to be one of the best things that has
happened to me so far in making jewelry.

I’ve also developed a script when someone – especially if it’s one
of my clients, as ethical issues arise on that front – asks me to do
a repair. I say, “I’m really busy at the moment. I recommend you take
it to XYZ jeweler, but by no means allow them to charge you more than

The message is that the problem can go elsewhere, and that if I do
it, it won’t be cheap. Besides, I know my friend XYZ the jeweler
won’t charge anywhere near $100 for what they’re suggesting, so
everybody ends up happy.


Tamara- When Tim and I get a request to do something we don’t want
to do, we just price it so hight that if the customer says “yes” it’s
worth our while to do it.

Take for example the earring your friend wants you to replace. I
would have said, “Yes, I’ll be happy to do this for you. However I
charge $75.00 per hour for my bench time. This earring will take me 4
hours to make plus the cost of materials.” We explain that our labor
costs are the same regardless if the piece is gold or copper. We
charge $100.00 per hour for platinum work.

“So this earring will cost over $300.00 in labor alone to make. If
you want to spend that kind of money, why don’t you spend just a
hundred or so more and have me make you something nice out of
precious metals and stones that you can have for a lifetime.”

These kinds of repair/replacement situations can easily be turned
into a learning experience for the customer and a bigger and new sale
for you. I find that the better educated our customers are, the
better / more expensive stuff they buy from us.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

Not me… I liiiiiiiiiiiiiive for custom.

I so thoroughly enjoy making something for the first time. Not just
make it but make it right, technically and aesthetically. Its like
chess, you have to think ahead or suffer the consequences. Its a
challenge and I always had difficulty walking away from an earnest
challenge. My specialty is rings for noncalibrated or unlikely
stones. yeah i know, most here are probably bored by 3stoners and
such. But the confines of what you have to do is so narrow that
there is NO room for error. And each one is a new set of
circumstances so its the first time every time. Its handmade but its
got to look like a well planned production piece…there’s a
contradiction, huh? I’m not one for glopping elements together, it
needs to be totally cohesive. I abhor the excuse of, “Well, its
handmade so…” The fact that custom pays so well is not lost on me

I’ve got one now. reset her 2ct EC diamond with oversize trapezoids.
The customer and I could have taken the easy way out and just
ordered a semi mount, but it would be like every other trap semi out
there and it wouldn’t suit her particular imperative. I’ve been
thinking that this time I should take pics along the way and post
them…we’ll see.

But to take on just ‘any’ job is maybe not so smart. You’ve
discovered the pitfalls of that. You need to pick and choose. The
ones you don’t want, tactfully explain that its going to be cost
prohibitive and out of whack or you don’t DO such and such. Don’t be
afraid to say no. Don’t cut your labor charge based on lower
material value. Everybody’s cut out for something different. If you
don’t want custom don’t do custom.

Ok, I’m done spouting.

For the moment.

because the requests that I usually get fall so far outside of my
preferred/current body of work I'm engaged in. 

Well, Tamra, I’ll just say a couple of things - I suspect you’ve
started a lively thread. First is that one of the problems that many
people have is that they have a preferred/current body of work. The
advantage of working in a shop/job is that the powers-that-be will
hand you work that’s outside your comfort zone, and that’s how you
learn, like it or not. Speaking generically, not personally to

Personally, I love custom work - it’s pretty much what I do. Every
job is a challenge - well, there’s a certain same-ness to what
people want, over the years, but you just never know what’s coming
next, which I enjoy. Plus the biggest kicker of all - it’s paid

Finally, it’s not cost effective to make a missing earring 90% of
the time. If people want it done, I’ll estimate it if it’s doable at
all at a normal rate, and just about all customers decline to do it,
which is fine with me. Don’t be shy about telling the truth - “It’s
going to cost $250 to make the missing mate of a $50 pair of
earrings…” Turn the existing one into a nice pendant…

Please Read

Hi All

I added to the subject “Please Read” as I wanted those not interested
in this thread to read what I’m posting here, I heard a valuable
lesson this weekend from my 90 year old uncle about what you folks
are responding about this thread. The lesson is at the end of this

But first, after reading many of the responses I’ve seen a common
theme here. The people who dislike custom have 3 main reasons why
they don’t like doing custom work. They may have a single reason why
they hate it and some (they may not know it) have more than one.


  1. You don’t have the skills to do custom.

  2. You don’t have the patience or selling skills to take in custom

  3. You under price it and there fore once you know in your mind

From this minute on I'm now losing money or working for free or
working for a really small per hour wage" you then, I hate this". 


The only things you can do to alleviate this is: a. Take classes and
learn the areas of custom you need complete your skill set.

b. Hire others who have skills you don’t (I did this as I’m not a
good wax carver).

c. Job out the work to others who can do the things you can’t do.
There is absolutely no reason to want to say “Oh, we don’t send
anything out, it’s all done in house.” That’s silly. The customer has
said “I want what I want”. So your job is “Get’r done”.


This is something typically in your dna. Bench people "typically"
are not good sales people. Have friends, family, co-workers critique
you honestly. What is honestly? I’ve read many threads here about how
you sell, what you say or why you tell a custom customer what you
need to do the job. Mostly what I’ve read was “me, me, me”. You
mention price as if it’s the main reason customers shop and its not
number 1. Just look at the closing ratio you have when you sell a
custom piece versus selling from the showcase.

Showcase closing ratios are about 30-40% while custom closing ratios
are easily double that. Why? Because people buying custom are as
passionate about BUYING it as you are about selling it.

Have your friends, family and others tell you after listening to you
sell if THEY WOULD BUY FROM YOU. Does what you say sound stand
offish? Does what you say entice them to buy?

I taught my staff to sell after learning proper technique from Harry
Friedman. Go to his website and buy “No Thanks, I’m just looking.” I
adapted it easily for custom and repairs:

In addition I have read “Hey, we charge $75 an hour and it will take
ME 4 hours.” First off repairs bring in over $100 an hour so $75 an
hour to do more difficult work is insane. Why do you folks charge so
little? Because you just can’t come to the point to say these 3
little life changing words:

One Hundred Dollars.

Mentioning price should be a “whisper” to the customers ears, not a
shout. That’s a shout.

It could also be you should have someone else sell it and you stay
at the bench.


Almost anything is worth doing in our industry if it pays well. Most
of you know the ONE THING that would make being a jeweler a truly
wonderful event:


Our motto was:

“The only two things we can’t fix is a broken heart and the crack of

If we fixed or MADE something it had these 3 criteria’s:

  1. It HAD to be priced where we’d make a profit and it had to be the
    same percentage profit margin or hourly rate no matter if it was
    gold, silver or platinum.

  2. The customer knew what it would look like at pickup.

  3. If it was non guarantee able they would be informed about this up

The part about had to be priced at the same hourly rate was simple.
We paid all 5 jewelers on a 100% commission basis. They demanded
(rightfully so) that a silver job or platinum job pay them their same
hourly rate (on the average) no matter what. They didn’t want to get
job “A” and get paid $25 for an hour and get job “B” that pays $16 an
hour just because I didn’t have the courage to charge correctly.

When I went to our commission system it completely reversed our
company’s poor cash position because commission guaranteed the
COMPANY a profit. But then I had to start thinking about paying the
jewelers correctly. Having them quit was devastating for the company.
So I stared thinking of my jeweler’s welfare FIRST when I priced
jobs and also when I made our price book! If they were paid well and
fairly then the company ALWAYS made money. Always.

It didn’t run off customers. Having more money come in allowed us

  1. Have a nicer place. Customers are impressed with a nicer place.
    They felt confident.

  2. Hire better people, both in the shop and on the sales floor.
    Better paid people are smarter. Sorry it’s true. You can have Sally
    paid $12 an hour and she’s a bump on the log. Give her a substantial
    raise PLUS add in training and the same bump is a rock star.

  3. Make’s doing grunt custom and repairs easier to swallow because
    you’re making good/great money.


This past weekend my Uncle turned 90. At the luncheon for 45 people
his children gave a “This is your life” story. After marrying my Aunt
here in Atlanta 1951 they decided as a couple that they wanted to be
together for the rest of their lives and so they were going to open a
business together. They’d be their own boss and be able to be with
each other every day.

They were going to open a coin operated Laundromat. Big demand at
that in the 1950’s, many folks didn’t have the washing machines we
take for granted today.

My aunt’s father escaped the Nazi’s and left behind a very lucrative
business in Europe that spanned many countries. He knew how to make
money and sat my aunt and uncle down and said these important words:

“Do not make a life for yourself and your children counting coins.
Get into a business where your average sale is much higher.”

So they decided to sell wholesale costume/fashion jewelry and
accessories. They traveled the world buying these things and had many
salesmen on the road selling. I had 3 Uncles, now down to one. This
aunt and uncle were definitely the most successful in terms of money
and family. They always took 2 trips a year and traveled all over the

End thought?

Custom design has a MUCH higher average sale as well as a much
higher closing ratio.

Custom has these money making points:

  1. Higher average sale. Easily double to quadruple that of showcase
    sales. Typical sales from the showcase is $150 to $400 while custom
    is $700 to $3000 60% of the time.

  2. Higher closing ratio than showcase sales by double to triple,
    although a little less than repairs. Showcase closing ratios
    typically are 30-40%; custom is 65-80% while repairs are 90%.

  3. All of this means making a lot more money with fewer HOURS and
    many times less PEOPLE to bring in the same dollars as repairs.

  4. It also takes much less investment in inventory as most custom
    jobs work like the card companies “Just in time” material shipping.
    Custom inventory for a store can be $5000 - $25,000. Typical
    inventory investment for the showcase is hundreds of thousands of
    dollars, many cases millions of dollars for many stores I visit.

Embrace what will “set you free”.

David Geller

Thank God for jewelers who hate to do stuff like this. I make my
living doing stuff your artsy jewelers hate. 

Ouch, that’s a bit hard Norman. I certainly am one of those artsy

who make 90% of my living selling my own designs.

The custom work I do (that is worth showing) is mostly on my blog.
Custom orders can be very profitable — if nothing goes wrong And
making sure nothing goes wrong is up to you and your skill set. If
custom orders bother you then there is room for improvement. Buy some
sales technique tapes to increase your communication skills. The
Geller Blue Book to increase your pricing skills.

Learn how to set, cut stones, whatever it takes until you can make
most of what is needed to be made.

In my experience, the best way to make money out of the jewellery
YOU make is to have your own brick and mortar store.

Not every bodies cup of tea, I admit, but at least you get all the
profits (and the hassles, unfortunately).

Doing trade work just makes you work hard and makes the other guy
rich. But if that is the way you want to go, you will need a VERY
good skill set. I did trade work for years and boy, nothing teaches
you not to screw up like working on another jeweller’s stones, trust

( a bit like playing guitar in front of a live audience.) I work in
any metal. No hoity toity attitude for me. If you pay my price, I
will make it out of cow pats, if you want. (OK within reason, but you
get my drift) So I sell my ‘art’ silver rings for $1000 each. Like
this one I sold recently.

A high price? I don’t think so. My customer also does not think so
because it is bought from an emotional point of view.

It is a one off, and is very difficult to replicate, thus a certain
sense of exclusivity in included in the price.

Repairs? Bring 'em on. I do anything it takes, and I am scared of
nothing, because I am confident in my skill set.

The more you kill, the better you eat. There is simply no shortcut
in these difficult times. And boy, these are difficult times to be a

Cheers, Hans

Maybe I’m simple, but I love custom work. My business partner and I
have a tiny store. Within a ten minute drive from us is a Sam’s
Club, a Costco, and a major Navy base authors Exchange. All of the
places sell diamonds, watches and mediocre to well manufactured

None of them can repair or modify any of what they sell. So it all
comes to us.

We can’t ever compete with the volume buying power of these guys.

We only carry our one of a kind pieces.

We appear to be the only folks around who can carve a wax or do any
kind of fabrication.

So that is our specialty. Several other jewelry stores in our
neighborhood have gone under in the last few years. We opened in
April 2007. We have grown our revenue each year. Modestly! But we
are supporting both of our families.

From an artistic point of view, custom work makes us stretch to
build what the customer envisions. That’s a healthy thing.

Peggy Wilson
Harbor Jewelers