Customer request - what would you think?

I fabricate mixed metal jewelry. From time to time I will cut stones
to fit a design for a customer. Recently one of my favorite
customers sent a friend to me for a job. This is what the friend told
me she wanted:

Her husband’s 60th birthday is coming up. He doesn’t wear jewelry.
He does collect agates. Can I make a sterling tray, or candle
holders, or tray with a candle holder, or perhaps with an incense
burner, but so the ash collects on the tray, or napkin rings (her
last choice as they already have napkin rings), and incorporate
something in 6’s for his 60th, and recut some of his tumble agates.
And her budget is max $250. She is currently awaiting my reply. And
design ideas. I have received 3 separate emails with her thoughts.
She is excited and enthusiastic.

Any thoughts on this request? I’m trying to see if I my gut reaction
to this was outta line.


Hi Carla,

It’s easy. Here, say it after me. No.

Your gut reaction is not out of line.

However, she will need to know why. She is probably totally unaware
of how much labor is involved. Price it out for her.

I would however, come up with some plan of what you could do for

Either she will settle for much less and you can do the work and not
feel bad about doing it, or she will say forget it.

There’s a guy in our beginning jewelry class who used to complain
when his wife purchased one of kind jewelry and paid high prices. She
got so tired of his complaining, that she purchased his class as a
gift. By week four he was amazed at how long it took just to make one
tiny silver band ring. I met him in the hall last week when he told
me the story. He said, “I have such respect now for those who work in
this craft.”

Hopefully you two can come up with a compromise that will work for
both of you.

Good luck.

School for Jewelry and the Metalarts
50 Guinan St.
Waltham, MA 02451
781 891 3854


Is your gut reaction to laugh?

I think people just don’t understand the price of metals, labor,
design, time, etc…

Maybe give her an idea of what $250 would get her. That might help
her to understand that what she’s asking for is unreasonable.
However, I would tread lightly on this one since she’s a referral
from one of your favorite customers.

Interested to see what others think,

Amery Carriere Designs

What is outta line Carla? Whether or not you see her budget as
feasible, the request itself seems, to me, pretty much in line with
what you can expect when you take on custom or commission work. This
is what I love about it. Many people don’t see differences between
lapidaries and jewelers… If it has a stone in it then they assume
that you work in stone. The 3 part question is: do you want to do the
job; can you do the job; is the job worth doing within her budget?

Sometimes the jobs that seem the oddest or most unrelated to what
you do can really take you in new directions. If her idea about the
costs involved seem low (or unrealistic) then let her know. I have no
idea what her ideas entail, but I always enjoy an enthusiastic

Take care, Andy Cooperman

Here’s what my gut says to the situation as you outlined it: A) I
think her max budget is too low for the amount of work she’s asking
you to do, and B) How is hubby gonna react to one of his agates being
recut and mounted? In my gut, B outweighs A. Surely the collector
knows he could have his agates cut and mounted in metal. It sounds
like he tumble polished them himself. But he hasn’t had them recut,
ergo he doesn’t want them recut. If I undertook this job, I’d only do
so if I could steer the woman to using other agate in the piece, or
to using just metal. What I’d consider designing is a metal
display/holder/frame of some sort so he could put out one of his
agates in/on it. If I felt I could do that for less than $250.


I couldn’t touch the job for that amount of money but, I get alot of
requests for items that don’t fit the budget. I steer the client to
what I can do for that amount of money, I never say that is not
enough. I will also quote what I would charge for what she wants if
she really pushes it, but I would try to say things like," for your
budget, I can make a beautifull…"what ever it is you have in mind.

Sam Patania, Tucson

I would approach it from this stand point. I would do a tray that
was hexagonal made with six pieces of metal. I would then have her
put 6 of his tumbled agates in the tray. To try and cut the agates
and incorporate them into a design would be tough to do on her


Any thoughts on this request? I'm trying to see if I my gut
reaction to this was outta line. 

Tactfully explain to her that if she added a zero to the end of her
budget you’d be happy to work with her. Perhaps a key fob, or maybe
she could convince him to wear a pendant. This would be more inline
with the stated budget if she had come to my studio.

Matthew Crawford

Sixes, ashes incense, candles? Yikes!

I wouldn’t cut his collected agates, though. That’s what sounds like
the wrong idea. If he collects them, I’m sure he won’t want them cut.
Incorporating them in something would be better. It all sounds weird
to me.


If you can pierce, cut a six and a zero out of sheet silver, get one
of his polished stones, go to a frame shop and buy a nice wooden
frame to contain the stone, and affix the 6 and 0 to the frame sides.
If there is a flat slab, perhaps mount the frame onto it. Otherwise,
cut a rectangle to sit the frame onto.


People will often go higher than they planned once they see what $X
buys. I’m working with a guy right now who has doubled his budget,
and there’s room for more as he develops his concept. (Not that I’m
hard selling) Why? Because if he is considering custom its because he
wants to make a special statement. One that goes beyond I got this
for you on sale at Walmart.

Hmmm… actually, I am seeing the fun of a challenge in all of this!
Since you work in mixed metals, what about picking one of the less
expensive sheet metals you work with (copper? brass?) and fashion a
very simple, small tray that has some nice bends in it and that
turns up gently on 2 sides. (I’m thinking of the size a man would
use on a dresser to contain small items such as a watch.) Cut some
openings on each side for handles. Figure out how to incorporate
some silver into the design, which could mean soldering some onto or
around the handles in a curvy or geomentric design. Wire wrap 2 of
the agates using silver wire and attach one to each of the handles.
Suggest she gets him a nice 60th birthday card for the 6 and 0! If I
were doing it, I’d be fine with the $250 for this, considering that
my materials cost would be very low (I get scrap sheet metal very
cheaply from a metal supply, there wouldn’t be much silver wire
used, and the agates are her husband’s), and I’d have a new item to
market!Would that work for you (or can you get some other ideas from
it?)Best regards,


Carla - how about a Letter opener???


Thank you all for your thoughts. Most echoed mine.

I live in a different city from this person, all design work would
have to be scanned and emailed back and forth. All very time
consuming. I felt right up front at least 1/2 her budget should go
to just the design phase. Then there was the down time from my real
business of making jewelry. And the anxiety of pulling off the
perfect gift for her husband’s birthday… Made my head hurt. I
like pushing my edges out and taking on challenges, but this one
didn’t seem like much fun to me.

I’m writing her a nice email, politely declining the job.


My thought on this was what Barbara wrote…making a nice display
piece so that the husband can display his favorite slabs or tumbled
stones, one at a time on a rotating basis…perhaps on his desk or
what not.

I once had a commission, about 9 years ago, to do a watercolor of
this old sailor’s battleship, the one he had been stationed on in the
early 1960’s. I way underbid the piece and it took me forever to do
since I HATED it!!! I swore never again to do another “gray boat”,
our euphimism around here for any commission work. The painting
sucked eggs but he loved it.

Your heart has to be in it and it is better to say no, it’s not what
I do and keep a friend.


like pushing my edges out and taking on challenges, but this one
didn't seem like much fun to me. I'm writing her a nice email,
politely declining the job. 

Now that you’ve made up your mind about this commission (and you’re
so correct - the price mentioned should at least have had a 1 in
front of it), I thought I’d share the way I would do this project. I
would have formed a small shaped shallow tray from metal clay. I
would have used three agates for the legs of the bowl - maybe sliced
the tops from each to have a polished look showing through the tray
bottom and again sliced at the bottom for a stable seating surface. I
would have inlaid copper wire formed into the 60 in the clay to be
sanded and burnished back to the surface after firing. The only
question would be the response of the agates to the heat of the
kiln. I’ll be the first to admit that the same look could be achieved
with sheet sterling, but the inlay wire for the 60 is so easy with
metal clay, and I think the whole thing would work well. But…I
haven’t actually done the project in this fashion and the gods of
Murphy will always put the unexpected into the best laid plans and
paths…LOL. It could have ended up as a real mess :-)) I think you
did the wise thing by turning down the project.

BBR - Sandi Graves, Beadin’ Up A Storm
Stormcloud Trading Co