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Embarrassing situation

I recently found myself in a somewhat embarrassing situation. An
acquaintance whom I have known for a number of years told me she had
recently gotten a “terrific buy of a large number of opals which had
been advertised on television.” She then said, that if I would make
her one or two pieces of jewelry using some of the opals, I was
welcome to keep the rest in exchange for payment. As she had made a
number of purchases from me in the past, I said that I would think
about it, and was careful not to commit myself any further. As we
were leaving a meeting we were both attending, she thrust a package
in my hand, and took off before I had a chance to examine its

When I got home and opened it I was really surprised to find that it
was a package of extremely poor quality, tiny sized opals. There
were about 100 of them, triplets, poorly made, many with the opal off
center from the black base on which it had been glued. They were
almost all devoid of any color other than a washed out gray.There
were a couple that were black–no fire, just dull black. Most were
about 2 or 3 mm at most. There were a few around 3X5, and a couple
that were 6X8. There was not one single one in the package that I
would want to set in a piece of jewelry that would bear my name. I
certainly did not want to hurt her feelings by telling her that the
opals were really a very poor quality, yet I had no intention of
trying to use them. After much deliberation I phoned and was careful
not to criticize the poor quality, but instead used the excuse that
the opals were so tiny that if bezel set, they would be smothered,
and would not show up to advantage, and that even the " larger"
triplets were too small to be effective in any of the.

styles of jewelry that I made. I then said that I would mail the
package back to her. Fortunately she did not press the matter. Even
though it all ended on an amiable note, I did feel quite embarrassed
about having to turn down her offer. Next time something like that
happens, I will not say, “I’ll think about it,” but will immediately
decline saying that I only work with stones that are in my
inventory—or some excuse to that effect.



There is a terrific book which I highly recommend to anyone who
finds themselves in this kind of situation. It is called, “Difficult
Conversations.” We have all had similar awkward moments where in
doing something nice turns sour, because of our inability to
communicate our story and both parties are hurt because of

Read this book, it will help. Learn from the experience and sit down
with your acquaintance and ask what was her motivation. Explain to
her how you feel about the transaction and She might see you as the
magical metalsmith that can do anything with anything. She might
have been embarrassed at purchasing a huge cache of opals thinking
that they were more than they actually are, but instead handed you
the package and said,“here, deal with these.”

My point is that it is amazing how much energy we store in holding
onto grudges and blame for past events without fully knowing what
created the miscommunication in the first place.

This book has helped me in my business transactions, customer
negotiations, family stress and my own relationships.

You will hear many should do’s and shouldn’t do’s, but ultimately in
the end, your education in how to communicate in the future will
allow you the freedom to flow and not be encumbered by awkward
scenarios. We are quick to blame, take things personal but we rarely
ask the hard and difficult questions.

Woulda, should, coulda. Wipe them clean and start again.

Good luck.
Karen Christians

After much deliberation I phoned and was careful not to criticize
the poor quality 

Not to pick on Alma, but that type of attitude is very detrimental.
It is a well known fact that 99 percent of gemstones on the market is
crap, and quality of jewellery holding those gemstones is even worse.
But nobody wants to criticize. We all behave like we are at the
permanent back-slapping convention. More and more I wish the guilds
would be brought back to instill some kind of a discipline and
quality standards.

Leonid Surpin

After much deliberation I phoned and was careful not to criticize
the poor quality 

If a customer shows me the opals they have and I think they are poor
quality, I show them my opal which are high quality white base,
boulder, crystal, black, Mexican jelly, or Ethiopian.

If they are still in love with their opal, I do not have a problem
setting their treasure. Suppose that unknown to you there were given
or bequeathed by a relative and they have significant sentimental

I am not here to judge. I provide a service, and as long as the
customer can afford my prices, understand what the out come will be,
I do the same with the customer as I do with my wife. I do what she
wants, the way she wants, when she wants. You never know what the
next job will be, I have made sales of my fine opals to the same
person I set an opal I would have never purchased. Leave the door
open, you never know what might come through the door.Closing a door
guarantees that nothing will come through again.

Richard Hart G.G.
Denver, Co.

Leonard, I understand your point, but as my acquaintance does not
know anything about stones, I just did not want to hurt her feelings.
She is not a dealer, nor a jeweler. She knows nothing about stones,
and had purchased them believing the hype of the sales pitch on TV.
She made the offer to me in good faith, believing the stones were
valuable. The ones to be criticized were those who had grossly
misrepresented the stones, not the innocent buyer.



Your point is well taken, but does not apply to the situation I was
in. First of all my acquaintance did not have any ulterior motive.
She honestly believed the stones were as represented by the hype on
the TV station. She is a kind person, not the sort who would try to
cheat anyone or to pull a fast one. I have served on different
committees with her, and always found her to be very generous and
thoughtful. That is why I did not want to hurt her feelings by
telling her that the stones were worthless. Someday, if the
opportunity arises, I will caution her against making purchases
without actually seeing the product and understanding what is a good
purchase and what should be avoided.


Honesty may be the best policy in that your opinion is valued. If you
think the triplets are poor quality then your friend needs to know.
If they have no fire or colour then they are worthless. Tact,
understanding and comiseration are essential when delivering the
unsavoury news. Yes the triplets may contain genuine opal but fire
and colour are what opal is all about and triplets should magnify
those properties. Suggestions for returning the goods to the seller
will soften the bad news. Showing some small triplets of good quality
will demonstrate what you are saying.

Regards, Alastair

I had the same experience. Awful quality and as tiny as fishtank
gravel! I begged off by saying I didn’t think something that small
would be suita ble for her individual style (it really wouldn’t).
Then I found short art icles that addressed the quality issues of
stones and copied them for her as I knew of her “…keen interest in
these types of stones.” She was ed ucated and I was saved from
looking like a judgmental prima donna.

Alma, you did exactly right. I would have done it word for word
exactly the same. You have absolutely no reason to be embarrassed,
or anything else. Don’t second guess yourself, your instincts and
consequential actions were right on. You gave her stones and then
her feelings serious deliberation before you turned her down, and
then did so with complete empathy. You can never go wrong by rushing
such things if you don’t have to.

You handled it just perfectly.


Hi Alma,

Fair enough. If you thought this is what I assumed, please
understand, it was quite the opposite.

I had a similar situation with a friend who purchased five small opal
cabs in Australia. He paid an exorbitant price for the quality. When
he commissioned me for a pair of earrings with gold granulation and a
pendant using all the stones plus more, the price I quoted for the
work and metal seemed to him extremely high. He is a good friend and
we worked out an equitable arrangement. The sad part for him is when
he gave the earrings to his then girlfriend, she refused them and the
pendant was still in process. It was awkward but we all learned from
the experience.

I obviously did not express my intent clearly to you. Good luck with
your friend.

With kindness
Karen Christians

A few years ago someone who likes my work brought in a really nasty
1/4 carat diamond. It was chipped, had a large black spot under the
table and was a really off white grey yellow. Would I set it?

It had belonged to her great grandmother, her grandmother had worn
it and it was set as the center stone in her mother’s engagement
ring. Now she wanted to give it to her new daughter-in-law.

If I’d been offered it from a dealer I would have passed the parcel
as fast as I could - but this was something special. So I set it in a
white gold shank with a yellow gold setting and two small blue
diamonds to offset the color.

It looked like a million dollars if I say so myself.

Part of my job, as a studio goldsmith, is to make dreams come true
and magic happen. Sometimes I manage to do that.

I think I would have taken the opportunity to teach her a little bit
about Opals and send her Opal hunting. (If she really wanted a piece
of Opal jewely)