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Ever turn down ugly work?

I repaired a Fred Harvey era bracelet for a good customer. For those
who don’t know about Fred Harvey he made a name for himself by having
native American craftsman make silver and turquoise (and other
stones) jewelry. He had stamped parts and silver that he would supply
as well as the stones and sold them out of a catalog and at his
tourist gift or curios stores. During my last visit to Grand Canyon
his company still had the concession some 12 years ago.

Anyway, enough of the history lesson. So this Fred Harvey era
bracelet had broken. This is common with this design because the
bracelet was stamped out of 16ga ss sheet. But this bracelet was
extraordinarily ugly. If was in the shape of an artist’s (painter)
palette. It had various types of different colored 8mm round cabs set
around it representing the paints and one ugly quartz cab set in the
center. I tell you it was so ugly I kept it hidden and only got it
out to work on it and deliver it to the customer.

Well guess what. Some lady saw the bracelet and wants one just like
it. My friend committed to deliver. Now I should be working on it
instead of goofing on the computer but it’s hard to get motivated to
make something butt ugly. What a waste of silver and time.

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Hi Rick,

I know I’m only a beginner (started making about six months ago, so
I haven’t got loads of experience) but I know what you mean about not
having the heart to work on something that’s really ugly.

I offered to make a ring for my sister’s birthday so she requested a
ring made in sterling silver with an Indian moonstone. It was to
match a gorgeous silver and moonstone necklace her husband had
bought her for their 25th wedding anniversary. I duly bought a
gorgeous piece of pear-shaped moonstone - an elegant and slim stone
to match her tiny fingers and one with the most amazing blue shimmer.
I also bought a fatter pear-shaped piece from the same vendor, with a
pendant for myself in mind. She visited me one day so I could size
her finger and show her the stone. She saw my stone and fell in love
with it, as it matched the large moonstone in her necklace, having
the same sort of crazed look. She asked me if I could make it using
that. She then promptly showed me a website that she had bought
jewellery from, and some of the designs she likes. She said that she
like the pear shaped stone to “point” sideways!!! Not my personal
taste but it was her ring.

So I started working on this ring for her birthday. I fabricated the
ring from sterling sheet. It was extremely difficult to make a ring
with such a huge stone for someone with such tiny fingers (US size
5). I came to my bench every day and just couldn’t bear to get this
hideous thing out of the drawer to work on it. I put if off and put
it off and then one day mouthed a few expletives, melted it into a
ball of silver (deliberately) and decided that she would have the
one I bought specially for her and that it would be my design and not
hers. I sent it to her and she absolutely loves it and said that I
was right not to use the bigger stone! Incidentally her daughter
also loves it too and keeps running off with it, so I’ve just made
her a similar one for Christmas.

Ideas that come into your own head spur you on to complete them. I
think if someone else has a specific idea that isn’t to your taste,
it is very difficult to conjure up the enthusiasm to actually make
the thing.


And then there’s the people who come in with their own (butt ugly)
design to make up and when it’s done they’re so happy with it they
say they’re going to tell everyone where they got it and all you can
think is please, please DON’T have any friends you can tell where
you got it from!!!

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

personal choice in this situation = money or not making money… you
can always improve the design and deliver a profitable silver
bracelet with a palette and multi-coloured cabs for a contracted
price that rationalizes the time at the bench…( do get a deposit on
custom work) What’s on the bench is no reflection of your
the job you selected for yourself…

One can always elect to turn away business though it’s rather
defeatist if you’re trying to build a good business reputation. the
customer wants to feel that they have an established relationship
with their jeweler- which means they can walk into the sales room
and present any piece of jewelry they have for repair without any
aires of disapproval or criticism. You should think of it objectively
and from a fabrication standpoint rather than one that reflects
opinion on artistry,design, or gift…the customer obviously values
anything they bring to you for repair or they wouldn’t walk in with
it in the first place.Often the value to the customer is symbolic
rather than actual and it is better, in my opinion, to promote your
skills and repair business rather than turn away money and/or repeat


Hey RIck…Its one thing to be working on our own butt ugly
work…as we all know, each of us has missed the mark at one time
or another…But copying someone else’s butt ugly work?? I think
not… LOL!!

Lisa, (Leaving for St Martin tonight. Hans…will you be around?
Oh…and the fires missed us again. Whew!) Topanga, CA USA

Lisa Bialac-Jehle

Charge a ludicrous price. Either they’ll back out of the deal, or
you’ll be paid well enough for making something that doesn’t make
your soul sing. “…a little bit of sugar makes the medicine go


I found it took so much more energy, time, and creative psychic to
get the ugly piece done that I could have gotten 2 or more wonderful
pieces done in the same time.

Thanks for the history lesson.


Ouch. I feel for you Rick. I think we’ve all been there at some
point. The I-know-I-gotta-but-I-don’t-wanna piece is one of the most
frustrating. A close second is any sort of jewelry (especially
bridal) where they don’t know what they want and expect you to read
their minds. Good luck with your ugly bracelet making and be strong!


Well, I say, charge enough to make it worth it. We call it the “T”
(for taste) factor meaning that it’s so awful you have to pay me
enough so I’m happy to be making it.

There’s also the “cool” charge. This is a totally different type of
piece. There’s time and materials and then there’s that indefinable
something. Some pieces are just cooler than others and you can
charge more for them.


About thirty years and many rings ago I made a custom wedding set
for a young man and his fiancee. While doing the set I met his
mother a few times.

A couple of months after the wedding she came in with a hodgepodge of
diamonds to be made into a dinner ring. There was some melee, a
couple of rounds, an emerald cut, a pear, and two marquis. They
varied in size from 1/4 to about 3/4 carats, and of course I had to
use all of the stones. What do you do with a combination like that?
To make a long and somewhat painful story short, after she rejected
three wax models I tried to get out of the project. She was a sweet
little lady but a real bulldog. She wouldn’t let me quit. I did three
more unsuccessful waxes. I then had some insight I should have had
earlier. She loved wax number seven. I did an ugly design on purpose.
That ring was one of only two or three pieces I’ve made over the
years I didn’t sign, I really did not want anyone to know I made it.
Her taste and my style didn’t match, I simply was the wrong person to
be doing a ring for her.

Making that ring was, in retrospect, a great lesson for me. I finally
realized I was making the ring for her and not for me, and if I was
going to be a successful custom jeweler I had to always be aware of
that. I also learned I had to do a better job of interviewing the
customer and being more selective about what projects to accept.

John Winters

Well the deed is done. I made the bracelet from memory so I can’t
say it was an exact copy. The customer it was for was my one
wholesale customer who commits to work at times without checking with
me (we need to talk). I put a piece of his turquoise as the center
stone just to say, “you’re in it with me, pal.” It will be delivered
it a brown paper bag hopefully never to be seen again. I didn’t put
my usual maker’s mark on it either.

To make the process even more enjoyable my son would walk by my
bench and make comments like, “Are you in some sort of ugly jewelry
making contest?” and, “Hey Dad! One of the dogs just created
something that looks just like that in the back yard.”

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Colorado Springs, Colorado

I then had some insight I should have had earlier. She loved wax
number seven. I did an ugly design on purpose. 

This story rang a bell with me, though I can’t remember the exact
circumstances. I just recognize the process. Your instincts told you
early on what the customer actually wanted-- you just resisted doing
it because to you it was ugly.

The good news is that you knew what she actually wanted, possibly
from the start.

Sounds like good lessons, though. And good instincts.



Send all jobs you disapprove of because they’re (in your opinion)
ugly, to me. I will take the profit and the new customer.