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Friendship Dilemma

Hey Orchidians,

This is not the kind of thing I would normally post to an open,
public, list but I’m hoping some of you might have some helpful
thoughts or ideas you might be willing to share. Here goes: Last
winter we were having a really hard time keeping up with orders and
really needed some help to get us through the Christmas season. A
neighbor/friend of ours had some previous experience working in
jewelry and is pretty good in a number of different art media. She
was happy to help us get through our tough spot so we hired her,
trained her on our finishing processes and ultimately showed her how
we use a drawing program to digitize our artwork, produce masters
for new designs, etc., etc. She had a fair amount of mold making
experience and offered to do our molds for us. So far so good. At
some point in the process, she decided she wanted to start her own
jewelry business and is using all the processes and materials that
she learned from us. The result is that she has a line of jewelry
that is strikingly similar to ours in its basic appearance. Don’t
get me wrong…her artwork is original. We have done a few local
shows together this summer and people who know are work have
commented to her about how much her work looks like ours and she
gets really pissed off about it and rants about what is wrong with
these people that they can’t see the difference? So far, we just
kind of shrug our shoulders. We recently started thinking about
getting plating equipment so that we could do some accents to some
of our pieces or maybe bronze some of our stuff if we couldn’t find
a bronze caster that we could afford. So today I get an email asking
what I would recommend for a plating setup! She noticed that men
were looking at our cuff bracelets so she’s working on a cuff
bracelet. She has seen people buying stuff that is matched with
beads that a friend of ours makes (lampwork) so now she’s ordering

We live in a remote, rural area and we are really dependent on each
other when animals get sick, vehicles crap out, snow storms kill the
power, etc. but we are at the point where we feel like we just can’t
even say anything about ideas we have for new designs or materials
without having it show up in our neighbor’s “new” jewelry line! Let
me also say that we don’t see this as being at all a threat to our
business or integrity. I guess it just seems really insulting that
she’s doing all this and not having the grace to thank us for all
the knowledge we’ve shared and passing it all off as her own

I would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions about how to handle
this and hopefully avoid creating a huge nasty mess.

Mike Dibble
Black Horse Design

I don’t think I have any answers for you, Mike, but I simply had to
respond with some thoughts about this. I hardly know anyone in this
field that hasn’t at some time in the last 14 years told me of a
similar occurence. It’s certainly happened to me enough times and
I’ve had to work hard to maintain what I consider a healthy and open
attitude in my teaching because of it. Other of my collegues have
chosen a different path to deal with it: they give no handouts in
class, no written instructions, etc. and stamp their copyright/s on

“It” is what I refer to as “invisible thievery”. What I mean by
that is that when someone else incorporates another artist’s work in
their own work, without acknowledgement of the source, they’re
pretty much stealing. “Invisible” because I’m not sure they always
know they’re doing it. In your case, doesn’t sound like she does. Is
she grateful at least for what you’ve taught her? No, she worked,
you paid her. That she learned your techniques seems irrelevant to
her. An old story.

So where and I going with this? It happens all the time in a number
of variations. It’s both flattering and infuriating and I personally
think that it’s unethical. I would not share any further with this
woman but maintain a friendly but aloof relationship. She will steal
from you… period.

The most important thing to me about this kind of experience is that
it not impact me or my work negatively. I refuse to let being ripped
off color what I do. I only teach what I can teach in an open and
giving way. Other techniques I keep to myself until I know what I
want to do with them.

While our situations are different, your attitude seems good and
your upset very understandable.

Hi Mike;

I’d try an experiment. Create a few pieces that take it up a notch,
to a level of sophistication in design or craftsmanship that she
can’t easily imitate. When she comes to you asking for help in
knocking off your new style, be frank with her. Tell her that you are
now trying to differentiate yourself. Explain that you see her and
your styles as overlapping enough that you think you need to do that.
Maybe it will then dawn on her that it’s unreasonable for her to
expect you to share the fruits of your efforts with her free of
charge. If she makes an attempt to copy the work, confront her and
ask her why she can’t seem to find her own direction and why she
thinks it’s OK to ride on your coat tails. Friendship and being
good neighbors is great, but at some point, business is business.
Meanwhile, don’t discuss your ideas with her. Just say, “well, we’re
looking to come up with something new and we’d like it to be a
surprise”. You can politely tell her, Orchid is a great place to get

David L. Huffman

Mike, cut her loose, my friend, cut her loose. It sounds like good
old fashioned plagiarism to me. And I can’t believe she’s so
bald-faced about it. You’ve been far too lenient with her.

Mike, this is not an uncommon story.

Two of my friends do excellent wire weaving. One was accused that
all her work looked like Mary Lee Hu’s. When my other friend got
into wire weaving, the other friend accused her of copying her

Claire Sanford made her name by marketing resin inlay. She taught
the process in art school and in workshops. I found the process of
resin inlay really spoke to me, but in a slightly different way The
work was getting noticed, so much in fact, that people would think
Claire made the pieces. I was bothered by this, more that I didn’t
want to hurt her, since she was such a inspiration to me. She
always encouraged me in the process, and help me develop a line which
used the inlay as a tool, but assisted me in branching out in the

Your statement says it all. It’s not that your line is threatened,
but rather, you want to be acknowledged for your efforts in
promoting her. Not to get psychological here (this is Dr. Sumner
Silverman’s domain), but friendships go wrong often because of
communication errors. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to help
promote your competition. The art sofa is a large one and there is
room for everybody to sit. Remember, it takes much more than just
designs to make a successful business. It takes determination,
business saavy, market research, and the willingness to practically
work 24/7. My advice is, don’t make an adversary, make a friend.

There is an image from my marketing talk which I adore. I append the
jpgeg link. I titled this, “Stay in Touch, but Always Watch the
Other Guy”.


Karen Christians
50 Guinan St.
Waltham, MA 02451
Ph. 781/891-3854 Fax 3857
Jewelry/Metalarts School & Cooperative Studio


Too little too late, but here goes… You might have considered
that ANY employee should sign a contract basically stating that ANY
employee cannot copy your work or use any techniques or methods,
computer born or otherwise, to copy your work, that may or may not
compete with any of your business…

Since that possibility has PASSED and she is a quote “friend,” you
might consider ALLOWING HER to go into business with YOU, so to
speak - albeit, in a VERY SMALL, on-the-surface-only, type of

You could then somehow financially and otherwise ( back her up )
with sharing and techniques and booth costs etc… Then
you could come to a written agreement / a financial BUSINESS
contract / compromise, whereby the sharing of your
expertise. money etc, is reciprocated by a percentage of her profits
earned, since those profits are gained at your expense to a degree /
Your generous sharing and allowing her to USE it all at your expense
! ! !

To what degree she gained at your expense, by using your knowledge
and computer programs and etc etc, will be determined in writing…
It’s business, as they say…

Since she is your " friend " and you rely on each other, I would
recommend that the financially reciprocating percentage be small…
Just enough to allow her to maintain her dignity, while allowing you

Good Luck


I’m sure that many are tired of reading my parallels of the
jewelry/tattoo industries, but there are just so many similarities.
I’ll spare you most of them with this subject but, believe me, they
are very, very close.

The problem was usually twofold: When the other shops in town would
get hungry, they would often disparage us to try and drum up some
business. It works for the short term, but people will always
eventually see the difference in the work, and the public was never
fooled for long. The other situation is much like you describe; they
would try to imitate our style. The solution, for us anyway, was to
switch to another style. Usually the one they had used. The point
is, the real deal always shone through. No matter what or how they
tried, the public always knew the difference in quality.

You mention in your post that the local people comment to her about
how her work looks so much like yours (which seems to make her
angry, thus, is probably true). I don’t think you have much to worry
about, Mike. It sounds proven that you are established, and that the
people know the difference between yours and hers. And, if you
thought that there would never be any competition by imitators, just
look around…they’re everywhere, better get used to that.

As much as the industry believes that the general public is ignorant
of what we do, they really aren’t quite so. Originality is always
apparent. If it isn’t, lay claim to it! Black Horse Design, home of
the Original (insert copied item names here). But in the end, You’ll
likely see it isn’t even necessary.

James in SoFl

Hi Mike. This may sound hard hearted, but I totally agree with
Judy Pottins, Keep that bald faced plagiarist at a distance. Her
behavior is outright dishonest. I admire the way you have handled it
so far,without any friction or unpleasantness. But enough is
enough. Just be sure she does not see any new designs that you will
be working on, Develop a line that is technically beyond her reach,
and if she comes around to pik your brains, find some excuse to get
rid of her.


I agree no matter what you do people will be unethical in your life,
but you can prevent further troubles with the employee contract.

As far as her being a friend…a friend doesn’t steal another
friends livelihood (though I really doubt she is much of a threat).

In this business we all learn the hard way. It is painful lessons we
remember most. I sent 7 cameos to be set by a ‘jeweler’ who traveled
to shows and she stole them and sold them. These were some of my
first good pieces and some were for myself alone. Painful lesson in

I will not let it stop me from interacting with people in the trade
because it is how you learn! However, not another cameo leaves my
studio unless it is paid for in full. I am in the process of
learning silversmithing and making my own settings. In time I will
be able to not use bought settings.

chin up she stole a tool …a technique not the inspiration and
imagination or the ability to use the tools creatively. I agree
mimics and pattern stealers have short term success but soon tire of
the frustration and move on to another "get rich quick scheme’.

Teri Davis
America’s Only Cameo Artist

A tough issue–but I think all of us face it at one time or another,
in some way, shape or form.

As long as you feel secure and the “borrowing” isn’t hurting your
business–I say wait it out a little. If your “friend” is so short
of ideas and resources that she needs to copy what you’re doing, my
guess is that she will be recognized as being unoriginal and will
run out of steam or customers–or friends. Trust that you will be
seen as the innovator(s) and that when her work comes out after
yours, the similarity won’t be lost on people. I hope she isn’t
trying to undersell you. If the problem continues, despite the
needs of a small, rural community, I would sit down with her, with
lots of documentation, and ask her to stop or to give you credit.

I see lots of new jewelry that resembles well-recognized styles. I
think it’s hard to avoid any kind of imitation–and it takes a
secure artist to acknowledge and thank those who’ve inspired
you–and give them the credit they deserve. Too bad she can’t be
more generous about it.


I recently had to deal with this. Someone I was mentoring, started
having, not only the same combinations of items, but some looked
exactly like mine! He was even undercutting me on price and selling
in a local market (with only 30 vendors) 8 feet from my booth, and
doing other shows that I do. This after I helped him in countless
ways including telling him about an item,( that he did a terrific
job with), and makes about 50% more income because of it…not
exaggerating. I thought, he is just desperate for $$ and doesn’t
realize…I got upset.

I called him, basically told him that it doesn’t make much sense if
my booth, and his booth are essentially the same booth, with the
same offerings in the same marketplace that we live and work in. I
told him I want to offer something unique and he is hurting me even
if he is not costing me any sales. He said he was sorry, and that
the cheap prices had been because he was getting rid of the stuff,
because he felt guilty…geeeze thanks for that! Everything is good
now between us.

At first I felt like, “I am not going to help anyone else,” but
that’s not me. Its natural for the upstarts to be influenced by who
ever is teaching, mentoring or employing them (I know I was). I
think that people find their own path given the time, and they want
to. But when they start affecting your livelihood and what you have
built for yourself with years of hard work, and sometimes poverty
(gosh, right in your face they do it, have the good grace to leave
the state with that!), you have got to have the guts to speak up.
Its less painful to be “frank”, right off the bat, which is what I
should have done, so that I would not have gotten all worked up.

Years ago I went to work for a potter. The first thing he told me
was what his “bread and butter” was, and that he was going to teach
me how to make them. And please dont ever hurt me, or make me
regret my association with you by making this stuff on your own, he
looked into my eyes…I promised him…I just love a person like

Bye now, Holly

As a psychotherapist - now retired - can I suggest that you go to
the root of the problem.

Use a three part strategy

Tell her how you feel. Don’t blame - don’t say “I feel you…” and
make it a real feeling such as “I feel disappointed/angry/upset.”

Tell her why. “It’s because your designs are so like mine.”

Tell her what you want to happen - not what you want her to DO! “I’d
like to see a real difference in our offers.”

Stand firm and ask - don’t demand, don’t blame and don’t bring in
other people. It’s between the two of you.

Tony Konrath
Key West Florida 33040


Here is the story of the scorpion and the mouse. It was a very rare
day in the desert. Torrential rains had fallen and the poor mouse
was stranded on a rapidly disappearring piece of land. Every time the
mouse tried to move towards the water to swim to safety a scorpion
would crawl out of its hole and threaten the mouse. Scorpions can not
swim, but a mouse is an excellent swimmer. As the water rose the
mouse decided to reason with the scorpion. The mouse reached an
agreement that he would carry the scorpion on his back to safety on
the dry bank. Half way to the bank tthe scorpion stung the mouse. As
the mouse was dying it asked the scorpion why it had stung him. The
scorpion replied that was his nature. What did the mouse expect.

For the past 10 years I have been trying to find a few people to
work together for the benefit of the group. I have tried 5 different
ways - training people and paying them, giving people free space in
my booth. supplying people with custom stones with no charge until
the stones sold, hiring people to make jewelry for sale using my
stones, and now working with a rough stone dealer. The latest
endevor just ended.

My goal with the rough stone dealer was to develop a trust with him
so that I did not have to search every piece of rough in the lots I
bought. This lasted for about 1.5 years and I bought about $5,000
dollars worth of medium to low grade rough from him. I informed him
three months ago that I now needed some Mexican Agates. Medium grade
would be fine. He delivered me 40 pounds of agates which I bought at
$8 per pound without much looking. When I got aroiund to cutting them
I found that they were not medium grade at all. They were best
suited for cement filler. When I confronted him he said that I should
have looked closer. I told him that I trusted him. For $320 he left
me with a bucket of junk. He told me that is not the way this
business works. Scorpion and the mouse. Trust no one in this

Gerry Galarneau

   He told me that is not the way this business works. Scorpion and
the mouse.  Trust no one in this business. 

That is unfortunate.

One of the key points of the fable (Aesop’s) is that the scorpion
stung his host when they were only half-way across the water,
insuring that both the mouse and the scorpion would die, one by
poison, the other by drowning. The metaphor holds in the case of the
supplier who betrayed your trust. You got stung, but if he treats
everyone this way, he will soon be going under.

P.T Barnum held that there is a sucker born every minute, and it is
the fantasy of some businessmen that they will find one every minute

  • but the truth is that they cannot succeed in the long run in a
    market of limited size where the players are all known. Sure, I have
    been stung buying rough, and I would guess that most of us have, but
    here is the difference; the guy who hooraws me into buying bad rock
    or paying way too much for it, he is on my fecal roster, and I tell
    everyone (who cares) that the dealer is a goniff, a swindler, a con

It pisses me off that such people ( and I see them at virtually
every gem show) waste my precious oxygen, let alone actually make
money. The only comfort is, they will not make anywhere near the
money that they could. Not in the long run. They just don’t last.
Sound and successful businesses are built not on the basis of deals
that sound too good to be true, but on the basis of integrity, great
service, and a willingness, even an eagerness, to make good when the
inevitable screw-up happens.

Gerry, if I ever bought anything from you that was not as
advertised, I know that you would make good, and with sincere
apologies. I know also as well as I know anything that such an error
would not be deliberate. You are a better person and a better
businessman than the person who sold you the Mexican slingshot ammo.
The difference between him and you is that his customers will
eventually wise up and shop elsewhere, while yours will remember
that they can depend on you for a good value on a cut stone which
has been represented with scrupulous honesty.

It is a mistake to do business on the sole basis of lowest price. If
you are in business for the long run, it is better to select your
suppliers on their willingness to establish a lasting relationship.
They should understand that they get your loyalty in exchange for
their loyalty. It is a relationship from which both parties benefit.
Was this guy smart enough to understand that he was saying goodbuy
to thousands of dollars of future business by ripping you off on
this one lot of substandard rough?

Lee Einer
Dos Manos Jewelry

   Trust no one in this business. 

Gerry Galarneau

I was about 20 and needed two rubies. It was the first time I’d ever
bought stones.

The dealer was a Sephardic Jew and he handed me a packet worth about
$12000 and told me to show them to my client and bring them back in
the morning.

Sure enough I was there on his doorstep and 8:30 the next day.

“Good boy!” he said and took the packet from me.

The next time I went in to buy from someone else and they also let
me have the stones on approval. “We know we can trust you.” - so it
seemed did the whole of Hatton Garden.

I’ve always done the same and been let down about three times. Cost?
About $1000 - and well worth it.

Tony Konrath

Gerry - Lee is right! Because you have a reputation as being honest
and reliable, I am comfortable directing people to your web site who
are looking for stones out of my range. I’m very careful about who
I refer people to - if I am referring, and they get a bad deal, it
reflects negatively on me. Eventually honesty DOES pay - it may just
take a while!

Beth in SC who just started putting things back in the yard today,
thinking the hurricanes were over…and now sees Lisa on the
horizon…very big sigh.

Tony, that is a wonderful story. Gives me faith that class and
honour still exist in some corners of our world.


I sort of had the same thing happen to me. I was given a chance to
establish myself by an Indian diamond dealer. I met him at a GLW
show. Not the best of shows but I don’t do enough $$ to qualify for
the bigger shows. This dealer does not know me from Adam and after I
had bought at the show once from him he sent me on memo 4 one carat
diamonds. I was very prompt with my business and returned the stones
and a money order for the one purchased by my customer. This dealer
and I have a long term relationship now. He is my sole source for my
diamonds. He always gives me the same great service no matter if I am
buying a 1/2 ct in melee or a 1ct stone.

Trust is a key element in this industry. I always ask other what
vendors they us when I am looking for something. I always recommend
vendors that I have trust in. I think that I rank in the younger part
of the Orchid family, but my father raised me in the old school way.
You always speak the truth, you never lie, you honor your debts, a
man is a only as good as his word and a handshake has always been a
binding contract with another person of their word.

RC Gems

Tony, there are many different stories in this business. I, too, have
a great relationship NOW with many dealers who trust me with
expensive goods.

But, when I first started my own business and needed an expensive
diamond, someone told me to “check with ‘John Smith’ (name changed)
because he would have the stone which I needed.”

He did have, and gave it to me on memo to show my client. Luckily, I
checked the grade which he had told me before representing it to my

It was THREE color grades lower than stated (J, not G,) and TWO
clarity grades lower (SI2, not VS1.) This was in the days before
diamonds were routinely ‘certed.’

This dealer, who at one point was President of the L.A. Diamond
Dealer’s Club, probably assumed that a young kid like me wouldn’t
know the difference.

I woudn’t go as far as Gerry G., BUT, it is wise to choose those
whom you DO trust very carefully.

David Barzilay
Lord of the Rings
607 S Hill St Ste 850
Los Angeles, CA 90014-1718


There is a big difference between buying or getting a memo on a
small parcel of finished stones and the trust that is involved in the
rough stone business. When buying rough stones a great deal of trust
is put in the person you are buying rough from. In the case I am
writing about the gem trail is from Phoenix, Arizona to Chihauhua,
Mexico. In that short distance the story concerning the grading of
the material, the person mininng the material, the hardship the
dealer had to endure to get the material all turned out to be lies.
He laughed at me and said that the rough stone business is always
this way. I told him not with me, paid him the money, and told him
to not bother stopping my way again. Can you imagine the lies that
accompany stones coming from lands farther away.

In this case I found the man who set up the deal with the Mexican
supplier. He was upset also in that the dealer never greased his
palm for setting up the deal. This man was so upset he readily gave
me the details of the whole transaction. Coupled with this I found
out from another dealer he had stopped at his house and high graded
the rough before he sold it to me.

I took this rough stone dealers word as gold because he was my
friend. He told me this was cutting rough. I looked at it and told
him that it did not look good, but I would take his word for the
quality. When I cut it I found out it was junk. Then I started
searching the trail and found the lies.

In the last issue of “Colored Stone” the editor commented on the
difference between telling the truth on high valued items versus low
dollar items. What I have given you is only one example on why there
should be no double standard. There is no murky area. Lies start at
the mine and are embelished and added to every step of the gem trail.
It does not matter what the material is that we are talking about.
From the highest dollar rarest of all gemstones to a piece of
howelite. Lies accompanmy all the stones. For all I know now these
Mexican Agates could come from another location totally as I did not
see them come out of the ground and I can not trust the supply line.
How can anyone else trust thier suppliers? If all we are doing is
disclosing what we are told about the stones, then are we not
ourselves telling lies? What is the answer?

Gerry Galarneau