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Special Order Blues


Hello Everyone, Looking for advice on how others handle this
problem. After having gotten burned enough times by customers who
request something special - you make it to their exact
specifications and they change their minds and decide they don’t
want it (sound familiar??) - I have decided to get tough and
businesslike and come up with a 2-part form spelling out my terms
for custom orders, getting a signature and enough of a down-payment
so as not to get stiffed in the end.

I am curious how all you seasoned people handle this problem. Any
input or even an example of your own form would be greatly
appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Recently Burned, Grace in Cleveland


I have a policy that I will refund a customer’s deposit if they are
not satisfied. This happens very infrequently, however. I do make a
serious attempt to find out what the customer wants, with the least
input of my own as possible. When I have questions, I will call the
client and go over the project, make additional sketches, show them
the wax or piece in process, and make any changes, sometimes
re-carving detail in the wax during the visit. While usually this is
not necessary, certain clients have no visualization skills, and
dealing with the ones who have the skill set (I am currently working
on a ring design with a local architect) can be just as demanding and
just as rewarding. It takes patience, but clients usually appreciate
the extra attention.

Rick Hamilton


My guarantee is that I promise to make what you asked me to make - I
don’t promise that what you asked me to make is what you thought you
wantedPay me!


Hi Grace, What I usually do is get the details of the custom order
from the customer and back it up with some type of colored drawing
to make sure we are on the “same page.” When I have custom orders,
I get out actual color samples and/or stones to make sure every
detail is taken care of. After everything has been worked out
including when the piece is to be done; I ask for a signature and
date at the bottom of the drawing that includes all of the
and due date. I also sign the bottom of the form and
date it to give the customer satisfaction as well.

I have a special section on the form for custom orders like all
custom orders require half of a down payment that is non-refundable.
I also maintain that because this is something that is created by
hand that no two pieces are alike so there will be a small
percentage of difference from the picture to the actual finished

This method has helped me and I have not gotten burned since going
this route because the customer has made a commitment to buying it.
If there is a discrepancy about the piece after its done as far as
"interpretation", I refer to the colored drawing or picture and its
the same. The customer usually backs off and with an embarrassed
face admits that he/she taste may have changed slightly when the
order was first put in.

Hope this helps


Hi, Grace,

So sorry you had a bad experience, but it does come with the
territory of dealing with people. I think good communication is the
key. I have never had anyone flake out completely, but I take a one
third non-refundable deposit before I start, one third part way
through and one third when they take the piece. By having the
customer examine the piece part way through, and pay the second
third, it commits them a bit more to where the piece is going.
I have had customers at that point change their minds about the
design and change it. Sometimes that results in an increase in the
price and sometimes not, but it does tend to nail thing down a bit

In these economic times, people may more easily get in over their
heads and it’s easier to blame your design than to admit what is
going on. The one third deposit should cover all your costs so
at least you will have the piece to sell elsewhere.

Don’t get discouraged. Just figure out where it went wrong and how
to make it better next time.



Here are the things we do with special orders to avoid what you are
having problems with.

  1. We insist on a 1/3 deposit up front. Balance is due upon
    delivery. If the pricing changes during the course of the job they
    must make another payment to get the deposit up to 1/3

  2. We tell the customer that all money given to us is
    nonrefundable–they can get a store credit or something from our
    cases if they don’t want the final product we make for them.

  3. We charge enough for our custom work so that we can afford to
    make up to three models for them. If at that point they still aren’t
    satisfied we add additional charges to make more models.

  4. We make it clear that once they have given the money to us they
    have committed to getting something from us.

  5. You must both verbally, and in writing, make your policies clear
    to them and have them sign the order form.

  6. Now go back to #3 above and reread it over and over until you
    raise prices enough so that you can cover yourself no matter what

Daniel R. Spirer, GG
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140


Grace I understand the problem well. I always insist on a half
deposit even on all my repair jobs. I have been in business for 25 +
years and very few people complain of this policy. For the very few
that do, I show then my large box of uncollected repairs and they
appreciate the problem.

Alan Lewis


Well, I do custom work for people around the world all the time. I
only have 2 rules:

  1. Money First, then I will make it.

  2. Custom orders are non-returnable, so the customer must get their
    info / design right the first time.

  3. If a customer really insists that they want to return an item.
    Then a minimum of a 50% restocking fee will apply.

My customers seem to have no problems with this. And I have not had
a single customer try to return something custom since 1992. I have
had a couple who wanted to know if alterations could be made. If I
agree to modify the custom piece, then they pay for the additional
work, unless it is something really simple, then I normally do it
for free, and they are happy to know I am so flexible. (My customers
words, not mine)


Daniel, I’m curious about one thing in your point #3… what type of
models are you making for them and do most customers find them easy
to conceptualize in the finished product? For example, are they wax
models, pmc-ish models, metal models from base metal?

Sorry if this is a really basic question, but it’s something I’ve
been grappling with a bit.

I’m concerned that customers may have a hard time visualizing a
finished product in metal when faced with a wax model, for example.
But I’d like more info on how people overcome this for custom work.

Up until now, I’ve been luck in my custom work. I’ve worked with
the client on sketches and then moved right into fabrication, showing
them pieces in progress when they have reached a "non-confusing"
point. But I’ve toyed with the idea of going to an intermediate
model for some of the more complex projects (I haven’t done any cast
pieces yet that would have warranted it).

Karen Goeller
kgoeller at nolimitations dot com

Handcrafted and Unique Artisan Jewelry


Most of the custom orders I do are done with very little input from
the customer as far as the design is concerned. I interview them to
get an idea of what they ‘think’ they want and then I go ahead with
the job. I hate wasting time drawing a picture of the design and
almost never do. Luckily, I have had few customers who were unhappy
with my designs, but I make it clear from the start that if they
don’t like it they don’t buy it. I had a girl several years back who
wanted a matching band for her engagement ring. It’s the most common
job I’ve done. The band looked great. She didn’t like it. I asked
her to wear it for a week, if she still didn’t like it I’d be happy
to take it back. (no money had changed hands). In a week she had
completely changed her mind. If someone makes a design of their own
and brings it to me, it is a totally different story. I get lots of
money up front and I don’t give it back. I think what it all boils
down to is that you don’t want a dissatisfied customer running
around showing her friends ‘the piece of junk you made for her’ .
Maybe the customer is right.



Hi , Karen and all , the best thing I’ve found as an intermediary
step is a computer program called DigitalGoldsmith developed and
supported by the folks at This is a 2-d or
graphic program that can provide photo realistic pictures of jewelry
before you actually make it . By use of a digital camera you can
import existing jewelry into the program , to modify in front of your
customers eye’s . You can photograph a Wax , color it in gold ,
platinum , two tone etc and add gemstones digitally and print it out
so they can show how cool your design is to husband/wife /co-worker
etc . I have made custom jewelry for over 30 years and have had this
digital goldsmith for the last 21/2 yrs and I cannot imagine being
with out it . It is a powerful tool and really helps your customer
visualize what you are going to make for them . From a technical
standpoint you can work with precise measurements and work the
"scale" to know what adjustments you must make going from , say , a
size 8 to a size 31/2 so it will look right on the finger. Print out
a photo so she can show her husband wht a 2 ct. will look like on her
existing ring , we’ve had several nice “upgrades” from using digital
diamonds on such photo’s . I have no financial interest in this
product , but recommend it highly .

Mark Clodius


Aloha Everyone, Here is a great site to practice on for clarity of
every step taken prior to final payment made. By now if you have
not heard of then please go there to study their
format. They have expanded immensely since I first purchased my
business cards with them. Their site is very specific in design as
to make the customer type in the info, select a print, change to
another image as many times as possible, then when satisfied proceed
FOLLOWING: insert a check mark in a box which describes that the card
selected is the one the same for the to be printed on the
card if the box is not checked, a customer may not proceed insert the
customer’s initials prior to submitting the text for a business card
and other stop gaps to keep a customer from coming back to them
saying this is not what I ordered. On the contrary, every click of
the mouse to put a check in a box is made by the customer before
purchasing, the customer must use his or her initials prior to
checking out only after all the safety features have been inserted by
the customer, the check out and payment proceeds. We have discovered
through hindsight that we will only take a custom order for a
designer necklace if the customer signs a legal document that the
customer has ordered the work. The customer must thereby place a
60% deposit on the customized job placed. We have the customers
work with our designer, set up the stones in a specific manner, then
when their vision of what will be created into a necklace is finally
approved by him or her, the 60% down payment is accepted, with the
balance due listed along with applicable taxes. We had a stamp made
and stamp the pages that if they decide to change the design once
work has commenced, they will be assessed another $30.00
re-stringing or alteration to the original design. As the designer
for this company I have no qualms about asking for the money in
portion up front because I don’t want a custom job completed but not
paid for once the item is completed. In essence, the customer knows
right at the beginning that we require they are serious by the down
payment requested. As some past customers’ saw the job as it was in
the completion stage and decided he or she did not like it, if one
change was made, there would be another assessment of a straight
$30.00 fee that would be made. The customer inspects it, accepts it,
and must sign off and initial about 4 locations before the sales
receipt is placed into the hands of the customer and the item
wrapped if they prefer. Many just put it on and walk out. They must
inspect well. They must pull, tug, and try to break it before I
allow them to take it. Once they have done this, they must sign
that it met with inspection and if they bring it back next month
because it broke, there is a fee for fixing it. Human nature has
taught me to be tough but be accommodating. With designer
necklaces, a clasp, or closure is there to be used to remove the
necklace from their body. I have witnessed so many customers who
prefer necklaces about 18 inches to 22 inches pull the necklace off
their heads and try on other necklaces. I have explained that the
best way to remove a necklace in the manner is not front to back but
the reverse of it. Remove it be grasping the back, and gently
lifting over the head to the front. This takes stress off the
necklace. Some people are hard wearers of jewelry. I had a customer
give the company about $2,000.00 just in re-stringing fees because
she was so hard on her jewelry and how she took it off and placed it
on. I taught her a simple way to do this without stressing the
lines, or the strings of the necklace. Once week after she picked
up a customer made order she called me and said it broke. I asked
her to bring all the beads and gems from the necklace with her.
Once she arrived, I asked her how did this happen because she
inspected it well, and signed off, she tested the strength of the
materials and it did not snap. So I needed to know why these
sturdily made necklaces were being returned for re-stringing. She
showed me how it broke. She pulled the front of the necklace over
her head, it got stuck in her hair, frustrated she starting tugging
and pulling to get if off and a line the would withstand 400 pounds
of pressure snapped. I recognized that when she showed me how she was
removing the necklaces, I had no qualms in charging her another fee
for re-stringing. Is that right to do? I say yes, some of you will
say no, but we are in business to make money. Since she is a good
customers I give her small gift tokens that appease her and make her
return repeatedly. How can a custom order be taken, without money
down? It is human nature that teaches all of us that not all
persons will play fair nor will they pay for a custom job in the end
customer pays balance or forfeits the down payment which should be
made very clear in the documents for custom order job a business
undertakes. This is my spin on it. I wish every one of you a
prosperous year.

Much Aloha,