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What are the rules with an unhappy customer?

I had a customer come in with a ring she wanted changed. She wanted
two trillions added on either side of her center stone. She did not
like the color of the stones in stock so we special ordered in the
stones. She was very specific on on how she wanted it to look. She
came in to pick up the job and has decided the stones are too big for
her finger. I spent six hours on this project and she expects me to
remove the stones and handmade settings and give her ring back. I
would like to charge her for my labor. She disagrees. I would
understand if there was a communincation error but she was specific
from the beginning. What are the rules? Do I charge her for my time?
Do I try to rework it? Do I just give the ring back?


Do I charge her for my time? Do I try to rework it? Do I just give
the ring back? 

Hopefully, you have something in writing from her. I always put
special orders in writing and have the customer sign it.

In any case, you charge her for your time, you charge her for the
special order stones. They are hers. I assume that she is aware that
you special ordered them only for her. If she wishes her ring to be
put back to where it was, you charge her for that time too, as it is
a new job. You give her the ring, and the stones after she has paid
for the work.

We ought to have a disaster story thread called “when customers
design” I have several, and just returned a ring that the customer
re- designed three times. she is finally happy, but she paid for all
three jobs. I am now making earrings for her. I must be

Lisa, (one week to go before the craft show I am producing here
happens. Yikes!) Topanga, CA USA

You put a smile on your face, be as gracious as possible, and give
your customer what she wants at no charge. Missed communication, no
matter what side of the counter it comes from will happen. If you
want to continue, and hopefully grow your business, eating an
ocational job comes with the territory. Write it off as advertising,
as I would rather have a customer singing my praises then bad
mouthing me.

Be well,


The laws regarding custom work vary from state to state. You should
try to maintain a professional attitude, there are customers out
there who have no visualization skills, and despite being very
specific about the design, can’t relate the finished product to the
prior art. I try not to deal with these people unless I can meet with
them at every stage of the project. It still isn’t fool proof. And,
Robyn, some folks are never satisfied…

Rick Hamilton


You must absolutely charge for your labor. I usually make customers
aware of labor off the bat by mentioning that the cost of labor is
not included in the price of the materials - IF they want something
specific, such as in your case. Perhaps you did not make it clear
enough to her but I would put my foot down.


There are two choices: Smile, eat the loss in a classy style, and
maybe win over a customer who will be back many times, or: Fight and
maybe collect some money, while forever losing any chance to create a
long term customer. The latter may feel better for now, but the first
is a proven winner. Just my opinion.

What no contract?

what no deposit?

What no policy clearly stated and in print regarding non-refundable
special ordered stones?

what no special ordererd stones all sales final policy?

what no percentage of the job up front agreement or clausein writing
for custom work?

what, you are considering a verbal contract as good enough to hold
up in small claims court?

what you are considering giving this person a dime back after
spending probably hours of consulting time with her?

what you did not charge for design and consultation time, refundable
only with the purchase of the design?

what you did not think about the time you spent in consulting, plus
design time plus labor, plus special ordering,plus basics like
overhead and the percentage and markup for retail sales as part of
the package?

I am wondering if you just opened your business without planning for
real world business situations? You must gather yourself and proceed
calmly, in a business like manner, without hesitation and with all
condescension that you can muster as you performed a service, in
fact, many services in good faith- but, apparently, without the
accumen to support the business end of your passion for jewelry
making, or the paperwork!

Let’s review:

  1. you wrote down the size stones and they matched the stones you had
    in stock, but were a wrong colour…so you special ordered in those
    same sized stones for that customer: that customer bought those
    stones,unless you failed to charge her for the stones and special
    order costs

  2. you did custom work after consulting with her at the specified x
    dollars an hour or a flat rate fee per job: she owes you for that
    time , unless you failed to get anything in writing like your
    specified fee…

  3. she came in at the specified and agreed on time to pick up the
    work you did on the drawn out/rendering of the design that was
    mutually agreed upon and promised by a certain day: She knows she
    owes for the cost of the work for the design she ordered because she
    showed up on the perscribed date and time–as per the order form or
    invoice, or contract, unless you failed to write out any of those
    options for the same thing- what you are to be paid for.None the less
    her return is an example of her participation in the contract which
    is virtually irrefutable. You may ask what prompted her to show up on
    that particular day to pickup the job? Her answer should be her
    admission of debt, but read on as to when to bring this up…

  4. Removing the stones will cost the six hours put into the design
    and the price of restocking the stones,any and all aterials used, and
    the original stones handed back to her in a gem paper- to reset the
    stones will incurr a seperate charge.

  5. small claims court costs 25.00 to file in the usa, and is for
    mdse. up to 2500.00 value- you will win…

6.Photograph the ring -post work, and make copies of the receipts
from your gem dealer and shipper, copy the bill for your hours and
materials and overhead,copy the seperate consulting bill.present them
to her by mail ( as then it is an officail document), and file a set
in your local small claims court, and file a set in your files! DO
that should have been printed (or signed in your store) on your
receipts and on the contract for special order jobs / custom work.

  1. If she returns in person:.Inform her she made a verbal agreement
    and you would like to avoid litigation, but you are not accustomed
    to offering free services, particularly special ordered services
    without being paid a fair price for them- otherwise the customer may
    have opted to do the work herself over which you had no control in
    her choices…

If your time and energies are worthless to you give her the ring
back. If you are scared of confrontation, have a friend or supportive
individual present when she walks in the door, at a time convenient
for you and you turn on the tape recorder ( as long as at least one
individual that is part of the conversation is aware of the taping
of a conversation it is legal to proceed. After thanking her for
being prompt, explain that you do not wish to be interrupted while
speaking and then say plainly: that you do not do any special or
custom work for free unless it is for a charitable organization of
your choosing, of which she is not. Further you had agreed to the
price and all work, and while her dissatisfaction is unfortunate, she
was aware of your working style and approached you for the job, you
did not seek her out. You will not return any merchandise until she
has paid in full for the special ordered stones, materials labor,
consultation and now, late fees- to which you are entitled as you
produced the work on time as promised to her specifications. Smile
and give her time to respond.Expect negativity. Do not back down, do
not let the supportive individual interject.Offer her one single
option- accepting financing for the whole sum if she does not pay for
it on the spot, but explain that your standard is now 25.9% each 30
days past due added to the total on late accountsThe work order
serves as the account,barring any other account she may have in your
store.If she needs credit for financing have a telephone number of a
fnancing or loan agency, or banks at the ready to refer her to
barring her ability to find her own. Advise her that you will if she
wishes, go into your studio, cut or saw off your work return the
original stones, and give her the remnents of the shank if she
prefers, which she can then take to another jeweler and enter into a
contractual agreement with them, but you wioll have no further
dealings with her until paid off in full. Bid the customer adieu.Have
your friend man your shop, gather your things, walk out, and go have
a cup of tea or coffee- and perhaps a pastry.

Then go to a printer and order contracts carbonless 2 or 3 part,
special order bills 2 0r 3 part, consultation forms with a three
part system and space for the rendering/design and the customer’s
initials under it and the date to the right of that space.Jobbing
envelopes with tracking numbers are available readily from most
jewelrs suppliers.

And that’s about the extent of free basic business practices
consultation I am willing to give today.

If you need further assistance feel free to contact me off Orchid.


There are no rules except those you establish. You should write up
what you and the customer agreed on and have her sign it before you
proceed with the job. How much is this customer worth in your
estimation? How difficult could this person be? Most of the time it’s
better to ‘eat it’; and if it cost you enough, you’ve learned a
valuable lesson.

Finally, since none of us were there only you can know what you
should do.


There are several good replies to this, but I’ll just tell you my
policy: I guarantee to make you what you asked me to make - I don’t
guarantee that what you asked me to make is what you wanted. If,
after the customer sees a finely made piece that they asked for, and
then decide they want something else, then they buy two pieces of

I feel your pain. People are more apt to pay for labor involving
large things like fixing the roof of your house ($100 in
shingles…$700 labor), car repairs, etc, etc. When it comes to
jewelry though, many clients think we just wave a magic wand. I
always try to cover myself for labor in these situations, materials
too if they can’t be reused. I break down everything I can in the
cost calculation of the project. I’m sure many others do the same
thing. I don’t have a formal contract, but I should… At least
though when you write down $600 labor, it’s indisputable that when
the project is complete then the labor has been done. Also, look out
for crazy eyes. If it becomes aparent to you that the client is going
to be difficult, unsatisfied with anything you do, has other issues
(doesn’t really want to get married and is ordering custom bands),
etc. I’ll turn down a job. My nerves can’t handle their stress… lol.

The other thing is charge for the custom job upfront. Why should you
have to re-sell a custom job when it’s done? You did your part. You
made the ring to her specs. Live and learn. I hope you aren’t hanging
out too far on the stones. See if you can RTV them and you’ll be in a
better position to decide what to do. Good luck

Stanley Bright

You put a smile on your face, be as gracious as possible, and give
your customer what she wants at no charge. 

I usually do some kind of mock up of the design with a crude wax
model with the stones stuck on with bees wax so the customer gets an
idea of what the lay out of the stones will look like on their

Even if you did not do this, if you discussed the design with the
customer and she okayed the design, the customer has some
responsibility toward the outcome. I made a ring for a customer with
four diamonds, she wanted all four diamonds she owned in one ring,
she okayed the layout, came back about a year later and she just
could not wear the ring as it was too much “bling” for her. The ring
was actually quite simple, but two.25 pt., a 3/4 CT., and a one
carat across her finger was just too much. She had me reset one.25
CT. in her original wedding band. The mounting was in good shape, so
I just did it at no charge. She had not decided what to do with the
other diamonds, she was thinking of having them reset in the original
old white gold mounting, and I will charge for all the damage I did
to remove them.

If I had done a wax model, supplied gems, ect., and gotten the
customers okay along the way, the customer could only get a redo by
paying for it.

If you got a deposit, that is proof of a commitment on her part, an
acknowledgement on her part that she was agreeing to responsibility
for something she wanted, you were just suppling skill and parts to
achieve the goal she wanted to achieve.

Richard Hart

Harsh words, but correct. Most of this should be printed in poster
form and posted.

One caveat: unless you have big bucks, really big money involved;
avoid the law and lawyers.

A ‘customer’ for whom I thought I was doing a favor filed a lawsuit
against me over $500. It was two years of pain. This man spent
$13,000, that’s the correct amount, in legal fees prosecuting a
matter of $500.

You’re getting good advice from a number of people consider the
consequences before you take action. Talk it over face to face with
someone who is a confidant.


I had a custom/repair store for 25 years, last year I owned it did
1.8 million, 3/4 comes from the shop. Over 8800 job envelopes in a

Same problem but we solved it.

Each RECEIPT had our policy, which was described. We always took a
25% deposit on a custom job and therefore they got a receipt with our
policy on the back.

We tried to be fair and make everyone happy.

No refunds on custom

Store credit only.

25% deposit to start.

If they are unhappy, w will remake once. Only charge extra if it’s
more to do job #2 over what we did on job #1.

Does like job #2, store credit for deposit. Did we lose? Sure, but
them’s the breaks, but the deposit keeps the customer in the game.

David Gelelr

David Geller

Based on the scenario you described, She now owns the piece, and
needs to pay up if she hasn’t already. Afterall, you’r not Wally
World, are you? Remember, people who would listen to her are probably
just like her, and you don’t need those headaches either. And the
ones that you do need, are probably not the kind that would listen to
someone like her. Let her know she needs to pay for her own

Ed in Kokomo

Tell her you will redo the ring with smaller stones of her choice.
This way you will find out if she’s just yanking your chain. If she
reacts favorably, problem solved, you may break even. If she gets
evasive, you know the size of the stones is not the real issue and
you can then feel justified in demanding payment for work and
materials thus far.

If she rejects your offer and demands the return of her ring the
question of how far to take the matter should be considered
carefully. How much money is at stake? Is she a blabbermouth?/how
large is your market? Do you have the time and fortitude to battle
with herin court? This may involve hiring an attorney familiar with
consumer law in your state. Its an ugly headline… Jeweler Sued For
Return Of Ring. Even if you are vindicated the real damage has
already been done. If you choose legal remedy it might be better for
you to be the one who initiates action.

If the dollar amount is not too high (a very subjective assessment!)
you might be better to give her the ring as is, without investing
anymore time in a losing proposition and bow out. And put her on the
PITA list.

Oh, one last suggestion…get final payment in cash. A check (even a
bank check!) can be stopped and then its up to you to prove in court
that you are damaged and not liable for her buyer’s remorse. A credit
card can be charged back and then again, you have to justify the

Sooner or later this type of situation will happen to just about
everybody. Now that you’re aware of it, take some of the steps
others have outlined to protect yourself before the situation arises
again. Generally the best option, IMHO, is to lick your wounds and
move on to something profitable.

One caveat: unless you have big bucks, really big money involved;
avoid the law and lawyers. A 'customer' for whom I thought I was
doing a favor filed a lawsuit against me over $500. It was two
years of pain. This man spent $13,000, that's the correct amount,
in legal fees prosecuting a matter of $500. 

Thirty-five dollars and adequate, clearly organized, and detailed,
written back-up (verbal is not good enough) that the customer owes
you the money for this particular job will definitively get you your
money in small claims court. However, unless you had previously given
the customer a detailed invoice explaining that money is due on a
custom job regardless of whether she prefers how her own design came
out (she has some nerve, but that’s another thread), my suggestion
would be to eat the cost this time. Take the time from here on out to
prepare an invoice with all your terms that you can give to future
customers and avoid future misunderstandings. The perception of this
customer is that she wasn’t informed that she would have to pay for a
design that didn’t turn out the way she thought it would. It is this
(erroneous) perception that may cause her to generate some bad
publicity for you. A detailed invoice ( as suggested by some others)
would demonstrate to future customers that you are a good
business-person. They will have more respect for the way you are
running your business.

Good Luck and you are definitely not alone…this kind of thing
happens, but you can shake it off and move on

Kim Starbard

sounds like she went out GRAZING the jewelry counters (JEWELRY
HORSE?) or possibly got in trouble at at home with a spouse for
spending too much. If the woman is the mayors wife or a city council
member or an or married to an influential local big wig ? if she has
enough social status to give you a bad report that will stick i
would suggest turning on the water works i mean sit on a tack if if
you need to and cry your eyes out for real over the time and effort
and expense right in her face, because if you dont you will be crying
alone when she gets away without paying. did she pay with a credit
card ? if so you will lose the dispute if not you have the power
overall only you can decide the out come i just resolved one of these
situations myself a couple of days ago i gave most of the $$ back
kept some for myself to cover a few expenses explained carefully that
what the customer wanted was not really what i was in the business of
selling while i watched her 80 plus year old husband get out of the
car and urinate on my roses bushes so do what you gotta do


Oh…the other reason I take a hard line about collecting in the
cases of customer design errors is : I have found that eating the
costs on such errors does me no good at all. Those customer seldomly
if ever return for future sales due to personal embarrassment over
their mistake in design. No matter how kind or generous I have been
about it.

These days, I take %50 upon commencement, %50 upon completion, and I
put it all in writing with a signature prior to starting. True, once
in a while I do something for nothing, for a good customer, or one
that I especially like, but not for a customer who “knows what they
want”, and then is quick to blame you for disliking exactly what
they ordered.

Lisa, (built a new feeder for the goats, they ripped it off of the
wall inside of three weeks…sigh) Topanga, CA, USA

You’ve had quite a range of suggestions, but I’ll add another. (I do
hope you have a deposit that covers the specially ordered stones.)
You might offer to resell the items for your customer as a client
courtesy. Money is refunded upon resale. If this is a good customer
worth keeping, this may be satisfactory. Of course, returning the
ring to original condition entails more time, and you’re going to
have to decide how you want to handle the labor charges.

Could it be that the customer has come up embarrassingly “short” on
funds? Should that be the real motivation, a payment plan might

Good luck on this sticky situation,

Judy in Kansas, where the garden is sprouting and strawberries are
beginning to ripen. Asparagus is once again producing and the
peonies are blooming.

first of all i would like to thank Mr. Rourke for taking the time to
educate me on the subject.

I was trained in a very high end shop in Baltimore and the one thing
that I learned is that communication is KEY. fees, timeline, cost,
and so on.

I find myself going over every little aspect of every job, getting
initials on specific parts of the job design. i offer customers to
come in and take a look befor I set stones. photograph incomplete
jobs to customers for approval.

however, I do understand the lack of understanding that some people
have for jewelry making. i worked for a fantastic goldsmith at a show
once. he woul tell his customers that he would make the ring, ship it
to them and if they liked it, pay for it. if they did’nt he would put
it in the case and sell it to someone else. cocky yes, but pretty

i have had to eat my share of jobs. I do not like to let people take
advantage of me. to tell you the truth the most fun I ever had was
putting a torch to a custom job while the customer watched it melt
into a ball of sweet molten metal…and so it goes, all in a lifes