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Who pays for the broken opals?

I set two Michigan Opals, I believe that ‘was’ the name. It took me
about 1 hour from preparation to the final setting and cleanup for
’each stone’. These were bezel set, well I carefully placed these
two Opal items into cellophane bags to protect them from any transit
damage or being knocked around. I showed them to my jeweller to
examine them prior to the polishing. Well he dropped one of them
onto the floor. He said to me “Look Gerry, it’s now broken”. I really
though he was joking. My simple question is who pays for this
catastrophe? I have an idea these stones are not cheap, the ‘broken
one’ weighed ONLY 3.9230 carats, before the breakage. These stones
do not exist in Toronto. Personally, I have no intention to cough up
any money for this accident. My client is still unaware of this, as I
speak, it’s because his store is closed till Tuesday. This is really
a learning lesson for all to read and be aware of on Orchid. “Yes
Virginia, I am sick over this accident.”


My simple question is who pays for this catastrophe? 

You do. Without a prior agreement with the customer that you’ll not
be responsible for breakage, you assume the risk. How do you figure


I really hate situations like this. One store that I worked in
several years ago had a policy of telling the customer that stones
were set at the customers risk. Even though we had that policy in
place, it seemed that we still coughed up the money on several
occasions because the sales staff wouldn’t inform the customer of
this policy for fear of loosing the sale, [they worked on commision,
a very bad idea]. Our boss used to say, if they come in with an
emerald hand them a $100 and send them to the jeweler down the
street. I have told this story before, the point that I am trying to
make is that the jeweler gets stuck alot of the time. It is too late
to tell the customer that it is broken and they are out of luck… In
this instance the guy who dropped the stone should have the sense to
know that even though it was an accident it was he who dropped it.
He will hopefully have the courtesy to offer to pay without any
questions or comments. Perhaps you should price out the stone and
when you find a comparable stone tell him the price and ask for a
check. If this leads to conflict then you will have to deal with the
conflict as well.

good luck


This one is your responsibility in my book. If the stone had broken
during normal setting processes that’s one thing. But clumsiness on
the part of your jeweler is your responsibility. But beyond this,
what does your contract say with the customer? No contract? Shame on
you. Anytime you accept fragile stones for working on there should be
a written and verbal understanding that responsibility lies with the
owner (not you).

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


If the jeweler you showed them to was being given work by you, to
polish the pieces, he should be responsible. If you were just
showing it to him as a curiosity, I think you exposed yourself to
some liability. When taking in gems for setting, if I set a customers
stone, I tell them I am not responsible for breakage, there can be
stress or inclusions that can cause chipping or breakage. If I
supply the stone, I am responsible. Dropping it and breaking it
becomes an issue of disclosure as to how the damage occurred and your
ethics and integrity. When I am setting an opal, I put a towel in my
bench pan with no steel tools for the opal to come in contact with if
I drop it.

Richard Hart

He said to me "Look Gerry, it's now broken". I really though he was
joking. My simple question is who pays for this catastrophe? 

This isn’t a jewelry question, it’s a life question. You broke it,
you buy it, what’s to understand?

I’m unclear about the chain of handling involved but…

if you value your client you should consider making things right,
that is, in the absence of a prior agreement about liability.
Whenever I’m presented with fragile stones supplied by the customer I
make it known beforehand that any work is done at the owner’s risk.
When I quote a job where I’m selling fragile stones, a safety(or
disaster) factor is built in. It only took a few of my own calamities
to beat that into my head.

In your particular case it could have broken during setting. It
happens once in a while that one does not see damage til the job is
complete. Or it could have broken when dropped. This is why my work
area is carpeted, despite the huge pain of searching for little stuff
on the floor. If your jeweler is your employee I don’t believe you
can saddle him with the financial responsibility, but I’m not a labor
lawyer so take that with a grain of salt. Or the stone may have had
inherent stress before you ever touched it. Who knows? But your
client knows he gave you an intact stone, and it broke while in your
care, custody and control. He’s probably going to think since you are
the professional you should have taken any and all precautions.

You need to think strategically here. Is the short term benefit of
not paying for it worth the possible end of your business
relationship with your client and the longer range damage to you
reputation? But I guess it depends on how costly the stone was. You
might luck out and your client already assumes the liability. Talk to
him, see how he feels.

It hurts but we all have to eat it sometimes. My advice is to lick
your wounds and move on. Settle in whatever way works, then get it
out of your head so you can concentrate on what you need to do next.
Christmas is coming, put your energy to that.

I feel your pain,

Hello Gerry.

There may be a few more lessons to learn here than you realize. I
discuss terms of possible accidental damage of stones with my
customers before I do any work for them as I would expect you have
too. Most of my customers understand the deal anyway but it still
pays to discuss it prior. One unfortunate thing here though is that
the stone didn’t break while being worked on so its more complicated
than when a stone breaks because of unseen internal weaknesses. It
could be debated the stone broke as the result of negligence and was
not unpreventable. I still would be reluctant to offer any
compensation at the risk of setting a precedent. A client can not
expect us to share the risk if their not willing to share the profit.
If a retailer is putting the appropriate amount of margin on a piece
they should not lose too much if anything at all if they have to
replace a stone. I’ll leave that part for you to work out but the
lessons I am more keen to offer everyone who cares to read are as
follows. When working on any jobs but especially expensive or brittle
ones I never leave tools in my leather skin as accidentally dropping
a piece of jewellery or a stone can cause damage if it falls on hard
metal tools such as mandrels. I have seen a jeweller drop an opal
onto just such a tool chipping the opal badly. Also If you have a
hard floor in your workshop it can be a good idea to put a small
square of carpet under where you stand to do polishing or other
tasks where it may be possible to drop a fragile piece reducing the
risk of damage. When receiving goods from clients always insist
stones are bagged separately to rings etc. I still have supposedly
experienced retailers putting expensive emeralds, diamonds and ring
all in the same plastic bag to rattle around together while in
transit to me. plastic bags often with holes in too. Stones of
different hardness must be bagged or boxed separately. Finished
pieces must always be bagged or wrapped carefully and if expensive or
fragile must be wrapped in tissue and placed in a protective box
before being sent to or from a client. Stones of any quantity must be
double bagged in case plastic bag splits while in transit as this
does happen occasionally. More than a few times I’ve opened a courier
envelope or job packet and found diamonds rolling around all over the
place because the bag has split or has had holes in. its surprising
how many penny pinching retailers will try to reuse plastic bags over
and over till they are falling apart. Lately if I’m picking up work
I’ve been insisting that job envelopes are also placed in larger
plastic bags and sealed properly or else I refuse to take them away.
If I pick up work and a ring or stone falls out because the client
has not packed it securely they would probably be unlikely to accept
the blame. Anyway I could go on and on. I hope the situation is
resolved without ill feeling between you and your client.

Good Luck
Phil W

Several threads now have dealt in some way with the swallowing of
disasters. Its part of the game but I thought it might be useful to
set out some examples. If the ethics involved aren’t enough perhaps
the consequences might illustrate to emeging jewelers the importance
of CYA.

There was a time I would want to convey the image of self
assueredness and complete competence. But after awhile I decided this
is a business and not an ego venture.

So I’ll go first, and on some of these I am STILL embarassed.

Sent out a customer’s Old European Diamond to be recut to brilliant.
Diamond was inherently stressed and broke several times in the
process. Not the cutter’s liabilty by trade practice which I did not
know. Eat it.

I quenched, yes QUENCHED a large sapphire. Momentary lapse of
reason. on a busy stressful day. Eat it. My self esteem continues to
eat this one, and its been 13 years.

After a house fire, customer brings literally a truckload of silver
holloware/flatware for refurbishing. I made a detailed reciept,
approximately a hundred items. Before any work done customer abrubtly
picks up all pieces and won’t wait for itemized cross checking with
reciept. Then claims to police I stole several pieces. Police find no
evidence of wrong doing. Customer later charged with insurance fraud
Re: the house fire. Nearly ate it. Dot your I’s and cross your T’s.

I accepted a personal check from a known customer for purchase of a
memoed diamond. $16K check bounces. Turns out he was a running a con
to cover his gambling debts. Takes three months of sleepless nights
to finally collect. Luckily diamond dealer was very patient and
understanding. Lesson…get secured final payment on big sales and
don’t be Mr. Niceguy on check fraud.

I’ve learned the hard way to look at any prospective
job/sale/proposal and ask myself “what can go wrong here?”. I no
longer act on faith or hope. You need to protect yourself from the
ill intent of others and your own weakness or ignorance.

Hmmmm, that felt cathartic.

Finally some good news on this topic, I sent my client a nice email
explaining the whole mess! He is to replace a stone for me. It was a
5.50carat Mexican Opal valued at only $15.00 per carat. He assured
me that as I have gone through a mental hell on this problem. His
answer was “s… happens”, he will locate one more stone and I’m
gonna set it for him as an honourable fellow. So there is “no love
lost”…:>) I was looking at about 5-6 stone houses here in Toronto
for a replacement,

He did say, it was only for inventory and it didn’t belong to any
one customer yet! Yes, the pendant is still usable.

Case in point, a retailer took a diamond setter to court (true
story) for he broke a $10,000 diamond. The judge asks the setter if
he was experienced? Yes sir! How much was the retailer going to pay
for this $10,000 diamond?.. $25.00 (?) And Mr. D. Setter do you
you mishandled the process? No sir…He looked at the retailer, you
mean for a $10,000 diamond and you paying him ONLY $25.00 you want
him to pay you that kind of money?..Case thrown out!!!

Thanks for all of the replies and I hope we all can learn and
safeguard ourselves in the future…



An act of carelessness has resulted in damage to your customer’s
property. Unless, and ONLY unless, you had your customer sign and
understand a waiver at the time you took possession of his property,
you get to pay to replace the opal. There should be no question
about this, I’m surprised you ask.

This is a common question from those who are just entering the
jewelry trade, but, really, simple ethics (and the law) dictate that
you are responsible for the safekeeping of your customer’s

As you know, I am a cutter, entrusted to repair very valuable
gemstones on a daily basis. The cost of the repair is usually very
low relative to the value of the stone, so I ask that my customers
sign a disclaimer that states that I simply will not be responsible
for damage occurring to their stone as a result of working with it.
However, it is not possible for me to evade legal and ethical
responsibility in the case of negligence, and a stone broken from
being dropped is negligence, at least in my shop.

After three decades at this, I have accumulated a pretty good
defense system against my own “inadequacies”. Such defense includes
things like strict procedures when unpacking goods or packing goods,
including packaging that would withstand a train wreck. NONE of my
work surfaces are metal, they are all vinyl, just to avoid what
happened to you. Likewise, my shop floor is carpeted with a
tight-weave commercial carpet. Tiny stones or fragile jewelry will
not be lost or damaged when (not if) it occasionally slips from my

Any and all wastebaskets are NEVER placed under or near the edge of
horizontal surfaces like desks or benches, because it is too easy to
slide or knock something valuable off the surface and into the waste
basket. Nearly losing a 2 carat diamond that way (retrieved from the
dumpster!) taught me that lesson.

I use a Leveridge gauge or a Mitutoyo Digimatic to measure stone
dimensions when cutting, but their surfaces have been modified so
that they will not chip a sharp girdle edge (ever again). Like wise,
my polishing lathe enclosure is completely padded with carpeting,
including the arbor shafts, so that when a piece of jewelry is
ripped from my grasp because I violated the rules of good polishing
procedure, it is not damaged by clanging into metal.

The list goes on, and all these “defenses” against my own
carelessness were arrived at not because I am clever, but because I
do not wish to be poor (er).

You’ve broken an opal needlessly, and you may lose a customer,
regardless of your actions from this point. But there is only one
"right" thing to do, especially for one who has been associated with
the trade for so long. Anyone who handles jewelry or stones long
enough will damage or destroy something despite ret efforts not to
do so. It doesn’t make us poor craftsmen, it makes us human. The
measuring of the event should not be judged on the basis that it
happened, but on the basis of what we do next.

If you would like a copy of the disclaimer that I ask my customers
to agree to, I’ll send you a copy. If there is interest from others
here, I’d be glad to post it, with the understanding that it will
not save you if some clever attorney can show that you have acted
with negligence.

Best regards,
Wayne Emery

To of my Orchid friends;

I offered to find a stone, a “Mexican Opal”?. It’s valued at only
$90.00. My client will supply one for me and I’ll set it for him and
at the same time preventing him on scrapping the new pendant. So this
way no one losses or wins, it’s the way it should be done. This is a
business understanding…‘things’ can happen! There is still a risk
of out sourcing setting jobs, the setter should not be responsible at
all!!!..some of my friends here said I should pay for this, how
about a $8K diamond. If it broke in my shop, maybe I’d pay for the
re-cutting only!..not for the whole stone…


Since there’ve been a few comments about costs, I’m going to open
this up to the bigger picture. Jewelers and goldsmiths deal in
expensive items routinely, and bad things happen, sometimes. I know
of one shop where a $150,000 diamond was stolen by some, never
discovered employee - a goldsmith in the workshop. Some retailers
I’ve heard charge $1 a point for setting diamonds, calling it
"insurance" - except I have never heard of one paying off on it. If
it were insurance, and they chipped an $80,000 D/Flawless, they
would go out and buy another one. Instead, they just have the chip
cut away like everyone else for $150. I think, ultimately, that you
have to rely on your skills, and have a sense of goodwill. The skills
part means that if you chip an $80,000 diamond, then why are you
setting it? Just don’t chip it. People say to let things go in the
polisher if they catch, because no jewelry is worth a finger. OK,
what if it’s a $200,000 emerald? Just let it smash into the bottom?
Again, if you can’t polish it without these issues arising, you
shouldn’t be polishing it to begin with. It’s the old adage, “All
accidents are preventable.” But then there are things that do happen.
I set a diamond a few months ago, and just pulled one prong over the
girdle. The stone snapped in half - Jo-Ann heard the sound across the
room - when it just barely touched the stone. That’s what’s called
"My time in the barrel." We negotiated with the customer and split
the cost, because they knew it was a cheap stone, and it wasn’t my
fault, just my turn to be the booby. More often, though it IS your
fault, and just fess up and pay it. Jo-Ann shelled out $700 once on a
retipping job. The customer is not responsible because you dropped
their stone (I’ve had that one, too), or the pliers slipped, or the
hammer ran up the crown facets, you are. Yes, it happens, but we all
need to accept responsibility for it if we did the deed. Most
importantly, you need to know your limitations at the bench. I’ve
chipped many $20 emeralds. I’ve set many 5 and 6 figure valued ones
and never chipped or damaged one. Just don’t chip it to begin with.
Pay attention, if you don’t know how to do what I’m saying, don’t set
it at all, send it to someone who can. There are really two issues in
play: one is security - loss and theft. I won’t go into that here.
The other is broken and damaged goods, whether that is stones or
jewelry. I declare that I won’t be responsible for delicate items,
and people in our network know what that means. But if I do something
stupid, I say so. It happens.

My setters policy is to replace or re-cut stones he damages. When a
stone that should be set without problems gets broken, it can be the
setters fault When it is his fault, he accepts responsibility.
Fortunately I have never chipped a large diamond myself. I have
fractured by quenching a stone, I have dropped stones in my bench
pan and chipped several stones, I have etched stones in sparex. I
have crunched small diamonds occasionally. Replace, re-cut, or
re-polish is the rule, unless it is a fragile stone and the customer
is made aware of the risk and takes responsibility prior to damage
occuring. Knowing the nature of the different stones, with proper
setting techniques most if not all risk can be reduced to zero. When
I know the libility of setting certain stones, I include the
replacements cost as part of the estimate, hammersetting garnets or
peridots in bezels, and I give my setter extra stones. I adjust the
final price by what was used.

Richard Hart


I’m sorry but I don’t think you’re right on this one. First of all
the opal broke because of carelessness on your part (or your
polisher’s) not because of a setting problem. Because of this alone
you are fiscally responsible. Obviously there are going to be
setting problems with stones like opals and if something happened to
the opal during the setting process–and you had a written
understanding with your customers—then you have some just cause to
deny liability. But that is simply not the case here. I don’t know if
you told your customer how it broke, but if you were doing the job
for me and you told me how it had broken I would have insisted that
you take responsibility (at least if you wanted to continue to get my
business). As a number of others have said on this thread, sometimes
you just have to suck it up. And as for the $8k diamond scenario,
recutting would yield a smaller stone with (usually) lower value.
That isn’t fair either and if it happened because you did something
wrong it would be your responsibility to replace it with what was
equivalent in value to the original stone–at least in my book. Of
course you get to keep the broken stone, which presumably would
recoup some of your losses, but it’s still your responsibility if you
screwed up.

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

I've learned the hard way to look at any prospective
job/sale/proposal and ask myself "what can go wrong here?". I no
longer act on faith or hope. You need to protect yourself 

As Neil most eloquently and humbly points out, s**t happens. It
doesn’t matter what level of jewelry one is at, we all work with
precious things. When those precious things belong to the customer -
sizings, repair work, making a ring for a stone they bought from you,
then you need to understand these issues. And having a centrally
located sense of integrity and goodwill is the best place to start.
There’s another post by a cutter in this thread that also says all
the right things. If you are in the jewelry busines for any time,
there will come a time when you will have to pay out cold, hard cash
for some mistake you made - it just comes with the territory…

Wayne, if its not an imposition, just how did you modify your

To end this thread, finally! I am, and along with my
jeweller/polisher will to be ‘coughing up the money’ to pay for the
loss of this Mexican Opal. My client will supply it and I’m going to
do my end of the bargain. Lets just say that after the 'dust settled’
we are now dealing with saner minds…:>) We are only looking at a
$60.00 loss for the stone, no great expense thankfully…