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