Oct 9, 2011

When Custom Jewelry Goes Wrong

Today I would like to talk about what happens when a customer is unhappy with a custom project's results.
The Agreed Upon Design

First I want to mention that I will not be bashing the customer in any way. She ended up just as frustrated as I did and I think (I hope) we both learned something about communication.

The request :
    She was looking for a silver cross called a square cross. A square cross is when all four arms are the same length. She showed me a couple of pictures for an idea of the look she wanted. The look was a smooth shiny cross paired with a more rustic look for the rest of the necklace. I made an offer and linked her to samples of my past custom orders to show her what my style was like.
Here are those links.
etsy feedback
website gallery

She decided that she liked my work and wanted me to  make her necklace. I sent her a sketch of some options.

She chose the more squared off design with a figure eight bail and crystal accent.

By this time we had been messaging back and forth about ten times so here I am thinking we are on the same page and both well informed about what is expected.

    We moved on to figuring out a necklace to go with the cross. Originally she thought she wanted leather but we couldn't find any pictures of leather cord that she liked. She chose a knotted hemp cord that had the type of simple rustic look she wanted. She had mentioned earlier on that she wanted to be able to leave the necklace on at night and in the shower. I expressed my reservations about natural fibers holding up in the shower but she told me she was too old to change her ways.
   It took us almost 20 more messages to finalize the cord decision. I was finally able to send her a sketch of the final design. You can see that sketch at the beginning of this blog post.

She loved the design!

Next we had a discussion about price and payment. The price was agreed upon and I sent her an invoice for the first half payment. She requested an invoice for the entire price. The reason I do a half and half payment is for the protection of the customer, I strongly recommended she only pay half upfront as it was nonrefundable and referred her to my policies detailing this matter.
She agreed and made a half payment so I got started.

The material I use for my sculpted silver custom pendants is called precious metal clay (pmc). The clay is hand molded and fired in a kiln. When it comes out of the kiln it is 99.9% pure silver. Using metal clay allows me to send pictures of the piece in clay before it is finalized into a harder form. Changes can still be made at this time so I always get approval at this stage before firing. Here is the picture I sent to her of the cross in raw clay form with some options of crystals to use in the bail.
She didn't like any of the crystals. She liked the silver ball but we decided it was too big for the cross.
We were now at 58 messages back and forth.

She approved the cross so I fired it, polished it and sent her a picture with a new bead to use in the bail.
She loved the bead, loved the cross, loved the cord.

I again received approval and moved on to assembling all the components together.

The necklace was finished and I again sent her some photos.

On message #70 she loved the finished necklace.
She made the second half payment and I sent out her necklace.

To my dismay, the next time I heard from her she was unhappy with the necklace. She said the surface was scratched, the arms were inconsistent and the knots in the cord were uneven. She also did not like that my initials were pressed into the back of the cross.

I told her that I was truly sorry she was not happy, offered to replace the cord, and refinish the surface for her while reminding her that the hand-formed nature of this piece was not likely to have a machine made look. 

After going back and forth for a few days, she realized I was not going to offer a refund and decided to send me back the piece to continue working on it.

Using metal files, I attempted to address her concerns about the size of the arms and the texture of the surface. I also started collecting samples of thin leather cord that I thought she would like to replace the hemp that was fraying from obviously being worn in the shower.

The reworked surface with the arms re-sized.
Another view of the surface.
The back with my initials.

When I sent her the pictures she claimed it looked even worse than before. That there were visible scratches in the photos where there were not any visible in the first photos and that the arms were still not even.

It became clear to me that my type of hand formed, sculpted silver was not going to be something she would ever be happy with. 

While I had clearly stated from the beginning that I don't give refunds on custom work, I thought it best to refund her 1/2 of her money. She was pleasant about the situation while expressing her opinion that it was unfair that I kept the first half payment and the cross. I chose not to remind her that it was stated to her more than once that the down payment is nonrefundable and refrained from mentioning that a cross is not something that fits in with my style and that I would be unlikely to be able to resell it. Instead I recommended she find an artist laser cutting sheets of sterling silver to get the results she is looking for. Having said that, I stand by my work and feel that when I do re-assemble this piece more to my liking, I will be proud to display it among my items for sale.

So, in the end, we were both left frustrated and unsatisfied. But we parted ways amicably.

The lesson? 

More communications (98) does not always mean better understanding. I am now working on a standard explanation of my work to include in initial dealing with custom customers that details the nature of my materials and the slight imperfections that come with hand formed and hand finished work.

This was the first time I have had to give a refund and hope that this experience will help me to improve my ability to communicate with customers and more accurately gauge their understanding. Maybe my mistake will help me in the future (and maybe even some of you) to avoid the heartache that comes with having your art rejected.

Thanks for joining me in this adventure.



  1. I'm so sorry about your experience! I had a recent experience where a previous custom order customer wanted another custom order. I made it for her and told her it was listed. She never bought it, and when I finally was able to contact her, she said she wasn't interested anymore because she found it somewhere else for free(it was breast cancer pins). So, I've learned to ask for some money first. By the way, I'm a new follower from Etsy.

  2. Ugh, what a tedious process. How could someone expect a handmade piece of jewelry to NOT look handmade (in a GOOD way)? Sorry to hear you went through this!

  3. Great blog. Thanks so much for sharing yuor experience... I have been lucky so far with my custom orders, I think! I also can't help but wonder if the dozens of convos might not have been a red flag that this person would not be happy. I just don't know how one can predict these things, but it sounds like you have worked on some great policies to help protect yourself and your shoppers!