Q: Someone gave us 50% down on a custom piece of jewelry. They contacted us shortly after that and told us that they’re unable to pay the total because they hit tough financial times after a death in the family. Should we give the money back?
A: The short answer is: Yes, you should give the money back.
You can almost always “deconstruct” a piece of jewelry and reuse the materials. Your time will be lost, but you’ll earn more respect by returning the money than by keeping it. Also, it’s the right thing to do.
Here’s the long answer: Custom work is, in many ways, the highest level work you can do. It shows an enormous amount of respect for your talent by the buyer. And it represents an opportunity to strengthen a key relationship with your client.
The best agreements are in writing and specify what the client will pay and receive at each stage of the process. I typically recommend three stages, so that there is mutual agreement all along the way.
For example, there might be a payment after initial sketches are created, a payment after the final design is chosen, and the remaining payment when the finished piece is delivered. Mutual agreement at each stage lowers the chance of surprises at the end. It is almost never in your best interests, as a merchant, to have disgruntled or disappointed customers. Bad news travels fast! So if it’s in your interests to deliver more than promised, or to refund money in the case of financial hardship or an impasse with the buyer, do it. In the grand scheme of things, you’ll make it back many times over.