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A Jeweler Feels Cheated When A Client Walks Away From A Sale With A Complete Custom Rendering

Should the jeweler have asked for a deposit earlier in the process?




TESSA SHEA WALKED into ByDesign Jewelry Works, the new “cool store” in a Northwestern town, with a picture on her phone of a Celtic-inspired wedding set she’d seen on Pinterest a number of years ago. She’d held onto the picture for a long time and was now glad she did, since her boyfriend Kyle had recently proposed and was relying on her to choose her ring.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.


Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at

She showed the picture to Jenny Santos, the store owner who had opened ByDesign in 2016 after working as a master goldsmith at a large and well-known shop several towns away for over 10 years. Tessa told Jenny that instead of a two-piece set, she wanted the finished look to be one ring with a 1-carat pear-shaped center and a yellow diamond halo on a wide, hand-engraved band. She said that Kyle’s budget was $8,500 max. Jenny said she could definitely make the ring to meet Tessa’s specifications and could have some preliminary sketches ready in about 10 days. She reassured Tessa that once she and Kyle chose a final design, she would be wearing her new ring within a month.

Tessa was beyond excited — and went on to tell Jenny that she had originally gone to a local “wholesale” competitor who had shown her a few pear-shaped diamonds (none just right) and promised to have his designer create renderings of several options for the ring while they waited for a few more diamonds to come in. After waiting for more than two months, though, and getting tired of following up and being met with put-offs and excuses, she had given up. That’s when a friend from her office suggested she come to ByDesign. Jenny had Tessa text her the picture of the ring set and said she’d be in touch soon.


Jenny contacted Tessa less than a week later to tell her that her sketches were ready. Tessa and Kyle came in that Wednesday afternoon and both very quickly honed in on one of the four designs Jenny had created. Tessa said that the design looked perfect and that she was completely confident they had come to the right place. They looked at the two 1-carat pear-shaped diamonds Jenny had in stock. Though both were high enough color and clarity to put the ring out of range for price, Tessa said she much preferred the look of the one with the longer, more slender profile. Jenny checked her favorite supplier’s online inventory and found two diamonds that would fit the bill. She requested a memo of the two diamonds and explained to Tessa and Kyle that the next steps were to create a rendering, and once the couple approved the rendering and left a $200 design deposit, to make a model for their final OK.

She said she would have the rendering ready for them to see within a week and assured them that the diamonds would be in the store by the time they came back in.

Jenny sent Tessa a text late the following Monday afternoon to let her know that the rendering and the diamonds were in earlier than expected and ready for her and Kyle to see. They made an appointment for midday Tuesday.

Then, less than an hour after their conversation and just before closing, Tessa came into the store alone. She apologized for her late arrival and promised not to take too much time. She said she just couldn’t wait to see everything, so she stopped by on her way home from her office. Jenny brought the rendering up on the design center monitor and got the diamonds from the safe. True to her word, Tessa was quick to say that she absolutely loved the ring design — that it was exactly what she had in mind. She liked both of the diamonds and said she would let Kyle decide which was best when they came in the next day. She asked for the price of the ring with the more expensive of the two diamonds and was surprised when Jenny told her that it would be $7,850 plus tax — well under Kyle’s budget. She then asked if Jenny would send the rendering to her phone, because she really wanted to show it to Kyle when she got home. Jenny, swept up in the enthusiasm and sure of the sale, sent the file to Tessa, who left the store absolutely beaming.

Tuesday afternoon came and went, with no sign of Tessa or Kyle. Jenny sent several texts and even left a voicemail over the next few days but got no response. The following Monday, Jenny called Tessa again, just to let her know that while they could reschedule their appointment anytime, she needed to return the diamonds to her supplier. She asked if Tessa was interested in holding the one she liked best. This time, Tessa answered her phone and replied,

“Thanks for your help, but we decided to go in a different direction.” Confused, Jenny asked her if everything was OK. Tessa said, “Sure. Fine. Have a good day” — and hung up.

Jenny was furious, certain that Tessa and Kyle had used her. She could think of no explanation other than the obvious — that they took her design elsewhere to buy the diamond and have the ring made.

The Big Questions

  • What did Jenny miss?
  • Is there a point at which confidence in a sale can become a detriment? Was it a mistake to send Tessa the rendering without a deposit?
  • Should she try to reach out to Tessa or Kyle again? Is there anything she can do to salvage the sale at this point — or at least to better protect herself next time?
David S.
Toronto, ON

Every designer on the planet has had this happen to them. Not with a rendering, but at least with a design and quote in hand. I am someone who is quite quick to fire “problem clients”: the kind who complain too much or ask for unreasonable numbers of edits or do a design 180 after you have put in hours of work. The way I view it is this: Tessa and Kyle were probably going to be problem clients. Jenny saved herself a headache by losing the client sooner than later. Now it’s time for Jenny to shake it off and move onto bigger and better things.

Gene P.
Tuscaloosa, AL

Just like Alabama football, we try to close each and every sale. However, you cannot win them all. Tessa and Kyle may think they got a bargain on another diamond and remount. They are probably not comparing apples to apples. When I have a situation with a customer, I try to take the high road and keep on giving great personal service. It is very seldom, but I do fire a customer every now and then. But in this case, I would take it on the chin.

Mary Jo G.
Oconomowoc, WI

No money down, and she sends the rendering to the client’s phone?!! Can’t even feel sorry for her. We will talk for free to a client, no matter how many hours it takes, but no actual work is done without money down. We estimate what a job will cost and get half down to put a client on the production schedule (we run about eight weeks out), or a non-refundable deposit on the model is needed to create a rendering or wax model. Money down shows the client is on the same page as the person creating the design.

Jillian M.
Fredericton, NB

We learned very early to get half down before the design is even started. We have our client choose their diamond and then pay a 50 percent non-refundable deposit for the completed jewelry piece. We assure the customer that we do not start making the piece until they have approved the design. Design stealing has never been an issue since we implemented this policy. We thought it may hinder sales, but it did the complete opposite. We have been rated the No. 1 jewelry store in our city for 10 years in a row, have incredible ratings on Google and new custom design orders daily. Do not undersell your talents and time. If they are serious buyers, they will place the 50 percent deposit down. Let the frustration of this lesson go and remember, we always learn the most in business from our mistakes.

Natalya J.
Seattle, WA

One thing that’s easy to forget is that we are not only selling diamonds and jewelry, we are offering our time and expertise and deserve to get compensated for that as well! At this point, Jenny has been used for her time and skill and is SOL, but in the future, she should not be offering her skills and time to that extent without compensation. Our shop would have not even made the renderings, let alone given them to the client without a deposit or design fee. Then, even if Tessa had taken the design somewhere else to get it made, Jenny would have gotten paid for the work she had done for them.

Diana D.
Gig Harbor, WA

This is not uncommon, especially in the excitement of the moment. At some point, we need to set a value for our design time, and if the guest isn’t up for a minimal down payment that’s applied to the finished piece, I think we should keep things vague but keep the excitement of the special moment. If they balk at a $200 design fee, then move on. There’s always a special guest who you know won’t use and abuse our time; they are the ones to overlook the design fee. Another suggestion is an actual form agreement outlining the costs when starting the initial process. It’s a delicate subject, but with so many choices online now, we need to protect the brick-and-mortar experience.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

I am a custom design jeweler and have been faced with this dilemma many times. My conclusion to solving this problem is that I do not charge for a design and thus, I keep the design on file here at my store until the client decides. I have had to eat many memo diamond charges. It’s frustrating, but part of the process of custom design. I do not give a copy of the design until I have a 50 percent deposit. With CAD now, any jeweler can find a company to replicate a design; many of the large wholesale companies are offering this service. So keep your designs and uniqueness proprietary.

Diane M.
Beverly Hills, CA

I would be very upset. Asking for a deposit before doesn’t work. I guess that’s the price of doing business. We will know better next time. No emotions …

Rodney P.
Nampa, ID

What you described in your story happens all the time and in many different ways. I am surprised this has not been written about before; it has been happening for some time. I have had clients do this just to save $100! Some are using the local stocking jewelry store as nothing but a showroom, and then they buy online or at some other discounter. Maybe this is the new middle to upper middle class?

Boston, MA

She should have received a non-refundable deposit of $250 for the renderings up front. If the customers were truly serious, they would have paid. $250 covers her time and doesn’t break his bank if the couple decides to go another route.

Megan C.
Poulsbo, WA

We have found ourselves on both sides of this situation. We ask for a one-third deposit to help show intention from the client’s side and to give us enough money to prepare all the design process. $200 isn’t a level that makes me comfortable. We make sure to put our name and logo as well as date on anything we send electronically. Twice we’ve had clients bring a design from another company for us to create. We’ve had to have a thorough discussion with them about moving forward; anything we design for them will be close to what the other store designed but that we’ll need assurances the project will not be taken anywhere else. It’s a sticky situation that we try to avoid. If I were this jeweler, I’d get more financial commitment, have the client sign a commitment document (usually at the bottom of the custom order form) that outlines the terms and conditions, and spend more time qualifying the client up front.

Peter I.
Melbourne, FL

We do custom designs every day from all over the USA. My strategy is to separate the diamond sale from the custom mounting. I sell the diamond first, then design the mounting second. I send out designs and proposals most days; some I close, some I never hear from again. I enjoy the design process, and if I don’t close a project, I’ll post it to my social media and add it to my website; someone else may love it. Just a cost of doing business, and better to find out they are flaky before you start spending your money.

Marc M.
Midland, TX

Jenny didn’t miss anything other than a couple of people being scumbags. She did everything she could to help these losers, and her confidence was definitely not a detriment. These people used her, and unfortunately, it happens. She should just know that karma will hammer trashballs like this. I think getting a down payment before images are drafted is very important and a necessity nowadays to hold people to their word and to cover yourself. I don’t think there is anything she can do to salvage the sale, since she went above and beyond for them and they still burned her. I would let people like this go somewhere else, never help them again and learn your unfortunate lesson from this situation. They’ll get what’s coming to them … trust me.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

We’ve all been used, so just accept it. It’s part of business! Unfortunately, both Tessa and Kyle are gone, as well as the sale. A larger design deposit would have and could have been appropriate.

Allan A.
Bradenton, FL

First mistake was to let her have the design duplicated. Whenever a picture is taken, have a box or anything else with the name of your store on it. Also, make sure you have a nonrefundable amount of money used for the time and trouble that you have spent with them. A written contract with their signature on it would also help, like they do on a marriage certificate. I would also have it posted on the wall or on the showcase where it can be clearly seen. Your time is money. I would require half down that is nonrefundable and possibly used as a store credit and set a date when it expires. Lessons are sometimes hard to learn.

J. Dennis P.
Johnstown, PA

It’s never a good idea to allow proprietary renderings or designs out of the store! Always charge a fee for your time and professional expertise, which would be applied when purchase is made. If you don’t hold yourself up as a professional, neither will your client. And always keep in mind that when something is “free”, it may lessen the perceived value.

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She Wanted to Spend More Time with Her Kids. She Called Wilkerson.

Your children are precious. More precious than gold? Absolutely! Just ask Lesley Ann Davis, owner of Lesley Ann Jewels, an independent jewelry store that — until the end of 2023 — had quite a following in Houston, Texas. To spend more time with her four sons, all in high school, she decided to close her store. Luckily, she was familiar with Wilkerson and called them as soon as she knew she wanted to move on to bigger, better and more family-focused things. Was she happy with her decision? Yes, she was. Says Davis, “Any owner looking to make that life change, looking to retire, looking to close, looking for a pause in their career, I would recommend Wilkerson. Hands down!”

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