We use a soft-approach for synthesis of quasi-spherical, ultra-small, digestively-ripened, stable copper oxide QDs (radius < 3 nm). Common copper precursors (acetate, sulphite, nitrate and chloride) are explored. Triethanolamine (TEA) capping results in substantial increase of zetapotential (25 ± 5 meV); this is invariant with respect to Cu-precursor used. Relevant spectral analysis indicates that solvent and the surfactant are the most critical parameters. Hard-hard-acid-base-interaction (between CuO and TEA) based (i) mass-transfer (for pre-DR QDs) and (ii) passivation (for DR-QDs) seems to be the mechanism behind observed ceramic-DR; interestingly this is consistent with the metallic-DR-model proposed by Prasad et al. (Chem. Phys. Lett., 2012). © 2017 Elsevier B.V.