Relational ties between manufacturers and their suppliers serve as an important strategic resource for value creation and realization. However, conflicting evidence exists regarding their role in the acquisition of specific knowledge. This study proposes that relational ties have a nonlinear effect on specific knowledge acquisition and that this nonlinear relationship is conditional on contract specificity and competitive intensity. Results from a sample of 385 manufacturer-supplier exchanges in China demonstrate that a buyer's relational ties with its major supplier have an inverted U-shaped effect on specific knowledge acquisition from this supplier; this inverted U-shaped relationship is stronger (steeper) when contract specificity is high and competition is more intense. These findings suggest that managers should understand the benefits and downsides of relational ties in acquiring specific knowledge and avoid building highly embedded ties when they draft detailed contracts or competition is highly intensive. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.