Jewelry, Form, and Fun

Before we go on and talk about form as an element of design, let’s talk about the pleasant, joyful aspects of jewelry form. What makes it fun?

There’s no doubt that jewelry is beautiful to behold, but jewelry is essentially small sculpture. So while it’s meant to be seen from multiple sides, jewelry—its form, surfaces, corners, edges, and texture, whether smooth, rough, nubby, scratchy—is really all about touch. In fact, most people who wear jewelry fiddle with it. Have you seen men and women finger a ring when nervous? Adjust a watch or bracelet? Slide a pendant on a chain? Pull an earring? Of course you have. You’ve done it yourself. (Pandora bracelets are excellent jewelry toys. They have substantial weight, they slide around the wrist, and the beads spin on their cables. You can even take all the beads off, reorganize them, and put them back on the cable. Perfect for fiddling!) Continue reading

Can I Buy It Wholesale?

The word wholesale conjures up images of buying things on the cheap. Deep discounts. Bargain basement prices. Have you salivated at the thought of getting into the “wholesale only” section of gem, bead and jewelry shows wondering what delectable goodies were going on the block that you didn’t know about? Who are the special buyers entering those restricted regions? Could you become one of them? Continue reading

Spectacular Spinels

Hope Spinel surrounded by diamonds. Photo courtesy Bonhams.

Hope Spinel surrounded by diamonds. Photo courtesy Bonhams.

Okay. My bias is going to show here. But when it comes to spinel, I think it’s one of the most under-rated and under-used stones in the jewelry industry. Part of the reason for that is because it’s not as common as, say, garnet or tourmaline. But to have a stone that is beautiful, is rarely treated, is extremely durable (it’s an 8 in hardness and has little to no cleavage risk), that comes in a luscious range of reds, pinks, purples, oranges, and blues, and to make little use of it is, well, spine(l)less! (Sorry.)

You know they’re beautiful when enormous spinels found their way into the Crown Jewels of England and were, for many years, paraded as rubies. (They can be that good!) And just this past week, an AMAZING spinel was sold at Bonhams, the auction house, in London, for an equally amazing record price of £962,500 (just under $1.5 million). The so-called “Hope Spinel” was once owned by Henry Philip Hope, 19th century London banker who also once owned the Hope Diamond. (Full disclosure: the Hope Spinel buyer was not me.)

It’s the range of subtle color is what really makes spinels useful to a designer. You could create a brooch, bracelet or neckpiece with a lovely sherbet-colored palette of spinels, or use spinels as accents for a flashy cabochon of agate. A deep-colored spinel would be a stunning centerpiece for any ring–and there would be virtually no wear issues!

But spinels have gotten a bad name for something that is not their fault. Spinel, like corundum (ruby and sapphire), is easily and inexpensively synthesized. Probably tons of spinels are churned out to fill the synthetic birthstone market. A great many of the “emeralds,” “aquas,” “peridots,” and “diamonds” you see in birthstone rings, necklaces, and pins are synthetic spinels. As a result, many, many people have come to think that “spinel” is synonymous with “fake.” Not so! However, it does mean that designers have to educate themselves first and their customers second, on the beauties and desirability of spinels.

Spinel is not often found in caliber-cut shapes and sizes. This, too, makes them perfect for designers as the stones demand unique settings. If you want matching sizes for a particular design, you may end up having to commission a cutting job. That may get to be expensive. Although at one time the lack of market familiarity meant spinels were often quite reasonably priced, that has changed. When the prices of rubies started going through the roof, buyers looked for a suitable substitute. As a result, spinels are climbing.

But it’s still a stone worth looking for. Just remember: The Hope Spinel is taken.

Combining Geometric and Organic Shapes in Artisan Jewelry

Rebecca Strzelec creates an interesting piece by combining organic and geometric shapes in Cross section #5, from her Army Green Orchids series. Photo courtesy Rebecca Strzelec.

Rebecca Strzelec creates an interesting piece by combining organic and geometric shapes in Cross section #5, from her Army Green Orchids series. Photo courtesy Rebecca Strzelec.

While shapes may loosely be grouped into geometric and organic categories, jewelry—or any object, really—rarely falls into one camp or the other. For example, in this piece from her Army Green Orchids series (2006), Rebecca Strzelec, Professor of Visual Arts, at Penn State University, Altoona College, combines a rigid rectangular shape (as well as a girder-like interior) with the gently curving outlines of flowers—orchids, to be exact.

Strzelec printed the piece in toy-soldier plastics using flower shapes to make a particular point (read her artist statements here). However, even knowing nothing of the artist’s intent, the piece can be appreciated on its own merits simply by looking at the combination of shapes.

Materials and Pricing Artisan Jewelry

If you’ve started your business as a hobby, chances are good that you’re pricing by materials alone, with a bit added in for labor. It’s time to stop that practice right now if you’d like to make jewelry making your career rather than your hobby. But because you’re already most familiar with materials, of the four parts to a product price–materials, labor cost, overhead, and profit—let’s start there. These are the tangibles, such as metals, metal clay, stones, beads, glass, and fibers that are actually part of the jewelry you deliver to a customer and the part of the jewelry that customers appreciate.

But do you also consider findings?  Continue reading

Form: Where Line, Shape, and Space Converge

I probably should have put a warning notice upfront before I began this series of posts on the elements and principles of design. Although I’m going to discuss each of these separately, it’s really impossible to separate them. While I danced around this in my posts on shape, I can’t tap dance fast enough to get around it here, when we begin to look at form. Because this is where the language gets muddy. Stick with me and see. Continue reading

Pricing Your Production Line

Sterling silver pendants, 2013. Photo courtesy Kari Woo.

Sterling silver pendants, 2013. Photo courtesy Kari Woo.

You have a jewelry line you enjoy making. Your friends like it. Your family likes it. Your co-workers and neighbors like it. They—and you—are all sure you can make a living selling it.

Can you?

It depends on the price. Continue reading

Is Wholesaling Right for You?

When you wholesale, you sell you work to an outlet of some kind that resells your work—for a profit—to the person who will actually wear it. Production jewelry lines are made for wholesaling. The pieces are usually less expensive and easier to produce than one-of-a-kind work. Your distributors can sell them at a reasonable price point, which makes them great impulse items. Customers can easily make the decision to buy a production piece without meeting you, the artist, or even without a lot of input from a sales associate at a gallery or department store.

Wholesaling allows you to have your work in a retail venue—all the time—without the expense of a storefront, or the time and bother of creating and maintaining a website. You can present your work in many venues at one time–across the country or on the other side of the world–without having to travel to those venues yourself. Best of all, it means you can stay in the studio doing what you do best and may enjoy most: making jewelry.

Wholesaling may also be a good fit if you work another job. You may not be able to go to retail art and craft shows, and maintaining an Internet presence may take away from what little time you have at the bench.

However, wholesaling does separate you from the consumer. You may not get the kind of feedback from gallery or boutique sales staff that you would from the people who will be wearing your work. If the gallery is not local, you may not know how your jewelry is displayed, how often gallery staff actually show pieces to a customer, or what they’re saying about it. Some venues, too, may be less careful handling your work than you are and damage can happen.

Probably the biggest drawback to wholesaling is that most galleries—which are probably the primary wholesale venues for jewelry makers starting their career–work on consignment. This means that, although the gallery provides a permanent retail space where your work can be seen, you bear all the costs of production and are only paid when—and if—the work is sold.

If you decide that wholesaling might be your best approach to selling your production jewelry line, there are several ways to find outlets for your work.