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Friday, July 21, 2017

Nothing (good) is easy!

Natural alexandrite 18k gold ring
I was at my bench this past Sunday (since I pretty much work seven days a week year round) and I was in the middle of building out a fairly complicated ring for a customer when I suddenly said to myself, why the heck do I make my life so difficult?  I could just buy commercial jewelry (or even jewelry hand made by some other craftsperson) and put it out in my cases and sell it.  I'd work a whole lot less and there's a good chance I'd be making a whole lot more money. I mean I could at least just be selling cast pieces since after I get a model made up it's really just all about setting stones, sizing and polishing. What the heck was I thinking when I got into this job?  It's apparently a good question I'm still not sure I know the complete answer to. 

I do know that one of the things I like to do and that brings me peace in my life is the physical act of making a piece of jewelry up from scratch.  To take a few loose stones, some round wire, sheet or even some 24k gold I have to make an alloy out of to make the materials I need  and create something beautiful that someone will wear for the rest of their lives (and possibly be worn by their heirs) is a pretty amazing thing to spend your life doing.  But it sure isn't the easy way to make a living.  It's gotten to be a harder thing to make a living at these days as people seem to be losing concern with actually owning hand made things.  It seems that many people are only concerned with how cheap something is or how fast they can get it which is unfortunate because it means we are losing all personality in the things we own. It used to be that Japanese craftsmen would spend years perfecting a talent like mokume gane and then spend months making up one amazing piece.  Think about that:  If you spent months working on creating one thing don't you think it would have so much of you in it that it would be a true masterpiece?   Unfortunately I can't afford to take months to make anything up (although some of my pieces take that long until they go from an idea to a creation) mostly because I have pesky things to pay for like rent but we seem to be losing the desire to own things that someone puts a piece of themselves into. 

I had a young man (12?  13?) in with his mother the other day.  He wanted to be a jeweler and he asked me some very pointed questions and had an excellent grasp of some gemology even without any formal training.   For the first time in my life I told someone that this was not a field I would recommend to anyone any more.  Despite the fact that because of the Internet it often appears that there are a whole lot of jewelers like me out there, in reality we are a dying breed. 

But because this is what I live to do, I will be here until I have no more customers left.  Hopefully that is still a long way's off!!
Custom pendant using customer's stones



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Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Dose of Reality

22k yellow gold custom bracelet with Chinese and Arabic numbers

I know I haven't written anything in forever and I apologize to any of my regular readers.  Everyone should remember that I am the whole shebang here so I have to find time to sell the jewelry, make the jewelry, do all the social media marketing, clean the bathroom (which Kathy insists on for some reason), and take care of just about everything else that goes on here.  And speaking of social media marketing, it seems that I can only do so much at once and I have been heavily focused on getting my Instagram pictures out.  So even if there is nothing here to read, if you go to my Instagram account there are always pretty pictures to look at!  All of my new pieces and most of my custom pieces show up on there almost immediately.

Today's topic is a little reality check for some of you.  Last week I had a couple call and say they were looking for a custom wedding band to go with an engagement ring they had and they wanted to know if they could make a late appointment on Thursday evening (I take appointments between 6-8 pm on Thursdays after my regular 11-6 hours).  When they came in the young woman had a white gold engagement halo ring that stuck out a fair amount at the top and needed a band built to go around it.  She didn't want anything too complicated but it was something that was going to require making up a model for, getting it cast and then finishing it up, making sure that it fit properly both in the model and the finished product.  He wanted a band made up in which the curve would match the one in her band.

 So let's take a moment and think about what's involved in this entire transaction. 

I spent approximately an hour with them discussing options with them when they came in.  Then I would have to spend the time to make up the model.  Model making can go smoothly or not.  Sometimes it takes me a couple of shots to get something I'm comfortable with.  So there is, even on a relatively simple design like this, a solid two hours of my time invested in it.  When the models are more complex they take a lot more time.  Then I have to meet with the customer again to make sure that they're happy with the model.  Add in another half hour for that meeting.  If the model isn't what they wanted I may have to adjust it or start all over which can run anywhere from a few minutes (minor adjustments) to another 2 hours (complete redo).  If they like what I do I have to pack it up and ship it off to the casters.  Once it comes back I have to do all the clean up work and any sizing necessary and I have to meet again with the customer if they haven't left their engagement ring with me (many people don't like giving it up for so long) and then do a final fitting of the two bands so they work right together.   Make all of that a total of another 2 hours.  So all in all we're looking at a total of my time, at best, of about 4 1/2 hours and at worst something in the range of 8-9 hours. 

Back to the couple I was working with.  I normally have a minimum custom work charge of $1000.  This is low for the industry.  There is a major online seller who usually isn't expensive, but if you ask them for custom work or even a small modification in a design, they charge $1500.  If you go into any of the majors (Tiffany, Shreves) they routinely start in that range or much higher.  I quoted them $800 for her ring because there wasn't going to be a huge amount of gold in it and I figured I could do it for a little less for her as I often try to work with customers this way.  His band, which was heavier and bigger, I quoted at $8-900 because I didn't have to actually make it fit with another band so I figured it wouldn't take quite as much time.  They left that evening to think about it.

A few days later he came back in and said that they hadn't wanted to spend that much and were there any other metals I could do them in that would be less expensive.  Now I only work in 18k or platinum so no that wasn't going to happen in my shop.  But I explained to him that even if I was doing them in 14k gold there was still a huge amount of time involved because the bands were CUSTOM made.  Let me repeat that: they are custom made and I may never sell another one of them even if I do have a mold to make them up again.  He asked about silver and I told him that a) silver tarnishes and doesn't hold up as well  in a ring for something you want to wear for the rest of your life and b) it would still be a custom ring. I finally asked him how much he had wanted to spend on the rings and he said maybe $2-300 each. 

So here's the deal.  If I make up a custom ring for you and it ends up taking me in the mid range of my time frame (6 hours) and you only want to pay me $200, by the time you take out the materials cost, the shipping costs to the caster and the casting cost, I'm making well less than minimum wage.  And that doesn't include all those pesky things like overhead, advertising, and all the other costs associated with operating a bricks and mortar business.  And once you factor those costs in, I'm actually not only not making minimum wage, I'm losing money on the job.  I'm actually paying the customer to make the ring up!  Even if I'm in the shortest time frame range possible I'm still losing money on the job.  And being located in Cambridge, even if I forget about paying myself anything on the job, I'm STILL losing money. That is just the reality of running a business. 

After he told me his price range I couldn't really help him.  I told him he could go to our local Jeweler's Building where a ton of jewelers are located and ask around because most of them will work in 14k gold and some of them are desperate for any business.  It doesn't mean he would get the same kind of job (not all jewelers are actually designers even if they claim to be) and honestly, any jeweler who did it would still be losing money on it. 

So what are the takeaways from this particular transaction for you as a retail customer.

1)  Bricks and mortar operations have to charge more than online operations because their expenses are higher. 
2) Bricks and mortar operations will be able to do custom work better than online operations because you're usually working with the actual designer.
Freont view of custom diamond ring with customer's stones
3) People have to be paid a decent wage on what they do.  I have more than 45 years of experience in my field.  People like me will not work for $10/hour, nor should anyone with the kind of experience I have.
4) If it was so easy that custom rings could be made for $200, then you could probably do it yourself.
5) Just because you have a price in mind doesn't mean that is what something is going to cost you.  Everyone has to make a living. 

Back side of custom ring with my pink diamond
And with that, I'll call it a day here.  Please enjoy the two pictures of custom pieces I recently made up that the customers loved, and that I got paid a living wage, after all of my costs, to make up. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

VIDEO OF ME AT WORK

Here's a little change up on my blog.  Watch a video of me working on a ring.  Have fun!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

New Bracelet

14k Red Gold and 18k Yellow Gold Freshwater Pearl Bracelet
This is a brand new bracelet I'm putting out in my case today.  I worked with 14k red gold on this because I wanted a darker red out of my metal to match the colors in the freshwater pearl than the 18k pink gold I usually work with which is a lighter tone of red. So it's a mix of 14k red gold, 18k yellow gold and the bezel for the pearl is 22k gold. One of the other advantages of the 14k red gold is that it's a little bit less expensive.  I won't be making another like this for the rest of the year (at least) so come on in and take a look. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Some New Pictures

I haven't had much time to write on here recently because, in case you didn't know this already, I have to do pretty much everything here.  These days I've had to take over my photography work as well so I'm now handling making and selling the jewelry, all the social media marketing, photography, cleaning the store, etc. About the only thing I don't do around here is the bookkeeping and that's because my wonderful wife Kathy handles all of that.  Also at this time of year, I'm pretty much constantly under the gun to get the work done.  So it doesn't leave me as much time to get to writing on the blog.  I don't have much time today either so all I'm going to do is post some new pictures of some pieces I have done for the cases and some custom work, so I can get them out there for those of you who haven't started following me on Instagram (where you can see these things the same day as they're finished so sign up already). 
Carved black onyx (by Steve Walters) 18k gold pendant
 This piece is out in the cases.  I've been looking for a similar carving for awhile as I did one a few years ago that sold.


New freshwater cultured baroque pearls.      
Mokume gane, diamond earrings
 These are some classics of mine but a new pair just went out in the cases.



Rainbow Moonstones and Diamond earrings
 These are some brand new earrings I just put out.  The moonstones have gotten incredibly rare as rainbow moonstones (technically spectrolite) have pretty much been mined out.


18k gold, fancy colored sapphires and diamonds
 This is another one of my classic pieces but this is a new one out for sale now.
Natural color blue sapphire, diamonds, platinum engagement ring
 I just custom made this ring up for a customer.  I have a couple of versions I now do of this design. 
Tanzanite 18k yellow gold earrings
Brand new tanzanite 18k gold discs. 

That's it for today folks!