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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Seriously: If you don't have any training or time working in the field you're not a jeweler.

18k gold custom ring with a customer's stones.
Okay, so I get it.  It's a really romantic idea to make up the ring you want to propose with yourself.  But the reality is that most people aren't jewelers.  Unfortunately many people now seem to think that doing what I do is really easy, and there isn't much experience necessary.  I'm waiting for the day when we start saying to our surgeons that we want to do the operations on our spouses or kids because it would be really neat if we took care of them ourselves.  All the surgeon would have to do is watch us do the work and help us out a little. 

So this is an email I got awhile ago from a young gentleman:

"I'm looking into making an engagement ring for my girlfriend, and found your website while searching for jewelers in the area. I don't have any DIY experience outside of woodworking and electrical work, so I've been hesitant to really dive in. However, I just talked to somebody who was in a similar position and managed to find a jeweler who was willing to work with him through the process. Is this something that you would be willing to do / have done before?"

Okay, so understand that he has no experience, but he knows someone who did this so it can't be too hard right?  This was my response:


While I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t believe in working with customers this way for a number of reasons. The first is that it’s taken me 40 years to learn what I know and to make jewelry as well as I do. People who think they can just pick up the tools and do what I do tend to be unrealistic.  My employees all come out of an extensive two year school program (North Bennett Street School) and it still takes me about two years to get them up to the level I require (not my level---just the level I need for them to be helping to produce my work).  Secondly I have insurance issues with having people I don’t know in my workshop area.  I routinely work with pieces and gems worth thousands of dollars or even tens of thousands of dollars and I can’t have people wandering in and out of my shop area. And the third and final reason is that I would have to charge you about $500/hour because that’s what an experienced master jeweler’s time is worth. (I could sit with you for an hour or I could make up a ring I could sell for about $5000 and believe me you would need way more than an hour.) 

All that being said I know that there are some jewelers (lower skill levels, less experienced, etc.) who do what you want and I’m sure with a little research on line you can find some.  I have to warn you though that I get in people who’ve tried to make their own stuff and need someone with more experience than their teacher even to fix it.  Good luck with your quest!  

He thanked me and said he would be looking for someone who would do it. 

This is the email I got today:

"I was about to call you but decided to reply to our previous (old) conversation to help with context. I did in fact end up 'making' my fiancee's engagement ring, however I was looking for a jeweler in the area to help with two issues. One of my close friends, Kevin Tabb recommended you very highly (in addition to my own positive experience in the previous emails). 

Issue #1 is that the ring (platinum) needs to be resized. It's a little too big, despite being told she was a size 5.5

Issue #2 is that I didn't fully set the stone (Maine tourmaline). After I finished drilling the seat, it chipped while the jeweler I was working with was checking the prongs before I closed them. Despite being damaged in the process, I still thought the stone looked good enough to propose with. I didn't want to risk shattering the stone and losing that opportunity, so I ended up tightening it as best I could without feeling uncomfortable and gave my fiancee the option of replacing the tourmaline with a new stone.  She has insisted she wants to keep the original stone as long as possible, so I was wondering if you'd be willing to try and finish setting the stone. 

Would you be willing to try to set the tourmaline and resize the ring? I understand there is a significant risk that the stone could be further damaged and know that you can't guarantee that won't happen. If so, how much would those services cost, and how long would it take?"
 
 So let me review a few things:  You are not a jeweler unless you've had actual training in some form in the field and worked in it, no matter how romantic it might seem.  It took me 40 years to get where I am today and I know what I'm talking about.   I'm not really in business to fix your mistakes when you pretended to be a jeweler so it's going to cost a lot for me to fix all of your mistakes (possibly as much as you paid the other jeweler for the "help"). If you want jewelers like me to be around to fix your mistakes you have to buy the jewelry from me to begin with (of course then you won't have to pay for any mistakes because I won't make them!)  

Again, I appreciate the sentiment, but jewelers who agree to do this with customers demean our profession.  And it's demeaning to all jewelers when a customer thinks that it really doesn't take any training or skills to do what we do. 
 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Think before you take the plunge!!

22k gold custom bracelet
This is why you all really need to think about location and setting before you decide to propose:
https://www.yahoo.com/news/man-falls-death-bridge-proposing-215557264.html. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Conflict Free Diamonds

Boulder opal and ruby earrings
A number of years ago I wrote this post in which I discussed the issue of conflict diamonds and the surrounding uproar.  You might want to read it again before watching the You Tube video that I'm posting here.  In the article I was clear that there is absolutely no way to guarantee where a diamond comes from since any type of tracking method can be worked around if criminals are truly interested in doing so. 

More importantly however is that the reason I'm posting this video is to show that just because a company decides to market themselves as environmentally friendly or conflict free doesn't actually mean that they are. I have long had an issue with this particular company because I know some of their former suppliers and they weren't really doing what they claimed to be doing.  I actually think that they started out with good intentions but I believe they got some significant venture capitalists backing them and in order to satisfy their need for profits they sacrificed their ethical standards because the volume of business required simply cannot be satisfied by the sources they claim to be using.  There are only so many diamonds produced in Canada.   There are only so many unheated, natural color sapphire.  With the amount this company seems to be selling they would pretty much have to have cornered the market on these goods and I can assure you that they haven't. 

So take a few minutes and watch this:



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!