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Saturday, March 15, 2014

How Long Does it Take?

Carved, satin finish onyx with gold and diamond pendant
18k yellow gold, onyx and diamond pendant

I routinely get people in who ask how long it takes me to make some of my pieces.  It's an interesting question but, in fact, not a simple one to answer.  So I think I'll try to dissect the question today to make you understand what goes into actually making a piece.  But first some background for it!

I've been making jewelry for more than 40 years.  This means that I have developed skill levels above and beyond what most jewelers have.  It also means that I'm faster than most jewelers.  (I'm also far humbler than most jewelers (-; ).  What might take my assistant Kady an hour or two to do can take me 15 minutes sometimes. Mind you,  I've always been fast.  When I started making jewelry the jeweler I apprenticed for routinely developed methods to consistently and quickly make up designs so the idea of working quickly was ingrained in me from the beginning.  Over the years I have also always had the attitude that it doesn't really matter how you get there, as long as it's finished right and you do get there.  Many traditional jewelers would never use some of the methods I employ to get a job done quickly because they weren't taught that way and they often don't think it's the "right" way to do something. I remember attending a seminar on platinum a number of years ago and the teacher, who is an internationally recognized expert in the field, repeatedly said that you should never use an oxy-acetylene torch when working with platinum.  I've only used an oxy-acetylene torch in the 30 years I've been working with platinum and I've never had any problems.  Go figure!

However what this all means in terms of how long it takes to make a piece is that I might be able to produce a ring in an hour (in actual bench time, more on that in a bit), but the very same ring might take someone else 3-4 hours.  It also might take an employee 3-4 hours so when I figure out the labor involved I have to plan on that and not my Flash (as in the comic book) like abilities. 

So can I make a piece in an hour?  Well certainly some of them, however there is never actually only an hour involved. Anything that gets soldered needs to sit in a pickle (acid bath) for extended periods of time after the soldering in order to be clean enough to work on again.  This is one reason why it gets tricky for me to even know exactly how long it takes me to make something.  Because there is always a lot of down time in the middle of my work, I routinely work on multiple pieces at once.  Sometimes I have a half dozen or more pieces in progress all at once.  So while I may actually work on a particular piece for an hour it's rare that anything can actually be done from start to finish in a short time period. 

But then there is another issue and that is why I have posted the picture of the onyx, gold and diamond pendant above that I just finished up last week.  I bought the carved onyx I used in this piece in 2008.  One of my regular suppliers was here on a selling trip and I fell in love with the piece.  I knew I wanted to do something with it. Over the years since then I would pull it out of my stone boxes and sit it on my bench and think about how I wanted to approach the piece.  Routinely it went back in the box after lying around on my bench for a month or so.  At the beginning of this year I was doing a more thorough cleaning of my workshop than usual and found it hanging out near my bench again.  This was in the middle of January.  I spent another month and a half thinking about what I wanted to do with the piece.  And then, out of the blue, it came to me.  The piece was completed over a period of two days.  But it took me six whole years to figure out what I was going to do with it.  So how much time did it take me to make it?  If I charged according to the number of years of my time I spent on it, I should be selling it for a couple of hundred thousand dollars.  However fortunately for you (and unfortunately for me) I don't charge for my work in that way (the piece is only $1075---a bargain when you consider the years of thought that actually went into it).

There are other factors that go into the time frame on my pieces.  A number of my pieces (mostly my wedding bands) are cast pieces. This means that I initially make up a model and then have a mold made so that the piece can be reproduced more easily.  Many times these are pieces that have fairly complex designs and the initial design and work time on the piece can be quite substantial.   Once that is accomplished however finishing up the castings is a much simpler process. So if it takes me 10 hours to get a proper model made up and then only a half hour to finish the casting later, how much time did it actually take me to make the piece?  And of course when something is hand built from scratch it will always take longer than a casting will.  Sometimes these pieces can go quickly too and then sometimes everything possible will go wrong with them on the way.  I've been known to remake a ring three or four times because I can't get it right the first time.  You, of course, don't see that as you only see the end result. 

So how long does it take me to make a piece?  Anywhere from an hour to 40 years!

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