Creative minds gravitate towards careers in the jewelry industry. Designers love to design new and unusual pieces as often as possible. Moreover, many jewelry designers come from backgrounds in fine art where originality is held in high esteem. This can lead to a common trap in new jewelry companies when designers decide to make a full time career out of their artwork, especially in the bridge jewelry segment.

In the first and second years of our business development competition, we have received entries from many companies that intend to produce only one of a kind pieces; therefore never duplicating a creation. While this is creatively commendable, the business ramifications of this decision are significant when evaluating the viability of a company's success.

Custom pieces require a great deal of time to create if you consider the design, materials sourcing and production phases. Moreover, the producer often cannot achieve economies of scale in purchasing and may have to buy some materials or components at near retail prices.

When custom pieces are in the fine jewelry segment, as opposed to bridge jewelry, they can sell for tens of thousands of dollars each and therefore the creator can afford to craft a limited number of creations per year and still draw a salary. However, in bridge jewelry, the economics of the time involved, realistic price points and reasonable return to the designer rarely add up.

A common solution to this problem is for bridge jewelry companies to offer both production lines and custom creations. The production lines are stock styles available to order repeatedly during one or more seasons. These lines provide steady returns and enable a designer to streamline sourcing and production to maximize margins on product. The production line also creates the framework for a company's identity and is accessible to the largest buyer pool possible. Additionally, many firms offer a custom or couture line at higher price points. This ancillary line can act as a brand bolster by influencing your early adopter customers, garnering press coverage and generally enhancing the esteem of your entire line. However, when producing both types of lines, the designer is not financially dangling from one custom creation to the next.

There are common refrains to this proposal from designers who prize their custom foundations.

If I create a production line it will look like every other jewelry line out there
Not true! Many new designers are not aware of the options available to design houses. Production planning with qualified partners can allow you to maintain creative and quality controls while easing the burdens of production time for stock items. Many casting and stamping companies will work with your casting or stamping designs to produce your own components. You can also hire production assistants to copy original models in your studio once you train them in your techniques. You will not be able to grow and deliver on the timely schedules stores demand if you are single-handedly manufacturing every piece yourself.

I don't want to attach my name to something I don't create myself
Again, this comes down to economics. If you are making jewelry as a hobby or for supplemental income, you don't need to consider your time and salary needs as much. However, if you are trying to launch a sustainable business you have to delegate some things and trust your employees – yes, you will eventually need employees.

You also have to make logical trade offs. Some designers will spend hours bending and hammering bulk wire into hand made French earring wires, when instead they could buy manufactured French wires for cents on the dollar. No, they are not custom made; but, ninety-nine percent of customers will not notice the difference on this type of basic findings and you will have more time to design and manage your company.

I am an artist not a manufacturer
Who ever said you can't be both? Many artists have a hard time letting go of the notion that art must be an original by the creator's own hand for it to be valuable. True, original paintings and prototype items command higher prices in the art world. But, the jewelry world is not the same industry and a certain level of commercial focus is necessary for survival.

Moreover, you need to consider your media in the bridge jewelry market. There is a wide range in bridge jewelry pricing from roughly $50 up to very high end pieces with price tags near $2,000. Contrarily, high end fine jewelry or paintings can command tens of thousands of dollars each or even much more. Some bridge jewelers make the mistake of modeling their businesses off of these industries, which really are not comparable in many regards. Know your market, what your product can sell for, and what you need to make as a business to survive.

I just don't want to run a business where I can't make every piece
Of course, that is your choice and we wish you much joy in your creative endeavor. Unfortunately, it will be very difficult for you to leave your day job as a result. If you are truly committed to a full time business venture we urge you to look at the financial aspects of the "one of a kind question." Fundamentally, this comes back to the salary issue, which we address in this year's second feedback article, Salary Study for Bridge Jewelry Design Proprietors.

Copyrighted by Halstead Bead, Inc., providing jewelers with wholesale beads and findings since 1973.

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