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A new way to market jewelry?


I have been thinking a bit about how jewelers who manufacture their
own work can make a better living. The difficulty as I see it is
that we want to spend more time in the studio actually making our
work and less time doing paperwork and legwork. We also need more
exposure to the public and to those who wholesale our work. It
seems to me that we need to step back and reassess the whole

To be honest, my thinking has been focused on helping out the small,
one person jewelry business since that is what I am and that is what
most of my friends are. The majority of these people sell some
wholesale, but also do a lot of retail selling at craft shows. They
also create more high end work since lower end work means work that
depends, more likely than not, on lower skilled, less costly labor.
There is no reason we couldn’t do more wholesale selling in relation
to retail, or vice versa, except that we need more time to actually
create work and a large factor in not achieving success is that we
don’t sell enough work. So we spend more and more time jurying into
shows, researching wholesale opportunities and keeping up with
paperwork than we do actually making our designs.

So, though I think the traditional answer of hiring a rep can in
some cases be helpful, I don’t think that it is the answer for the
single creator/artist. Hiring a rep adds another level of
complexity to our lives that we don’t need.

I have been thinking that what we need are organizations modeled
more after artist agencies. Many different types of artists are
represented by agents: authors, singers and actors to name some. I
see no reason that the agency model couldn’t be used to further the
careers of jewelers.

The goal is to make jewelers more productive and to gain a higher
profile. Jewelers represented by an agency would need to be
professional, full time artists who devote themselves to their work.
They would also have to travel to wholesale and retail shows to
promote their work. They would also have to be able to work well
under management.

The agency would be responsible for promotion, accounting, helping
to get their clients work into shows (both wholesale and retail) and
galleries, managing websites and basically most of the nonproductive
work that jewelers have to take care of themselves.

Jeweler and agency would derive their incomes from the jeweler’s
work. The income would be split between them with allowances for
material and equipment costs. The jeweler should get a higher
proportion of the split since the only source of income to them
would be sales of their work, whereas the agency would manage
several artists and derive income from multiple clients.

The advantage of this system would be that a central agency would be
able to streamline costs. Instead of each jeweler having to hire
their own accountant, photographer or web master, the agency could
negotiate better rates. I know that my photographer always tells me
to send more work because their all day rates are cheaper than their
per piece rate.

Cooperative efforts would have to be used when it comes to buying
tools, equipment or materials. An artist new to the trade, with
fewer tools or equipment than us old timers would have to have some
help over the years getting all the tools needed. All the artists
would have to be willing to work with management when it comes to
buying materials.

Disadvantages abound. For example, jewelers who are used to
controlling every facet of their business would lose some control.
One would have to get used to a management company perhaps asking
them to do shows they wouldn’t ordinarily like to do. But I believe
that there are even more advantages.

Of course, there are lots of questions, too. How would the money be
handled? Would the artist collect all the money and pay the
commission to the management company or vice versa? The biggest
question of all – how and where to get a person or group of people
to take on such an effort?

I know it can be done. I mean, who started the first craft show?
At first there were very few if any shows, now they proliferate. If
we can show that there is money to be made then interested people
will follow.

For starters, though, I wonder if a small group of jewelry artists
could get together and create a temporary organization whose goal is
to ultimately morph into an agency. Perhaps some articles could be
written and sent to jewelry magazines with our thoughts on the
subject and see if that wouldn’t “flush out” potential interested
individuals. I don’t know, but I thought it would be great to start
the thread and see where it goes.

Anyone interested in tossing in an opinion or comment? Is there
anyone out there with more experience with artist’s agencies who can
add to this thread? I am going to save all the posts on this
subject and throw out some other thoughts on Orchid. Please send
comments and questions and let’s see what we come up with.


To be honest, my thinking has been focused on helping out the small,
one person jewelry business since that is what I am and that is what
most of my friends are

Hi Larry and Orchidians;

I am very interested in this kind of thinking. I think we are on
the verge of the emergence of a new paradigm for how the public
experiences jewelry. Imagine, when you think of jewelry you don’t
think of the mall chain store, or the mom-and-pop downtown small town
store, or the “high end” stylish and snooty big name downtown store.
Instead, you think of a craftsperson, working at his or her craft.
Working with discipline and integrity at a very demanding skill that
took years to master. You are welcome in his or her shop where the
artist treats you like the friend and neighbor you are, happy to
explain how things are made, why he or she chooses this technique or
that material. You see the actual jewelry being made, and of
course, you can buy from the beautiful inventory of unique designs,
or perhaps you are looking for something more personal. You can
discuss these ideas, be a part of the process of design, see it
evolve into it’s final form. If you need something repaired, you
don’t get a salesperson whipping out a price book. The jeweler really
examines the piece and it’s obvious he or she is considering the best
yet most cost effective solution. This is not retail. This is true
cottage industry, practically a Colonial form. What if there were
other craftspeople nearby, in a sort of village atmosphere, doing
other things like making clothing, building furniture? And what if
the entire price of the sale belonged to the artist? Can the
merchandisers afford to compete with this? Can the big-box retailers
mass produce this? This is not a way to get rich, it’s only a way to
make a living. It will not support someone who wants to kick back
and make a fortune from the labors of their skilled workers. I doubt
that anyone who is not or has at one time been an actual craftsperson
could have the mindset to see the value of this model of business.
This craft belongs to us. It always has, at least what is truly at
the heart of it. Value is perception. Mass marketers can manipulate
a larger audience, but they cannot leave a lasting impression except
over a long period of time. They have taught their market to be
fickle and now, as always, they are foisting crap on them. We can
take advantage of their disappointment. But it will take us pooling
our resources, in guilds, buying clubs, shared space, and lots of
visibility in the community, and I don’t mean at the Rotary Club.

David L. Huffman

Great ideas, David- I agree that we need to market the artists and
the process as well as the art. I also want to find ways of doing
business that are free of exploitation. The village concept is nice.
I see a few challenges with it. How to obtain the physical space
(and pay for it), and practical issues (such as security)
surrounding the relocation of our studios to such a setting. Still,
it’s potentially doable.

One concept which has been tried (successfully, I think) in the Cave
Creek/Carefree area of Arizona is as follows- periodically, studios
of local artists are opened to the public on a given day, so that
interested parties can make a day of it, going from studio to
studio, meeting the artists, seeing their work and their workspace,
purchasing directly from the artists. I think that this only has a
shot in areas or communities with a high concentration of artists,

Another possibility is for area artists to put on shows. We could
contact area charities and offer to put on shows and donate a
percentage of the gross in exchange for their providing the physical
space and assisting with publicity.

We should explore such ideas, and begin to get together locally to
see what we want to do, and commit to taking some action.

Lee Einer
Dos Manos Jewelry

Hi Larry, I understand the frustration of wanting to produce work,
but having to take care of paperwork and business contacts. I also
understand that you would like to find a way past that – a way to
get back in to the studio and create things, leaving the more
"worldly" concerns to someone else.

The ways to do that already exist, but they leave the artisan with
different problems. A gallery will represent you, set shows, do
paperwork, and send you your percentage. A rep will take your work
along with the work of others, maybe take a booth in a wholesale
show, maybe go out by appointment only, they do the paperwork, if
work sells, you get your percentage. The idea of both of these
scenarios is that the artisan belongs in the studio making their
work, and wants to leave the business concerns to someone else.

An agency would perform the same function. An agent and a rep are
essentially the same thing.

If you follow the model of an actor’s agent, you will see that it
poses the same problems. Calls and ads are put out by production
companies looking for a “type” of actor. Agents essentially
"compete" against each other by sending their best qualified
(closest match) actors to an audition held by the casting director
at the production company. The agent doesn’t really care which of
his actors gets chosen for the role, just that one of them does, so
that he can make his monetary percentage. An agent’s real concern
is to have the best actors that he can under his representation, so
that they get cast more often, and he makes more money.

Obviously, a gallery or an artist’s rep or an agent function in the
same way (or even a bordello, for that matter). The “stable” of
artists are the best that the person heading-up the organization can
attract, so that they are able to “sell” more. Wanting an agent to
favor only one artist in his “stable” is like asking a parent to
choose his favorite.

All of these different methods of representation have come about
through a match of people who want to create and leave business to
someone else, with those people who want to represent and ideally
prosper by selling someone else’s labor. It is like a child/parent
relationship, except that since it is “only business”, the caring
and nurturing factor can be left by the wayside when hit by stress
(bad business practices, no money coming in, etc.).

There are many, many people out there who both care about and
nurture their stables of artists – wonderful gallery operators,
excellent reps, great fine artist’s agents. Just remember that it
is business, and if faced with too much stress (business or
personal) even these good people can be problematic. Go into the
relationship with your eyes open, and don’t expect too much from it.

If you decide to get people together to start another artisan’s
agency, interview some of the wonderful gallery operators, excellent
reps, and great fine artist’s agents. If they can find time to
speak with you, you will learn that the problems are really the same
no matter which facet of representation they are in.

Personally, I like the model suggested of a sort of “Colonial
Williamsburg” grouping of artisans catering to and educating the
population. How fun! Of course, it’s all in how it’s managed.
Renaissance Faires already exist, though itinerant; and Arts
Festivals also exist, though seasonal – and although some people
demonstrate at their booths, most do not. One problem though –
spending so much time educating leaves little or no uninterrupted
time to create. Hmmm…

Just how do you re-invent the Status Quo without being doomed to
repeat the very problems you were trying to eradicate?


I like this idea although I don’t know what exactly it takes to put
a show together. I’m sure it’s much more work than I think it is, and
I think it’s probably a lot. :wink: – Dee Dee