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
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
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
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.