Andy: thank you. I agree with you so much that i had to print
your essay to hang over my bench. I too have tempted to send
out a piece that i know is less than i would like it to be. And
every time i do, i think " would I want to be the person that
received this?" Too often ,we’re pressured by deadlines imposed
on us by the client. I have learned that, in the long run, it
is (usually) better to be late, than to deliver a piece that i’m
not completely proud of.

Time, i believe, will be the final arbitrater over what is
Quality and what is Crap. How many of us have been asked to melt
down or disassemble another piece of jewelry? True Quality of
craftsmanship and design will outlive those pieces that are
merely masquerading.

doug zaruba

Hi Andy Cooperman,

That is a wonderful article Andy. I do feel the need to stick up
for the goldsmith doing work in the retail/commercial jewelry
store. I know many really very fine, skilled and meticulous
craftspeople that do super work, day in and day out, in the
retail environment that you describe. I think many of us fall
into the trap of thinking that the other guys aren’t any good.
That if goldsmiths are working for the retailer that they have
sold out and just slap their work together, or if they sit at
home and make their own stuff that they are ‘artsy-fartsy’ and
could not survive in the real world. The poor workmanship one
sees sticks out in your mind as representative of whatever
category of metalsmith one doesn’t like. I just think that the
fellow that you were dissing on the radio spot may have in fact
actually been a kick-ass goldsmith making crisply executed
models with sharp edges, perfectly set stones and a blinding
polishing. Just because you spend all the time needed to do a
job right, does not mean that he does not. Goldsmiths end up in
whatever working situation they are in for a million reasons,
and wanting to do a second rate job usually is not one of them.
I know you did not intend to offend anyone, that your article is
about the ‘other guy’ and not your reader. Its just that many of
the ‘other guys’ I have met have been really quite good.

Mark P.

Doug Zaruba said: ". How many of us have been asked to melt down
or disassemble another piece of jewelry? " Too True… When I was
first making up my own designs, years of repairs taught me that
you weren’t supposed to mess with certain pieces as they were
worth far more because of the name attached. So when my customers
started bringing me these “House Designs” to tear apart and do
whatever I pleased with the materials. I was nervous to touch
them until they told me that I should be complimented that they
would prefer the stones and gold/platinum in my designs over the
original “House Design”. My favorite comment was that she wasn’t
into the “Young Dowager look” I had never thought of that angle

I wonder if anyone has noticed how rare it is to see the other
guy’s good work. After all, it is only the second or third rate
jobs that are brought to us to upgrade or fix in some way.

Bruce D. Holmgrain
Maryland’s first JA certified Master Bench Jeweler

I have been in the retail jewelry and design business for 25
years and there are give aways as too what type customer you are
dealing with. Sure you may not be able to tell by the clothes a
prospective client is wearing, but their jewelry is often a give
away. If they have on a crummy stamped out hollow pair of plated
hoops and a .10ct engagement ring on it is not likely that they
are going to spend $2500.00 on a pair of hand built emerald and
diamond ear studs. Yes you might be wrong in a guess about the
client, however there are only so many hours in a day and you
have to make your deciesions as to who is going to spend the
bucks and who is going to walk.

Etienne Perret

Dear Mark,

Thanks for your reply; it was toughtful and well articulated. The
store that I was criticizing is a large west coast chain whose
retail outlets feature substandard craftsmanship. I was lamenting
mostly the cavalier use of the word “quality”. (It also never
occured to me that this “goldsmith” was any thing more than a
radio performer reading a script: another attempt by a large
multistore chain to give a homey, personal touch to their wares.)
Please understand that while I began in an academic setting-- where
I saw some pretty bad craftsmanship in the guise of concept-- I
"made my bones" in the retail and trade shop trenches where I
often saw some truly kick ass craftsmen. I can’t count the number
of times that I’ve entered stores, last week for instance, and seen
some truly amazing object or examnple of craftsmanship that has not
only knocked my socks off, but also twinged that embarrassing
jealousy bone that I don’t like to admit exists. Unfortunately I’ve
seen those from the “darkside” as well.

I don’t consider myself a master craftsman by any means, although
I do have my flashes of brilliance, so the essay was adressed to
myself as much as to others. My point is that there must be a goal,
a grail if you will, towards which we all must reach. My other
point regarded intent. I have no fundemental problem w/ either
conceptual or purely functional /beautiful work. But it’s the
intent of each that is important and so each piece must work the
best that it can w/in the context of what it is. If, for
instance, the intent is to evoke an ethnic jewelery sensibility or
to produce a piece in a neo primitive style, there should, to my
mind, be clues on the piece that point to the mastery of the
techniques involved so that the intent of the work is obviouse : a
CHOICE to work in the primitive style rather than clothing the
object in the garb of “neo primitive” to justify shoddy work or
technical naivete.

On the other hand, if the thrust of the piece calls for a heavily
tooled, dinged or mishapen bezel, employing a perfectly set stone
in an even, lasar stright bezel would interfere with the effect
that the piece will have. (Of course, the stone needs to be tight
and secuRe: the effect desired may call for primitive but the
execution should be sound.) Call a spade a spade.

This is most definitely not a jab at teh newly arrived metalsmith
or beginning jeweler. We’re all still learning and can only hope to
be the best that we can be at any given point in time.

Thanks, Andy

Susan: If you know something of jewelry history, you will recall
the fate of many great pieces. In the 50’s & 60’s, many famous
designer pieces once owned by people famous in their own right
were altered and even totally destroyed because they did’nt meet
the then current fad in design. I still see some very nice old
filigree pieces in 18k & platinum destined for this fate because
the owners(usually by inheretence)think they look too old. A
very sad situation.

Steve Klepinger

I’d love to agree with you on this Etienne but I think you are
in the wrong here. If you don’t show those people what a finely
made piece (and more expensive) is like, they will never want to
spend the $2500. We are consistently surprised by the number of
people who look like they wouldn’t spend $5000. on a new car, no
matter jewelry, but who do buy those pieces. You have to give
ALL the customers a chance or else you are just sending their
money right to me or another jeweler who will take the time with

Daniel, When you have only enough time to talk with 10 clients
and there are 30 possible customers you have to make choices. It
is much the same as marketing by zip code, of course you can
find a millionaire in Harlem, but you might do better looking in
Beverly Hills.

Etienne Perret

Get Free Email and Do More On The Web. Visit

Money does not equal taste or style. There are plenty of people
who have the bucks but are clueless to quality jewelry(and
everything else) it is up to us to try to improve this situation.
Those lottery winners and inheritance guys need our help.

Steve, I did turn away quite a few jobs because I just could not
destroy certain things and I hope my lectures to the owners
didn’t fall on deaf ears. The ones that fell to the torch won’t
be missed ;o) Reminds me of the Interior Decorator who told my
mother to rip out all those Shakespeare and Pomegranate tiles in
our Victorian fireplaces during the 60s. Shakespeare still rules.

Re aesthetics, I’ve got a collection of really eye-poppingly
beautiful jewelry that are cheap because they are made by
craftsmen who do not have the “proper credentials”, ie, they’re
semi literate and lowly paid. I’m talking about expert shell,
wood and stone inlayers back home in the Philippines.

I’d appreciate any idea coming from you guys as to how we may
upgrade the buyer’s perception of our craft and thereby upgrade
the industry and art form.


Some ideas on upgrading your line of jewelry:

  1. Be frank with the buyer and tell him/her that you want to
    upgrade at least part of your current line. Another way to say
    the same thing is: you want to add more “upscale” items to your
    current line. Ask the buyer for suggestions on what his customers
    would perceive as more upscale.

  2. Get additional buyers, who are marketing to a different
    customer base in another area. You might try doing a wholesale
    gift and jewelry show to see if you can attract some new buyers.

  3. Spend a year doing market research. Go to gift and jewelry
    stores where you would like to sell and see what their inventory
    is. Visit these places several times during the year to see what
    sells and what doesn’t. Take a note of prices and talk tothe


Virginia Lyons

Etienne, I can’t believe that you, of all people, don’t have
enough staff in the shop to handle them all. If you are losing
20 people a day because you don’t have time for them you
definitely need more help! But I stand by my statement. I sold
a $15,000 Lazare diamond in a ring I am making to a guy who wears
cheap silver skeleton head rings. His wife handed me a ring with
the ugliest, cheapest sapphires in the world to make earrings out
of, since now she will have a nice ring. We give everyone who
comes in the store the same amount of attention. If some people
have to wait a little longer–well they’ll appreciate it when we
spend the same amount of time with them. And then of course
there was the woman yesterday who was wearing easily $15,000 in
diamonds from Shreve Crump and Low on her hand and all she
wanted to do was bargain me down on a $250. strung pearl
bracelet. So who should I spend the time with? Her? Or the guy
with the skeleton rings? Or should I give them all the same
amount of attention and make them all happy and have a lot of

Hi Daniel, There are 6 billion people in the world. How many did
you sell to last week? In sales and marketing it is not always
the clients that walk in your front door that offer your best
potential sales. By just selling to those that come to you, you
are choosing to not sell to the other 6,000,000,000 people in
the world. There is no way that you canpossibly reach everyone
so go out and sell to those that have the potential to
understand your jewelry and have the financial wherewithal to
make a purchase. I have had to approach selling my designs in
this manner because I live in one of the most beautiful places
in the world amoungst wonderful people that do not consider
jewelry an important part of their lives. To sell the workI love
to design and make I must reach out to those around the world
that want what I make. The world widwe web has become a fantastic
tool for me to communicate and sell to my clients no matter
where they are.

Etienne Perret

Here are my two cents on the subject. I am sure a lot of you
could identify with this. I have a lot of very dress down days
because I am either at my computer all day or at the bench. When
I go out to make purchases and meet wholesalers I try to clean
up my act and look put together but that does not always happen.
I have noticed the different types of treatment I get depending
on how I am dressed and it really pisses me off. One place
where I USE to purchase a lot of my tools and metal from would
one day treat me with like the Queen of England because I would
be dressed nicely and the next day I would go back into the
store dressed in my studio clothes and be told I had to check my
bag and would have the security guard there follow me around the
store. Needless to say, I rarely go back. You can not judge a
book by its cover. I have worked on projects and created pieces
for people who were easily making $500,000 a year and some of
these people were SLOBS. One guy I have done a lot of work for
wears cut off sweatpants and a Armani shirt every day of the week
with converse sneakers- winter and summer (hey when you have a
private car take you every where, weather does not matter
anymore!) This guy is a millionaire who lives on an entire floor
at the Dakota.

Hey you never know!


I’ve been biting my tongue on the subject of “customer triage”,
and have to share a story and an observation.

A story: years ago I am working down to the wire on a gallery
glass show, and have my work grubbies on as I shop for some
snazzy thing to wear to my opening that evening. I start my quest
in this exclusive, high-end arty clothing store. There are two
women working behind the counter, all made up and dressed to
their gold teeth, face-lifted cheeks perfectly rouged. Here I am
in jeans with a hole or two, a T-shirt, and tennis. (But all
clean, mind you.) There are no other customers in the store, and
as I browse through the racks, neither of them acknowledges my
existence (except to stare, disdainfully). Finally a third woman
comes out from the back and comes over to me:

"May I help you find something?"
"No, I really don't think I belong in your store." 
"Oh, nonsense. Is there anything I can help you with?" 

I tell her I’m an artist with an opening reception in three
hours, all my clothes are in storage (another tale) and I have
nothing to wear to my own event. She puts me in a room and
manages to read my personality to a T with what I like to wear,
what the event requires, what colors I look good in, what I can
afford to spend. I end up buying a very expensive handwoven
sweater, she makes a nice commission, and the other two just
glower at me on my way out the door. Eighteen years later, The
Sweater is still my very favorite dress-up garment, and every
time I wear it I remember the kindness of the woman who didn’t
let my appearance prevent her from being gracious and helpful.

An observation: there is a very well known artisan jewelry
gallery in Northern California which I have visited dozens of
times over the years. Day to day, I almost never wear anything
but jeans, so my appearance in this shi-shi gallery is often a
little out of place. While I can’t say I’ve never been greeted
by the staff, I’ve been acknowledged only once that I can
remember. I’m often the only customer when I’m there. The staff
seems “put out” to take things out of the cases for me, probably
assuming I won’t buy anything anyway. Thing is, I do collect the
work of other artists and have sometimes even been there
determined to buy something by someone I’ve admired for awhile.
But I often get so turned off by their attitude that after a
short time I leave. How many others customers are they losing for
the same reason?

A few years ago, one of my very expensive glass beads was
purchased by a 12 year old girl who loved it so much she saved
her allowance for weeks until she had enough money to buy it. The
beauty we create connects us to others. You never know who that
person might turn out to be.

Rene Roberts

Hey Rene I bet that stuck up gallery was the Susan Cumins in
Mill Valley. I had the same experience twice and once with a
freind who has taught metal arts in a university for 20 years. We
both thought we were dressed nicely enough too. My husband has
been known to buy me very expensive things occasionally,( we’re
talking over $5,000. pieces.), and I ask to see a few pieces in
her showcase and we were snubed. brother, I think the days of
being snobby and elitist, to make the customer think they are
getting a deal are over.!!I wrote to the gallery and explained
the unpleasant experience and never recieved an answere. I also
had a galler/gift store for 6 years and you can always be
respectful and kind to people. Even when a drunk street person
came into my store, I explained they would have to leave because
they were drunk, and most of them understood that and left, but I
never talked down to them. This world needs more kindness, and I
believe deeply in karma. So you snobby galleries out there get a

Etienne, I have never doubted your superb marketing abilities. I
have watched them in the trade magazines for years. I also think
it is great that you are using the web so actively to promote
your product. It is definitely the place to be, and I confess
that I am terribly behind in this effort myself (although I am
finally in some serious discussions with a company on a web
site). But our discussion revolved around your approach to
customers in the store. Perhaps the web will be the ultimate
leveler. No one can see what the person you are dealing with
looks like or how they are dressed or what other jewelry they are
wearing. It could be you are selling to some slob in his
underwear with spiked hair coming out of his nose but if he has
the money and appreciates the work it won’t matter because you
can’t see it.

My store unfortunately isn’t located in a beautiful area, but in
Cambridge we all value diversity to the extreme, and a basis of
our 17 year old store’s policy is to treat all people equally.
Now my partner sometimes takes that to mean she can be rude to
all people equally, but hey she’s an artiste, and she acts the
same with all the customers.


Here’s my 1/2 cent on this, too. My criteria to determine the
ability of a customer to pay for my work is based on three
things. Their shoes, their handbag and their haircut. That
said, I have learned to use this just as a game for myself
because I often can’t see their shoes, they aren’t carrying a
purse (especially most men ), and the wind and/or rain has
ruined their hair.

I had a customer late in the day at a fine art show that had not
been very good. I was tired, it was raining and with the
anticipation of taking down in the rain I was building up to a
really foul mood. A lady walked into my booth with what appeared
to be a home hacked-up hair cut, dorky looking grandma shoes and
an acrylic, nubby faded black sweater and plaid polyester pants!!
Hmmm, I said to myself, no sale here. But, she was friendly
and complimented me on my work as she looked at piece after
piece. She picked out several pieces and said she would be back
in about 20 minutes, that she had to go to the ATM for some cash
since she had come to the show without planning to purchase
anything. Right, I thought to myself, she’ll be back when this
rain turns to sparkling sunshine. Back to my bah, humbug,
grumble, grumble demeanor.

Well, I was wrong. She was back in ten minutes, cash in hand
and purchased five of my pieces! As I was wrapping her purchases
we chatted and I discovered she was a partner in a well known law
firm practicing corporate law. She spent her week ends in
grubbies because during the week she had to maintain a very
polished appearance and wanted to ‘get away from it all’. She
has been one of my best customers over time and had I succumbed
to my gloomy, disgruntled attitude I would not only have lost
sales to her but also to friends she’s sent my way, as well as
the great ego boost I sorely needed that day!

I can’t claim that I was responsible for my helpful attitude
that day while showing her my work, rather it was her friendly
personality that raised be above the grouch I wanted to be.
However, she was a very good lesson and one I don’t forget when
someone comes in looking less than affluent.


Nancy Bernardine-Widmer
Bernardine Art Jewelry