Bench jewellers working for the trade

If a retail customer makes a big sale on a diamond and wants you to
make something special, you do ‘X’ amount of work and charge
accordingly. If the same customer has a customer’s old diamonds and
wants something new and you make it by hand how much can you charge
as they are not making much money from the job and the level of craft
needed was not meant to be very much?

Do you charge the same rate? Do you charge the same amount for low
and high carat jewellery?

I have some retailers who insist I charge as much as the job offers
and expect me to scale my pricing up and down accordingly. This has
never been my policy. A $60,000 diamond in a pretty simple setting is
still a pretty simple job. In every case, I expect to charge the same
and if somebody is going to loose money it is not going to be me. I
am not the sales person etc.

The retailers I am talking about are willing to pay for the top job
and that means I can charge at the top rate in some cases and a
scaled down rate at others. I don’t feel I have a choice.

The whole concept blinds me. I know jewellers who charge as much as
they think they can get away with. The people they work for don’t
know what a job is worth. This is trouble for the honest jeweller
because they are often told that pave’ e.g. is $2 per stone, but they
are talking about pre-grained castings and well spread out melee and
to the other jobs they say, no that can’t be done. It goes around and
around in round-abouts like that.

So in essence, I am wondering what people would think if I said to
go with the flow. To charge $5 per re-tip (whether they are new tips
or melted on solder), to charge much less on 9k to 18k etc and much
less for a cheap ring no matter how it was made and of course much
more for the $60,000 diamond ring that took two hours to clean up and

Obviously there is a limit to how much you can itemise your costs
and the retailer in turn needs to know what charges to expect when
they are quoting their customer, but should you scale your prices to
suit other peoples concerns?

I know this question is one-sided because I have always disagreed to
charging less for less expensive goods, but I wanted to know other
jewellers opinions.


I don’t do trade work anymore although I did for a time, when every
last dollar was needed. I did feel compelled to work cheap. Generally
my accounts wanted high quality at low prices. That can only go on so

And now as a retailer who farms some stuff out I want the same
thing!!! But the occasional job costs me more than I expected. If I
make my profit on the batch I don’t fuss about an individual work

You should charge more on expensive goods because your exposure is
higher. Sometimes you should charge more for ‘sentimental’ jobs
because its often cheesy stuff that can easily go wrong.

What the retailer decides to charge, based on if he’s got a sale of
goods involved or not, really has no bearing on what actually goes
into the job. Either way, you have no interest in the sale, your
interest is in the work order. You don’t want to kill your account
but you shouldn’t grossly underprice yourself either.

But its a fine line sometimes. You eat some, you make it back on


Labor is priced the same on all work in my shop,(wholesale or
retail) the metal and material are priced seperate anyway…I did
wholesale accts for 10 years and when the sizing went down to 4.95
and retipping tripled in price, you could see the handwriting on the
wall,they just want cheap sizing and did not want to deal with
the other type repairs (they so over priced them no one could afford
it) If you pick up and deliver, carry insurance, and pay rent you’re
working for nothing…it will cost you to work for that type trade.

Don’t get me started on the plating arguments that we had…

The ones that can afford to do this type trade work are the people
that sit in the stores rent free and are not paying for insurance or
overhead of any type…

Wish David Geller could help with this pricing issue! ie trade shop,
aka slavery!

I am much happier not doing this type work and am amazed at how well
some of my friends are doing with it,I would rather do 5 jobs and
make 1000 than do 75 for the same money. To each his own…

Are we as a group of craft/professional people always going to be
told what we can charge? And why???

Lisa McConnell


Charge what you need to. Don’t take the economic hit for their
decisions or pricing structure. Personally, I think jewelers should
charge more to work on the cheap stuff, simply because of the hazards
involved with working on it. The whole ring could be made out of
solder or gold-plated base metal, but you won’t know until you take
heat to it.

just my opinion,

A $60,000 diamond in a pretty simple setting is still a pretty
simple job. 

Yes, but the risks are much higher with a stone with that value.
What happens if you break the stone? Or if it’s stolen while in your
possession? All of these factors have an effect on how much you need
to charge as well. Actually some insurance policies won’t cover
something like that if it isn’t your usual type of merchandise
without special riders (which cost more money), plus even if they do
it increases the average amount of value you carry at any time,
thereby increasing your insurance costs. There are always more hidden
costs associated with working with jewelry than just simply how much
time and materials you put into the job.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

I know this question is one-sided because I have always disagreed
to charging less for less expensive goods 

There are actually two factors at work in pricing - labor, and
materials, and they are interrelated. First off, retailers do not
tell me how much to charge. Often a customer will go in, or talk to
me, and say that they only have a certain budget, and we’ll do
something that fits that budget, but that’s not a store dictating
prices. I had some dealings with a store that would write, “Call if
over $5”. Well, I charge $5 to light up my torch, so there you are.
Little birdie - cheap, cheap cheap. I charge by labor, but I don’t
watch the clock. And your real question, which is the
interrelationship, is valid. If you get a 9ct. (10kt in the States)
ring, you’re going to treat it like a 9 kt. ring. If you get a
piece, you will treat it as such, and give it extra care, which is
labor. It’s not gouging, it’s going the extra mile and doing a fine
job. I will charge $5/per to set melee, but $35 to set a big center -
that’s not because of the value of the stone, it’s because it takes
20 or 30 minutes to do. There are people who charge $/ct. for setting

  • it’s like $200 to set a 2 ct. diamond - and there are stores who
    pretend they sold the stone when they didn’t - charging $2,000 for a
    ring because they would have made $1,000 if they had sold the stone,
    which they didn’t. I had a trader complain to me because a setter
    charged him more to set it than I charged him to make the ring - heh,
    talk to the setter… Me, I charge for what I do - I also charge
    for rushes - it’s OT.

Hello Phil,

Excellent thread, this. Does one charge based on the skill needed
for the job or just set charges the same for all similar jobs?

For the most part, sizing a ring down is the same process and should
have the same charge… BUT, if it’s a silver ring! Whoa there
podner. Even though the metal is less expensive, it takes more time
to complete the job because of all the finish work. Therefore, sizing
a silver ring should cost more than sizing a gold ring. But what if
the book says a sizing should cost $15, and the ring only cost $12?
It doesn’t make sense to pay more to size the ring than it cost.

On the other end, if the job is setting a stone in a 4 prong head,
should the charge be the same if the stone is a third caret or a
three caret? The setter bears a greater potential burden if the three
caret stone is damaged then if the third caret stone is damaged. In
this situation, shouldn’t the charge for setting the larger stone be

What if the head is platinum or 10K white gold (grit your teeth)?
Huge difference in ease of setting and in metal cost. The most
expensive metal sets like “butta” and the less expensive metal - well
let’s just say it demands more skill. Shouldn’t setting in the less
expensive metal cost more than in the expensive metal?

A conundrum. I’ll be curious to see what wisdom comes from our forum.
Judy in Kansas, where the delightful temps of yesterday have been
chased away by the north wind.


When I started my business, I operated as a trade shop, as I’m sure a
lot of independent jewelers do. I took a copy of the pricelist from
the last store I worked in, and got copies of other lists from
friends. I used these as a basis for what to charge, but never
distributed a list of my own to the stores for which I began working.
I knew how long it took to do certain tasks (ie: setting a round
Tiffany solitaire), and would charge more or less the same fee for
standard/repeatable jobs like that. What I didn’t do is try to
compete with chop-shops, who would set or size for a few dollars
less. My clients knew that I was more interested in returning a
quality product than a quick/cheap product, and thus I began to earn
the respect of these stores. I also, from the start, marketed myself
as a custom jeweler to the trade (as opposed to a repair shop), and
this is where the most important money issues came to bear. My
approach to custo= m work, restoration, and anything else that did
not fall into the “standard” rates was this: The store knew that they
were going to get one of the best products in town, and that I was
not going to charge any more or less than needed. Regardless of
material, I charged the same hourly rate for what ever job I did for
them. And if they ever got a break, it wasn’t because it was silver
vs. platinum, garnet vs. diamond, etc., but because I worked more
efficiently than I estimated, and I would pass that savings along to
them (and I always gave an estimate on work, so that they could
decide then and there if they wanted to give me the job). But I by no
means reduced my fees based on material, and on the other side of
that coin, I never charged as much as I thought I could get away
with. My ego’s not that big, and, I really needed to ensure that I
would get more work from the stores. I developed a strong rapport
with the store owners, and they respected me for operating this way.
Now that I operate as a retail studio, no longer taking trade work, I
follow the same model. This has earned me a loyal following, and
strong word-of-mouth referrals. As I see it, this is all about
selling yourself short, or charging what you feel is fair and honest
forthe work you are doing.

Regards, Matthew

I was told not to work on costume jewelry no money in it, WHAT I
charge by time not price— $3 pr. ear ring $10 to soft solder SS
posts 3 min job. Why not? Just because they didn’t pay much you don’t
have to work for free. The Boss will always wont to keep all your
wages for himself if he can get away with it.

Don in Idaho

Wish David Geller could help with this pricing issue! ie trade
shop, aka slavery!" 

I have started to work with a few larger chains but I doubt it will
affect most of you. The trade shops I’ve affected have been either:

  1. Those servicing chain stores having 8-15 stores where I went and
    trained the retail stores. These stores want the craftsmen to be well
    paid, want all pricing to be consistent. One store even is paying the
    legal fees to setup an association for the 18 craftsmen (all 1099) so
    they can have health insurance. One chain I’m working on I’m
    collaborating the price they should PAY the trade shops and it’s
    usually 20% higher than what they are charging.

  2. The other are trade shops who have bought my repair price book,
    it’s retail. Many trade shops buy copies of my book, give them to
    their accounts and say “I’m charging you a percentage of this book,
    you had better use it”. Many charge 40-50% of the retail price. For
    many this is a huge increase. I’ve spoken to the trade shops and they
    all are getting the prices and are happier.

But then I speak to the retailers using the trade shops using my
book. They all complain they are paying such high prices. But what
they don’t remember is:

a. They still close 90% of the customers.

b. At the old prices, to do a procedure might be keystone, 2.5 or 3
times and they made $20. Now at keystone, at a higher price they
still make $20 gross or more, if they use my book.

But for you folks reading this who are trade shops, remember this.
If a retail store buys a 4mm rope chain for $80 and another company
complains they retailers don’t want to pay their price of $100, who’s
to say the compliant isn’t warranted? Why pay $100 when you can get
the same thing for $80?

Until we all die, there will be low priced folks in our field. If
you REALLY do better work, keep your promise dates and HELP the
retailer get their money by providing a good price list and even
helping to train their staff, you can get higher prices.

Some folks get it just because they ASK.

But you have to be different than you are now.

David Geller

Back in 1980, I did trade work for three large mall stores, and it
took me about two years to realize it was a break-even business at
best. The need to stock settings, clasps, a wide variety of colored
stones for replacements, and wire and sizing stock are just part of
the “hidden” costs that are not recoverable.

Payroll must be covered every week, but if their sales slow down,
you are left waiting on your monthly checks. Even basic ring sizing
can be a problem if your customers get some “promotional” stock with
shanks that measure 0.5 millimeters in thickness. Half of these will
surely come back with breaks in the sizing lines, and they expect you
to repair them at no charge.

Chain repairs should be your “bread and butter”, but hollow ropes
will always break again in another area, and once you touch them,
they become your headache forever. We resorted in measuring shank
widths and thicknesses on each sizing both before and after we sized
them, just to avoid the do-overs, but the arguing was just not worth
the effort.

Today we do repairs only for our own store, quality is almost never
an issue, and I sleep much better at night.

Jon Michael Fuja

In the legal field, court reporting agencies, as a standard rule,
charge more per page to transcribe medical testimony or a technical
expert than they do a simple witness deposition. The theory is that
it takes more time and is more technically difficult. While that is a
fact, and that makes perfect sense, you also have a variation between
skill levels of reporters and their personal experience reporting.
Some will have a very difficult time and take much more time and
effort to produce the technical/medical transcript accurately because
of not having heard the topic before (i.e., brain surgery). While
some who have been reporting for 25+ years will have no more
difficulty and can whip out the transcript in the same time as the
testimony of a witness to a slip-and-fall incident (very easy

So the question becomes which theory makes sense to you. I would
have a hard time charging a third more for a transcript of an expert
on asbestosis and lung cancer than I would Joe Schmoe who saw the
little old lady fall on the sidewalk. But that’s because the goal is
the same to me (they both have to be accurate as to what was said)
and I’ve been doing this for 25 years. They are both very easy work.

With this topic, comparing the risk of wrecking a $60,000 stone
versus a $50 ring, how much should skill enter into the pricing of a
repair? Understanding the different levels of difficulty with the
various metals involved, aren’t the precautions that should be taken
the same with any item? Protect the stone and setting and be careful
during the repair? And be sure you have the skill to complete the

But then again, the skill level that makes the task easier should be
compensated for by charging more for the repair. Or should it? In
court reporting the charges are based not on the skill of the person
doing the job, but on what the market will bear. Competetive pricing
between agencies determines who gets the job, not the skill level of
the person sent out to do the job (a very sore spot with me - called

Also, consider the following:

Another point that I think someone brought up already: The value to
the customer of the item comes into play as far as what they can
expect to pay for a repair or alteration. I would expect to pay more
for a repair or sizing of my $20,000 ring than I would my $50
bracelet. But does that mean you should charge proportionately more
for the repair to the more expensive item or can you minimize the
risk sufficiently to charge a more comparative price?

I would like to say it comes down to what the market will bear. But
it also comes down to what a particular customer will pay. It also
comes down to what a jeweler feels he/she wants to work for. It comes
down to a lot of things. And all those things become part of the
standard in the industry. But there are always exceptions to the

So many questions and so many options. I don’t have any idea what
the solution is. I’m just out here in the desert all by my lonies
with WAAAAAAAY too much time on my hands this morning.

Veronica (I know, I know - more than you needed. Like I
said, waaaaay too much time - and too much coffeeeeeee.) :-}


Stand firm to your guns and don’t discount the repair prices. The
fact that a ring may have cost $59 at a discount house doesn’t mean
we should reduce our prices to repair it when it falls apart, and it
will fall apart. The cheap jewelry is always harder to work on
because it’s thinner, suffers from micro-porosity, poor stone
setting, etc… The way to explain it to your retail customers is
your prices are based on overhead. Your overhead remains the same
whether it’s a cheap piece or a quality piece. Time is money. Twenty
minutes repairing jewelry is twenty minutes of overhead whether it’s
cheap or quality, it’s still twenty minutes you need to charge for.
Charging less means you get less pay in your check. The rent,
utilities, insurance, gold stock, etc… still get paid regardless
whether you discount or not. That means you’re shorting yourself. As
far as setting the $60,000 diamond, you charge for the additional
risk you are incurring. The fact it goes quickly is chalked up to
you skill, which you are charging for.

James S. Cantrell CMBJ


But what if the book says a sizing should cost $15, and the ring
only cost $12? It doesn't make sense to pay more to size the ring
than it cost.

It does not make any sense whatsoever that I would relate my cha=
rge for labor to what someone paid for something. We sell inexpensive
silver rings, and I charge $20 minimum to size, even if it is just
pounding it up and refinishing. 1/2 size up, $20. Cut and weld, $30.
I used to be in fear, dumb, and underpaid. Now they can buy it and
size it, live with it the way it is, or, Oh my God, let them
walk…and I can go do something that produces income. Customers
come in with a $10 silver chain and want it soldered. I charge $12 to
solder. I tell them they can get a new chain for $10, some want the
old chain soldered. Go figure! There are facts of what it costs to
do business. If you ignore what it costs for you to do business, you
will make money on some things and lose money on some things. THIS
happens enough by accident. I would rather limit my liability, cut
down my losses. If you do this occasionally by intention as a favor
to someone it does not matter, but as a business model, you would be
shooting yourself in the foot, you would be a victim of your own
ignorance. The school of hard knocks is always in session.

Richard Hart

A $60,000 diamond in a pretty simple setting is still a pretty
simple job 

The expectations involved with this level of goods is much higher
than something commercial. I would hope any jeweler would put in the
extra time and care and have the experience to be certain it comes
out right, the first time, with no mishaps.

Who gets this type of work?..the jeweler who has proven he is up to
it. And (hopefully) your client is willing to pay to have the work
done well, especially if he is the one selling that stone.

“Be the best, and be expensive”. or else what’s the point? Really,
isn’t that what it comes down to. You want to make a good living so
you strive to be among the best, I mean beyond the ego thing. I’d
venture to say that’s why many of us are here, probably very few
hacks would care enough to try to improve.

The setter bears a greater potential burden if the three caret
stone is damaged then if the third caret stone is damaged. In this
situation, shouldn't the charge for setting the larger stone 

First off, the notion that a setter is charging “stone-Breakage
insurance”, as a few do, is pretty nonsensical. If you break a stone,
it’s your fault - we all have, those who have set any stones. And
they’re not going to buy you a $20,000 stone anyway. But Judy’s
conundrum is less so than it seems. If I am doing an identical job in
silver, 14kt,18kt, or platinum, it works like this, for me. The
reason I don’t accept silver work is because people don’t want to pay
for it. Judy points out a $15 sizing on a $12 ring. Well, so what?
I’m not a charity, time is time. If it’s 14kt or 18 kt, those could
be considered the base for pay - “normal” work. Platinum takes 1 1/2
times as long, plus I am a platinum worker - I make more/hr. for
platinum, because it’s highly skilled. Otherwise, it’s as I wrote in
another post. I don’t charge more for a 3 carat because of it’s
It will take ten minutes to set a 1/3, and 30 minutes to set a 3
carat. So, if you are setting a 3 carat d flawless diamond into
platinum, you have a $100,000 piece of jewelry. It’s not the value,
it’s the standards. Someone who is buying that isn’t going to accept
poor work - in fact they will want the highest quality, which
translates into bench time, which translates into cost.

Are we as a group of craft/professional people always going to be
told what we can charge? And why???? 

It doesn’t happen very often, but occassionally someone tells me what
“their price” is. “We’ll pay $x for that.” I just laugh, it’s so
funny. Or someone tries to talk me down, and I just give them a blank
stare, like they just became invisible. My prices are fair - even too
cheap, sometimes. If somebody has a budget I will give them something
they like within it. But I ain’t no doormat.

I tell them they can get a new chain for $10, some want the old
chain soldered. Go figure!

A friend of mine who has purchased some of my stuff before wanted me
to do up a watch bracelet for her in white pearls to match a necklace
she got from her children. The necklace, while very pretty, was very
simple and inexpensive. She felt she wouldn’t wear it much without
something to wear with it. So she purchased a not so inexpensive item
to accommodate the necklace - because it came from her children.
Sentimental value is many times greater than monetary value. It makes
perfect sense to me.


I would expect to pay more for a repair or sizing of my $20,000
ring than I would my $50 bracelet. But does that mean you should
charge proportionately 

I would like to drive this point home, at least for myself. If you
bring me a $20,000 gold ring, and a $100 gold ring, I will charge the
same amount to size them - maybe a bit more for polish. ($20 instead
of $15). If you ask me to make a ring for a $500 stone, and a ring
a $60,000 stone, the larger ring will cost double, maybe. The reason
is NOT because of the value of the stone, exactly. It is because of
the higher standard of craftsmanship that is needed and, more
importantly, expected. In short, finer work costs more money. If you
are in business, you need to pretend you are paying yourself - you
get paid as a goldsmith, and you make a profit as a business. Why?
Because you MIGHT have to pay another goldsmith to do the work. You
could say it’s just a coincidence that you are both. So, I will have
to pay a 5 year jeweler to make the $500 ring, and a 20 year jeweler
to make the $60,000 ring. The fact that I am both is really beside
point, because it could be that I’d need to farm it out for some
reason, and it WOULD be out of pocket. But I absolutely do not charge
more the stone is worth more - that’s picking the customer’s pocket.

This is a great series of letters from some of ‘us’ on pricing. I
once was told what to charge this wholesaler for some setting. He
said to me. “I don’t want to know YOUR prices, this is what I’m going
to pay you”. I just got up and left his shop. Same thing with my
"in-shop" training sessions, I can’t “bargain” my skills, my time and
my chance to educate those who want me…