Charging for design work

Hello - I am a jewelry designer with my own small company. I have
been contacted by another jewelry company to do some designs for
them. I will be supplying sketches of my design ideas to them, and if
they pick one - I will provide one prototype- they will then have the
piece mass-produced. If we work well together they will continue to
consult with me for design ideas.

My question is - what should I charge for doing this? I have never
done design work for another company & would be grateful for any

Thank you so very much,

Hi Serena.

Might I suggest they put you on a retainer so if they have your
designs in their hands, they have paid something for them and you are
not at a loss.

Over all my years of experience, you can show a custom order jeweler
any design and he/she can replicate so your designs do not have any
protection, really.

So, unless you know the company and feel good about giving them your
designs, think about a price for each one, if you do the prototype,
then that is another question.

Protect your ideas for as long as you can.

Best regards, Dee

Serena- Congratulations to you for getting a design gig! I showed
your letter to my husband Tim who has been a jewelry designer and
maker for thirty years. His answer was… “Charge as much as you can
for the original because they’re gonna ### you in the end. Take a
bucket for all of the money.” Seriously, the company that you sell
your design to will be able to make multiple castings for years and
in the end all you get is the one time pay off.

We charge 75- 100 bucks an hour for design time.

Hope this helps.

When I work for a customer I charge $35 per rendering, the price is
applied to the cost of the piece if they choose to go with it. this
keeps people from having me waste my time.

I have done some design work for jewelry companies that send the work
overseas to be produced. Every time I see the final product I DO NOT
want my name associated with it. it is not that all the work produced
overseas is of bad quality. It is just that when manufacturers have
things made they look for the cheapest way to have it done. Be
careful, if you are an American craft council exhibitor you may not
want other people knowing that some things you have designed have been
made overseas. Even If you do not ever sell them yourself at your

All rates seem to be different for this kind of work. Lunt trading
company approached me to do some beads for them. They promised to give
me a commission on each one sold. They also said that they would ‘get
my name out there’ as a designer. However it was not the quality that
I wanted to be associated with. I guess that I am just a premadonna
Alchemical Jester.

I think that renderings should be between $35-$50 each Model making
is another story, I would charge $65 an hour at least. Keeping in mind
a few may need to be made to get the production down.

Hope that helps.
Wayne Werner

His answer was… "Charge as much as you can for the original
because they’re gonna ### you in the end

I quit making models by contract because people don’t want to pay for
them. Plus it’s boring, to me. If you make a one-off piece and the
shank has a little dip, you can fake it - file a little here and there
to disappear the problem. In a model you need to make everything
perfect in every way - plus there’s shrinkage factors and all the
rest. So, you do all that and show the client and they say, “Well, of
course it’s supposed to be like that.” They see the perfection (human
perfection) without any bit of understanding of how it came to be that
way. Then comes, “But it’s just a silver ring!”, and after that comes
“But we need 100 models, we couldn’t possibly pay that much and get a
whole line!” Phooey! Take the advise above, stick to your guns…

Be careful, take your time and think the whole thiing
out-Particularly since this sounds like your first design job. and it
also sounds like a verbal agreement.

First. there are a number of issues to consider regarding not only
your name, your design, material specifications control if your name
is to be associated with the pieces, or final products, the
end-product’s quality, and how commissions will be calculated [ vs.
an outright payment (as though it were a one-off design being sold
and then you are finished with the entire project), the articles
of the contract-and drafting a contract since you are not only
designing, and rendering, but making a model/prototype. but trade
laws, rights management and a number of legal considerations that
you probably haven’t thought of in your initial excitement. Foremost
is the terms of your compensation, and your stipulations regarding
sales mark I invite you to contact me off list for specific answers
to your questions and to help you vreate an agreement that fits what
you need and want regarding the job, since it sounds like you are
counting on more of these types or arrangements with, at least this


If you wish to be a prima donna then $35.00 per rendering is not my
opinion of such. It is not about your name on a design, it is about
your sharing your curves, lines, feelings on a rendering that is
what is about you. And only can come from you.

If they go to another manufacturer to have the work done, that means
they like your work, regardless of how it turns out, you know as
well as I do that they do not, I repeat do not, put the name on the
work of the designer, good or bad, if they decide to produce. So, as
you say, you are saved of the embarrassment.

So, what’s to lose, they produce your design, your gift to render it
out is a gift, and not everyone has it and there fore. what is wrong
with asking for $200 - 400 per rendering, if it is quick sketch. It
took you some time to hone your skill. And this gift you possess is
yours, and not accessible to all.

You guys and gals have got to protect your gift. That means that if
someone is asking you to produce a design concept, they must have
some respect for your work, if one has respect for your work and is
charged $35.00 per design, guess what, your own value of your work
reduces to Zip.

Stay with me on this, jewelers, designers, & repair people are not
paid enough, period when on a payroll. Even the top guys who have
been in the industry, as employees of companies do great to do 60K
plus, unless they are on piece work. This does not count for the
greats, ie Michael Good and the like, how do you think he got there?

60K to another employee in another field in today market is median,
at best.

Stay true to yourself. This is not labor, it is a skill and a gift
and treasure this in you.

Why do people pay XYZ 5 digit prices for some jewelry pieces?

I love this subject, an advocate for the jeweler in quality pay.
And, I am not a jeweler, but a cheerleader for jewelers thoughout
the world.

I do not go out on Orchid much, busy training our students to have a
sense of respect for their trade, their skill and the humility to
know they need to be the best. And it takes time.


If you wish to be a prima donna then $35.00 per rendering is not
my opinion of such. It is not about your name on a design, it is
about your sharing your curves, lines, feelings on a rendering that
is what is about you. And only can come from you. 

BRAVO Dee!!!

When I started out sculpting wax, my mentor and I had no clue where
I was heading. I had no idea I had the talent to even sculpt in wax
but as the months passed and my work started to take shape, we would
throw out a few ideas back and forth on where this talent would go
and one day I mentioned “what if someone wanted to use my designs”?
We’ll immediately Mr. Kracht responded immediately…your work is too
good for someone else’s name on your pieces.

My mentor is a wonderful artist himself plus a Master Jewelry for
the past 55 years…I value his comments and although it’s not easy,
I’m working hard to market myself because of this. He obviously had
more confidence in me than I had in myself…

…And obviously they have noticed your talents which says a lot so
now, let them put their money where their month is. If not…keep
marketing your talents yourself.

But if someone did ask me for my creative ideas…they would have a
price tag on them in the $250-$350 range. Sketching the first design
may only take me 30 mins. but mentally coming up with that design
could take up to a week.

If they do accept your design and they produce that piece, they will
make that money back and a whole lot more.

I have only been sculpting with wax for 9 months but I’m seeing the
light quickly about some artist underestimating their value. Please
think hard about your prices because once you have them set…it’s
hard to change them.

Dee, please visit us again.

Dawn V.

Dear Ms. Van Rensselaer,

I have been in your postition before and as such I feel I can give
you some advice. Sixteen years ago when I worked in advertising,
designing ads, I got paid $45 an hour just for sitting in on
meetings. I did thousands of dollars worth of work upfront with only
a verbal request. Never once was I cheated. In the jewelry business
however, I was ripped off by every client I had. Until I wised up.

First of all, get a laywer and have them draft a contract. Do not, I
repeat, do not give or even show them any of your designs without
one. If you do, you will be ripped off. My advice is don’t waste your
time with per hour work or royalties. They will balk at the time you
bill for and screw you out of royalties. With that said, charge per
design, add on for revisions and always get 50% at the minimum up
front. If you can’t figure out what you want to charge per design for
that particular client you could get a rough estimate based on their
gross profit for thelast few years, the number of designs in their
line currently on the market and how many years they typically market
their designs. Do the math and you should have a pretty rough
estimate how profitable their designs are to them historically. $35
an hour and $300 to $400 per design is chicken feed.

There are numerous considerations to address in a contract to
protect yourself. Too many to go into here. Like I said, get a good
artist’s attorney. Just offhand, I recall an artist’s laywer named
Leonard DuBoff who wrote a book on the subject a number of years ago.
At the time he did private consulting. There are many others, you
just need to do some research. Ask some of the jewelry and artist’s
associations for recommendations. Don’t waste your time and money
with an attorney unfamiliar with the jewelry business or at least the
commercial art business and who hasn’t had extensive experience
representing artist/designers. Hiring one for drafting a contract is
not that expensive and worth every penny if you value your worth and
piece of mind.

If your client thinks you’re a pushover, they will rip you off and
take advantage of you for as they as they find you useful. That said,
even with an iron clad contract, they can still do the same. They
know, unless you are a wildly financially successful artist, you
wouldn’t be able to afford litigation. Even so, it’s best just to cut
your losses and chalk it up to experience.

Your client needs to prove themselves trust worthy. If they pay well
and quickly with a minimum of fuss for the first design, go ahead.
Don’t buy into an intitial offer of doing a whole collection for them
right off the bat. It may be flattering, but it’s better to proceed
cautiously. Whatever you do, do not give them a whole bunch of your
designs with the meager hope they will choose only one. The minute
your back is turned they will make a copy of the whole collection
(“to think it over or show it to so and so”) and if your lucky you’ll
get paid for one lousy design.

If they don’t agree to your terms, walk. If they want you, which
obviously they do, they will have no choice but to negotiate. How
much you concede, depends on your own self-worth. Because that’s
really what this all is about. If you don’t value yourself, noone
else will either. Expect to be compensated in direct relationship to
how much you value your worth.

Good luck,

This is a sad sad story, but it is true.

And it does not say much for our jeweler friends in our own home
town, you give your design out with a price and your customer might
go to someone else to get a second opinion (bid), and they will
underbid you every time. I wonder why this is, I have been teaching
people for 30 years and it as not changed one bit.


Thank you so much to you all for responding to my question about
charging for my designs. I am so very grateful for the feedback &

I have quite a lot to think about before I go ahead with this job - I
have already done about a dozen sketches. THough as someone mentioned

  • I have spent much more time thinking - creating & designing the
    pieces in my mind as well.

I would like this to be a continuos job for me & don’t want to be
taken advantage of!

thank you to you all


you give your design out with a price and your customer might go to
someone else to get a second opinion (bid), and they will underbid
you every time. 

Perhaps it’s the nature of the business that we choose to be in.
Being a luxury item that people will pay a lot of money for, there
is potential for some dishonest people to make a killing, especially
if they take advantage of the many honest designer jewellers out
there who undervalue their own work and worth.

In other luxury markets, there aren’t necessarily the same
opportunities to abuse the system. After all you can’t go and copy a
Ferrari and have it made cheaply and then sell to an unsuspecting
public, but with jewellery it can be done and obviously is being
done. When it comes to jewellery, the buying public are not always
aware of what they’re buying and whether it is designed by an artist
or blatantly copied and then made on the cheap.

Many of these dishonest people may well have started out with honest
intentions, perhaps even making jewellery themselves and trying to
sell their work, but perhaps then saw that there was money to be made
in different ways within the jewellery industry. Of course this is
just me speculating and attempting to analyse why this situation
exists. It certainly doesn’t make it right - it’s clearly NOT right -
but it’s happening.

Thankfully there are still plenty of honest people out there who
succeed because their reputation precedes them and their customer
base is loyal due to the trust they’ve built. It’s that type of
business mentality that people like myself (fairly new in the
business) need to aspire to.


Dee- That’s why we always draw our designs in a bound book. It makes
it harder for someone to take the drawing to another metalsmith.


you give your design out with a price and your customer might go to
someone else to get a second opinion (bid), and they will underbid
you every time. 

I have done custom work for a number of retail jewelers through the
years. At first, I was employed as a bench jeweler so I would be
given an idea or some stones, and asked for “a couple of ideas” for
the customer to look at. This was done on store time, so I couldn’t
charge for this. It didn’t seem to be a problem, unless the customer
wanted further modifications, and a more finished rendering, but as
a young woman and new jeweler, I went along with the flow.

After a number of years, I left that employer and started working
freelance, mostly to pursue hand engraving, but continued to do
custom work. I continued to offer several design options, and would
send the sketches along to the store for the customers approval. I
would meet customers at my old employer’s store if asked. All of this
was done without any up front charge, figuring that I was able to
sell most requests, and I padded the bill a bit to cover some of the
extra time. It did occur to me that this was alot of work for no
money, but I was young, naive, and really didn’t have a good grasp of
business. I began to refuse to leave the designs with the store when
I found out that the sales people were not honoring my requests to
keep the designs in-store, and were making copies for the customers
to take. The store management didn’t understand my complaint since I
had been doing things that way from when I worked for them. I stopped
doing renderings when a new sales person, coming from another local
jewelry store, first saw my design sheet, and said. “Oh, you’re the
one who does these, I’ve seen them at XYZ when I worked there!”

I don’t make renderings now, except for special request for
engraving layouts for customer approval,etc. Since the custom order
portion of my work is limited to people I work with directly, I keep
all of my sketches in my hand, not to be let out into the world. I
would love to do more, but my experience echoes the sentiments of the
previous post. There is a difference between working with a customer
at the counter, and doing a few quick sketches, and sitting down to
do a color rendering, in 3 views. What is the cost of your time, and
your ideas? What is appropriate to charge for a $500-1000 remount?
Even if the cost of the rendering is paid, and the customer decides
to wait, does the sketch then belong to the customer? What keeps them
from paying, and walking down to XYZ where it will be made for less?
After all, the customer paid for the sketch/rendering, which is
really your design, right? So, is it your design, the customer’s
rendering, or the customer’s design?

I would like to hear more on this, especially as CAD rendering comes
into play. What is your charge for computer design time, and do you
hand out printouts for free?

Melissa Veres, engraver

A good way to start with this type of design is to ask the customer
what type of budget they have in mind and are they planning to have
this jewelry made in a short time.

Then, with this I can decide how to move forward, if
they say they are just thinking of starting something, I will do a
quick trick with DG and get them excited, if they are excited then I
will embellish and work it out, then they might ask for a copy of the
design. And I say, of course, let’s price everything out so you will
know the cost of the item and it will assist me in determining the
amount of the deposit.

Then they may say, oh, I am just thinking about this, may I have the
picture to think about or show so and so and I say, well, I will
save this lovely little item and when you decide, we can go further.
And if the persistence continues for wanting the design, you can say,
well, it is mine until I either get the order, otherwise, I have
provided a beautiful design that I cannot give away.

You would be surprised how people will say, oh well, just give me
the design, how much is the deposit.

These are my thoughts, put them in your words, but the bottom line
is, no dough, no design, you will get the reputation of this and that
is good. Adds another notch to your self esteem and also your name.

Visit us at the Pacific Coast Jewelry show - Space 3 at the Beverly
Hilton, Los Angeles August, 2008

Jewelry Appraisal workshops in your area for 2008 include Toronto,
Sacramento and Chicago

Dee Rouse Huth
California Institute of Jewelry Training

First thing we do is get a non-refundable sketch deposit usually
2-300 dollars depending upon the difficulty. Haven’t lost a custom
order in 28 years

Secrets Of The Gem Trade