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Custom work has fallen off


#1

Hello everyone,

a thorough check of my business records found that over the last
year custom work for me has fallen off by about 85%. The dollar
amount of the average job rose (a reflection of the rise in metal
prices maybe), but the overall amount of work hasn’t kept up. An
informal survey of my client list, all retail jewelers who I’ve been
working with for 7+ years, seems to point to a continuation of the
trend. Thankfully I’ve found other types of work, mostly stone
setting.

As an independent master jeweler I find that my most profitable
skills and my rather substantial investment in tools and equipment
aren’t being used. It’s made me wonder if this is a widespread
phenomena, a local one or simply a reflection of the clients I have?
Maybe it’s time to find new ones. Any thoughts?

PML


#2

Hmmm…that’s a huge drop. Maybe someone has opened a trade shop in
your area and is moving in your clients? I’d find a way to talk to
your clients about it. Phrase it in a “I want to service you the best
I can” way. And ask them what would it take to make them switch back.
I’d also look at quality vs pricing, that won’t be easy to
objectively judge because you’re so close to it but you need to try.
I’d have a hard time believing that consumers all of a sudden showed
a lack of interest.

If you can find new clients, do so. Any business will cycle through
clients for different reasons so you should always look for new
contacts.

best of luck


#3

PML.

Custom work, as well as retail sales in general, started falling in
September of 2000, and every year that goes by since shows the fall
has not slowed any amount to speak of. I used to cast weekly to keep
up with the jobs, and now have trouble justifying that process every
three or more weeks.

I honestly feel that here in mid-Michigan we are suffering from a
depression, not merely a recession. Auto plants are still cutting
tens of thousands of jobs, and the people still working are afraid to
spend a nickel. The government tells us how wonderful the economy is,
but I surely don’t see that.

Jon Michael Fuja


#4

Ya’ll can thank Dubya for that. Draw, Stranger!! Here in San
Francisco, the jewelry business has been in a slump, more or less,
since 9/11. I understand that there is also a glut of new cars.
America has been “wait-and-see”, ever since that time, is my thought.
It has picked up some recently. It’s not just us - many people have
been saying the same things…

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#5
over the last year custom work for me has fallen off by about 85%. 

hi, my custom work has increased from about 5% of my income to
approx. 45% - and in numbers of pieces terms from approx. 2% to 10%-
in fact I think I’m at the stage of concentrating more on the custom
work- goody :slight_smile:

Christine in Australia


#6

I think Jon has hit the center of of the mark I’m in the SE section
of Mich and with the number of jobs lost with the auto plants and all
the suppliers. In this area in the last year We have over 14 small
shops/factories shutter the doors. And sell equipment mostly for
scrap at one shot instead of auction. Since I don’t do custom jewelry
work I speak only from second hand info. The local trade/flea market
has the blink stands closing, and the only ones left are selling for
what ever they can. The ones that have another location have pulled
back to cut expenses. I know my sales have gone down a little less
than 50% in the last 5 years or so, I don’t sell Jewelry. You can’t
forget the cost of gas, and everything else I think the biggest thing
is just like real estate is location,location,location!

The local paper had an article on the fact that the high end stores
in the Detroit are doing good and some fashion stores are expanding.
The people they interviewed for the story and the eggheads they
talked to all had one thing to say. That they would cut back on from
1 to 20 items. To pay for for the statement item people would see.
One women said she cut on everything she buys so she could afford an
$8,000 designer branded coat. Or minimum wagers buying $300. blue
jeans because of the name. I guess I never was infected with the
fashion bug or the only taste I have is in my mouth!

Then add in all the other delightful things going on.

Been there one to many times, don’t want to go again!
glen


#7

Yep, a bad economy will hurt sales. But overall your custom might
fall off if you don’t advertise it. In every section of the country
are people making good money. If you have Lexus, Cadillac, Best Buy,
Circuit City, you have a “good enough” economy to make money.
Advertise it.

We advertised “Use your old gold to make new jewelry, starting as
low as $195”. This drove traffic. We’d melt the wax with customer’s
gold, plus setting charges. Most folks opted to hand carve a wax to
their own design, at that time started at $400, now it’s $500.

In 1999 our average repair was $65, average product sale was $375
and our average custom design, WITHOUT material (this is labor) was
$750!

I know many won’t melt customer’s gold, we did and did a good job
with it. I figured our cost to cast a regular wax was $35, sold it
for $195.

We had waxes in the showcase and advertised it n the paper. You’d be
amzed what conversation starts with waxes in the case

“What are those, play rings?”

“No, we can make new jewelry from your old jewelry. Got any laying
around at home?”

“yes, I didn’t know…”

David Geller

David Geller
JewelerProfit
510 Sutters Point
Sandy Springs, GA. 30328
(404) 255-9565
www.JewelerProfit.com


#8

PML,

I too have seen a decline in demand for custom work. Seems like
generations X, Y and Z are more interested in brands than quality.
Should not be surprising after all it is the war baby generation that
drove the 60s-70s craft revival. The last big one, the Arts & Crafts
movement reached its apogee just about 100 years before. Goldsmiths
had almost died out by the 1950s.

Used to do lots of custom wedding bands. Had three full time
craftsmen in the workshop during the 80s. Now when I mention the
possibility of a hand made original to a Gen Xer eyes glaze over.
They want Tiffany and they want it yesterday.

Currently have one master smith and the only thing harder than
getting orders is getting an apprentise. Not sure what the metals
graduates are doing these days, perhaps their nails, currently have
one potential applicant for an open apprentiship position. The
position has been posted on the SNAG website for three months. Guess
people would rather pay 30k a year for a MFA.

Best we all wake up and smell the coffee. The Craft Revival is
history.

Richard


www.rwwise.com


#9
It's not any better in NE. Ohio! Most people I know- in a variety
of fields - haven't experienced the "wonderful economy. 

I honestly feel that here in mid-Michigan we are suffering from a
depression, not merely a recession. Auto plants are still cutting
tens of thousands of jobs, and the people still working are afraid
to spend a nickel. The government tells us how wonderful the economy
is, but I surely don’t see that.


#10

I think Jon has hit the center of of the mark I’m in the SE section
of Mich and with the number of jobs lost with the auto plants and all
the suppliers. In this area in the last year We have over 14 small
shops/factories shutter the doors. And sell equipment mostly for
scrap at one shot instead of auction. Since I don’t do custom jewelry
work I speak only from second hand info. The local trade/flea market
has the blink stands closing, and the only ones left are selling for
what ever they can. The ones that have another location have pulled
back to cut expenses. I know my sales have gone down a little less
than 50% in the last 5 years or so, I don’t sell Jewelry. You can’t
forget the cost of gas, and everything else I think the biggest thing
is just like real estate is location,location,location!

The local paper had an article on the fact that the high end stores
in the Detroit are doing good and some fashion stores are expanding.
The people they interviewed for the story and the eggheads they
talked to all had one thing to say. That they would cut back on from
1 to 20 items. To pay for for the statement item people would see.
One women said she cut on everything she buys so she could afford an
$8,000 designer branded coat. Or minimum wagers buying $300. blue
jeans because of the name. I guess I never was infected with the
fashion bug or the only taste I have is in my mouth! Then add in all
the other delightful things going on.

Been there one to many times, don’t want to go again!
glen


#11
It's not any better in NE. Ohio! Most people I know- in a variety

of fields - haven’t experienced the "wonderful economy.

I honestly feel that here in mid-Michigan we are suffering from a
depression, not merely a recession. Auto plants are still cutting
tens of thousands of jobs, and the people still working are afraid
to spend a nickel. The government tells us how wonderful the =
economy is, but I surely don't see that. 

Ditto. Here in Seattle, our workload is now as slow as i’ve ever seen
it in my ten years with this manufacturer. not just custom work is
off, total orders too. Now, if we were in the business of making
military hardware, I suspect we’d be doing pretty well…

Peter


#12

I far more agree with David Geller, than Richard Wise. I spend four
days per week within a University Campus Crafts Center jewelry
studio, where almost daily someone comes in wanting to make his
"proposal" and wedding rings.

Both students and studio mates regularly bring in old jewelry to
melt down and recreate. Those coming in to make their wedding rings
give all the rest of us such a good feeling. The dedication to making
their rings is infectious, and we all enjoy it.

Perhaps geography enters into it. I am not at all surprised that an
area such as Michigan has people counting pennies. Bling can always
come when finances are more secure.

I am in the San Diego County area, and Californians do at times set
trends, so perhaps what I am seeing is the start of a new one?

I can see an ad campaign such as “Special Event coming up, short on
cash?” Come talk with us and learn how you can turn old and broken
jewelry into Special Event Jewelry."

Just thinking out loud.
Hugs
Terrie


#13

I know this post will get TONS of “Can’t do”.

In every city there is money. There is also wants and desires.

I know Atlanta is a busy metropolis and doesn’t have the downturn in
jobs as Michigan and other areas.

I sold my store to an employee in 2000 and have been helping
jewelers. I got my great boos as a “Caster for Retail Customers” so
to speak. We had for 10 years 2000 waxes on display and would cast
ANY RING for $175 (now $195 in new book) using the customer’s gold.

That’s right, the customers gold.

Took us years to get it right but we had few problems. I figured our
cost was $35 to cast a typical wax.

Then of course we charged for heads & set, channel & bead setting.
AVERAGE casting charge with setting (no material to speak of) was
$750.

Of course if they didn’t like the waxes, we hand carved one, started
at that time at $400 (Both the $175 & $400 includes cast, polish,
finish).

A great wax company is LEX WAX: (913) 268-6359 lex-wax@kc.rr.com

They have over 4000 styles

There is also Paradise Wax
http://www.waxpatterns.com

Where as you have a problem getting $1000 to custom make a ring, a
customer CAN get a new ring for $175. But that typically is something
without stones. Most customers have stones. Head & set starts at $40
each, etc.

You would be the only one in town doing it.

“We can make you a new ring worth THOUSANDS for only hundreds”

David Geller
510 Sutters Point
Sandy Springs, GA. 30328
(404) 255-9565
www.JewelerProfit.com


#14

Terry,

This is not a new trend.

I ran my own store for over 25 years before I decided to just do
private appointment work and Internet sales. I started in Northern
N.J. in the 1970’s moved to Texas in the 1980’s and have been in
Colorado since 1988. My business model was always based on casting or
handcrafting a new piece of jewelry using a customers old gold and
Yes over the years I did build up an inventory of items to
place in cases but the best producing part of my business was in
helping people create something that made them happy by using
materials that had no use to them in their current form.

Greg DeMark
If You Like Antique, Vintage or Custom Jewelry
Visit us on the web at:
www.demarkjewelry.com


#15
Ditto. Here in Seattle, our workload is now as slow as i've ever
seen it in my ten years with this manufacturer. not just custom
work is off, total orders too. Now, if we were in the business of
making military hardware, I suspect we'd be doing pretty well... 

My guess is that the badges and stuff are made offshore these days.
Even in the early 70’s you could begin to see the trend in
Providence.

While my gross sales are off, I’ve condensed my studio, parted
company with my studio partners, and just focused on my core
businesses- model making, small wholesale design runs, and custom
work for my clients. And the bane of my existence, repairs… people
certainly find novel ways to destroy jewelry.

The bills are paid, and I eat regularly, so things are looking up…
Certainly its been moving upward since the house fire a couple years
ago. Now that was an unwanted distraction.

Rick Hamilton


#16
We had for 10 years 2000 waxes on display and would cast ANY RING
for $175 (now $195 in new book) using the customer's gold. 

David and Greg: when you cast with the customer’s own gold, what do
you do about the sprues and button? Do they have to supply enough
for them, or are you left with gold of mixed origin, and if so how do
you handle it?

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA


#17

I honestly feel that here in mid-Michigan we are suffering from a
depression

Ditto. Here in Seattle, 

Things have been quite good here in Indiana for custom work as well
as repairwork too, at least North Central Indiana anyway. I’m in a
major auto town, that has whats left of a sizable Delphi/GM presence,
and a very major Chrysler presence. There are quite a few layoffs
from both, but our area seems to have lost its dependency on union
wages. So far, this has been one of the better years for me in a few.
I’ve even hired someone to help me keep up About 50 miles from here
in my old hometown, they have lost the last of their auto
factories-the last 900 workers left Guide Lamp-GM just recently, yet
that area seems to be fairly optimistic about their future with
plans being announced for new industries entering. A buddy there,
who’s parents hired me many many many years ago, at age 16, says that
things have been pretty good there too-changing but still very good.
So that ‘good economy they keep talking about’ is here, alive and
kicking.

Ed in Kokomo


#18

M’lou,

My first choice is always to try and get at least 50% more metal
than what is needed for the casting along with sprues from the
customer. I generally try to get a minimum of 10dwt if possible due
to the type of rubber bases I use which create a large button. You
would be surprised how many people have this much old gold in the way
of single earrings, broken chains, worn or out dated rings etc. If
the
client does not have enough metal I will offer several options.

1- I will take their old gold in trade for a piece made using all
fresh gold. By the way this is the only way that I will stamp a
quality or trade mark on a piece. I will never stamp a piece that has
used old gold or silver.

2- I keep a quantity of scrap gold on hand to supply a client with.
I will only mix my scrap gold with theirs if they use all the same
karat and I test their gold first.

3- If they have mixed karats of gold and they want to use this gold
because of sentimental reasons, I will sell them the extra gold they
need, either scrap or fresh depending on the quality of the scrap
they bring. They need to buy enough to handle the minimum of 10dwts
and 50% over level. I encourage them to keep the buttons and sprues
for future use but if they choose not to I will take them back in
trade at a discounted amount to what i sold the original gold for.

These methods have always worked for me and most people are amazed
that you can reuse their old jewelry to make something new.

I must admit that i have never tried to get the amount that David
has mentioned so i may raise some of my prices to test that level.
Over the past several years I have charged anywhere from $85.00 to
$125.00 to cast and finish a piece at the retail level depending on
the amount of finish work that is required. On my wholesale work it
is generally half of this amount so based on Davids cost basis I
guess i need to stop doing wholesale work since I am either losing
money or braking even.

Greg DeMark
If You Like Antique, Vintage or Custom Jewelry
Visit us on the web at:
www.demarkjewelry.com


#19
when you cast with the customer's own gold, what do you do about
the sprues and button? Do they have to supply enough for them, or
are you left with gold of mixed origin, and if so how do you
handle it? 

Our job envelopes (from Impact www.isiprint.com) on the back it has
printed something like:

"you piece weighed 6 dwts, you gave us 9 pennyweights. We OWE you 3
dwts or $30.00 credit toward the job)

Most folks let us buy the gold from them. We had LOTS of sprues.
Lots of bought gold so we didn’t require that. They gave us what they
had, if they had MORE we asked for it for “safety”. Most folks sold
us that safety gold.

We’d remelt the sprues and their gold twice, refine after that. Many
supplies have “Nu Gold” an additive to make casting on old gold
good. You add 5% of the additive and 5% new gold. That’s why we had
good castings.

We got Hoover & Strong to send us 24kt gold and we bought alloys and
mixed our own as we needed it. If we had to SELL them more gold, we
used the old gold from Mrs Smith.

New rings we only used new gold. But if you need more gold, we sold
you “more” scrap gold.

David Geller


#20

I had an interesting chat about this very subject with Dan Spirer
who is an independent designer goldsmith and a member of this forum.
He noticed that when gas prices are up, less people come into his
shop. When gas prices are down, they show up with more frequency.

The “haves” will purchase something that has a name like Tiffany or
Cartier because it is status. The rest of us are just trying to pay
our bills and deal with the rising cost of everything.

The middle pays for both sides. One thing for sure, people who can
least afford to be charitable are usually the ones who will donate
first.

-k

M E T A L W E R X
School for Jewelry and the Metalarts
50 Guinan St.
Waltham, MA 02451
781 891 3854
www.metalwerx.com