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Fine Jewellery and Fashion Jewellery?

Hello everyone,

I have been wondering about the use of metals such as copper, brass and bronze in “fine jewellery”. I know this isn’t technically possible as the definition of “fine jewellery” is that it must be made with precious metals but if a piece of copper is cast into an ingot mold, rolled to bar stock and then made into a ring could this really count as worthless “fashion jewellery”? It’s 100% handmade but is made from a base metal. What would this count as? Is it even possible to make “fine jewellery” from brass, bronze and copper? If so, is there a market for it? At metals below the cost of gold, most of the cost is labour. That being true would mean a bronze ring would cost nearly the same as an equivalent ring in silver. The difference being the silver ring is “fine jewellery” and the bronze one is “fashion Jewellery”. Sure the bronze would tarnish faster and turn your finger green but both would last a similar amount of time. I don’t know, copper and it’s alloys seem like nice metals, and if handmade would last a similar amount of time. Is the only thing preventing handmade copper jewellery from being considered “fine jewellery” it’s status as base metal?

Considering copper - Setting aside the issue of creativeness, labor, and other associated characteristics I think people have a difficult time with the investment value of non precious metals. Which brings me to the intellectual question of cost to acquire the metal.

To start to think about this issue I had to look up definitions for precious, Nobel, base.
Regards RLW

Tim and I charge $75.00 to $100.00 per hour wholesale for our bench time. Our minimum for anything custom is $1000.00. When folks ask us to make jewelry out of silver, brass, or copper we explain that we will still be charging them for our standard labour rates. There is little or no market for silver, brass, and copper jewelry that costs a thousand dollars. Well that is unless it’s an original Alexander Calder or Picasso piece. Both made jewelry out of base metals. Salvador Dali on the other hand…
-Jo Haemer

Thanks for the input. Why $1000 for anything custom? I am saying this because I am just starting out and most of the stuff I do is custom work for family and friends at the moment.

We figure if we take on a custom job it will take a minimum of ten hours of our time. Our minimum price of $1000.00 is labor only. It does not include metals and gems which we keystone to the wholesale customer. The ten hours includes the following…
From the initial contact, emails, texts, or phone calls to set up an appointment, and getting images of what they are interested in. The meeting itself that lasts from 30 mins to an hour and includes looping, testing, and weighing any scrap metal or the stones they want to trade in. The drawing and designing is usually done during that time as well. Then there are the phone calls to contact gem brokers, and calling our refiner to ask the cost of the materials, and doing the math. I have NOT included the time we spend looking at cat videos, looking for food in the fridge, chatting tup the cute UPS or Fed Ex drivers, etc:-) Then there is our overhead which is low for us. We work at home. But still there are the utilities to pay, taxes, and insurance. And all of this is before we sit down to our benches and start to actually make the piece.
By the time all that is done the actual making of the piece is the easiest part for me. So then we add the actual skilled labor hours.
As a newbie you should start out a little low and then reassess your speed of making and expertise as you get practiced and improve. Give your self a raise every 6 months. When you have a reputation and following you will have more work than you can do. Then it’s time to raise your prices till folks drop out and you have a comfortable work load.
Tim and I are old. We’re at the end of our careers. We don’t want to work too hard. So we set our prices to accommodate our reduced physical stamina, strength, and drive.
Also in jewelry it’s all about perceived value. “How much?! Oh wow. You must be really good.”
And remember If you can’t charge your family and friends, well then who the heck can you charge? :slight_smile: Mom’s and Grandmas don’t count. They get freebies.

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Thank you for all that information. That makes sense now.

I think that makers who really care about the object that they produce—care about quality materials, fit and finish, long-term wearability and durability—make the commitment of time and care almost regardless of what the bottom line is. This is labor, energy and time invested in the object.
There is certainly a point where you simply have to stop and “good enough” becomes the reality but that point comes only after a lot of effort is made to make it as best as you can.

Knowing this means that some makers, at some point in their careers, won’t take on something that won’t give them some return on that investment. That threshold is $1000 for some, $500 or $10,000 for others.

I think that this is mostly a question of labor invested.

just my thoughts.


I use non precious materials when it works with a design. I sold a pendant with ss & brass & big quartz with epidote for a $1200 because the design was cool.
There is a ring I make regularly in copper, silver, or gold. It is easiest to make in gold, then silver, and copper is tough but I cannot charge more then $75 for the copper, $175 for the silver and $1900 for the gold.
I also put gold and diamonds or sapphires with base metal to raise the value. On my bench now is a piece in silver, gold, diamonds and rusted steel.

Hi everyone!

I see everyone is charging ‘labour costs’ here and everywhere. But no one has even mentioned the ‘sub-contractor’ in diamond setting. Even if you do this setting at your shop, or just send it out. Please don’t forget the ‘setting fees’ in your calculations!

Hi Aergentum moon,
As this isnt technical, ive given up posting that way here as, I was abused for my efforts!! ill offer my thoughts to you.
What your trying to do, ie start a new life? in this jewellery world, your approach is just about the hardest way to do it. Youve a pile of metal, some tools inc your troublesom saw, and watched maybe a few videos on u tube.
This could be the hardest way to start, tho many here have gone down this road and are now successful, ie earn a proper living from their work. There have been many posts to your request, 15 so far and free!! but without more info from you,thats really all your get.
If im to be of any use, and im at the top of this game, having just passed my 50 th year at it, and like jo H really at the end of my career, at 84, tho lots of work planned for my major retro expo next year…Depends how hot your passion to create burns in your breast!!
Some have said practice, ad infinitum, Its NO good if your practicing the wrong skills, You really need Ist of all to find another s/smith within say 50 miles of you and pay him to come and see what you are doing wrong.
I could sort you out in 10mins but im over 3000 miles away.
I guess i was lucky, in hind sight to have been exposed to the applied art world from a child by my parents who were serious collectors in the 1930’s , then had a through engineering training in the toughest of diciplines, then some most valuable sales and marketing training plus experience, so at 34 was ready to combine these 3 knowhows to the point with in 6 months of starting was achieving the results I set myself and selling to pay my way and keep my family.
You also should find a mentor, you would get this if you had aproper apprenticeship of 7 yrs or worked in a sheet metal shop or car repairers or machine shop or any metal working place.
What have you done?
how old are you, where are you living at home with your patient parents?
Or are you married? and miss your previous independence?
We just dont know.
A final question, can you cut a loaf of bread accurately into proper 1/2in slices? if not then you do have a physical dexterity problem you might learn yourself out of but without this simple skill youd be better off thinking of another career.
Await your answers.
Ted in dorset UK

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Thank you, I have many Smiths close by. Thanks for the input :slightly_smiling_face:

2 things,

  1. Feed back from you would be much appreciated when youve had guidance locally.
  2. If you dont want to post answers to my questions on this open forum, most often taking it further is best off line.
    If your interested let me know here and ill post you my email address

I’ve seen an increasing number of mainstream designers at the “bridge,” “contemporary,” and “designer” levels, like Pamela Love and even smaller, more boutique jewelry artists, making pieces out of brass and bronze and finding success selling it at higher price points. I would interpret that as consumers warming up to the idea of un-plated brass or bronze pieces, but only if the quality of the craftsmanship is high and understood by the consumer.

I find, though, that the more down-market the customer, the less willingness or ability to pay higher prices for brass/bronze. I think they only associate high value with gold, platinum, precious stones, etc., and labor/experience doesn’t factor in their perceived value of a style. I was at a market a few months ago when someone scoffed at the price of my thickly gold-plated brass bracelet, and said she’d only pay that if it were real gold. I don’t think she grasped that a solid gold version would be several thousand dollars instead of the $114 I was charging.



I completely agree. People don’t realize how much value the craftsman ship makes in the value of a piece.

I wish I could use gold, I love a warm gold, but since my market likes my work but doesn’t have the money or the need for high end jewelry, I use copper and sterling. Lots of gorgeous semi-precious stones.

Oddly, the pieces which sold this spring and summer have all been copper pendants. The market is certainly odd. A few years ago everyone was buying pins, now they just sit in the display.

N Katsu

In the 8 years since I retired, I’ve been seeing much more copper and brass at shows and galleries. Where silver used to be the red headed step child in the jewelry world, now its metal used in plumbing and wiring. I suspect this is not so much driven by demand of patrons for these commonplace metals, but by the reluctance of beginning jewelers to incur the cost of making up their designs in silver on spec. I think this is a big mistake. Silver still has the cachet of being a “precious” metal, while copper and its alloys are more associated with materials wrenched out of abandoned houses by tweakers *(dope addicts) for their scrap value. Once an artist is confident that the design, fit and finish of their work is the reason patrons buy their pieces, its time to start executing the same work in silver. Unless you’re making 4 ounce silver bracelets, the $15/oz increase in cost of materials will be far offset by the selling price, which means you will realize 2 - 5X net profit for each hour of your labor.
Still, with silver, there is a point of diminishing returns - the price point ceiling kicks in at around $300, maybe twice that in tonier markets. And to reach the higher price points with silver pieces generally entails more time per piece. Customers in my market (upper Midwest) statistically clumped into the $50 - $150 range, and this was for pieces which silver weight ranged from 1/8 oz (pendant) to 1/2 oz (large mans ring). Cost of the piece to me was about 10% of sale price. (I used a lot of cabs in my work, and finding them at a good price is a whole 'nother subject.) Economic success ($60K+ net profit/year) is possible with silver if one can expeditiously crank out pieces buyers willing snap up. (I could have made more hiring drones in a workshop setting, but my goal was to work alone, having had beau coup employees in a previous life.) Much more profit to be piggybacked onto designs made of gold. Unfortunately, this is a quantum leap into a market where design matters much less to a buyer than the value of the material - buyers of gold jewelry appreciate the social edge secured by ostentatious display, more given to dropping 10K at a strip mall jewelry store on a ho-hum engagement ring that telegraphs ‘I spent a lot of money’ than to commission a Lalique grade metalsmith (more than a few on this site) to make a one-off piece. (Punch up ‘Harry Winston’ if you want to see a whole school of jewelry than says “I got money and you don’t”.).Sadly, given the way atoms link in the periodic table to form metals, and the spotty distribution of deposits of metallic elements in the earths crust, there is no metal between silver and gold. So sad. Even using a tiny bit of gold for a bezel will cost a frightful amount and make the piece slow to move.
If you’ve learned your chops on copper (too soft and tarnishes tomorrow) or brass (too brittle to forge) you have passed the apprenticeship point and need to move on to silver. Good luck.


Actually I started with silver and made my first gold piece as soon as I could afford too. (About 6 months later). All the Jewellers I spoke to reccomended I start by working in silver, the class I took to learn my basic skills such as soldering taught in silver aswell. I love silver, but I want a coloured metal that won’t cost me hundreds to work in. However I guess the answer isn’t to work in base metals.

Well, im going to upset the apple cart again,
you say theres nothing between the silver and gold to tempt the bench jeweller,?
That shows the average bench jewellers limitations, as to research, technique and equipment.
The public will buy other than S and G, IF the materials and designs is up to it.
for example , what abou the 10% aluminium bronze? ever tried it?
or 316 austenitic s/steel?
or 99% titanium?
then thers cunifer 10, non tarnishing pale yellow colour?
Ive used these for over 35 yrs and made a damn good living from them, despite being so called base alloys.
Then to work them, you will need to move out of your so limited work style/place away from your saw solder and set mentality into other industrial based technology to handle these metals.
It really is up to you.
Tho I can make all my designs in silver if I chose to. For the final example how about a silver bowl, some 15in in dia, 1/8in thick weighing 8.5lbs. Yes made several to comission.
You survive or fall by your own efforts ,so be it. Using just ordinary copper, then non forfgeabe brass? you just havnt done you research.
do you know what is a non hot short brass?
forges beautifully.


I have been following this thread with interest but I have to admit I haven’t read every one of the posts. If it hasn’t been said I will say that we are all in a diverse market. Some of us do nothing but craft fairs, some of us do nothing but gallery work, some of us have studios and some, like me, have work shops.

Dad offered me this advice as I got started in the business. Decide whether this is a hobby or business, It really can’t be both if you plan to sell.

  1. Build your jewelry out of lasting materials worthy of your work. He was not a fan of copper jewelry as he thought it was just a trendy thing. Dad was also a realist and if he saw a market for the product he would have made something.

  2. Look at every bit of jewelry you see at every show you go to. Don’t look at what has been done but
    look at how it has been done. I don’t know that he ever saw any of Alexander Calder’s jewelry but I
    can imagine what his opinion would have been. He also said be kind with your criticism.

  3. He drummed into me the issue of safety into what we do. He said no matter how neat a piece of
    jewelry may look if it isn’t safe to wear it isn’t jewelry. It is sculpture.

  4. Make work that you can be proud of and Hallmark your work.

  5. He told me to have fun with the work or quit. His way of saying go big or go home maybe.

I have tried to follow that advice.

My business card says “Hand Made Jewelry In The American Craft Tradition” and that is the product I sell. My jewelry is in Sterling and Gold but lately copper and brass is stepping into the mix. Two reasons: My customers are asking for it and it is fun to work with copper and brass. Besides silver and gold I suspect I will make copper and brass pieces as long as the market supports them and as long as I find some fun in it. But I regardless of the material I will continue to make wearable , affordable jewelry without worrying about a distinction between whether it is Fine Jewelry or not.

Don Meixner, much younger brother of Rob.

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I agree there are many attractive alloys out there, at least to those interested in metallurgy. I worked in chemical plants and refineries in the 60s and 70s in south Louisiana and still have a good supply of rarely seen alloys. Depending on what chemical was being made, chemical engineers had determined what sort of metal was the most durable and least reactive - in process lines, steam chest evaporators, cat crackers, centrifuges the size of a VW and so forth. The plant I worked in made everything from bulk intermediate chemicals like chlorine and caustic soda, to isocyanates and polyols, finishing with toxic herbicides and pesticides. Nickel, and its alloys, (conifer is a fine one) are interesting to work with. Aluminum and iron were at the bottom of the food chain, being too reactive.
I’ve followed your postings and admire your success filling a niche of metal working not tied to personal adornment; I made earrings, rings, pendants. bracelets, pretty pedestrian stuff into which I tried to inject some attractive design elements and made of materials the buyers valued. You have been making finely crafted metal escutcheons for the high lairds inner circle, a somewhat different market, I too, have made pieces of silver weighing in the 5 - 10 pound range, fabricated chains made of 6G round, should one have the aesthetic stamina to watch LA rap videos, one will turn up. Cheers.