Help Please: Critique of Design Portfolio

Hello, everyone. I am a jewelry designer based in Madison, WI. I have been in the industry for about five years now and am currently designing for a local independent custom shop, but am looking to strike out on my own eventually and make a name for myself. A lofty goal I know, but one that I definitely think is achievable. The issue that I’m presently struggling with is that I am having significant trouble in finding someone to critique my work. My clients all seem to enjoy my work, but it’s an exceedingly rare occurrence to find industry professionals who are willing to take the time to look over some of my designs and provide feedback and general advice on how I can improve. Whenever I reach out to other jewelers both near and far, I am usually ignored altogether. I’m not sure if this is due to those persons just not having the time to spare to critique the work of a total stranger or if my work just doesn’t appeal to those outside of the local market. If the latter is the case, I imagine most are not particularly apt to share their disapproval. Would anyone here be willing to help me out?

Here is the link to my portfolio:

Hello Michael,

Your work is lovely.

Based on your request for comments, i will offer some of my own personal thoughts…

…i see styles that are current…ie: halo rings, bridal sets…seem very marketable

…i see gem intensive special occassion earrings…and cocktail rings…based on the price, do i love them more thank something else i could buy for a similar price?…maybe not…

…i see more casual styles…same comment as above

…I see a “style” emergent…geometric, flowing…a little sense of ethic/ aztec/ egyptian…use of colored gemstones…precious metals…

i dont know what your pricing structure is, but i would assume on the higher side of norma…(?)…

personally, i am not feeling compelled to action by any of the styles…but, jewelry is very personal and i am but one lone voice…i like minute carved details, florentine engraving, ie: buccellati…

i think i would pick the 3-5 styles that you are most drawn to, and expand on those, to find the beginnings of a signature style…develop what it is that you love about those pieces…

i like the:

  1. gaspeite and helidor ellipse earrings

  2. chrysoprase studs

oval lemon quartz(?) citrine oval side stone ring

portugese cut starburst pendants

  1. gold textures pendant shown two ways
    (love florentine)

kinda like the egyptian/ aztec geo (?) thing going on…

just my thoughts


Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to share you thoughts with me.


I’d be willing to look at it and give in a opinion but given the tiny quantity of pieces I’ve sold, I’d hardly consider myself a professional :wink:


Links to all my stores at:

Talk to me about custom designed merchandise!!!

Hello Michael,

I had a look at the pdf you posted and I think you have lovely designs. It looks like they could accommodate any taste. As a side note, the earrings on the first page remind me of Shaun Leane, that’s not to say that you copied it or it is a bad thing, it is only that they bring his style to mind.

I guess it is a good idea to ask jewellers for critique, if you are looking for design flaws for example, flaws that could make the piece less durable in the long term. But if you are asking jewellers if they like them or not it might not be a good idea. I guess even jewellers will be split into the group that likes them and the group that doesn’t, like all the people. And what is important at the end of the day is to find that group of buyers that will like your designs. And more important, the execution of these designs. They could be nice designs but they will not stand a chance if they are executed poorly. So be careful when you choose who will give life to your designs :slight_smile:



Hi Andrew. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I really appreciate your kind words. I had never heard of Shaun Leane, but I took a look at some of his things and can definitely see some clear similarities. It’s always interesting when people point out things like that to me. Perhaps we all are occasionally and unwittingly inspired by many of the same things.

As with anything else in life, I’ve gotten mixed reviews on my work. As I said before, my clients all enjoy my work, but I suppose that’s why they choose to do business with me. My designs seem to be a good deal more polarizing amongst jewelers though. Some love my work and some not so much. This is why I’ve included so many different styles in my portfolio. I was hoping to present something for everyone as opposed to developing just a few distinct styles that would likely only appeal to a small constituency of the general populace. I don’t know if this is the best approach in terms of one day becoming a widely recognized name in the industry. It seems that most designers do in fact cultivate a particular aesthetic that becomes symbolic of their brand. Should I really do the same?

Hi Michael,

i had a thought…regarding your portfolio…perhaps it is just a matter of organization…separation…encapsulation…into (for want of a better word) collections

by lifestyle
day versus night
casual versus dressy
bridal versus everything else

by design/ style
with a theme to tie things together

(sorry for the truncated reply…my phone gets “stuck” at a certain point, when typing down the page…weird)

It’s no problem. I appreciate you being so scrupulous. With regards to organizing my portfolio and making the distinction between styles and collections, I agree. It has definitely crossed my mind before. I have also wondered if it is just a bit too expansive for most people’s taste. There is quite a bit to look through there and considering time is a precious commodity, there may just be too much to look through.

Hello Michael,
I’m not a professional jeweler or designer…but my thoughts…
I like your designs…they are a little bit traditional, which I like,
but with a somewhat modern twist. IDK about others, but I can
definitely see an overarching style to them. If you look thru them,
after a while, you could definitely spot them and say, “that looks like
a Michael Johnson design.” I see one pendant that can be worn
two ways…reversed 180 degrees, and I would make some more
which could be worn as pendants and pins…I think people like
You have a lot of designs that are on the high end, so I would look
to expand on the lower end, maybe some designs in either silver or
gold and some more in your geometric designs without gems. If I were
you I would look at websites of other successful designers and see what
their price distribution is, as I think most need some entry level pieces
for those on more of a budget. Check and see. You might also look to
see if you can source melee in other stones besides diamonds…you could
do versions of some designs with melee emeralds or even melee amethyst,
etc. I don’t see a lot of channel set stuff, and I think this would be a logical
offshoot from all the round melee that is bead set…channel set rounds and
squares. I have seen “salada” for sale…square cut stones in citrine, peridot,
amethyst, blue topaz, etc., to make rainbows of channel set stones.
Just my thoughts…IDK where you are in the process of striking out, but I
would definitely consider a website to see how things go. There’s all that
SEO and marketing and getting followers, etc., to do, which doesn’t have
much to do with designing, but everything to do with driving business. I
have a number of friends in the stone cutting bizz who are selling a lot on
Instagram, so I would investigate that. Lots of people seem to follow on there.
Good Luck,

The portrait drawings are VERY distracting–one hardly sees the jewelry…! The black backgrounds made what are undoubtedly stunning, sparkling, colorful jewelry look very dull and drab. Shoot on white or neutral gray or work with the lighting. My overall feeling was that the portfolio does not do justice to the work…:-(… Not clear whether you wanted a critique of the portfolio or the works. I am relating to the former–how the works are presented. Having all the detailed portrait sketches makes it looks not like a (professional) jeweler’s portfolio… Just my two cents. (In the business over 40 years.)

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Hi Janet. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I really appreciate it.

Your work is creative, and your presentation of your designs is impeccable! First let me say that I’ve been a retailer for 27 years, I’ve carried a lot of brands, and I have been making custom jewelry both at the bench and using CAD for the same amount of time. So I feel like I can offer feedback from a few perspectives. My advice is to pick a product category and style for that category that you are passionate about and own it. Become synonymous for those things and you’re more likely to get some traction and achieve notoriety. My passion has always been bridal and recently I began development of my own bridal line that is sold exclusively through my store. My style? Petite rings with a timeless appeal and original designs. I design all my engagement rings with stackable straight bands, all the heads are interchangeable from one shank to another. Nothing is added to the line that flys in the face of what already exists in the product offerings. The reason…I am trying to tell a story. I won’t deviate from my story. Even if something starts to trend, I will only add hints of it to my styles… I won’t go in a different direction.

From what I viewed in your portfolio, you haven’t found a place in any one product category or style. Look to designers from other industries…clothing, accessories, housewares, furnishings. One of my favorite designers is Tom Ford….look at his eye wear, he never deviates from his brand.

Hope this helps and keep up the good work!!

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I looked through the portfolio. (btw I agree with the comment about the drawings being distracting and the photography in general would benefit from a gray background. Image is everything…) Working from the photos, there is no question that you have expertise in stone setting. I am hoping the craftsmanship is equal to that–can’t see from pix but most likely it is. In general, your designs rely on symmetry with a focal stone smack in the middle. Nothing wrong with that and it has wide appeal and you execute this genre well. Which leads me to the question: who do you want to sell your work to? If it is the customer you already have, I would venture to say that you have a butt load of competition and within this type of design you will have to push the envelop to stand out. As mentioned, your pieces are conservative in design. There are so many wonderful jewelry designers and the ones who stand out deviate from conservative designs (and materials). I guess what they tend to have is what’s called a “hook” or a gimmick for lack of a better word. JAR has his “threads”, Taffin combine symmetry & color exploration with unusual materials like porcelain. One piece of yours that stood out for me was the pendant using colored stones in ombre fashion surrounding a central rectangular stone. I suspect that you have a nice affinity for using color hiding in there! Any way figure out a target consumer, maybe cultivate your color sense, experiment with asymmetry(?). Leap and the net will appear. You seem to have mastered the technical stuff, now see how manipulating that comfortable symmetry might take your designs to a new level.

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I am in Madison WI Also! Cool!

My advice will be fairly general and also talk about what I see the market in Madison and the surrounding area to be as well.

First, your drawings are great. I am not a 2D artist so I struggle with my counter drawings. Like, at best they look average or less. you have some great skills there so the portfolio is great in my opinion. I like that you can do asymmetrical and curvilinear designs. Those work very well in Madison. When you get clients from outside of the city limits, many times a more classical look works and you have some of those as well.
Also, With EPIC nearby, there is a lot of money just South West of town. Young people who make a lot of money and want to spend it.

You are clearly getting your ideas on paper and are successful in making them accurately. I do have a question. Can you draw and make what a client directs you to make? I have found that is a real issue with some designers. their ego gets in the way of making what a client wants.

At only 5 years, I understand your angst. At 5 years, I was just realizing that I wanted my hobby to become something more. You still have a few more years to figure out your direction as an artist. and then decades to change things up every so often. No artist stays static. We are always learning and growing.
Becoming a member of Ganoksin is a great first step. I would also recommend taking GIA classes and being part of that world as well as having a GG is an important title to hold as well. In my opinion that is.
Have you joined the Midwest Jewelers Association yet? Email Mary Kaja as she can help with that. It does not cost a lot for an individual and you can get some early notice of GIA classes in the area.

As to the jewelry world in Madison, I have some very definite opinions so take them with a grain of salt.

First, With the art school here in town at the university, we have had a lot of students settle here and open jewelry stores. Google says we have over 20 in the city and that is just the big stores. We probably have twice that for small jewelers as well. So Madison is a tough town to compete in.

second, after Eleanor Moty and Fred Fenster left the university, the quality of metal arts fell quite a bit in my opinion. It was more about your MESSAGE and less about craftsmanship. So I have seen fewer small jewelers opening up in the last decade.

third, I myself am not a great designer. I am not very artistic, but I have a lot of technical ability.
I worked by myself for many years as a bench jeweler. In madison, I think that you need to count repairs as your bread and butter if you will be working alone. I have made a lot of money sizing and repairing ART jewelry because the designer/maker could not or would not do it themselves.

4th, Before you go into business for yourself, get some education about how to run a business.
For pricing, I think the “Geller Blue Book” is an invaluable tool. (And David Geller is an awesome guy with an odd sense of humor! you should send him a friend request on Facebook. )
Make sure you keep an accurate inventory of your supplies, tools, and products for tax reasons. I inventoried my shop every 3 months. It would take about a day to do and enter into excel.

5th, learn to say no. Some jobs are not worth the headache, or the cost of doing them. It is tough in Madison as someone is ALWAYS willing to undercut your price. Stick to your guns and let the occasional job walk. Also, do not do too many rush jobs. they can seriously mess with your normal work schedule and getting items back to clients on time. Limit these depending on your workload for the next few weeks when they come in.

6th, Always be 100% honest. If someone asks you a question that you do not know, do not bullshit them. Tell them that is a good question, and you will look into it and get back to them with an answer.
I have closed sales just from saying this. It is a very strong way to build rapport with a client.

and 7th and last, make sure you leave time for yourself. I was, and am, a workaholic, and not only did I burn the candle at both ends, I soaked that f**cker in gasoline and torched it. Do not do that. it hurts your relationships and family. leave time for family. It is important.

I hope I helped and was not too wordy. I welcome any questions from anyone on this.
I am going to close with “Great Job” so far and good luck with your future. You seem to be headed in a great direction and I can not imagine a career better than the trade where we work with the happy parts of peoples lives.


hello Michael,

i dont think the breadth of assortment is an issue…it shows diversity…but organizing it in a manner that gives a clear snapshot of what is going on can help viewers navigateo

also, in my humble opinion, the execution of the product photos is critical

i think the product appears too small…it is hard to see detail…fill the screen

the image photos can be used to message, but the product photo being bigger might help

imagine viewing on a phone

the thumbnail is 1”-2” max…if your object is within “one of 9 squares” of the photo, it is “lost”

My comments are more on the presentation of the portfolio than the work itself.
Your work is nice, certainly professional. The presentation is tiring. since this is a digital portfolio, I’d expect to see earrings, maybe a few on a page, and then when selected, expansive presentation of the piece on a model. I can’t just look at the portfolio and select what I’d like to see. No opportunity to compare a couple of choices. I don’t see a style, just nice expensive work.
Judy Hoch

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Some lovely designs here. Scrolling through a million of them in that fashion wasn’t my favourite, but there are limited ways to present things in a PDF. As an overall example of your work, I think it’s great. I don’t find it great as a portfolio only because I don’t necessarily need to SEE the sketch to rendering to fabrication lifecycle for every piece to know whether or not I like the design. I’d say fewer sketches, and maybe better final finished and set images set to the end or in smaller imagery on the same pages as the beautiful renderings. Also, either separate things thematically or into categories, so that one can see your collections more grouped together.

That’s just my take, and it’s PURELY on the concept of a portfolio. I think the designs themselves are lovely.

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Welcome Michael! I think your original question was just to critique your work itself, or get help finding professionals to do so? If this is the case, you’ll need much higher-quality photos. We really can’t see the craftsmanship at this resolution to give feedback. The lighting and styling need some finesse, but most of all they just need to be in focus and with higher resolution. Are you shooting them yourself, or did you hire someone? They should really be shot in raw format with a macro lens. I actually like black backgrounds for jewelry, but you need to light everything much differently in that case, and do photoshop work to make background and subject come together.

Pdfs are a pretty old-school way to send things. I recommend you put together a very simple free website through something like GoDaddy, Squaresepace, Wix etc. Then make a section for your photos, and a separate section for your drawings (which are lovely). This would be much easier for people to look through and you may get more responses in that case.

As far as design, they are nice, but nothing jumped out at me that I don’t see every day in my city’s diamond district windows. Nothing wrong with that if it’s what you enjoy making and your clients are happy! But in that case, selling will be really based on your marketing presentation so you will need to come up with a strong identity in background/model styling for photos, creative lighting, social media voice, etc. Alternatively, if you are hoping to go more the wholesale route, you wouldn’t have to worry as much over that, but you’d probably need to do some national trade shows and really work at creating relationships with stores and buyers.

Just my thoughts that are a bit different from what others have said so far. Good luck! -Jenny

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