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How to make jewelry that sells

because I'm at a loss as to how to go further. 

I just pulled Andrew’s quote out of another thread - there are a
couple right now that this new one will try to summarize, I hope.
This isn’t pointed at Andrew in particular, and I’m hoping it’s a
dialog, not just a monologue… Just a bit of strategy, not now-to.
So, you’re work is selling now and then and you’re happy with that -
a little story, first:

Many will remember that I started working in jewelry in the turquoise
business in Albuquerque, some 150 years ago LOL… After awhile we
had 100 silversmiths doing piecework - checking out materials, taking
them home, doing “their thing” and bringing back jewelry - me, too.
We sold retail and also wholesale - dealers would come in and buy 200
pieces at a steep discount. One day I was working the counter, with
one of those dealers. I watched him go through the ring trays, cherry
picking all of my rings out, one = by one - my work was supposed to
be Indian, which I’m not, so there was no input from me. He just
cleaned the trays - hundreds of rings- ou= t of all my work. THAT’S

I don’t have the objectivity to really say why, but there are some
things I can say: One of my co-workers at the time told me, “I love
your work be= cause it’s always so happy - you can just see it
smiling!” That’s art… More importantly, my work was clean and
straight. Bezels were “perfect” (I’ll only say that nothing is really
perfect once, here), and perfectly set, with the stones at just the
right height. What was supposed= to be round was round, what was
supposed to be centered was centered. All the things that were the
same size WERE the same size, and curves were regular, graceful and
identical when they were supposed to be. Shanks were centered on ring
tops, and everything was smooth and comfortable. Fundamental
craftsmanship - can’t beat it with a stick.

Most importantly of all: They were polished like nobody’s business.


You’re not making jewelry for yourself, so don’t MAKE jewelry for
yourself, unless you’re intending to buy your own product. That’s not
to say that you shouldnt make “what you like” on another level -
don’t make jewelry you hate, either. Listen to your audience and
give them what they want, whether you personally like it or not.
That’s your job, if you’re going to sell it. They are not “wrong”,
they DO get it, they just don’t like it enough to buy it, so make
something they DO like. Hand in hand with that is the “One Trick
Pony” syndrome. Many people have 'a thing". Many people… “I
make stuff that’s covered with beads dangling off everywhere”. See
that a lot, lately. If I don’t like beads, then I won’t buy
~anything~ that you make, no matter what. Broaden your horizons,
broaden your audience.

I liked the idea of engraving, so I bought some gravers and books
some 35 years ago. To this day I’m a mediocre engraver, in the
scheme of things. There’s no (or rarely) a magic bullet that’s going
to make you a jeweler, and chasing the latest seminars is no
different. MUCH more important than learning Chinese Snake Skin
Overlay is getting really, really excellent with the torch, and the
saw, and your pliers and hammers. When you have a deep skill base,
you’ll find that new things come easily, and also have some context
to plug into. Ditto for design - I can make anything I can imagine,
too, and I can imagine lots of things. Somebody long ago told me,
“The day you quit building monuments is the day you start being a
success”. I’ve seen a great many castle rings, but I’ve never seen
one on anybody’s hand… It’s when you find something that you
can make that’s real, that people want, that you can make
consistently, that you’ll start moving. And then you do it again, and
again - that’s a career in jewelry.

Finally (I have work to do…). When you get over mill products is
when you’ll rise to the next level of jewelry. I have in front of me
a circle of 14ga silver wire bent into a circle with a stone on top,
tastefully textured, of course, by someone else. It’s a commodity
piece, sure, but it’s also boring. There’s no dimension or anything
remotely crafted about it, just a circle of milled wire. Actually
craft some shank and you’ll have something with personality, which
is to say art. But of course you need to learn how, first.

OK, really finally. Your work is original because nobody ever made
it before. Almost none of it is truly original - “It’s a table
ring…” and there’s no reason why it has to be. There’s a point
where “new” or “fresh” crosses the line into strange. People like
innovative jewelry, they don’t like strange jewelry. As I wrote in
my blog - most people want steak and potatoes, or maybe macaroni and
cheese. Maybe Steak Diane, maybe macaroni with Swiss goat cheese.
They don’t want a grass and dirt omelet with snake eggs, and they
just won’t buy it. Enough, somebody else talk…

First off I have to say, Mr Donivan is a hard act to follow. One of
the few that I read every post… thank you. I am a "self-taught"
rookie… that said, I think I’ve something to offer from the
novices’ point of view. It may sound weird, but I let the stones
talk to me. They dictate a lot of my design. I like the odd shaped,
irregular the best… unusual shapes, hell I’ve set beach pebbles
and taught myself rudimentary setting using beach glass that I
accumulated on walks. A challenge to say the least as the surface
presented is generally not flat as a faceted or cut cab. But, I
learned… and having no “real” stones at the time, it served a

Watch all you can… and read… and then practice. There is a
wealth of videos on the Orchid video page, You Tube… the best is
skilman at Orchid. One of the vids shows a close up of his hands…
such a talent. Books, magazines… ideas abound. Have you tried fold
forming? What I love about it is this: Just before Christmas, I had
"hit a wall." I just couldn’t face another stone. It had been a
while since I had done ANY and “farted” around with it again. Just
what I needed as I remembered or realized… "I have NO boundaries"
doing this… I was free. It was invigorating.

Don’t know if this is common but… I often have four or five
projects at different stages of progression on my bench, at one
time. It’s how I work. My thing is, I look over and spot a texture or
shape in a piece of metal, and my mind goes off on a tangent. I gotta
pursue it. The other angle of this, again for me, is the need to
step aside to get a perspective on design, or fabrication. Sometimes
my “mind” is tired and I need to divert. Out of due respect to to all
the “professionals making a living” at this, I know, it’s a
perspective “afforded” the amateur, maybe someday I’ll be… my
point is IMHO it’s about passion… passion to learn, grow, and
develop into something “more”… at least for me. Good luck. Here’s
where the “uninterested” can check out… no attempt at
self-promotion… but to give you an idea of development check out my
pics on fb… peaceman jewelry… might be of interest. Best of luck
to you.

How to make jewellery that sells is a truly existential question.
Second Law of Dialectics postulates that quantity will eventually
become quality.

Jewellery made by a pro, has a certain feel about it with very
distinct finish, that contributes to appearance not attainable by
beginners. This is something which cannot be taught. It comes with
time and practice.

Then the question becomes how to survive, waiting for this
revelation. The answer is to acquire experience working for others.
This is what generally done, but in different variations. There is
work available, but you should be willing to work really cheap. Put
aside your notion of fairness. When you are starting, your
willingness to work for slave wages ( and less than that ) is the
only asset that you have, so use it. You will make a little bit of
money, and you will acquire a great deal of experience. It is very
important that you could observe how experienced goldsmith handles
problems. You can spend a lifetime playing in your studio and not to
learn which will become obvious right away, after watching others
doing it.

Leonid Surpin

I love what John Donovan wrote, good metalsmithing is always the way
to go, you will never be disappointed with your work if it is well
made, even if you don’t like the design someone else wanted. If your
going to associate your name with it, make it to the best of your
ability. I think the rising price of silver is going to knock out the
crap workers. Those who do quality work, and I hope I’m one of
them…will always be in demand. Established independent jewelry
stores are having a tough time of it now due to metal prices and
lousy economy so there are many journeyman smiths out there, the
difference will be in longevity in business, design and
craftsmanship and lots of luck, and good business practices. What
those mean to you is different than what in means to me but you can
spot good work, you can spot good design and longevity only comes
with some good business practices. I tried to chase the trends, I
tried to make trends and was only disappointed, that takes more money
than I have for marketing. I have to look within and come up with
designs, I have to talk to people and come up with designs, I have to
expose myself to lots of influences and come up with designs then I
have to sit at my bench and do good work. God, I’m profound…

Sam Patania, Tucson, where Pres. Obama is coming to a memorial to
our lost innocence and neighbors today.

Listen to your audience and give them what they want, whether you
personally like it or not. That's your job, if you're going to sell

I think John has it in a nutshell here. IF your focus is selling,
then you HAVE to understand what the audience(s) YOU are selling to
want. In my case, I sell to several different audiences, therefore I
make a range of items aimed at each audience. Sometimes one will
sell to an audience I’m not expecting that piece to sell to, but not

I also agree with John’s comment on not having “a look”. Many people
do, and if enough people like your “look” enough to buy it that is
fine. I’m an artist first, and a jeweler second, so I make “art” -
which does not follow one “look”. Works really well at selling time,
as there is a HUGE range of “look” that I have created and most
people who actually want to buy anything can find something they
want. My daughter makes jewelry too (when she is home from college
and has time!), and her “look” is VERY different from mine. I find
some people come in the booth and are immediately drawn to her work
and will pick it out from around the booth; some do the same with
mine; some buy something from each of us.

Point being to remember that your business IS to create sellable
work - without sacrificing anything that is vital to your
mental/emotional well-being. I don’t make things that I personally
don’t consider “art”, but I DO make things that are right on that
edge… IF they sell well! When you do a show pay attention both to
what people buy at your booth, and to what they look at, or touch…
it will clue you in to what they ALMOST wanted enough to buy, and you
can try and figure out if you need a design change or a price change
to make the move from looking to buying.

The other thing to keep in mind when doing shows is that every show
is NOT going to be the “right” show for you. Maybe it wasn’t your
work that was wrong, but the show is wrong for you… I’ve certainly
made that mistake several times…

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

Enough, somebody else talk............ 

Well how could a blowhard like me resist that opening?

To make jewelery that sells one has to first know WHAT sells. For
that one has to know the market, local, web, whatever. There’s a
reason I make three stone rings(among lots of other stuff). They
sell. And they pay well because you have the opportunity to sell one
to three stones(sometimes more) right along with the mounting. I’m
not talking amethyst cabs, I’m talking real stones(not a put down,
just a reference to price).

I’m advised over my shoulder that I should mention I’m writing this
mid-martini so don’t take offense.

This is what I was trying to get at with my ill received comment
somewhere else about making a name before you can charge hefty, blah
blah. You will not get many repeat sales if your work isn’t up to
snuff, "snuff’ being variable but always relevant. Just suppose you
spend six hours on a piece and if you get six hundred bucks all told
you’re happy. What if you got six thousand? How bout sixty thousand?
Would you like that? Make the ring, get paid, take tomorrow off and
go fishing. What the hell go fishing for a week in the Northwest
Territories for 50lb trout, you just earned an expensive vacation.

Well I’m not quite there yet but I see it up ahead. My biggest
project so far was only 84K (how jaded is that?). That kind of client
will not pay twice for crap work and won’t give referrals. Do the
good work and the chance to sell expensive stones comes with it,
again and again.

All feather puffing aside I started out as the shop schlepp and
machine engraver. This was just how my career went, it could and will
no doubt be different for just about everybody else. But the core is
there. To quote Jim Morrison of The Doors, “Money beats soul every
time.” I know someone who was unhappy in her job, “Why can’t I do
something fulfilling like you do, Neil.” This person just doubled her
compensation in one fell swoop and now looks at her industry with a
quite different attitude. She did that by being good, better than

Make silver rings with amethyst cabs if that gets you to the next
phase. Just don’t forget the next phase. And the next.


I totally agree. Those who believe they have nothing more to learn
and resist attending workshops offered, will have what they are used
to having. Those who recognize things have changed since they last
exposed themselves to school, books, videos, workshops, can learn
new directions, alloys, metals, etc, may have the opportunity to
introduce new techniques, designs, and add to their potential.

Reminds me to a long time good friend who said, “I don’t have a
computer, don’t need a computer, and will not use a computer.” He
was rather forceful in his argument in voting against a proposal I
made to introduce communication via email. Couple of years later, I
heard him in a discussion which clearly indicated that he was indeed
using a computer.

Perfecting your technique, polishing, visual alignment, is part and
parcel of success in selling your items. Ignore them, and watch
sales drop. I know from other forums where participants are very
vocal about loss of business. They post photos, and it is easy to
see why sales are down, same-o, same-o, nothing new, everyone bought
the same tutorial, offer the same designs, and moan. Offer them a
workshop with an expert in their field, and zero response be it
metal clay, wire, chains, sad but true.

Fine craftsmanship is exactly that, no matter what technique. Yes,
you are fine, very fine in actuality.

About sadness in Tucson, Gregg and I watched the services tonight.
President Obama’s speech was right on. We need to have the unity we
see tonight all the time, not only in response to a tragedy.



I understand you are not singling me out for a lecture. Lord only
knows that I’m the resident shlemiel for this group, and I’m sorry
for wearing my heart on my sleeve about it… I realize that because
of it, my enthusiam and my curiosity are probably my only redeeming

I am indeed at a loss as to where to go next, but I’m trying very
hard to not let that stop me.

John, I lived in Gallup between 2005 and 2010 and have even visted
Albuquerque several times. It is in Gallup where I began learning the
rudiments of silversmithing through asking a lot of questions from
Dine’ store owners, Ed from IGS and Lyndon Tsosie are THE BEST.

In the last couple years I developed some confidence on a tabletop
CNC milling machine. I’ve actually learned to tram and shim and vise
and plates sufficiently well that I can make engravings fit for
roadside attractions, even if they aren’t to Leonid’s level by light
years, and I can carve wood and metal for toys and things…

“Black Velvet, If You Please!”. I’m hoping maybe road art can
subsidize my jewelry lessons… Check out A House Full Of Craft for
my first saleable engraving, at least the original artist I
reproduced it from thought it good enough.

The weather’s very very cold, freezing during the day, no wind chill
thank gawd, so I’ve been reworking my cabbed stones indoors using my
cabbing wheels as sandpaper, using the sharpie exercise.

I’m so scared of messing up my small stock of silver, about three
ounces of pure ingots.

I want to use it where it counts, where it can do the most good. I
hear tell so much that I have to have a rolling mill to make regular
silver shapes, but then I hear others tell me just to learn to forge
by hand and no worry so much, and I’m not sure really what I want to
do. I wish I know of some way I could use my CNC to get thesame the
effect as a rolling mill… a fly cutter can level plate all right
but I discovered it wastes one heck of a lot of silver.

I’ve got my electric melter from years back, and an unused graphite
sleeve, and a digital scale from Christmas, so I can make sterling in
theory. I’ve got Borax powder, and Sparex powder, and haven’t used
them yet.

I’m also overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence of other people’s
art… I know I can’t possibly approach it even if I spent a lifetime
at it, and sometimes I don’t see how I can find my own niche
completely by myself.

The only reason I’m doing investing so much energy and personal
allowance in this, is because I would otherwise be sitting at home
doing nothing and being stone cold bored. I NEED to make things just
to stay calm… and I WANT to become good enough that people will
notice what I can do, and I DON’T WANT to make stuff that only I can
enjoy. It’s other people who decide what’s worthwhile to do, and I
want the remaining years of my life to be spent doing things which
other people will value.

So I’m sorry if I come off across like a whiner. I’m alone, I need
friends, I need mentors, and if it weren’t for the membership in
Ganoskin I would have given up long since.

Andrew Jonathan Fine

In the last twenty seven years I’ve worked with a half dozen
jewelers. The most important things that I’ve learned is how 'not’
to handle problems, especially people problems. Jewelry that sells
has been in the ‘wow, that’s different’ arena for the duration of my
career. People want unique and they want personal, not as a rule,
but as a statement of their individuality. No matter where I go I
tend to look at what type or style of jewelry folks are wearing. Most
of the time you can say that what they are wearing suits them to a T.
It usually has a history or personal meaning to them. If you fall
into a style of design and it catapults you into your brand, that’s
great and you will have what we call a ‘following’ of customers.

Jewelry that sells is all about matching a style to the customer, or
watching a customer match his or her style by choosing one of your
designs that says ‘that is SO me’. It’s just not predictable all of
the time. Customers pour over my portfolio of pictures and pick out
four or five that they love and say that they want some element of
each piece incorporated into their custom design, and there you have
the custom design reward!

So I will say that catering to a wide variety of tastes is a sure
bet. Keeping the prices from extremely affordable to exclusively
expensive gives you a margin to work with for every type of budget.
Personally I do not think there is just one ‘type’ of jewelry that
sells. It’s all in the hands and minds of our customers, so we need
to listen and, and listen again to what they say with body language
and facial expressions as well as words. That’s where the real
excitement is for me. Now let the jewelry sell itself with a grin on

your face. That’s what I call a happy jeweler!

no attempt at self-promotion... but to give you an idea of
development check out my pics on fb... peaceman jewelry... might be
of interest. Best of luck to you. 

Nice work, Michael. Lots of potential there, I think. I’d like to
say that readers should take the title of this thread literally -
making saleable jewelry. There’s an old Joni Mitchell song - “For
Free” about hearing a street musician and remembering her carefree
days before fame and fortune landed on her back. A painting
instructor advised to paint for yourself for as long as you can,
because once you hit the galleries life is never the same.

In my safe I have several “just-because” pieces - boxes, some
sculpture - that I made without thought of selling them. I have two
(count em) pieces of jewelry that haven’t sold, but whenever I pull
them out and show them, eventually they will. But they are also
just-because pieces…

Meaning, don’t take the title to mean that everybody or anybody
~must~ make jewelry or art for sale and to sell. There is, and
should be, some element of play and fun. And there are many hobbyists
who are happy as clams just being that. We all have our monuments,
and thank God we do because that’s how the envelope gets pushed. But
most often it’s not the monuments that pay the bills… That’s

John Donovan-

I like what you said. I agree with it and I need to adhere to it!

Jean Menden

I understand you are not singling me out for a lecture. 

Well, Andrew, this time I am singling you out for a lecture, but
it’s not alecture. I’ll write here because there are lots of people
in your boat - you’d be surprised.

First, go out and meet some people - there’s a rock-hound or
lapidary club somewhere nearby almost everybody, for one. Church,
yoga, cooking, wine, quilting - there’s always some ways for people
to find each other. Try these:

Me, I’ve found rock hounds and amateur lapidaries to be some of the
friendliest, most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet.

Lyndon Tsosie are THE BEST. 

You’re very fortunate to have known any Tsosie - an incredibly
talented family there.

and I can carve wood and metal for toys and things... 

Start there.

I have to have a rolling mill to make regular silver shapes, but
then I hear others tell me just to learn to forge by hand and no
worry so much, 

That comes in right near milling your own wheat and slaughtering
your own hogs and curing your own hams in usefulness. Find another
solution - see below.

I'm also overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence of other people's
art... I know I can't possibly approach it even if I spent a
lifetime at it, 

And your point is exactly… We went to a
Pixardisplay last weekend - there were some 30 small sculptures in
resin of all the famous characters, some had multiples with
character/emotion/motion studies. They were a level of perfection
that made my humble sculpting and carving skills look childish. But
to me, it’s something to strive for, and at my age I’ll never get to
that level, either. They do what they do, I do what I do and we all
get along just fine.

sometimes I don't see how I can find my own niche completely by

You can’t - you can’t really do anything meaningful in life by
yourself - clip your fingernails, I guess. The above are just some
offhand remarks bout the quotes, but I’ll write some things for
real, below.

There was a time when I found a clean scap of lumber - 2x12 fir,
about 2 feet long. I had access to some chisels, so I carved it. I
gave to the guy who was letting me sleep on his couch in lieu of
rent. You do what you can do with what you have, whether it’s a
little or a lot. Most importantly, you have to use the skills you
have - learn more, of course, but Andrew says he can make toys and
carving. So make toys… Maybe sell some, maybe make some money
to buy some silver or tools. Step by step, leg by leg you hopefully
rise to a better place. Maybe that sounds cliched, but it’s true and
it’s what everybody here is doing and/or has done.

It’s tough to make a living in art of any kind, and you MUST have
something - talent, skill, ability, portfolio to earn a living at
it. But you can play to your heart’s content and maybe sell some
stuff or get some reputation in the process.

Little by little, it comes if you keep at it. You don’t need to get
where I am (anybody), you just need to keep going in your own way.
There was, truly, a time when I didn’t know how to use a torch
either. Take what you have - carving - and start there, doing things
and getting better at it. Other things will come.

Silver… 3 ounces of silver is not very much, when you turn it
into jewelry. Six or ten pieces, depending. Even three pieces, if
you work like that. Since turning ingots into something useful is
outside your realm, don’t try to. Sell it and buy mill products or
trade it if you can.

And brass and copper are much more difficult to work (mostly to
solder, really), but they are cheap and you can toy around with it
until you figure out what you want to do.

As for what to do - take what I have done in painting and just do
it. Blank canvas, what to paint, well I could do ~that~ PAINT IT!

Andrew, carve a horse. Make a horse toy, then make a dog, then make
a dog toy. Get one of your stones and make a wooden ring or pendant
for it - how? You figure it out, you’re the artist. That experience
will give you 10 ideas of what to do different or better, and doing
each of those ideas will give you ten more.

Finally, if Andrew is really a carver, maybe he’d be better of
working wax and getting castings anyway… Wax is cheap and
simple tools will do the trick.

John, there’s a great lot of wisdom in your advice to Andrew. I only
disagree with you at one point:

And brass and copper are much more difficult to work (mostly to
solder, really), but they are cheap and you can toy around with it
until you figure out what you want to do. 

I don’t think brass and copper are much more difficult to work or to
solder (except to find good matching-color solder). I’d advise Andrew
to go through the Orchid Archives for discussions on this, and then
go through Etsy, looking for examples of the kinds of things one can
make with copper and brass. Copper and brass (and nickel-silver) are
great to start with, and to stay with, if you like them, and
especially in this silver market. Take a look at the recent book on
Alexander Calder’s jewelry, which is almost entirely made of base

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman

Yes so true meat and potatoes. To all the hype about people like to
wear unique etc. Why then does every one wear Ugg boots, and the
’swoosh’ Nike shoes etc. To be successful you probably are better off
if you have some money to promote yourself, or perhaps a connection
to someone with a famous name.

Often it doesn’t even matter how well your jewelry is made, how
expertly done either. Saw much jewelry selling like mad, that I
would be embarrassed to sell it.


Why then does every one wear Ugg boots, and the 'swoosh' Nike shoes
etc. To be successful you probably are better off if you have some
money to promote yourself, or perhaps a connection to someone with
a famous name. 

Marketing campaign can accomplish miracles, but it is not available
to individual goldsmiths and small shops. The cost is far to high. We
have to rely on our jewellery to sell itself, and that means
uncompromising quality.

Leonid Surpin