Just how hard is it to selling jewelry

I agree with Suzanne Wades response to this topic. It’s an
interesting question that I’ve been thinking alot about lately. I’ve
been making jewelry for the last 9 years trying out all the various
way to make a real living and enjoy what I do. Last year I went back
to art school to finish my BFA and it really gives me perspective on
what students just starting out may be going through.

Just because someone is an artist doesn't automatically mean they

are an entrepreneur. I think all art courses should include an
"Action Plan" class where students can discuss their options and
motivations. Do they want to be self employed? Do they what a steady
full time job? Do they want to save the world? Most importantly,
what does it really mean to be an entrepreneur (risk,falure…)?

Most artists I know supplement their income by other means like

teaching, writing, running a gallery, selling tools or related
goods. These are viable options. I think your students will benefit
the most from discussing these options and thier individual paths.
If they are dead set on doing it solo, send them to a business
planning class. There’s a great one in San Francisco here:
http://www.rencenter.org I imagine there are others!

Amy O’Connell
Amy O’Connell Jewelry

I realized after I fired off my last post that I had yet another 2
cents to put in on the issue of being an artist, and specifically,
making a living at it. I remember going to a teaching conference in
1976 when I was an adjuct and hearing Harlan Butt stand up in front
of all the art teachers in the province of Ontario and rip into them
for not teaching students how to be anything other than future art
teachers. Everyone seemed embarrassed for him (even if we secretly
suspected he was right). I thought at the time that it was a novel
observation. Years later, when I was seeking a university position,
I put it in my teaching philosophy that I felt it was imperative that
students learn the business aspect of art. The reception to my ideas
was cool to say the least. Now they are singing a different tune.
But let me say that I believe that it is entirely irresponsible for
any instructor to mislead a student as to just how he or she is going
to pursue their craft “professionally”. It has taken me far longer
to learn how to make a living entirely from my own work than it took
me to learn to make good jewelry. I work twice the hours that most
"day job" employees do. So is it hard? What hardships would I face
in another field? I don’t know. The emotional ones are always
hardest. Many will probably always need to work for somebody else,
as I did for many years. So maybe you start out making a few
Christmas presents, selling a piece or two to friends or family.
Maybe you set up a shop at home and you’re good enough to do some
retailer’s repairs. You sell some work on consignment, maybe
eventually collecting enough work and the paraphernalia to do a local
craft fair or two. Meanwhile, you are learning about taxes and
bookkeeping and cash flow. Some will get lucky, and they’ll sense
the opportunities and take the risks, others, like me, will have a
slow, hard climb. But I would no sooner tell somebody who has a
modicum of skill, enough to fabricate a few simple silver pieces,
that he can go out and make enough to pay for a home and family than
I would tell him he is ready to set that 6 thousand dollar emerald in
a heavy 18 karat white gold bezel. I’ll be the first to tell a
student that it’s not quite time to quite that day job. My advice?
Work for others and watch how they do it. Network, take classes in
business, read books, whatever you can and as fast as you can,
because it’s hard to find the time to learn when you’re too busy
making a living. You will get discouraged if you try to do this
alone, so stay in touch with other people in your field through a
guild, at workshops, etc. My final advice? You’ve got to give it
away to keep it, so be generous with your knowledge and your spirit
and it will come back to you multiplied. Good luck.

David L. Huffman

It is hard. It is alot of work. It takes time. It takes good
business skills to make a business run smoothly and most art or
jewelry schools don’t prepare the new jeweler for this, so they
enter the business world with a severe disadvantage - they don’t
know how to run a business. I find the jewelers who understand that
having good business and marketing skills is just as important as
being able to solder or set a stone in a bezel are the ones who

There is an enormous number of very gifted artists/jewelers out
“there” but I think someone coming into the industry can make it.
It may take years for them to decide exactly what they want to do
and the market they want to hit, so I recommend to my students not
to quit their day jobs - yet. Take a year or so, apprentice some
time with a local jeweler they feel is successful and learn. Read
everything they can about running a business. I highly recommend
“Growing a Business” by Paul Hawken (of Smith and Hawken fame). It
is my business bible. Take a bookkeeping class!!! Take some
business classes. Talk with people in all areas of business about
their ideas, suggestions, thoughts.

It is hard. It is hard for people like my husband and myself who
have been in the business for 25 years. And it is especially hard
with a crummy economy like we have now. So people have to develop
the skills they need to succeed (Plug - like the marketing workshop
I teach at Kate Wolf’s school - thrive@katewolfdesigns.com).

Marlene Richey
Jewelry Business Consultant/Craft Business Teacher
Owner - Wm. Richey Designs

To E. Luther, It depends a lot on how diversified you are and how
good of a salesperson you are. I can do many different types of
jewelry work. From lapidary and custom design to hand engraving and
even repair if I get desperate. I do engraving and custom design work
for stores in the Southeast. This relationship gives me a big foot in
the door when I want to sell them the line of jewelry that I build. I
have been doing trunk shows in these stores as well. I go with a
portable engraving bench and do engraving for their customers while
they watch. This has worked very well for both parties. They get a
special event that they can use to generate traffic, and I get a
venue to sell my jewelry that doesn’t cost me anything to attend. The
other half of this is being a good salesperson, Which I am not. But,
thank God, my wife is. You have to have someone who really believes
in what you are doing. She loves what I make and her enthusiasm comes
through in her sales pitch. I don’t know many artistic people who are
good salesmen, or at keeping the books. It can be very to tough to do
it all. So to answer your question, Yes you can make a living selling
your own jewelry, even a very good living. And yes I spent a long
time “paying my dues,” doing repair work and perfecting my skills.
Don’t discourage your students, it is possible, it just takes time
and maybe a little help from your friends. John Wade

No harder than any other business you start. The experts say that
the first five years after starting a business are the hardest. If,
in the first five years, you put in long hours and lots of hard work
getting your name out to the public, marketing, building a client
base, etc., the following years should be a little easier. But . . .
you still have to keep up with current trends, change/update your
product line, get new clients, satisfy the old clients and the list
goes on.

I don’t believe that it is any harder to make a living selling
jewelry than any other business you start from scratch. But . . . if
you love what you do, the rewards are far greater than working at a
job you hate.

Crafty Cathy’s Creations

My husband (a potter) just bought a book called, Stayin’ Alive,
Survival Tactics for the Visual Artist, by Robin Hopper (another
potter). Although it is written by a potter, the applies
to any visual artist, as the title implies. It has some encouraging
stories, but also good, helpful It would be a great
book to recommend to students or to anyone thinking about supporting
themselves through their art. Its also good for anyone already
supporting themselves who need some encouragement and inspiration.

Sarah Philbeck
Jewelry for the Journey
Shelby, NC

It can be really hard to make a living selling your jewelry unless you’ve
planned well and are well financed. I started my jewelry business in 1976
while also working another job which then allowed me to put money back
the business as well as paying my mortgage and real-life expenses. It took
11 years before I felt comfortable enough to drop the other job which, by
that time, was only part-time. It’s now 16 years later and it’s become
again in this economy. I sell through galleries and a few art fairs as I
have for my entire career but things have really been changing. Overall,
sales at the shows have dropped significantly over the last few years. The
80’s were a wonderful time for jewelers when wearing your wealth on your
body was encouraged but that’s not the case now. Plus all the associated
expenses of being self-employed such as health insurance and retirement
gone through the roof. Encourage your students but please, please educate
them about the realities of being self-employed as well. I didn’t realize
how hard it would be. After saying all that, would I do things
No, I love what I do and it’s been a great way to make a living.

Hi Elaine, I have found it challenging, but I started this small
company at the beginning of last year, and have been living of it
(cheaply) since about 4 months of serious trying. The key for me was
finding a niche, namely, men’s Masonic jewelry. Since I am a member
of the fraternity, I have a fairly extensive knowledge of the type
of stuff that would sell, and a captive market. It is growing slowly
as I gain a reputation. I ain’t rich though! So, finding your niche
is the tough part, but it can be done. I have a second line of pieces
that is more mainstream, and am finding it harder to sell these, but
am so happy in my new field of jewelry design, that I will make it
work, come hello-r high water.

Andrew Horn
The Master’s Jewel

Well 30 years later, I have had many failures and winners… the key
to sucess is preserverance… always please your customer if
possible and they are not always right! Quality, execution, and
honesty will be your most important factors. Heck I’ve survived and
have ‘‘never’’ hung a shingle. Word of mouth and putting my work in
peoples faces has always worked for me… next? another website, for
you must be seen to be heard! ringman

Parents of 20-ish young adults are wispering about our sons and
daughters who seem to have the strangest idea about earning a
living…they think they shouldn’t have to work too hard, that it
should just come to them…somehow. We are wondering if this is a new
breed of earthlings who have incarnated are on a different
vibrational sphere than us, thinking play time is more important than
being responsible to themselves by doing whatever it takes to earn a

So, what is it that might be easy to sell?..groceries?

In my early years I perfected my craft the best I could. After, I
just wanted enough hours in the day to make as many pieces as I could
imagine. Later I raced to sell wherever possible to pay for what I
could imagine and was making. Today, I hope to maintain my energy in
a given day to complete the above.

I’ve walked away from my bench for years at a time, sold all my
equipment, and started again, opening my first business at age 54.
Life has taught me that “experience” is the true reward of life.
Designing, making, and selling my jewelry: to relatives, friends,
clients, stores, at art fairs, home shows, trunk shows, through
galleries, wholesale, consignment, and via your own retail store is
experience for a life time…I feel blessed. And yes, one has to
eat! Mary Ann Archer

I responded briefly about this topic earlier but I would like to add
a little bit more. It seems that many of you feel it is necessary
(or was necessary previously) to work another job while attempting to
grow a new business. I think there is another way to do it. If you
make the plunge all at once, and the only way you are going to
survive is if your business succeeds, you will make it succeed
because it’s critical for your survival. You will be forced to learn
about what you need to know to do it right because if you don’t do it
right you won’t eat. It may not be the way for everyone, but it sure
worked for me. If I wanted to eat I had to succeed. I never
envisioned anything but succeeding, because I liked eating far too

Daniel R. Spirer, GG
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140

From all of the responses to the question I have been reading, I get
the feeling most agree that it isn’t easy, but it can be done. As
far as encouraging or discouraging students, I think they need to be
encouraged, especially if they show some real potential, but with a
dose of realism in there. The phrase ‘paying my dues’ is very real.
Newcomers shouldn’t expect to be out there a year from now making
tons of bucks and taking it easy. The diversity mentioned in this
message is important, too. Right now, I do mostly repair work in a
retail store. I also take in custom work both through the store and
from a few other stores, and I sell some of my own pieces through the
store and wholesale to some other shops. With this economy and some
other circumstances here, things are tight right now. To help out, I
am trying to find some other small trade accounts to bring in a few
bucks and perhaps open up into wholesale opportunities. If need be,
I can also fall back on travelling remount shows, which is another
past life. The ones who will make it are the ones with not only some
talent and skill, but who are willing to suffer and struggle toward
their eventual goal. They will also need either some business sense
or the sense to know they don’t have it and hire it in (ie,
accounting). Versatility, determination, skill, luck. You will need
them all. Quitters need not apply, I guess. Jim

Just how hard is it to selling jewelry

My advice is: don’t quit your day job! Jewelry sales can finance
your serious hoby (art), but the preessure is just too great to try
for a living wage. regarrds from Dalls, Nancy

This is the spirit! It’s the same in the academia and, I guess
everywhere else. If you want to make it, go for it completely and
work harder than anyone else. This may sound harsh, but it is the
truth. I have seen a lot of students with real talent who didn’t make
it, simply because they don’t work hard enough. But I also have the
feeling that the most talented one are also those who work the
hardest. Will, who likes to eat well too (after all, I’m Belgian

Nothing beats resistance like persistence and persistence is the key
to any goal. Is it difficult to make a living in this craft? For some
and others it is much easier but such as life. If you happen to be
related to or know someone with huge amounts of disposable income,
i.e. major sports figures and entertainment personalities, or the
Sultan of Brunei, the chances are greater to be easier.

It also depends on your goals to begin with. When my wife and I first
started just about everyone who found out often said was “we will
make allot of money”. If your students believe that being a jeweler
is like an instant atm machine they need to know it’s not.

If they truly enjoy what they are doing then any struggle is worth
it. I think, for myself, the best thing about being apart of this
craft is being apart of this community and the history. I’d say be
honest to students enough, not to discourage, to let them seek the
details as to making a living in this field.

That’s my 3 cents…

Responding to Daniel Spirer about not working another job while
attempting to grow a new business. I am one who worked another job
(some part-time) for many years while getting my business off the
ground. You went into it with a sink or swim attitude and I’m glad it
worked for you but I would think hard before recommending that in
today’s market. When I started making jewelry as a business (in 1976)
there was a good market for it but by working another job that would
pay the mortgage/rent, health insurance and food, I was able to grow
the business, buy all the tools I wanted and not have the added
pressure of having to sell a certain amount or I would be out on the
street. Times are different now and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone
start making jewelry for a living without a) having a large bankroll
behind them or b) a spouse with a steady income and health insurance
or c) a solid business already started. I’m not talking about repair
businesses because that’s an area I know nothing about. I’m talking
making jewelry, start to finish and selling it wholesale or retail.
It’s great to say that if you want to eat you have to succeed but
life just isn’t that simple anymore. My health insurance alone is
$500 @ month. Just my opinion.

15 years ago I took out a second mortgage to attend The Miami
Jewelry Institute. I quit my job as a display decorator, and
committed myself to this. I asked the instructor, “what kind of wage
can one expect to make in the jewelry industry?” Her answer was a
suspicious, “I don’t know.” Well, now I know why she hesitated.

I, like most of us, was (and still am) passionate about this
profession. But it never occurred to me that I should consider things
like retirement plans, benefits, paid sick leave, paid holidays, paid
vacation, insurance (medical and workers comp.) I naively assumed
that jobs came with those things. The reality is, rare is the
jeweler’s job that does. This hit me when a co-worker lost her thumb
on the polishing machine. Our employer, who had told us he had
workers comp, didn’t. She was just out of luck with no recourse and
(at age 26) crippled for life. Subsequently I found out that very
few jewelry stores carried workers comp (face facts—we work with
danger all day) on their jewelers, skirting laws by calling them
independent contractors. And it is extremely difficult AND
expensive to obtain the coverage on your own.

I am still a jeweler and I still have the passion for it. But I no
longer fool myself that this is a great career. It is fabulous to be
able to do the magic with metal, but in reality most of what I do is
repairs (and a lot of 'em). We should caution those who seek career
advice, especially youth. Be honest and tell them the whole truth:
that you better love doing it because you’re going to find it
extremely difficult to make a decent living at it.


I had a similar experience to Daniel. Thirty years ago my wife and I
and our then three year old son were living in Spain and I started
designing and making jewelry. I had no other source of income and the
only answer was to succeed. Some how I managed to make enough each
week to keep us going. When we returned to the States in 1975 I
started a business here with almost no capital. Again, some how we
made it. Fortunately, at that point in time my wife started teaching
part time.

I think that it may be harder to transition from part time job and
part time jewelry to full time jewelry. The mind set is divided, a
difficult way to succeed.

Joel Schwalb