Keeping trade secrets

Finally, I have a question for everyone. Do you keep secrets and why?
I am not talking about your great aunt Mildred being a bootlegger in
the thirties, I am talking about keeping trade secrets from other
jewelers, either technique or suppliers etc. I was downtown the other
day talking to a friend who is a setter. He mentioned that he loved a
particular stone I had used in a piece he had seen. I told him who
cut the stone and offered the cutters phone #.

For whatever reason, he was floored that I would so quickly and
easily give him that I told him that I was always open
about my suppliers and techniques, and that I found it kind of odd
that someone would keep such things a secret, although I am aware
that that is pretty common in our biz. He asked me, “Do you think
that is wise?” I pointed out that even if I gave someone the complete
of where I buy stones, gold, findings etc…and then sat
down and showed them how I put it together, it was fairly unlikely
that they would bother to take the time to copy my work. Of course if
they did and it was a bad copy, all anyone would say was: “Hmph…bad
copy of Byzantia”…If it was a good copy what one would hear was:“
isn’t Byzantia doing nice work these days?”…lol…lol…lol

So what do you think? Are you open and transparent about how you make
things, and who your suppliers are? Or do you keep that a
secret? How come??? Some jewelers are even offended to be asked for
info. So far, I find most of the work from that faction pretty trite,
but I am sure there are others who do great stuff and keep mum. I
keep on trying to have magazines doing articles on me or my work
include the name of my stone suppliers etc…when they publish, but as
of yet, oddly, none will do it.

Just curious as to what makes everyone tick.

Lisa,( Its midnight, and I did not make it to
Tucson…sob…sob…sob…) Topanga, CA USA

Hi Lisa and others;

Why would I keep secrets? If they aren’t as good as I am, what good
will it do them? If they are as good as me, then they must have
worked as hard at it as I have so they deserve it. Let them fight
over my kingdom, to the victor go the spoils. Hahaha.

David L. Huffman, wicked old veteran of the trade.


Interesting question. I will always share info on suppliers of tools,
findings, gem dealers, ect.

Technical info is shared completely. Most techniques are shared.
There are some areas where I have spent quite a long time to
develop, and there was quite a learning curve to get the results I
wanted. This info I do not share. This mostly related to design and
surface textures I have developed.

I have taken many classes to learn techniques, I spent time and money
to learn. I spent a lot of time working to use the techniques to not
look like the work of the person I studied with. I do metalwork for
a living, their are people who teach, and they make money for what
they do. Some of what I learned I would have to demonstrate and I
would not have the time to do that.

A long time ago, in a far away land, I did leather work for a living.
I would travel 130 miles to sell and consign my work where there was
a market for what I did. Where I lived there was little or no work.
At one point in time I traded room and board to a friend that could
not find work for labor helping me to do leather work, teaching them
techniques I developed that no other leatherworker was using.

This technique made my work stand out and I directly benefited as my
work sold in the midst of all the competition in the San
Francisco-Sausalito area, in the early 70’s, and I had a steady
supply of income that would just cover food, rent, and a little bit
of whatever. I shared whatever I had, as some of us did.

Things went well for a while, and then my friend wanted to get paid
over and above what she was getting, and I explained that there was
nothing to pay her with after I paid rent, utilities, food, and
whatever. She moved out, and several weeks later, as I went to the
city to sell my wares, oh what did I see, but a knock-off of what I
did. It was in a store I did not do business with, but it was in the
front window!

Having a retail store, doing custom and art jewelry presents
different areas of problems. The person that shops us for designs and
asks for sources so they can copy us, buy like us, to compete with us
gets lots of generalities. Jewelry students asking about techniques
get referred to a local college that will teach them that, and
jewelry teacher asking how I did something got a weather report.

I do have similar feelings as Lisa, teach and it my be better, or
worse, and selling it presents it’s own learning curve and a person
has to be persistent and determined to go through the pleasure/pain I
went though to finally achieve lower middle class with no retirement.

In this day and age, and at my age, I believe in our current society
knowledge is power, and I am not giving it away.

Some people have been generous with me and some have not been. And
although my feelings have gotten hurt, I chose to admire those
people for what they had accomplished and respected their position.

When someone asks me to share info, it is on a person by person or
situation by situation basis. I think about how I feel about it,
would I be more comfortable sharing and making a connection, or will
I possibly regret being so open. I have to know I can have no
expectation of the other person I share with.

Richard Hart

I do not keep trade secrets. Anybody who wants to know how I make
what I make can ask me. If they live nearby, they can come over for
food and cerveza and I’ll SHOW them how I do what I do. [certain
restrictions do apply- I am speaking of people who work with metal
themselves. I would not have any conversations with “designers” who
operate sweatshops here or abroad. ]

At the same time, I must confess that my jewelry business is not the
model of financial success, but this has to do with marketing issues,
not a deluge of wanna-be art jewelers knocking off my stuff. In fact,
they would have a tough time knocking off my stuff, because I do
mostly one-of-a-kind and do not generally use calibrated stones. And
I evolve, so they will be shooting at a moving target :wink:

I might be better off keeping trade secrets, who knows, but it would
not be consistent with my character or my philosophy of life.

George Bernard Shaw said

  "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange
  these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But
  if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these
  ideas, then each of us will have two ideas." 

Thus, openness and sharing of is not giving something
away, but participating in mutual enrichment.


Are you open and transparent about how you make things, and who
your suppliers are? Or do you keep that a secret?

I think the problem with this thread on Orchid is that most of the
Orchid community is here because they DO believe in sharing
about all things. So probably just about everyone will
answer that they do share their On the other hand, I
know from past discussions about this on Orchid that many people on
Orchid have worked with people who wouldn’t share any
IMHO I don’t think anyone benefits from keeping “trade” secrets and
it IS one of the reasons I do participate here. However with the
growth of the internet and the massive amount of information
available now to anyone because of it, I think we can look at most of
the “hiders” as being the dinosaurs they are, since just
about anything is available over the internet.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Hi Lisa:

I used to be part owner in a bead store. For many reasons, the
partnership ended very badly. Court and lawyers and all that. I
rarely talk about it. My former partners guarded their suppliers very
carefully and would get extremely upset if they found that someone
was trying to find out where they shopped. I, of course, know who all
the suppliers were.

Now that we are separated and I won my battle in court, I am
thinking on a new dilemma. I am a teacher now and I still use some of
the same suppliers I used when I was with the bead store. It’s my
responsibility (as an instructor) to provide my students with sources
right? but, we all know I am going somewhere quickly in a handbasket
if I intentionally give all the students the bead store’s suppliers,
right? what to do, what to do.

My point is, no matter how much you think you are keeping things a
secret, there is always someone out there who will have the upper
hand and, maybe, give your secrets away.

On the bead store thing. I will take the high road, as I have up
until now. Even though I remain very angry with them, I won’t be
intentionally mean (tempting as it maybe).

Best Regards,
Kim Starbard
Cove Beads

“Secrets die with them to the grave”, I stay away from those who are
so-o secretive. Where would we all be, if a few of us were not so
open. I always remember a wax setter had a cloth around his bench so
no one would see how he does his so secretive wax setting, big deal,
eh? I had great thread some time ago on this Orchid about sharing
some of MY secrets in diamond setting. MY teacher scolded me for
telling all, his loss is my gain. I am still writing articles on
setting, having done 4 DVD’s on diamond setting, why? Everyone MUST
know how to do what others want to know. It’s a gift to teach,
write, and “show and tell”.

Still some setters I know refuse blatantly to explain how they do
some techniques in setting. WHY?. As for sharing we must
all share this passion. That is just why I teach at my community
college, just on stone setting. Sorry for my inner feelings on my
passion of teaching.

We, on Orchid must be here for all, when we are gone (G-d forbid)
others must know how we did our fabrication. I showed a designer how
I did my “Fish-Tail” and Arte Deco, “Cut-Down Setting”, he hasn’t
seen this method in years, up close. Sharing? Yes, I was letting him
know that it still can be achieved…Gerry! who is till sharing

Dear Lisa, I have been extremely lucky ever since I started making
Jewelry. The schools I attended and the wonderful teachers I had were
all so giving of their and of themselves. The same with
all the workshops and courses. Since they all helped me,I have done
the same with my jeweler friends and anyone else asking for my help.
I do know there are people that will not tell you a thing because
they are afraid you will copy a technigue or anything else they do.
My friend Daniel Spirer says there is nothing original in this world
and just go on doing what you do and don’t waste your time worrying
about others.

In my nursing days the drs.who were the best were always teaching
and the ones who thought they were the best were the loud mouths. So
my dear keep on doing what you do and feel good about yourself. I
knew you would coming from

Louise Gerstenblatt

Hello, everybody,

Personally, I don’t keep “trade secrets.” First of all, it’s not
fair to my gem dealers/suppliers to pick and choose their customers
for them.

Second of all, the internet makes any attempt at secrecy pretty
pointless. This isn’t medieval Venice, after all.

Lastly, I in my humble opinion, I feel such behavior is petty. If
withholding is the only way someone feels they can
maintain “success” or “superiority,” then their product must not be
"all that."

Obviously, there are exceptions. The one that comes to mind
immediately is the woman who figured out how to put scented oils
inside gemstones in such a way that she didn’t need to cork the
stone, and the oil didn’t leak out. Lapidary Journal did a story on
her some years ago. I can understand keeping this technique a secret

  • she did a lot of experimenting and research to grab a niche.

This is different, however, than telling someone where you shop.
Playing the “I-know-something-you-don’t-know” game is kind of an
immature way to run a business. In my humble opinion.

Susannah Page-Garcia
Moonshine Metal Creations

I don’t keep secrets, I teach my apprentices how to do my job and
who my suppliers are.

Sam Patania, Tucson

I always share all that I know with anyone who asks. In fact I
probably even share my knowledge with those who are not interested.

I am know as “grandpa field trip” by my kids and grandkids. When I
am with them everything around us leads to a field trip. How ants dig
their holes, seeds pods get scattered why the moon has giant doodle
bugs that make their craters on the surface. A field trip for those
of you who do not know what a doodle bug is. They are nasty little
bugs with crab like claws who dig holes in sand. The hole is a cone
shape. When an ant falls in the hole he cannot get out. All his
crawling just causes him to slide down to where the doodle bug is
waiting. The doodle bug grabs him and disappears under the sand.

Back to the subject. I have been burned several times. I taught a
person to do copper tooled pictures and even loaned him my tools.
The next thing I know he was visiting my customers offering to
undercut me. He did not last long.

There is the story of a netsuke carver (small tobacco pouch ivory
fobs) who first developed a way to round the inside of the holes used
to tie the pouch cords to the netsuke. In the past the carvers would
drill two holes into the ivory at angles. The intersection where the
holes met was always a sharp edge. The carver who discovered a way to
round off the sharp edge was on his death bed before he told his son
how to do it.

What really irritates me is the person who asks all sorts of how to
questions which I answer then when I ask him a how to question he
changes the subject and fades away

Anyone for a field trip?

By the way the Orchid dinner was a great success. Go Orchid.

Lee Epperson

Lisa & all…

Hmmm… this is a good question.

I do and I don’t. Does that make sense?

I share a lot of sources with a lot of people. I have shared a lot
of sources with the forum–when I could, you guys are mostly far
beyond me!

In fact, I just received a thank you note from another jewelry
design team thanking me for being open and generous with my sources
and helping them get in to and plan a recently successful trade show.
They are friends of mine and I trust them to act in a responsible
manner when dealing with my sources. We in fact talk a lot about how
some people are not open with their sources. I respect that as well,
people have their reasons for sharing/ not sharing.

When I do trade shows, Cal Gift in particular, we get a lot of
designers snooping around the show. Every time I do that show I get
numerous designers asking me where I get my stones, who does my
beading, who does my casting. I do not share at the
shows, I do not think it’s the proper venue for sharing. I have paid
my $$ to have my booth, I have worked incredibly hard to design, and
set up my booth. I did not put time and effort into doing a trade
show to give out to anyone who asks for it. My focus is
to sell my product to retailers, and I feel it’s unprofessional for
a “visitor” to ask for at that venue. At the beginning I
did, but then felt like it was a one-way street and stopped. Seems a
little bitchy of me, but I got tired of being pumped for info.
Sharing is one thing, I began to feel that this wasn’t sharing it
was only giving…

However, in our down-time, I do share sources, with other vendors
that are forthcoming with their as well. Other vendors
are very tight-lipped. Once again, their choice, but it is a two-way

Sharing sources has come back to bite me in the ass on one than more
occasion, especially with casters and other labor. Stone dealers, no
problem… they are pretty much open to the public in downtown Los
Angeles. But, a lot of the casters and setters work on word of
mouth. The smaller guys are hesitant to open their triple bolted
security gates to strangers without introductions, even youngish
women. Trust me, I’ve tried!

Casters and setters are the sources I get asked about the most as
you can’t find them at a bead or gem show! I use mostly small
casters/ setters in downtown Los Angeles, so small that they don’t
even ship, you have to show up in person to pick up your work. And
there are usually only 2-3 people working in the shop, very small
operations. In the past, I was very open with sharing these casters
with others, especially friends that were just starting out. Here are
some problems that have arisen:

  1. The designer that I recommended was inexperienced with wax
    carving and was submitting waxes that were very difficult to cast.
    The designer would argue or get mad with the caster and accuse the
    caster of ruining their waxes. This would get back to me from both
    the designer and the caster and they would try to put me in the
    middle to help resolve the argument. Very awkward situation.

  2. A designer friend cast a 14K ring- about 1 oz of gold, asked for
    the stones to be pave set and when she picked up the ring refused to
    pay for the casting and the setting because she claimed it was not
    pave. It was in fact, pave. She wanted something different- flush
    set, I think. But she was dead set that the setting she wanted was
    pave and was very angry that they didn’t do what she wanted.

  3. A designer was unhappy with the work, turn-around time or
    something else the caster did/did not do correctly, ran up a bill
    and then wouldn’t pay.

  4. A designer gave out the source to a friend of hers that has no
    clue how to make jewelry and this lady proceeded to try and start
    her own knock-off jewelry business using my sources, bringing
    pictures from magazines in and having the jeweler/caster/setter copy
    the items from the magazine with small variations. Once again getting
    pissed off that they “did not listen to her” and weren’t doing their
    job properly because they gave her what she asked for. She had no
    experience with technical terms. She threatened to report him and
    his staff to the authorities (I don’t think they were all working
    legally in the states) because she claimed she was loosing money on
    this sale as the piece has already been sold to one of her “clients”
    (aka friends) and they wouldn’t redo it for free.

  5. A designer ordered a huge order before Christmas, asked to have
    it rushed and never picked it up. The caster had some problems with
    her before so he was making her leave a deposit when she ordered. The
    original check bounced and the credit card he had on file was

These experiences (over a 5 year period) were enough to make me not
give out these sources to anyone who asks. I am very cautious now.
Every single one of these problems ended up back in my lap… The
caster: “Could you call her and tell her to pay me?” On my next
visit: “Have you talked to her yet, she hasn’t paid me” On the next
visit: “I’ve left 10 messages and she won’t call me back, can you
try and talk to her?”

The designer: “He messed up my original piece I’m never using him
again and I’m not paying him for anything that I owe him in the past
because I have to redo the piece” In this case the flask blew- a very
unfortunate accident…

And on and on and on…I have had to listen to people whine,
complain, and blame me for recommending someone that they had a bad
experience with, or someone who wouldn’t pay or for someone’s friend
that I don’t even know- all because I introduced someone in the
past. As if I am responsible for the actions of others. Well, I was
beginning to suspect that I kinda was. By recommending designers to
use my sources that are normally found by word of mouth I was
vouching for them. The casters/bench workers felt as if I was saying
"This is an upstanding person who has experience and knows what
they’re doing. They will be a pleasure to work with, I give them my
stamp of approval" And when things don’t work out, it ends up being a
bad reflection on me.

I even have one caster who said to me, “Do not introduce me to
anyone who has not been working with a caster for at least five
years. I am not interested in working with inexperienced people

So, this is why I don’t share these sources. But can you blame me?

I will share Sierra-Pacific casting up in Northern Cal. They are a
larger company, mail service and less personal than these guys I
deal with down here. I don’t think they will hold anything against me
if someone acts unprofessional. Also, I don’t visit with them twice a
week when I’m picking up/dropping off waxes/castings and share
coffee and cookies, like I do with my guys down here. I don’t think
I’ll get an earful over tea with Sierra Pacific if someone acts out!

Lisa, I don’t think you were expecting this much of a rant when you
posted this question, did you? I didn’t when I started writing!

I find my life a lot calmer and happier when I choose to be helpful
rather than guarded and worrying about who is going to screw me over.

Please bear with me sharing a little. I have been a court reporter
for 25 years, beginning in the time when all reporters were unified
to the same goal, customer service and producing the best product we
could and helping each other do the same, through contracting where
everyone tried to undercut everyone else by making deals and lowering
prices so much so as to work for nearly nothing to get the large
contracts, back to happily referring clients to other available
reporters when I wasn’t available to do the assignment so the client
received service, and doing honest work for reasonable pay.

I guess my rambling point is that, in effect, karma does bite you in
the butt if you are so busy watching it that you lose sight of the
bigger picture, the future and the surrounding community. It’s a
definite give and take. I just believe in the giving (sharing of
info) and I definitely don’t focus on the taking (will someone knock
off my stuff - with me, not likely!). I just enjoy the joy of
creating and sharing and believe everyone’s art has a place in
someone’s heart.

May be a little simple, but I sleep very well at night.




How do you intend to get more people into the actual fabrication of
jewelry if you do not share? Now I do pay (in my opinion not enough)
for classes right now and I would gladly pay for every bit of
but I also too would share anything I have learned on my
own to help others.

If we do not support each other we will not survive as craftsmen and
artists. The global market has room enough for us all. I do not feel
that I am in competiton with other jewelers so maybe it is just my
attitude. When there is one bookstore it attracts a few customers,
but a whole street of book shops brings in droves of people.Because
no two businesses have the same things. No too of us has the same
feel to our jewelry and I think that the world market is bettered by
diversity and the more the better for us all!

Teri Davis
working on a new site

well i can see how you would be in favor of others telling you thier
" secrets, gerald you have the means to publish and mass market the
! i wont go so far as to assume you are making money at
this but if you arent i am sure somone else must be ! i am quite
positive those with secrets have diverse reasons other than pettiness
and refuse to be intimidated for not telling these “secrets”. perhaps
some folks in some circumstances find it annoying that others refuse
to make the effort to think thier way out of a paper bag best regards


A few years ago I passed by a dry cleaner and tailor shop, and there
was a jacket in the front window which was under construction. I
stood there and studied it for a while, and noticed they were using a
technique in the collar facing I was not familiar with. I went in to
ask about it, and the tailor practically chased me out of the shop.
You would have thought I was after national security secrets!

Craftsmen who keep their secrets and take them to their graves are
doing the world an injustice, and far too much knowledge is lost that
way. I applaud Orchid and its forum for sharing. We are
preserving techniques and knowledge that might otherwise be

Janet Kofoed

I am a teacher now and I still use some of the same suppliers I
used when I was with the bead store. It's my responsibility (as an
instructor) to provide my students with sources right? but, we all
know I am going somewhere quickly in a handbasket if I intentionally
give all the students the bead store's suppliers, right? what to do,
what to do. 

Hmmm…when I have taught classes, I gave a list of virtually all of
my local suppliers plus the catalogue suppliers in the form of a
hand-out sheet to my students. I will give them out of town suppliers
too if they ask. I don’t feel as though I “own” the suppliers, or
that anyone else does. In fact, I feel somewhat that it is my duty to
pass on more business to them, so that these suppliers can improve
and expand, and in some cases, stay in business. I also notify the
suppliers ahead of time, that I am doing this, in case they do not
want to deal with students.Some large wholesalers don’t wished to be
bothered. Others will give the students special consideration. (also,
at some suppliers, the students can’t buy unless they get a resale #,
and I note this on the handout, although I have one supplier that has
me tell them to come, but to let them know that they are my
student…and to bring cash. I have made out an, “I am in Lisa’s
class”, card for students to show to that supplier )

When I pass around the handout, I tell the students that as part of
their class assignment, they have to come up with three more class
content specific suppliers, either in town or out to share with the
class. The internet is a biiig place… I give them two weeks to
do this. Many bring in more than three. We then make a revised list
and pass it out. Of course many “new” sources are overlaps, but they
do manage to find new ones. I also tell the students that knowledge
is to be shared, and if I ever hear of them not passing on what I
have told them, then I will never share another thing with them, and
would be severely disappointed with them…besides as my kid would
say, they would get, “the look”. Don’t wanna do that…lol.

The result is, most only make jewelry as a hobby, or just took the
class as a lark, and some never make another thing. The very few that
go on, are always open with me and others about techniques and
suppliers. An added bonus, is because the suppliers know I am doing
this, boy do I get preferential treatment when buying from them, and
I have great supplier lists.

I do have one or two suppliers of very unusual stuff, (usually Native
American),that will only take on new customers with a personal
recommendation,(meaning, you are truly a close friend of the person
you are recommending to them), as their supplies are very limited,
and they prefer to deal in cash and only with very familiar
customers that are also their friends to avoid problems. I do not
give those out, but that is due to the supplier’s preference. In
those few cases, (three) I do try to find a similar supplier.

Share the bead suppliers. They are not, “the bead store’s suppliers”
The suppliers are in business independent of that particular bead
store. Help to keep them that way.

Lisa, ( I leave for Philly and Baltimore, on Valentine’s day)
Topanga, CA USA

Hi Lisa,

If everyone kept their ‘trade secrets’ how would any of us learn
anyhting? I consider myself fortunate at having been born into an
area of extremely friendly people and having pursued a career which
took me into very many interesting places. In most of these places I
met people doing jobs which I found fascinating and who were pleased
to discuss with me how they did things and why. A couple of ‘for
instances’ from the past were a mark maker, now sadly long dead, who
made marking punches by hand and who I spent many happy hours with.
He had worked through the age of the great steamship companies where
each company had its own complex crest marked on all the cutlery and
flatware made by the many local Sheffield cutlery and silversmithing
firms he worked for. He also made similar complex design punches with
pictures of elephants, tigers etc. incorporated into them for the
marking of the opulent silverware ordered by Indian and Arabian
potentates and also ‘signature stamps’ exactly replicating the
person’s signature which were used by the British Admiralty
inspectors. All these punches were made without the use of machinery

  • all being done by the skillful use of files and gravers only. I
    once sat with him while he made me a complete set of alphabet punches
    in 1 1/2 hours! Another place I regularly spent time in was a glass
    engravers where two men, working with nothing more than large
    polishing spindle motors with tiny copper disks fitted to the ends,
    converted plain lead crystal bowls, glasses and goblets into
    scintillating works of art with personalised crests and coats of arms
    incorporated into all-over designs. My third most favourite place was
    a musical instrument restorers where two brothers sold and restored
    all types of musical instruments - one doing all the brass and
    woodwind instruments and the other all the string instruments - here
    again I learned by looking and asking questions not only how to
    repair these specific instruments but techniques which are applicable
    to many aspects of metal and fine woodwork. In all these places I was
    not only tolerated but welcomed (as long as I volunteered to put the
    kettle on and make a cup of tea for everyone as soon as I arrived!)
    and, in each place, I was encouraged to take up the tools there and
    then, and try out the techiques we had discussed. During a few weeks
    of contract work in an aircraft factory I learned all the rudiments
    of CNC programming by talking to the machine operators and, when I
    was just newly married and setting up my first home (many years
    ago!!), a discussion with my mother’s piano tuner got me a series of
    invitations to his home where he taught me all I needed to know about
    piano action repairs to be able to completely strip and restore an
    old piano I had been given, including making a complete new set of
    springs and dampers - all freely given with no strings
    attached (no pun intended ;o)).

Now, in the course of my work for others, I find that giving them
the on just what I have done and how it was accomplished
actually increses their appreciation and brings more business from
their friends and contacts. It may seem hard to believe, but, in the
last 6 - 9 months, every single customer has given me more than I
have asked for my work and I am certain that this is just because I
have ‘involved’ them in it!

Best Wishes
Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK

I do not think knowledge is worth having unless you share it.

Lloyd Butterfield.

Just out of curiosity, what trade secrets have been discussed on
Orchid that anyone can think of? I wouldn’t know a trade secret off

The emporium for custom cut gemstones!
(soon to be anyway, still under development)