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Market research for jewelry?

Who’s doing it? Where’s it published? Suzanne Wade, is this the sort
of thing you know about?

I make what I like to wear. (What do others do?) I’m a casual,
base-metals kind 'o gal, and I make mostly brooches but some pendants
and one style of ring. It’s beginning to dawn on me that I maybe I
should try making more expensive pieces. But, what? Rings? Necklaces?
Bracelets? Earrings? For men? What age group? What profession?
Socio-economic class? Do precious metals always command the higher
price? What do people buy when they buy jewelry: material or art? And
who’s buying what? Where do I find them? Etc.

Just a few random questions I found floating around my head while
doing a repetitive task.

Christine in sunny but cool Littleton, Massachusetts, US.

Christine, I can resonate with your “casual, base-metals” approach
to jewelry – that’s where I am, and it’s lots of fun. I, too,
basically make what I like, and I sell nearly everything I make
whenever I do an arts/craft fair. I make an effort to keep my prices
down because I remember when I was younger and couldn’t find any
jewelry I liked, or if I did, I couldn’t afford it.

The irony of this approach is that most of my business comes from
people who can (and do) afford the higher-end stuff. Possibly they
like my things (which tend to be abstract or non-representational in
design) because no one else around here is doing quite the same
thing. I also try to have a wide variety of things available –
rings, bracelets, earrings, ear-cuffs, pins, pendants, whimsical
bookmarks, barrettes, combs, etc.

Must you make your living at this? (I do not, although I do make
money at it.) At what kinds of venues do you sell? You might find
it fun to experiment with making some higher-end jewelry, but it
might cease to be as much fun as you’re having now! I’ve done a few
pieces in sterling silver, using the same designs I have for base
metal. I don’t think I will ever use gold, even though I love it,
because I like larger jewelry pieces. I always remember a friend in
Philadelphia whose husband gave her a lovely, wide-band, solid gold
bracelet, which she was afraid to wear because it had been so
expensive. I never have to worry about that, with my jewelry, and I
can wear it with jeans or on the few dressy occasions I may have.

Whether or not jewelry sells also depends on your location and very
much on the state of the economy there. Some years ago, customers
attending an arts/crafts fair in upstate NY told me that the same
type of modest brass barrette of an unoriginal style which I was
satisfied with selling at $12 was selling for $48 in an arts/crafts
fair they had attended in Washington, D.C., and that people had lined
up to get it at that price! However, the economy here wouldn’t bear
that price (not to mention that probably the entry fee to that fair
was a lot higher than mine, as well as associated expenses of room,
board, etc., which I did not have).

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman in chilly-but-warming Syracuse (NY)


I’m no expert on marketing, but I have learned a bit on the topic
from years of talking to people who are, so let me see if I can offer
some ideas.

First of all, there is some type of market for just about anything
anybody can dream up. Who would have imagined the popularity of a
battery-operated furry red monster doll, exploding candy, or that
all-time classic, pet rocks? The trick is bringing your product to
the attention of the people who might be interested in it. The answer
to “Do people buy X or Y” is usually, “yes.”

Which is, no doubt, why you were wondering about market research.
Some resources might be Jewelers of America, who if I remember
correctly does regular surveys about what types of jewelry are moving
up in popularity (If they don’t, they can almost certainly tell you
who does.) Keep in mind, though, that JA collects this information
from jewelry stores, who may or may not be selling to the same people
you would.

Reading fashion magazines will help you identify trends, such as
more or longer necklaces or earrings. Right now, for example, it
appears dangly earrings are making a comeback. A lower cost product
is more likely to be purchased in response to a fashion trend than a
very expensive one – no one wants their $10,000 piece of jewelry to
become passe in a season or two – which is why base metals have
frequently been used for costume/fashion jewelry. This is both a plus
and a minus for your work: it’s easier for customers to take a chance
on something that strikes their fancy, but it also means the market
is fairly price sensitive. Following trends can be tricky, since they
come and go quickly, but keep in mind that high-fashion trends
usually take several seasons to migrate out of the high-fashion
metropolitan areas and into more rural areas and less upscale

As for does jewelry made of precious metals always command a greater
price, in most cases, yes. For oen thing, material costs are higher:
if you have two identical pieces, one made in gold and the other in
copper, the materials cost of the one made in gold will be higher, so
the price will have to be higher. There is also greater market
resistance to paying a higher price for non-precious materials.
People expect to pay higher prices for gold, platinum, and diamonds
than they do for silver or base metal pieces. There is a perceived
value in precious metals that has nothing at all to do with the
workmanship of the piece.

That said, it is still possible for a non-precious piece to fetch
more than a piece made of precious metal based on the artistry
involved. For example, I have seen lampworked glass beads that fetch
$100 or more, while I have seen silver earrings selling for $15 or
$20. But if you are working in these materials, you must convince the
customer the artistry you bring to the materials is worth the price
you are asking. The same is true in gold and platinum of course: most
of what you pay for in any handcrafted jewelry is artistry and
craftsmanship. But because of the perceived value of precious
materials, people seem more willing to pay higher prices for pieces
made of these materials.

More men’s jewelry is sold than women’s jewelry, by a fairly large
margin. (JA has some figures on taht too, I believe.) However, there
is less competition for the men’s jewelry market, so it may be a
viable area for you to expand into. Read men’s magazines to discover
what fashionable men may be wearing, especially if you don’t have any
fashionable men in your life. (I have men in my life, but no
fashionable ones. :slight_smile:

The census bureau has a lot of demographics available
online at, so you can determine before you travel to a
new craft show what the general income of the area is, giving you
some idea what types of thing might sell best. If the craft show is
centered in an area where the median income is $20,000 a year, you
probably won’t sell too many $1,000 necklaces, for example. If there
are a lot of teenagers, you might want something that would appeal to
them. If there are a lot of families with small children, something
for “moms” might be a good seller.

There are probably some other sources of of this type
out there, but I can’t remember where at the moment. JA can probably
send you in the right direction, and if that doesn’t work, try
contacting one of the editors at the retail publications, such as
JCK, National Jeweler, or Professional Jeweler. Their readers are
intensely interested in this and they probably publish
some, and can probably direct you to more.

But if I may offer my own perspective for a moment, I would advise
you to consider this but don’t feel bound to create
pieces designed to appeal to the segments that sell most strongly.
You are not trying to sell tens of thousands of an item; you are
selling artistry and uniqueness. Trying to appeal to the mass market
can wash out some of the very qualities that are your strongest
selling points. If you doubt this, walk through the mall and look at
the jewelry offered. It all looks pretty much the same, doesn’t it?
That’s because the big jewelry companies rely heavily on market
research to tell them what to sell and for how much. The result is
that everyone is making and selling the same type of jewelry, and
selling it to basically the same groups of people. These guys will
win every time if you try and sell product intended to appeal to the
same sensibilities to the same market: their volume means they can
make the stuff for far, far less than you can. Your success will
depend on finding a niche market too small for the volume retailers
to bother with, but large enough to support you. And I’ve never seen
that in any market report I’ve come across, since the
folks that can pay big bucks for the research aren’t really
interested in those marginal niche markets.

I think your question is not, is there a market for base metal
jewelry – based on the long history of fashion jewelry the answer is
clearly yes – but is there a market for base metal jewelry at the
prices I need to charge to stay in business? The answer there is
probably yes too, but it is a much smaller market, and may be
difficult to reach effectively. You will need to figure out who this
customer is, and then rely on demographic data and from
craft shows and your own mailing list to figure out how to reach
them. Some of this will be trial-and-error, but your own past
successes can help.

Since you are already marketing jewelry, I would think the most
effective market research will probably come through active
test-marketing. In other words, make a couple of things and see if
they sell. Do you currently keep track of what types of jewelry sell
best for you? Do you sell more rings than earrings, for example?
Start with that and try making the new pieces in the
categories that have done best for you. Look at the styles that sell
best for you: what else can you design that might appeal to people
who bought that one? Keep track of what you sell, where, and to
whom. If you don’t already have a mailing list, start one. If you
sell at galleries or craft shows, find out who their customers are,
and keep track of what seems to sell best. Target those customers
with items designed to appeal to their sensibilities. This allows you
to build on past successes, rather than starting from scratch. It is
also how even the big companies do things, since even extensive
market research is limited in how much it can tell you.

If you have a mailing list, you can also conduct a survey, by phone
or by postcard. Ask past customers what type of product they’d be
interested in seeing more of – more rings, more earrings, etc.? It
may not be perfectly scientific and may have a high margin of error,
but it will probably provide you better, more targeted information
than a big all-industry report would.

And when you’re test marketing, figure out how much you want and
need to sell the pieces for, and price accordingly. DON’T price them
down on the assumption the market will not bear that price. The point
of test marketing is to find out if they will sell at the price you
establish; if they don’t, you can try another price, or move on to
different materials and other designs. If they do, you will have
discovered that your assumptions about what the market will bear are
incorrect. A higher price will cause you to lose customers, but if
you make more money, or even the same amount of money, on that
smaller number of customers, the higher price is usually the better

One of the most interesting experiments I’ve ever done was to send a
writer out to a public square in Philly, and to randomly ask
passersby which of four different rings they liked best. A surprising
number picked the avant-garde designer ring, although not as many as
picked the more mass-market pieces. Several of the group that picked
the avant-garde piece also commented they’d never seen anything like
it before. Most probably bought mass market jewelry because they
hadn’t come across anything more interesting – but they would buy
something more unusual if they were offered it. The experiment itself
wasn’t very scientific, to say the least, but it was interesting.

For more on developing a marketing plan – which is
really what you’re talking about here – I suggest you go to the
Small Business Adminsitration at and take advantage of
their business planning tutorial. One part of a business plan is a
marketing plan, and it will help you organize your thinking, and
identify specifically what you need to make good

If I can answer any specific questions about a specific type of
feel free to ask. After all, finding answers to
questions is what I do for a living!

Suzanne Wade
Phone: (508) 339-7366
Fax: (928) 563-8255

Dear Suzanne, As usual , you have brought up some well thought out
points, but I would have to take GREAT exception to your
generalization about more mens jewelry being sold than womens. In my
opinion, ladies jewelry outsells mens ten to one ! In my experience
men often wear NO jewelry whereas women feel naked without it. Some
women will wear as many as a couple of dozen pieces of jewelry at
once whereas when a man wears jewelry it is usually one to three
items. I would like to see some data on this one…Ron at Mills
Gem, Los Osos, CA