Project Management for Jewelers

I came up with this system to solve some production and prioritizing
problems at a small custom jewelry store. We used this system
mainly for custom jobs, however it can be adapted for repair or
stock production as well. The shop had 3-4 employees, depending on
the time of year, as well as some out-of-house work (hand engraver,
laser welder, etc). The way our store worked is certain employees
would have their aspect of every job. For instance, one person
would carve a wax, one would polish it, and one would solder in
heads or fabricate parts, and one would do stone setting.
Therefore, a custom job would pass through many hands, and a small
problem in planning could grow into a finger pointing fiasco. Also,
prioritizing would be an issue, people would work on what interested
or challenged them, and leave some jobs hiding in the back of their
box. When a customer would call, often no one would know where the
job was, and we would scramble to figure out what stage it was in.
We usually gave a turnaround time of 4-6 weeks to a customer, but
that was a little long and vague for what was our largest portion of

I no longer work at that store, having struck out on my own as a
full time wax carver to the trade. However, I still use this system
for my own organization. It is amazing how planning something out,
and putting it on paper, leaves me to relax and know that if I just
follow simple steps, the job will get done on time.


The first step in Project Management is planning. One person usually
did this; the manager would be a good choice. Perhaps one could have
a shop manager as opposed to a sales manager because the person doing
this has to have a firm grasp on all aspects of producing a piece of
jewelry. This needs to fit the particular type of work/shop
environment. Every time a custom job was taken in, it was brought to
me for Project Management. I looked over the order thoroughly, found
any missing such as size, width, # of stones etc. If a
scale drawing was not made, I usually made one to find if it was
realistic. The more complex the design, the more important this stage
is. This is the time to get all the input from employees, boss, etc.
This is also the time to hash out every conceivable problem or
disagreements on how to carry out a job. Diagramming

After the order is completely understood, the Diagramming takes
place. I used an 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper cut in half lengthwise. It
has the customer’s name, phone #, metal, size, in date, and due date.
Job # could go on there if desired, as well as price of job and
deposit, if any. This sheet is now your Progress Sheet. Then, the job
gets broken down into its steps.

Sample job #1

Jane Doughnut wants a platinum ring with her center stone, and you
provide side stones. The ring will be carved in wax, sent out for
casting, and then stones will be set in your shop.

Sample job #2

John Applesauce wants a pendant for her wife. The design is one you
have a mold for, but to fit a different center stone. You need to
find the stone, show the customer, and then adapt the wax model to
fit. The pendant will be cast in 18k. He also wants a 23" chain to
go with, so you will need to order one and shorten it.

Sample job #3

Alice Daydream wants a Stuller ring mounting with her Amethyst set
in the center. Her stone came out of a family heirloom ring and
needs repolishing. You need to send the stone out, while ordering
the mounting, and then set the stone.

As you can see, each job has different steps, and will pass through
multiple hands before it is completed. Even if you do everything
yourself, it still could use a Project Management system.

The first step is to break down each job into every step you can
think of. Either every time the job changes hands, or every time
the job stops, such as customer approval or awaiting parts.

The next step is diagramming. Some Project Management systems use
different shapes for different people, some use different colors.
Some parts of a project can occur simultaneously and some can only
be done in a certain order. See diagrams.

Note how boxes with steps are connected with a line. These show
successive steps. Other boxes are not connected, showing that they
can occur simultaneously.

One benefit of the Project Management system is that you are forced
to think a job all the way through. You troubleshoot every aspect
of the job, so that later down the road, you can’t say, “oh, I
thought that was supposed to be fabricated”, or “oh yeah, I forgot
to order that chain”.

Calendar Planning

The next step in the system is Calendar Planning. This will allow
you to set a firm due date, and to know that you can keep the
promise. Usually, when I would take in a job, I would tell the
customer that I would get back to them with a firm due date after I
completed the Project Management work.

The timetables you will use will be unique to you. You should have a
good idea about how long certain things should take, for instance
platinum casting 10 days, stone cutting 7 days, ordering parts 3
days, etc=85 Usually I would give each employee one week to complete
their task. You will notice in the samples I have a range in the
date. This window will vary depending on the job. It is helpful to
have a calendar in front of you so you can work around weekends,
holidays, and employee schedules. If you always order parts on a
certain day, or you always cast on Wednesdays, then the Progress
sheet should reflect this in your dates.

Important note:

I start the calendar process with a pencil!!! This allows you to
make the changes necessary to arrive at your target due date. This
is really where the beauty of the system comes into play. Say you
promise that platinum job for 4 weeks. After you go through the
planning stage, you realize that gives you less than one week to get
the stones in, carve the wax, and get customer approval. The
casting will take 10-14 days including shipping time, and then you
have 1 week to polish and set the stones. This may be a tight
schedule! It’s best to think about these things at the outset than
to run into it on week 3! You may choose to extend the deadline, or
you may let the customer know that she will have a very small window
to look at the wax. You might even set an appointment for the wax
viewing to assure that the job stays on track.

The Calendar Planning portion also can give you an overview of an
employee’s schedule. If you color code, you can see at a glance who
will be swamped in a particular week, or what problems may occur if
someone is going to be out of town. Implementation of System

SO, you have the sheets filled out for your jobs, now what??? I
found it most helpful to have these sheets out in the open where
everyone could see them. We used the back of a door; at home I use
a section of my office wall. You could use a 3 ring binder, but in
my experience out of sight, out of mind. Every time a step gets
completed, you mark it off, and the date it was done. If you check
“the wall” daily, you can catch jobs falling behind, stay on top of
“parts needed” and make sure you have enough casting metal for all
your jobs. Employees can look for their color or shape, and know
what they may have coming up. Prioritizing becomes about due dates,
not about desires. Once a job is completed, you take the sheet off
of “the wall” and put it in a folder. For the bored manager, one
could actually audit and gain from these sheets. You
could find out that it takes more like 16 days to get platinum
castings back instead of the 10-14 you thought. Or that your
average turnaround time is 3.5 weeks instead of 4-6. Or one
employee is the root of slow job problems. All of this is valuable
to help future jobs move more smoothly.

Post-it notes should be sending me a cut for the next suggestion; I
am addicted to the things. I would set up a series of post-its on
the top of the job bag. It would stay with the job, and have a tear
off dates with what needs to be done. So you would start from the
due date and work backwards. Then, when each person would get the
job, they would have their due date in front of them. You could
also photocopy reduce the Progress sheet and attach it to the job

There are many different ways to implement the system, how you
choose is up to you. The point is to make it work for you.


I hope this was valuable to you. It is my goal to just
share a system that worked for me. If it can work for you, great!
Please note that any new system can encounter resistance. One of my
employees still could not remember to cross things off as he did
them, even after a year of the system. As the manager, I just kept
on him. The owners of the store were a little hesitant at first, but
now have kept the system going for 4 years after I left. They still
tell me how good it is, and have raved about how they no longer
stress about jobs lingering in the back of a box with no clue on the
progress. Now when customers call, they just go over to the board,
check the name and give an instant progress report. So find a way
to make it work and keep at it. I came up with this system about 7
years ago, and still use it in my own business.

Mary Linford
Blue Star Wax Carving
PO Box 11692
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110