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Prototype for mass production

I have a situation that is a new one for me, and hope I can get some

An old friend of mine, a very creative person, has come up with an
idea for a mass-produced “jewelry” item that she thinks could sell.
This would be an item that would be sold in drugstores and the like
for under $20, really more of a utility item made “attractive”. She
has asked me to make a prototype. Now, I can make a “real” jewelry
version out of silver, but such an item would have to actually be
prototyped (in steel, I presume) by an industrial designer.

The main reason I’m interested at all, aside from the 20-year
friendship, is that there is an element of the idea that appeals to
me for art pieces. She has made me promise not to produce any such
pieces until she has patented or whatever her idea.

So, bottom line, has anyone had any vaguely related experience? In
such a process, would my version really have any function? Ideas are
the easy part, and it’s a lot of work from there to production and
distribution. I have my doubts-- but I want to use the aspect that
interests me. What am I, nuts? OK, thanks!



You raise some very interesting questions in your post. Looking at
one “scenario” might help you clarify your role in your mind and
communicate clearly with your friend.

If someone wants to build a house, they typically go to an
architect. They may say “I want a 4BR Tudor with 3 baths and great
windows facing toward the mountains.” They may even do a layman’s
sketch of the design they like, which could be quite detailed.

The architect then works to create a maquette (similar to your “real
version”) of the house, as well as detailed schematics of everything
from the load stresses to air circulation.

Once the client signs off on the architect’s design, it goes to the
builder / contractor. The contractor looks at the schematics and
determines precisely what materials and quantities are required to
make these designs reality, schedules the work, and builds the thing.
The contractor may also go back to the architect to point out design
"flaws" or inefficiencies and recommend changes to the design to
improve it.

Along the way, the process is usually collaborative, even though the
client is the one who “feels” that they have designed the house.

In your case, you need to clearly communicate roles and expectations
with your friend – there is nothing that can sour a 20-year
friendship more quickly than a dispute over business/money.

  • If your friend wishes to “hire” you as the architect for these
    pieces, then make sure it’s defined that way and that both of you
    understand exactly which decisions and activities are being done by
    whom – as well as who makes critical decisions about design,
    functionality, safety, etc.

  • If you wish to “license” part of the design for your own specific
    use, be really clear that she is granting you the right to do that,
    under which terms, and for how long (in writing).

For the type of thing you’re describing, my initial reaction was
that it seems like an ideal case for rapid-prototyping (CAD/CAM),
which can produce relatively quick and inexpensive working models of
the piece for trial and troubleshooting, prior to driving an entire
production run. That might make the development of an initial
hand-crafted model unnecessary – or not.

Do these thoughts help at all?

Karen Goeller
Hand-crafted artisan jewelry