Selling only original designs?

I am wondering if anyone in orchid land is making a living selling
100% original designs, that is no commissions or repairs. If anyone
is managing to do this I would love to hear what your approach is.

RR Jackson

Um…yeah…I make a comfortable though not a Bill Gatsian level of
living. All of my work is original, and the only repair work I do is
on my own pieces. I do make some commissions, but they are along the
line of: “Ooooh…I loved that blue ring of yours that my friend
Jolene bought. Can you make something like that for
me?”…or…“Here’s the ring that my ex-mother in law gave me. I
hate it. Can we make something with the stones?”. Then I do sketches
and we come to an agreement, but it is always my design and my

Was it your understanding that, “commission”, meant the customer
saying, “do whatever I tell you to, in whatever style I am paying
you to do it in”? Unless they love your style, that doesn’t work. For
the most part, I make what I like to make and sell it. If it doesn’t
sell after a while, it is probably for good reason, or I have put it
into the wrong market. I guess doing it this way works, at least it
has for me. Its the only way I have ever worked. Sixteen years now
and counting…lol…but then maybe no one told me that doing it my
way wouldn’t be any way to make a living.

Truth is, I just started making stuff and people started buying it.
Wish I could sound more practical, or even more calculating about
it, but then that’s just the way I work. Some far more successful
friends have unsuccessfully attempted to verbally beat me about the
ears on occasion, in the hopes that I might become more driven, but
it seems to be against my nature.

Did you think that making a living this way was an impossibility, or
at least unlikely? Well…there are a thousand ways to…excuse the
expression…skin a cat…my way is just one.

Lisa, (Off to Phoenix again next week. Pity, as the weather here is
lovely for a change.) Topanga, CA USA

I cant say that 100% of my time is spent doing custom. but to say 90%
is accurate. the other 10% is managing my studio. I have three
employees that take care of the repairs. I do prefer to only work on
the custom pieces. I spent many years mostly repairing which at the
time paid the bills. but now I only work on custom pieces
(specifically redesigning were I melt down the clients old gold.).
this luxury of only doing custom work takes many years to build up.
patience is very important. by the way my studio carries no inventory
and never has, we are an all service studio, and I am only open to
the public four days a week, and I do not answer the phone during the
day I return all calls in the evening. I prefer to run a professional
business not a retail store, it builds more respect with the client.
the hours and the phone thing were the best thing I ever did and it
was the recomendation of the great advice givers from the ORCHID

thank you,


I’m not exactly sure what your definition of original designs is. All
my work is from my original designs. I do repair work on anything I
have made–and never on a piece of jewelry I haven’t made. I do
commissions as long as the design is mine–with input from the person
asking for the commission.

What exactly do you want to know?


Dear Freak Style,

I was able to generate 100% of my income from original designs only
as a freelance jewelry designer. And that income was only a
middle-class income. (no six figure salary, insurance or 401k) I
worked on contract and would receive a flat fee for my work, no
royalties, no name recognition, and no percentage of the profit.
That is standard business practice.

This meant that I was producing CAD/CAM technical drawings in Rhino
with Flamingo illustrations, or hand drawn technicals and
illustration for multiple clients. There was no overhead like
traditional jewelry making, so that helped. No actual jewelry
(models or solid prototypes) where made by me.

It was very hard work, because you had to produce literally hundreds
of original designs that where not too unusual or difficult to
manufacture with little or positive feedback from
clients. Getting clients to pay was also especially difficult.

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext. 228

I have only ever sold my own original designs. I also have
mass-produced lines which “pay the bills” per-say while allowing me
to make more intricate one -of -kind pieces. As to repairs, I give
life time free repairs to clients who are repeat customers. For the
first time this year I made equal to what I was making working as a
project manager many moons ago. I’m not rich, but I am happy.

I just wanted to say DITTO to Mathew’s point about the evening phone
calls. I struggled with this for a long time and when I finally
switched to only taking evening calls it removed a lot of stress from
the hours in which I spent ‘working’. Any customers who enquired about
the change were simply informed thus - “I can either spend my more
productive hours answering the phone or creating more pieces for my
clients”…they were very understanding.

Excellent post Mathew.

Several people have asked me why I asked the question about whether
anyone is making a living selling only original designs and whether
I had any specific questions. The only reason I ask is because I
really wasn’t sure if its possible to make a living without doing
repairs and that is the way that I hope to make my living eventually.
I really don’t like the idea of doing repairs as I feel there can be
too much risk involved. I have no training with stones - I wouldn’t
know how to recognise what stones are, point out identifying
features to the customer so they know they’ve not been switched or
how to guess which stones are too risky to work with. Besides that, I
just generally don’t want to take on responsibility for items that
belong to someone else and particularly for items that have value to
the customer other than financial - if something goes wrong on
something I am making from scratch it’s entirely my problem… but if
something goes wrong with something that belongs to someone else from
the moment I start working on it then things could easily get
complicated. I don’t WANT to do repairs in the first place, and in
the second, I don’t want to have to deal with all the things that
can and do go wrong with these types of jobs.

I can either spend my more productive hours answering the phone or
creating more pieces for my clients.. 

Oh…and I never ever answer my studio phone, which is separate from
my house and cell phone. I screen the calls in the evenings, and
return calls in the AM. Otherwise, I would be on the phone all day
taking an order for one pair of earrings, or hearing about the new
baby…lol… Its either work or yak.

Lisa, (I have trapped 7 nasty little ground squirrels and
counting…they are all now happily living in the state park nearby)
Topanga, CA USA

It’s great that you know what you want to and don’t want to do. Have
you considered finding a really good trade shop that you can use for
repairs? You may not know everything that you need to know about
repairs, but working with a good jeweler can teach you a lot.

It’s also good that you know the downside of doing repairs, but there
are more advantages than just having an extra source of income.

I can either spend my more productive hours answering the phone or
creating more pieces for my clients.. 

I must be missing something here. Most businesses actually spend
money on advertising to get their phones to ring. They also want to
answer it within three rings for their customers. Hmm…Interesting
business model you have…

Two things come to mind when I read this, one is that learning
repair is one way to really round out the jewelry education. I think
I learned so much about jewelry and how to design by doing repair. I
learned how NOT to design by some of the repairs I have done. I
often got through a job by telling myself that if I could repair
this piece of crap I can do anything, so it became a point of pride.

The second thing is that knowing your limitations and having a
referal list to send people to will let your clients know you are
thinking more of their well being rather than your wallet. That is PR
that cannot be bought. The biggest bull shitters in this business,
the ones who give us all a bad name, will take on anything regardless
of their experience/competence level and let their pride get in the
way of treating the customer right. Another way of handling this is
to take in repair and have your own,in house, referal list where you
send repair to a trade shop, there by getting some of the income of
the repair but taking care of the customer yourself. I always tell
the customer whenI am going to do this, I also have worked with the
trade shop before ever sending the piece to them or have checked them
out by asking friends for referals in person or more often than not,
through Orchid. This will assure the client that you are taking care
of them and will shoulder the responsibility for the work the trade
shop is going to do. If you have clients who already trust you then
this is a way to build that relationship and still recieve some of
the repair income. Many people make most of their living from repair,
why not tap into that experience to take care of the client?

Sam Patania, Tucson

I must be missing something here. Most businesses actually spend
money on advertising to get their phones to ring. They also want
to answer it within three rings for their customers.
Hmm...Interesting business model you have... 

This defines where your business is.

Initially businesses use advertising to gain visibility to get
customers to notice and (hopefully) select them from a group of
options. At this stage customer service and response is very
important because customers have other choices.

Some businesses progress to become an unique offering. Then
advertising is replaced with reputation and word-of-mouth referrals.
If you are good the tables have shifted and you may be able to
actually select the clients you want to work with. Much better
business if you can afford to weed out the low end clients.

I must be missing something here. Most businesses actually spend
money on advertising to get their phones to ring. They also want
to answer it within three rings for their customers.
Hmm...Interesting business model you have... 

I operate the same way. I return calls at the end of the day, or the
following morning. And I do advertise to get the phone to ring! To
stop in the middle of everything to answer all calls is just not time
effective for me, though. I am a one-man retail studio (no
storefront, salespeople, etc.), and my customers are understanding of
this. And if there is an urgent need for a return call, I make it at
my “earliest convenience”, or pick up in the middle of screening
their message.

Matthew Crawford