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Starting a Production Line

Hi All!

Well, after trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to make a decent living
off my one-of-a-kind, hand-fabricated jewelry, I have decided to
branch out into a production line. My vision is to do a very
limited edition (say, 10-20 copies of each piece) and very high-end
line (quality would be similar to Cathy Waterman, but aesthetic is
totally different), which I would place in a luxury department store
(like Barneys) or boutiques (like Twist or Maxfield LA).

The only way that I can get inspired to do this is to design pieces
that I cannot do on my own–that is, using techniques that I am not
proficient in, having custom-carved/cut stones incorporated, etc…
So what I have at this point is a batch of drawings that I am really
excited about, but I have no idea where to go from here.

The way I’ve envisioned it is taking my drawings to one or more
contract services companies and having them produce sample pieces
from start to finish. Based on my current drawings, I’d need
services such as stone carving, wax model-making, casting,
fabrication, stone setting, and finishing services.

Does anyone have any thoughts or guidance on this process? Any
recommendations for manufacturers that work well with designers?
Any general thoughts on the feasibility of my initial vision?

I will be at the Tucson shows (and at the Orchid dinner) and would
GREATLY appreciate recommendations for good people/companies to talk

Thanks in advance for your input!

Amanda Linn

Dear Amanda - I would be thrilled to help another Orchid member ! I
have been carving wax models for 20+ years and would be happy to
talk with you on the phone.

Here is my website address: I can work from
rough sketches to detailed drawings with very specific dimensions and
measurements. Looking forward to hearing from you !

Margie Mersky

P.S. I do wax carving for other Orchid members !

Margie Mersky Custom Designs, INC
3947 Excelsior Blvd.
Suite 100
St Louis Park, MN

Not being able to produce ones work can become a problem the cost of
having high end pieces manfactured is real expensive and time
cunsuming. I have delt with department stores and they wont just buy
50000 dollars worth of jewelery from just any body as a matter of
fact they wont buy it at all you will have to consign it with them
and most work on a quarterly payment schedual it could be several
months before you ever see a dime if you are lucky. I talked to Saks
and they were intersted but I had to give it to them and not just
one store they wanted stuff for a whole region plus i was looking at
almost six months before getting any money plus with thier return
and exchange policy I was on the hook for everything for pretty much
forever. The big manufacturers give these stores real liberal terms
such as six months to pay fixed pricing on the gold full exchange on
unsold merchandise and deep discounts. If a piece doesnt sell in six
months in one of these stores it will never sell they try to turn
the merchandise at least three or four times per year so you would
also have to be able to keep up if your stuff was popular and if it
wasnt you are stuck with alot of expensive things. I dont persume to
know how much money you have to spend on this but it sounds like it
will take alot I have a friend who had similar asperations and used
her house as colateral to get a bank loan to make a line of high end
stuff she still has most of the stuff and owes the bank a ton of
money If you are not real wealthy Iwould use a bunch of credit cards
and max them out that way it is only your credit on the line not
your house or your life savings Their is alot of competition at the
high end and when you see peoples names asociatied with a brand of
jewelery it is not nessarily their pocket book bank rolling the
venture most of the time they are the designer but it is a large
company footing the bill for the manufactuing of the pieces. good
luck with your ideas they sound pretty cool.

Sincerely Kevin

Also a major concern with selling to Department stores, or Zales,
etc. is the risk of bankruptcy on their part !

I use to be a jewelry buyer for Bullock’s, (a division of Federated
Dept. Stores, now defunct.) I am quite familiar with the policies
which are stacked against the manufacturer.

I personally know several jewelry manufacturers, (from one-man shops
to ones with dozens of workers) who lost HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF
DOLLARS when their long-time clients went bankrupt.

David Barzilay
Lord of the Rings
607 S Hill St Ste 850
Los Angeles, CA 90014-1718

Hi Amanda,

I would have to second everything that Kevin has said about the high
cost of the project you are envisioning. Except the suggestion to
max out a bunch of credit cards!

The first sentence of your post really is one the that stuck in my

Well, after trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to make a decent
living off my one-of-a-kind, hand-fabricated jewelry, I have
decided to branch out into a production line.

If you are not able to be successful with the work you are currently
doing, would there be a better outcome simply from pouring a huge
amount of money intoa project like this? Are there some new
marketing strategies to consider that could help you sell more? Are
there alterations in your working process (like using some cast
elements along with the fabricated portions). Is there something you
can add to your work that will raise it’s perceived value without
adding too much cost and labor on your part? I’m just curious about
these questions, because I think you have to get really into the
details of what isn’t currently working for you to determine if
spending a few hundred thousand on this new project would really
have the outcome you expect.

You must also consider the fact that many of these stores have to be
courted over a very long time period. Yes, it is possible to read
many stories of designers selling on the street in NY and then being
discovered by Barney’s and then being the hottest selling designer
the world has ever seen. Yes, it makes a great story, but usually
leaves out most of the important details. Like an inheritance, or
being best friends with the buyer’s daughter.

Anyhow, not trying to be a wet blanket on your dream, but from my
experiencesrunning my own business and having been aproduction
jeweler forquite a few of the designers that aresold byBarney’s, I
just wanted to share some of these thoughts. It is best not to rush
into a project like this without a complete and true picture of what
you are planning to do. It would even be good to write a business

Best wishes for success,

just wanted to share some of these thoughts. It is best not to
rush into a project like this without a complete and true picture
of what you are planning to do. It would even be good to write a
business plan. 

I would like to second what Natasha said about writing a business
plan. There are sections in a business plan on marketing and
projected sales. That will really get the thought processes flowing
on how you will sell this, to whom, and for how much.

All of which could be useful when looking at the work you are
currently doing. Maybe the business plan will reveal how you can
achieve the same goals without the investment in a different way of
doing business.

I agree about the value of writing a business plan. Even if you
know what you want to do, writing it out, as if you were going to
try to get a bank loan, really helps you think out every detail.

If you don’t know how to write one, check out the Small Business
Administration website. It has a complete outline for both a
business plan and a marketing plan.

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Hello all,

Thank you so much for your feedback–this is exactly the kind of
input that I was hoping for!

I am in the process of trying to flesh out what the practical
reality of my bare-bones idea should look like. I have been doing
my jewelry business for about 5 years now, and it has been full time
for the last year or so.

My stuff sells fairly well (about 70% of it w/in 6 months) in the
two galleries that I am represented in, but I am not able to make
things quickly enough to have adequate inventory at large in the
world to make enough money to survive. I am doing 22k one-of-a-kind
stuff ENTIRELY by hand (alloyed and fabricated by me alone), and it
just takes FOREVER to make a piece. My average necklace takes about
1 week of my time (and I work 6 days a week, 7-10 hours per day).
So it takes about 3 months for me to get a solid collection together
and, just when I hope to get it placed in a third store, one of my
first two comes up empty and I need to place it there.

So what it comes down to is, I need more stuff than I am able to
make on my own. And I figure that if I am going to go the
production route, I want the stuff that I am producing to be even
BETTER than the stuff that I can do on my own–I am good at ancient
jewelry techniques–fabrication, granulation, bezel-setting–but I’d
like to incorporate sculptural components done with carved wax,
enamel work, gypsy and pave settings, etc… into my offerings.

I know that I have the vision to do something really unique and very
cool. Marketing yourself is always a challenge, and I know it might
be tough to get represented in one of the stores that I have
envisioned, but I am confident that I will ultimately get it done.

What I need to understand is HOW to get all of this done. I have
very basic questions, like, do I hire “assistants” to make the
models, carve the stones, do the casting, assembly, etc…? Or do I
bring my ideas to a contract manufacturer? Do I buy all of the
stones that I will need for each piece, or just a few to get a
sample done? Is it essential that each replica have exactly the
same stone, or can I vary the stones and sort of customize each
production piece? Then I also need to find some great people to
work with…

Anyway, thank you again for your input thus far and, if you have ANY
further thoughts/isights/advice/contacts etc… I would LOVE to hear
about it.


I also agree with Natasha’s insightful input on this topic. If you
approach this idea from the perspective of a business plan it will
be much easier to look at the bigger picture and envision the process
in it’s entirety. Then you can see how all of the pieces of the
puzzle will need to fit together to be successful, and make the
appropriate adjustments at the beginning stages of the process.

I think many artists who produce and market their own work would
agree that it is best to try to develop at the onset all of the
aspects of what the product will be, how it will be produced and
funded, where it will fit into the marketplace, and how it will be
marketed. The prospect of creating a product first and then going
out after the fact to try to find a market for it is much more
difficult, and a far riskier venture.

Michael David Sturlin

I have an intersting story about how some people make succes seem
simple, when I was in school this girl in one of my art classes kept
talking about how she was going to open a jewelery store. I had been
working as a jeweler for a while at that time and knew that it would
take an incredile amount of money to do what she was talking about
so I just let her ramble on out there in fantasy land and never paid
much attention. Imagine my shock and awe when I saw this new
jewelery store in the mall right smack dab in center court next door
to helzberg wholly cow it was beautiful all contempory designs
custom maple cabinets amazing archetecture and all the top designers
and guess who is sitting in the middle of the store yep thats right
that girl who used to ramble on about how she was going to open a
store. Well I had to go see her and say hi, I figured she just
worked their, oh no it was all hers she told me how she met with all
the designers and how she spent 100000 dollors on the build out and
hired lighting designers and archetects to lay out the store and had
all the latest computer software imaging crap. Well we had a nice
talk and I started to sell my work out of her store and the whole
time kept wondering to my self Iwonder if I went to the bank would
they give me a loan for a few million bucks. Turns out that what she
negated to tell me was that her family owns the mall yepo thats
right and the one down the road as well and everthing in between as
well as most of freakin city. Oh well she went out of business
anyway even though she didnt have to pay rent or make a profit. It
was a spectacular store it was featured in Jq magazine and some of
the other trade journals.


Well, I do love this discussion about business plans. I am just not
the kind of person who could or would jump head first into
something; at least not without unlimited financial resources behind
me! Since I haven’t won the lottery, I am this week starting a class
in Writing a Business Plan, for which I have paid $300. The class is
being offered at a local “enterprise center”, which has been
established as a program of a somewhat local community college. I
love these enterprise centers – perhaps you have one near you? They
often seem to have entrepreneurial business incubators and some even
have what they call “incubators with out walls”. Just Google
"enterprise center" for

When I go to the SBA website I just get confused. I’m sure they’ve
got great there and I’m certain thay provide invaluable
services, but there’s something about the presentation that
overwhelms me. And then I just quit.

I’ll report on my progress.

Christine in Littleton, Massachusetts

Hello Amanda Linn,

I think it’s wonderful that your creations turnover so quickly that
you can’t keep up with demand. My thought is that your prices are
TOO LOW. Raise your prices by at least 25% on all new pieces. If
the galleries gripe, say “Hey, metal prices are rising and I have to
cover those costs as well as my time. These are quality, high karet,
one of a kind works of art.”

My prediction: the demand will remain steady, perhaps even increase.
If you still can’t keep up, raise your prices again, and really
promote your “name.”

Simple economics of supply and demand. Go for it Girl!

Judy in Kansas

    What I need to understand is HOW to get all of this done.  I
have very basic questions, like, do I hire "assistants" to make the
models, carve the stones, do the casting, assembly, etc...?  Or do
I bring my ideas to a contract manufacturer? 

Speaking as someone who’s not ever hired an assistant, I suggest
your life will be simpler if you don’t hire.

There are so many fabulous, skilled casters, jewelers, wax carvers,
etc. out there that you can have work on your pieces for you – why
not give them support for their livelihoods?

And you’re spared the extra bookkeeping and training associated with
having employees. Maybe in the future, you’ll decide that employees
are a good choice for you. But right now, it sounds like you need a
solution, and fast. Faster would be using sub contractors.

Just my 2 cents.
ElaineElaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

As I see it you have reached the point where you are working at your
full capacity but are not happy with the return you are getting.
There are a number of things that you could do :-

You could work more skilfully and so reduce the time it takes you to
make each piece You could increase your prices. You could employ
assistants to increase your capacity, but you would have to be
careful that the costs involved don’t out-weigh the expected
increase in income.

By all means look at expanding into new areas, but remember that the
investment you need to do this has to come out of your present
profits. So for instance if you wanted to learn a new technique you
would need enough money in the bank to tide you over while you were
learning and not producing.

The bottom line is that you need to make your present business as
profitable as you can before you think of going off into a new very
risky direction.

Bill Bedford

Christine -

What we have is not an enterprise center, exactly. The city where I
live has a small business incubator and offers low-interest loans to
those who qualify and plan to locate their businesses and create
jobs for those who live here. As part of the qualification process,
the city offers a 10-week adult ed class that covers everything from
business plan writing to how to approach a bank to state laws
regarding employment to marketing to pricing and everything in

We also have a nearby One Stop Capital Shop run by the SBA which
offers classes for $10 on writing business plans, marketing plans,
etc. And they have a relationship with SCORE so you can sign up for
and get a consultation with a retired executive whose experience is
related to your intended business, and they have an entire wall full
of binders, each a how-to for setting up different kinds of

When I was looking in vain for work in my high-tech field, and
decided to see if I could make a career out of my jewelry-making
hobby, these resources were indispensable not just for the info they
provided but also for the network that developed out of the people I
met there. (Unfortunately, in spite of my enthusiasm and
dedication, I proved to be my own worst enemy because I’ve been
battling depression all my life, and even though I’m in treatment,
sometimes I get stymied by the feeling that gravity is just too
heavy to bear and all my energy and best intentions get sucked right
out of me.)

I wish you the very best in your endeavors! Looking forward to
hearing about your progress.


Hi amanda I have a friend up in Phoenix who makes similar kinds of
items and he has run into the exact same problems he pulls all his
own wire he fabs all the bezels just like you and he cant make
enough to keep the stores well stockedd and make a decent living . I
helped him save alot of time just by casitng his bezels in standard
stone sizes and making molds off of master patterns now he trys to
use calibrated sizes so he can order them when he needs them. I
tried to make one of a kinds and make a living at it and it was real
hard because everday is a monday you are starting from scratch
everytime. The only drawback to doing production is it gets real
boring after you make somthing four or five times you dont want to
do it agian and agin for all eternity. You have to careful what you
wish for. I cast all of my stuff at my peak about five years ago I
had ten stores with thirty pieces in each store and I worked seven
days a week fourteen hours a day and could not keep up I developed
carpel tunnel and then pretty much didnt make anything for about two
years just did odd jobs and lived off the inventory. I hit a point
in production to where I had no time to make new stuff all I could
do was service the accounts and keep up. Working by yourself with
just your two hands it is hard to earn more than 30000 bucks a year
unless you go to work for some one then they can pay you more
because they have more help with other employees.


   When I go to the SBA website I just get confused. I'm sure
they've got great there and I'm certain thay provide
invaluable services, but there's something about the presentation
that overwhelms me. And then I just quit. 

I don’t know about the site, but the SBA has a group called SCORE.
It’s run by volunteer retired excecutives. Unless they lost funding,
they are a great resource. They run free workshops on starting a
business and business plans and have tons of binders filled with
real business plans. You can also speak one-on-one with a volunteer.
I wouldn’t expect them to know too much about jewelry, especially
starting a fine craft business, but they are a real help with the

ali friedman

Turns out that what she negated to tell me was that her family
owns the mall ...

Yes, I like to know about these small important details, too.
Nothing like an inheritance to give you confidence (or a place to
live) and get you kick started. But you still need brains and
creativity and probably a healthy dose of good luck.

I’ll be working on my business plan…

Christine in Littleton, Massachusetts

Hi Amanda,

After reading your last post, I started to think about the
presentations at SNAG 2003 (?) in SF, the focus of which was “Making
It in Metal.” Don Friedlich gave an amazing presentation on the
various industrial methods that can be used to create a production
line, and there are other people on this list that are masters of
that route. But the presentation that made the most difference for me
was Andy Cooperman’s, because of his simple statement that his
production line (when he needs one) consists only of earrings.

You talked about how long it takes you to make a necklace, but how
long does it take to make earrings? I’m not selling right now, but,
when I was, I found the difference astounding. When I needed to make
some money, I timed various earring designs, tweaked them, and ended
up with 6-7 that I could make quickly by building components first.
As I was assembling them, I still made decisions about things like
color (and that meant they were almost one off, at least “limited
production”), but I could eventually make 4-5 pair in the time it
used to take to make one. Never mind the time it takes to make a one
off necklace! If your necklaces sell that well, your earrings would
probably fly out the doors.

I agree that raising your prices is a good idea. In my experience, a
really expensive necklace makes the earrings in the same case look
like a bargain, even if they too are pricey.

Good luck!
Lisa Orlando
Aphrodite’s Ornaments
Elk, CA

    I don't know about the site, but the SBA has a group called
SCORE. It's run by volunteer retired excecutives. Unless they lost
funding, they are a great resource. They run free workshops on
starting a 

I have not had too much luck with SCORE. At both my appointments, I
seemed to spend the whole time explaining what the heck I did and
that yes, this was a legitimate career choice, and yes, other people
really do make a living at craft fairs. They were baffled,
absolutely baffled.

Once, the advisor was about 90 years old and lived in a retirement
home. When they say retired executives, they really mean it.

It seems that they will be more or less helpful to you depending on
the type of advice you need. If you need more industry specific
advice, don’t bother. If you want help with a business plan,
marketing plan, finding out about business loans, then go.

Their loans start at 25K.

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay