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Tackling trade work


#1

Hello All,

I have been a member of this blog for a few months now, read all
posts daily and learn a lot!, but this is /my/ first time posting. I
am a recent graduate of Stewart’s International School for Jewelers
here in Florida and am ready to get working. I have invested in
quite a bit of equipment (used) and have set up a workshop in my
home. I am hoping to start off doing some trade work for local
jewelry stores since 'tis the season, but am unsure on how to
proceed. If you are willing to share, I would appreciate insights on
the following:

  • Speak with the manager…Do I show up with a “list” of my fees
    for most common work?

  • should I compile and take a portfolio of some type with me?

  • do I need to come up with a contract? If so, what is customary to
    include in it?

  • what steps can I take to protect myself from any / possible mishap/

  • ? I imagine once jewelry is in my possession whatever happens to
    it is my responsibility.

  • Also, since I have diplomas in design & casting, diamond setting,
    and jewelry repair from an accredited school…exactly what is the
    appropriate “label” for my trade? What would I call myself on let’s
    say, a business card? designer, metalsmith, artisan,
    goldsmith…This seems to be a very gray area…

I’m sure there are many other things I’m forgetting to ask while I
type, so feel free to enlighten me with any of your recommendations!

Thank you so much!!!
Patricia Marrone


#2

Patricia, Getting your foot in the door and getting a store to give
you a chance will take some effort. I would try to speak to the
owner or manager, introduce yourself, say you’re a goldsmith who is
looking for a new account, show them a small sample of your work and
a price list, see if they are interested and maybe offer to do a
couple of routine jobs at no charge to demonstrate your ability. They
don’t know you, haven’t seen your work and will likely say thanks,
we’ll get back to you (without the no charge thing). It will cost you
a little money but might win you the account. Unfortunately, if
you’re doing routine work (sizings, heads & sets…) you will be
competing with others on price and there are lots of people doing
work for next to nothing. If you can establish a relationship and
move toward more complicated repairs and custom, you will be
competing on quality and so you will be able to charge more for your
time if your work is good. You’ll need insurance, Jewelers Mutual is
a great company and they will help you narrow down the coverage you
will need and the safe and alarm system that will allow you to buy
coverage. You can also buy insurance to cover yourself for any stone
you may damage. There are customarily no contracts in the jewelry
biz, it’s all trust and a handshake. Personally, I always prefer
working with stores that are run by the owners rather than chain
stores. You are better able to build lasting relationships, you get
paid on time (typically net 30), and the quality of the merchandise
is better. There are all kinds of jewelers, from those who sell very
traditional bridal to artsy gallery type stores. All of them need a
goldsmith to do various work for them. There are no rules as to what
kind of work you must do or which niche you decide to build your
career in. I think most gravitate toward more traditional bridal,
with it’s diamond engagement rings and wedding bands, because there
is just more of it so your stream of income is more reliable. But
people who do art shows don’t always have time to do commissions or
repairs, boutiques who sell some jewelry might want you to size or do
repairs and might also be willing to buy the pieces you make. There
are endless opportunities. Hope that helps a little bit…ahhh to be
young and just starting out again!

Mark


#3

Hello Patricia, When you go to a store; take examples of your work,
a pricelist, proof of insurance and local references. You can contact
"Jeweler’s Mutual" for craftsmen’s insurance. I’m not associated,
just a long time customer. Good luck to you.

Have fun. Tom Arnold


#4

A very good description Mark. One thing I would add in looking for
new accounts, Is to add the phrase…Emergencies Accepted… to any
advertising you do. Over the years, this has added many new clients,
both wholesale AND retail.


#5

Hi Patricia,

Trade work is good and bad at the same time. Charging flat fees for
problem solving guarantees you will starve while working your ass
off. If I could go back, I would have an agreement with all of the
companies I did work for. They pay x dollars per hour plus materials
and you document your start/end times.

Seems onerous but after 35 years this is the only method I have
worked with that guarantees a solid understanding between the
tradeworker and the retailer.

Nearly every other trade utilizes a similar method and ours
shouldn’t be any different.

For example:

Some trade shops have price lists for common repairs, some based on
David Geller’s lists. Look those up, they are useful, at least to
retailers.

Setting charges per stone are nebulous…depending on what material
and style of setting, you could do well, or wind up working for
nothing. Don’t agree to cover losses if you damage something
expensive while being paid 20 dollars per hour. Liability should
fall on the retailer, who gains the largest profit out of the sale
that you are enabling. You are an enabler, they need you, and don’t
let them bully you into working for nothing.

Work at being the best you can be and don’t allow anything
questionable to leave your hands. Don’t take on anything which is
leagues beyond your capability. I have read many forums where
descriptions of the work of neophytes has people gagging. If you
accept a job it must be within your scope of capability by a slim
margin of error or you will suffer some nasty consequences…

And, finally, good work takes time. Set this as a ground-rule of
your contractual agreement.The “rush job” is a combination of the
greed of a retail employee and the lack of knowledge of the buyer.
Good work takes time, have I mentioned that? Impossible timelines
mean you suffer or make compromises or both. Jewellery is seldom an
actual emergency. People do not die if they don’t get their pieces
by an actual deadline. You won’t do good work when you suffer, and
your possible compromises will result in the doubling of your
efforts at no charge because that’s what the retailers will expect.
If you blow a deadline the sky will not fall. There will simply be a
revised deadline, and the sky won’t fall then either.

Best of luck.
Cheers
David
www.davidkeelingjewellery.com


#6

Mark

You can also buy insurance to cover yourself for any stone you may
damage. 

Where? With whom? The only time Tim and I have ever been insured for
stone breakage was when he was setting a 3 mil diamond. The owners
got Lloyds of London to do it for one day. It cost about $5000.00 for
the one day.

Thanks-Jo Haemer
www.timothywgreen.com


#7

As far as making up a price list, can I suggest simply using
Geller’s book. This saves you an awful lot of work, helps you avoid
giving your craftsmanship away for nothing, as most of us have done
who have done trade work.

I also suggest that you NOT base you prices on trying to undercut
someone else’s prices for the same type of trade work, in attempt to
’steal’ their customer. If you do this you will only have
accomplished two things, neither of which will be positive. You will
have placed yourself in the position of working for next to nothing,
by attempting to undercut someone else who is probably also working
for too little, AND you will have attracted a customer based on
price alone, and these customers are loyal only to the lowest price.

If you have a fair, but profitable price list, and offer reasonably
priced, timely, quality work you can attract and keep a better
clientele.

I have seen way too many bench jewelers putting in huge amounts of
time, trying to make a profit with horridly unprofitable margins,
and having no life outside of the shop. They think they are doing
well because they handle quite a bit of money, but to me my life
purpose is more than being a slave to the bench, partially why I
still enjoy the bench after over 35 years in this profession.


#8

Hi Jo, Jewelers Mutual sells it. I think they call it Workman’s
Coverage. They offer limits of 25K or 50K per occurrence in coverage
with a deductible. Hope you never need it, but it’s comforting to
know it’s there. I do know a jeweler who used it for a diamond his
goldsmith chipped and JM paid the claim.

Mark


#9

Thank you both Mark and Tom for your input. I have quite a bit to
chew on!

Patricia Marrone


#10

I have a to-the-trade shop and just recently I made a new rule for
my retailers: They have to clean the jewelry they take in, in their
ultrasonic, before they give the jewelry to me.

The reason is not so that all that gunk that makes me puke a little
in my mouth is gone, but because almost every piece I do that has
little stones set in it, loses a stone or two in the ultrasonic and
the customer (the retailer) doesn’t want to pay me to empty my
ultrasonic cleaner, search for the missing stone, and/or replace it,
nor do they want to pay me to reset the stones that they feel came
out through my fault.


#11

I love it! I routinely receive dresser brushes to repair with what
looks like ten years of hair and who knows what else packed down
into the bristles - nice. Yes, I do indeed clean it all out with the
help of my air compressor before returning it. How about polishing
flatware that still has food between the tines?

I can feel the love ;~)

Jeff Herman
hermansilver.com


#12
I have a to-the-trade shop and just recently I made a new rule for
my retailers: They have to clean the jewelry they take in, in
their ultrasonic, before they give the jewelry to me. 

Great idea ! ! By the way, I saw a tip from Brad Simon a while back
where he used an extra fine gold fish net in his ultrasonic. You
might suggest that to your retailers. I found a few small ones and
use them all the time. The sonic works faster than using a tea
thing, easy to rinse, and the stones don’t get stuck in nooks and
crannies making it quick to find the stones. Thanks for the post!

Jamie Mclandsborough
JA Certified Bench Jeweler


#13
How about polishing flatware that still has food between the tines? 

That, and many more examples. the worst one I ever recall
encountering was a store that sent me a customers scrap gold, all
entirely sentimental small stuff which had belonged to her recently
deceased husband, and which she wanted melted and combined into a
simple band ring. Most was just ordinary scrap gold. No biggie. But
one small envelope revealed, upon opening, a couple gold crowns,
complete with still attached teeth, and a bit of dried blood and
tissue. These had apparently been removed on request, by the morgue,
before the poor guy was cremated. Talk about creepy…

Peter


#14

Replying to Paf’s comment about someone else putting jewellery in
the ultrasonic before it arrives at the trade shop.

This problem can be solved better…

  1. The retail jeweller or the customer is dictating that you only do
    what they tell you to do. All other problems they failed to observe
    becomes your problem if you also fail to observe the item carefully.

  2. Doing the sizing or repairing the obvious faults without looking
    beyond those things is your fault.

That’s how they like it!

Before doing any work on an item…

  1. Scrutinize. No it’s not a routine sizing if 10 diamonds are held
    in with spit and a prayer. Straightening a bent ring is no good if
    there are cracks in the underwires or it’s a hollow drilled out piece
    of gold foil. A 10x loupe or a microscope is essential.

  2. Communicate. If your scrutinizing reveals anything beyond what is
    asked for then don’t touch it until your terms are accepted.

  3. ‘NO GUARANTEE’. Only guarantee the exact work done, and
    explicitly say/write ‘No Guarantee’ for work not done that needs to
    be done. If you have to do only what you are told to do then you must
    specify what is not guaranteed. If you know stones will be falling
    out then don’t touch the item until #4 meets your satisfaction.

  4. Quote. Quote for your full guarantee. If a sizing is requested
    and you see other problems then quote for fixing those problems along
    with the sizing. Do not do the sizing until the quote is accepted.
    It’s never just a sizing, it’s a complete service. You are the boss
    when it comes to the torch and the hammer, and if you foresee 10
    diamonds falling out then quote for re-setting them, and everything
    else needed to deserve your guarantee.

Alastair


#15
a couple gold crowns, complete with still attached teeth, and a bit
of dried blood and tissue. These had apparently been removed on
request, by the morgue, before the poor guy was cremated. Talk
about creepy... 

Oh I’ve seen worse. In my early days in the trade, Elk hunters would
bring in elks teeth with the flesh and blood still attached to have
us make them into earrings for “The little woman.” Heck, cain’t love
a woman more’n that! As the apprentice It was my job to scrape them
clean, yuk, and then grind them down to fit a mounting, oh the
smell, double yuk!!

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer
www.timothywgreen.com


#16

I had a good laugh at Jeff’s description of dresser brushes with 10
years of hair stuck in them. I do quite a bit of repair work ( some
really weird objects to be fixed), and it’s amazing how dirty the
jewelry is. If all the hair, dead skin cells, lotion and other
unmentionable crap isn’t removed from rings or bracelets, it is the
worst smell when I go heat the jewelry. It’s really god-awful!
Sometimes I’ll let the jewelry soak overnight in my ultrasonic, and
then turn it on to remove the softened dirt.

However, I stay away from suspicious gold alloys, anything that
looks like it has soft solder ( tin), won’t retip any prongs with
diamonds pre 1992 because of fracture filling, and if my gut says
no, I don’t take the job. Right now I have a very old Vietnam brass
chalice which the handle broke, and it’s got this huge black chunk
of old glue stuck that I’m going to have to carefully remove. I’ll
have to figure out how to fix it without subjecting it to a lot of
heat. I think I will use metal/concrete expoy and try to recreate
the original lines of handle and fill in the missing parts.

Have you noticed that the more worthless the broken jewelry/metal
item is, the more valuable it is sentimentally to the client? Or
when wedding rings are so thin, and the settings all worn away, and
there’s not much you can do? I really hate to break their hearts
when I say it can’t be fixed, and we all know a lot of the costume
jewelry and silverplated metal objects are almost impossible to fix.
I’ve spent a lot of time being tactful.

Joy


#17

So much for a glamorous profession ;~)

A couple of weeks ago a customer delivered a few pieces for
restoration. One of them was a candelabra. When he removed the piece
from the box, I was in absolute shock. I should have excused myself
and sniffed some Krazy glue to make it all go away, but I was the
consummate professional. This piece was made with.010" sterling and
dripping with lead solder. My friends, there was lead everywhere.
Some areas had lead that dripped from the repaired areas and actually
looked like grey wax. One of the hollow arms had split and required
soldering, but the repair opened up and looked like, well, imagine a
hollow bone that split leaving ragged edges and torn splinters
everywhere. Another arm had fallen off and was reattached, all with
lead solder. I asked this guy why he didn’t return the candelabra for
a re-repair or to get his money back. His answer: “I only paid about
$200 for the repair.” So what, I said. He just shrugged. I told him
he could leave it but I wasn’t going to commit myself (I thought I
might do that later at the local psychiatric hospital ;~).

Long story short: I decided not to tackle this job, though he had
said it was very sentimental and belonged to his father, a Holocaust
survivor. “Can’t you just make it function so my wife can put candles
in it on Friday nights? What if you work on it for six hours and
we’ll see how it looks then?” This piece was never going to function
structurally again, I said. He conceded.

Friends, do everything in your power to satisfy your customer, but
don’t go against what you know is right.

Jeff Herman
hermansilver.com


#18

loses a stone or two in the ultrasonic and the customer (the
retailer) doesn’t want to pay me to empty my ultrasonic cleaner,
search for the missing stone, and/or replace it…

I learned a neat trick in my short career as a polisher. Take an
empty beaker, submerge it halfway into the ultrasonic, and you have a
clear view of the bottom, and stones are relatively easy to find.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Vicki K, SoCal


#19

I learned a neat trick in my short career as a polisher. Take an
empty beaker, submerge it halfway into the ultrasonic, and you have
a clear view of the bottom, and stones are relatively easy to find.

Like a glass bottom boat. How clever. Thanks for passing on the tip.