Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Trade success stories


I was wondering if there are those of you out there who are
established in this trade (and making a fair living) who started out
on a shoe string budget that wouldn’t mind sharing your story. You
see right now i am at a juncture in my career to where I’m pretty
committed to doing my own thing. I have worked for the big chains
and the ma and pop stores as a bench jeweler for about 13 years now
and don’t think i can take working for other people much longer.
Actually the thought of being my own boss is what really gets me up
in the mornings. I realize that owning your own business is not all
fun and games but it has to be better than having people who have
never made or repaired a piece of jewelery tell you how to do it and
being micro managed. sorry for the partial rant, but i would love to
hear some success stories.

Thanks William

i started on a shoe string of a size relative to the jewelry biz
level of expense. the real question is do you have the constitution
to go the distance ? i kept my job untill i had the place, my shop,
rented, equipment in place and working and all the supplies and
tools stocked for a year and gold and silver and gemstones to work
with and what i couldnt afford to buy i built. one of the keys to
success is time management is your shop set up to work or are you
trying to make jewelry in a bathroom with no organization of the
mechanics of the process ??? is your car paid for? can you work w/in
walkin distance of home ? good luck hope it works out for you


I started by cutting my living costs to the bone, then cutting out
some of the bone. This may not be feasible for anyone with a family
or more responsibilities than I had at the time. I shared an
apartment, had no car, no health insurance, and later lived on a
rural route with no utilities. Then I used a generator when I wanted
to polish, and the rest of the time did things the old-fashioned
ways. I got a good oil lamp for light to work by at night in the
winter, and got to bed early when daylight was scarce. I heated with
wood that I cut myself. I grew a lot of food, both animal and
vegetable. I ate brown rice and beans the rest of the time. This lack
of bills to pay did give me the luxury of time to experiment and
build my skills and business. Perhaps you might be able to use some
of this concept of frugality. What could or would you be willing to
cut out of your life in order to make your dream come true?



If you’re a bench jeweler, here’s my take

I started out in 1974 as a trade shop. Put a sign on the lawn of the
building I had an office in “Jewelry Repair Suite 203”. They came,
business grew, moved to another location 2 years later where you
could park at front door.

After 3-4 years dropped trade and was doing 100% retail

90% repair and custom

Custom for me was casting, polished up, in the case. Women bought
the rings and we charged to set the stones in addition.

When I started in 1974, gold was $85 an ounce. Then (very timely) in
1978 or thereabouts gold DOUBLED! We were in shock

Who in their right minds would buy jewelry at $150 an ounce? Who?

I was right and the sale of casting (triple key) dropped off the
planet. See we could sell a 5 pennyweight ring and set 5 low base
heads in it for $125. If they had old gold, we gave it back or bought
it towards credit.

And make a profit.

So we switched gears. We stocked WAXES in the case and charged $50
to CAST the ring and then charged for setting.

Business boomed. We became the #1 place in Atlanta to have jewelry
redesigned, especially with their gold (few people did it).

When I sold the store, the same “cast with your gold” was $175.00.

In our newest price book (which you should buy) its $195.00.

But in 1991 we took the sales staff off of salary and placed them on
100% commission at ten percent commission.

They stopped selling the $175 waxes at that point and started
selling $400 custom designs/hand carved waxes.

That grew our business. When I sold the stare in 2000, the year
before (1999) we did 1.8 million in sales and 3/4 of it came from the

Our averages:

Average repair (1999) $65.00 

Average Custom $750 with THEIR GOLD; $1500 with our gold and

Average product sale $400 (and we had to keep $235,000 in
inventory to make a $400 sale!) 

I’d push/advertise/promote custom and I wouldn’t be scared to cast
with customers gold. For every customer shy about buying jewelry at
today’s prices, there are 50 people who have old gold and would melt
it down to make new stuff and same money, all the while you making
$100-$150 an hour for your time.

Been there/done that.

David Geller

Hello William;

You didn’t tell us what your plan is, wholesale trade shop or retail
jeweler? I can tell you my story of how I got my trade shop up and
running, and tripled it’s income in 5 years, but I’ve yet to face the
demands of setting up a storefront business. But in any case, get
ready to take a significant cut in pay for a couple years, along with
insane hours, probably no benifits, and constant worry about cash

Instead of one person who doesn’t know how to repair/make jewelry
telling you what to do, you could have a dozen. And you’d better not
resent them, because IT’S YOUR JOB to educate, cadjole, instill
confidence, go the extra mile, whatever. You are the supposed expert
and what’s more, you have to learn to get paid, because there is no
department of labor to persue and guarantee your wages.

But, the good side is this; no single person has the control over
your welfare that you suffer under when you are an employee. When you
work for someone, their success or failure ultimately becomes yours,
whether you do your best or not. They will tend not to take business
advice from someone who has dirt under his nails and wears an apron.
They will, however, believe everything that some CPA who does taxes
for party stores and bowling alleys tells them. And what’s more, some
people just don’t know how to share.

Best of luck. Email me off forum and I’ll give you my number and we
can chat. Also, I write articles for Jewelry in Fashion Trends
magazine about this stuff.

David L. Huffman

You know, David, I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy with the joy your
post exudes! :slight_smile:

Seriously…most jobs I’ve had have been much worse, and if I can do
for someone else while getting paid far too little, I can settle for
’this’ job. :slight_smile:

Actually, I did want to say that sometimes what we dream of doing
with our lives seems like it would be a lot better than it really is.
Not only in the ways you mention (you may have missed a few…), but
in the biggest way of all. What happens when you step off into the
business and discover it only is enjoyable when you aren’t doing it
for money. Professions ranging from writer to prostitute to artist
can be so much less fulfilling when we’re doing them on someone
else’s dime.

Just my .02 worth.



There’s two reasons one may want to become an entrepreneur. One is
you’re sick of being the employee and want to spread your wings. The
other is you believe you can make more money on your own.

I’ve been an employee under both circumstances, separately, at
different stages in my life.

Before my first business I wanted the trappings that go with biz
ownership. I wanted to play the part. I thought that acquiring
certain things was the equivalent of success. I wanted the big
suburban house(oops, comes with a mortgage), two nice cars,
sometimes 3 (monthly payments, oops again), the boat (more payments,
you get the idea). I wanted to be thought of as a business owner,
some vague community status thing in my head. Well, I eventually
attained all that. Had all this stuff and money.

Was I happy? Nope.

I had the worst boss you can imagine. ME. I felt this obligation to
be all things to all people, just so I could keep the squirrel cage
turning. A jeweler friend says of business ownership, “its all a big
wheel, make money so you can pay bills so you can make more money”. I
had a 1,700 ft store and shop. Six staff. This deal fell into my lap
and I was unprepared for it. By that I mean I had no training in
management. It was easy for awhile. But it became an endless
responsibility. Wanna go away for the weekend? Hah! fat chance. The
store can’t run without you. Or at least that’s what I thought.

But the money was good. very good. But the whole game sucked anyway.
I wasn’t working for myself anymore, I was working for everyone
standing in line with their hand out.

Then through a tortuous flow of life I arrived at where I am now.
Small shop, decent money, low obligations. I enjoy coming to work. I
get to do stuff that makes me happy. I can buy that oddball gemstone
that will never sell, just because I feel like it. If I want a day
off I just hang a sign on the window and go fishing.(well, I don’t
do it all that often because I LIKE being here). 'Course, when
there’s work to be done, I work, fishing season is over now anyway. I
am essentially stress free. I don’t have all that many years to go so
that is a welcome lifestyle.

BTW this story mirrors that of a jeweler I met from another state, I
told him we were twin sons of different mothers, went to different
schools together.

So I put it to you, that you define for yourself what success truly

But getting back to the two reasons, obviously you are experiencing
the first. I’ve had that burning yearning in me most of my working
life so I can relate. But the second one, if you truly know how to do
it, or at least are willing to do what it takes, will help ensure
your success, however you define it.

But beware, success in this game is not a singular goal, its a state
of being. It needs tending all the time.

Dear William,

Working for someone else is a drag, because they can let you go for
very unjust and manipulative reasons and then you are back where you

Being your own business owner can also be a drag, because unless you
have a supportive partner, you are alone with your tail hanging in
the wind. Long hours, no vacations, having to fulfill all the many
business related responsibilities. If you are providing finacially
physically for children, the stress level can be overwhelming.

I had a successful freelance jewelry design business running for 5
years. Then 9-11-01 happened. I couldn’t imagine that a terrorist
attack in New York would effect my business based in Seattle, but it

Within 6 weeks the clients I had wooed over years suddenly pulled
their contracts citing the attacks. 18 months worth of work
disappeared. Yikes! Luckily, I was asked to teach jewelry at a local
college. It took about two years before my clients started coming
back, but by then I had moved on.

My advise would be to find a partner who has a stable career with
full benefits. A hospital administrator, investment banker, IS
administrator, lawyer, or other professional to cover your household
costs while you start your business. Of course you better get someone
who doesn’t mind you being absent a lot as you work to build your

I am not being cynical, this is the way that I have witnessed many
others in our trade survive as their businesses grew over time. I
seen this work for men as well as women. Many of those who post on
this very list employ this strategy.

Good Luck,
Nanz Aalund

If your cousin is a swimmer, she might be better off with sterling,
as chlorine is destructive to gold. A Gypsy or tube setting, perhaps?
(this might require some really creative designing). Anybody have any

My advise would be to find a partner who has a stable career with
full benefits. 

I would love to find one of these ‘partners’ who will put up with
the actuality of being a full time working artist rather than their
romantic notions of what an artist is. But seriously, is this the
only way most jewelers are surviving and thriving? By having a
partner with a ‘real’ job? I was hoping to be able to support myself
and make a living as an independent jeweler, but I keep hearing the
same thing from everyone. Tell me it ain’t so!


But seriously, is this the only way most jewellers are surviving
and thriving? By having a partner with a 'real' job? I was hoping
to be able to support myself and make a living as an independent

I had intended to be independent etc, I had just left a stable career
as a secondary teacher and had some savings behind me. I think
everything would have been alright had I not run into some very badly
timed, very bad luck… a series of awful events happening one after
the other in quick succession. I was unable to work and was having
to plough my efforts and finances in several other directions.

The situation partially sorted itself out after a few months, but by
this time all our savings had been wiped out. My husband is
incredibly supportive his wage is ok but not enough to carry me, he
really wants me to continue with my quest for personal happiness. I
do fully intend to be able to ‘pay my way’ in the future as a
jeweller but this is impossible at the moment and so I am having to
subject myself to the joys of part-time supply teaching temporarily
(yesterday was my first day) to pay towards the bills… my jewellery
gets done in the evenings and on ‘days off’. I think I will only have
to do this for about a month before I am in a position where I can
give jewellery my full attention.

The thing is, you never know when bad luck will strike, all our bad
luck was totally unexpected and out of the blue and when I tell
people the details (…which isn’t very often) they are gobsmacked.
Things still aren’t totally sorted but the future is certainly
brighter looking.

So yes, realistically you must make sure that you have got a ‘Plan
B’… a well paid partner or a ‘Plan C’… a job you can fall back on
quickly and easily in times of need.

Many, many people think small. Too scared to spend money on
advertising, usually get the cheapest location rather than the
better location. Make what they wnat, not what sells and scared to
put some higher priced designs out there for the public to buy.

Think bigger, get bigger.

David S. Geller

But seriously, is this the only way most jewelers are surviving and
thriving? By having a partner with a 'real' job? I was hoping to be
able to support myself and make a living as an independent jeweler, 

Off the top of my head I can think of three jewelers that I
personally know who support themselves. One does wholesale and retail
shows and is very successful. She is recently married, but built the
business as a single person. She works very hard.

I know another single jeweler, does some shows, custom work, and
supports herself additionally with a flexible p.t. job or two. Her
jobs allow her to make her work.

And the third, a couple who work together on their jewelry business,
doing shows year round. They came to the handcrafted business after
successful careers in another field. They work very hard.

So yes, it is possible. Health insurance is a real difficulty, that
is hard to overcome these days without an employed spouse with
insurance. One used to be able to afford private insurance, but now
the only affordable kind is the “disaster” insurance which is still
expensive and doesn’t cover much. Still, you should have it.

It helps to do this if you:

  • can manage the health insurance somehow

  • can lower your living expenses in one or more ways – no car and
    live in the city near the train, or live in a lower cost rural area,
    or manage your apt. building for lowered rent

Yes, it is possible to support yourself doing this. It’s very hard
work, it’s a business, it will usually take years to build.

You will need marketing skills, business skills, excellent
independent contractors working for you (web designer, accountant,
etc.). You will need endless confidence.

It is helpful to have some seed money to begin with. That’s another
difficulty – building a business from scratch and needing it to
support you right away. That generally doesn’t happen with any

That’s where it’s extremely helpful to have had a bit of a
successful career in something else, and having saved up, or
otherwise obtaining a wad of cash to tied you over. Or to have that
magic part time job that provides steady income without being too
distracting or soul crushing.

Good luck!

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

The jewelry business can be very good if you get into it correctly.
If your area is doing well there should be no reason that you could
not make a go of it. Plan ahead, buy the tools you need, find
display cases used, buy as much as you can while you still have a
job. You have one big advantage over many people and that is repair.
Repair can make a store, it brings in customers to look at your
inventory. Be the best at what you do to set you apart from the
others, find a good location. Cheap stores are cheap for a reason,
take the plunge and get a good storefront. It needs to look nice, my
workshop is a mess but my storefront is neat and clean. You do not
need a large store, I have seen stores with 2 small cases that are
successful. Have jewelry or other art by several artists and
advertise, advertise advertise. Oh and don’t forget to advertise.
When I opened my store again after several years of working for
someone else, I looked at it this way. It might not work but what is
the worst that could happen, I have to go find another job. So many
people look at failure as a bad thing, I think failure is not trying
what you really want. By the way my partner quit her job and works
for me full time and we are doing OK, there are many jewelers out
there doing well, I said this in another post a few weeks ago, you
have to sell what people want, if all of your jewelry is little bunny
heads with red stone in the eyes and you have nothing else get ready
for some slow times. If your little town won’t support you find one
that will and move.

Good luck
Bill Wismar

I was hoping to be able to support myself and make a living as an
independent jeweler, but I keep hearing the same thing from
everyone. Tell me it ain't so! 

Rachel, I’ve been making a living full time as a jewelry-maker for 35
years. Now I call myself a jeweler, which I earned the hard way, but
I’ve done all sorts of work. I also know many, many others who are
doing the same. I realize that some people are sensitive about the
realities, art-for-art’s-sake and all that, but the truth is that if
you want to make a living you need to sell it, and to do that you
need to make something people want to buy. Laurel Birch and Michael
Bondanza - Michael Good (e?) is another good example of people who
"didn’t sell out" but still made it happen in a big way - you don’t
have to “go commercial”, whatever that means, but you do have to sell
your product to make a living, and if people don’t want to give you
money for what you produce, then that’s just not going to happen.
Craftsmanship, craftsmanship, craftsmanship - even a mediocre design
can be turned into something if it’s well made. Finally, never think
the buying public “doesn’t get it” or is stupid or anything like
that. They do and they’re not.


I was hoping to be able to support myself and make a living as an
independent jeweler, but I keep hearing the same thing from
everyone. Tell me it ain't so! 

It ain’t so! I worked out of my house for a few years, doing
high-end custom and complex repairs, my dream job. Four years ago, my
wife was working at a local hospital in the HR department. We thought
that was the only way it would work, one of us working "for the man"
to pay the taxes and keep up the benefits, the other pursuing their
dream. I found that I could only work so many hours and charge only
so much per hour, so the future of my dream was limited. One day, my
wife came home in tears because of office politics. I told her it was
time to quit her job as I needed help with deliveries etc and I
couldn’t stand to see her so unhappy. I had finally realized that it
was just plain unfair for me to pursue my dream and make her carry my
water. Her tears turned to tears of joy as she planned her escape. My
stomach began to feel funny as I thought about the future without
health insurance (she is an insulin dependent diabetic with several
additional complications and I was nearing 50) and no 401K plan.

Long story made short, we found that our annual medical expenses
were far less than the cost of our insurance (about half)even with
the numerous visits to the endocrinologist, hematologist, and all the
other ologists a diabetic with an insulin pump and an aging man
required. The other surprise we found was that if you ask, your
doctor will probably give you a substantial discount (ours was as
much as 60%!) off of their normal charges because you are self-pay.
If not, shop around. They also have sample medications that they save
for just such people. The drug companies also offer real discounts to
self-pay people as do the medical equipment manufacturers (insulin
pumps ain’t cheap). I trade jewelry for optical and dental services.
My one fear was the possibility of an unexpected major illness. We
have since found a major medical plan (Blue Cross Blue Shield
Advantage) that is affordable ($700/mo. for three people) that
covers the big bad scary things, but has a high deductible and allows
us to create a Medical Savings Plan to help with the deductible.

My wife just finished the GIA Diamond Grading course, and is about a
quarter of the way through the Colored Stone Course on her way to
getting her GG. My son, who left the relative safety of his job to
come work with us just went to the Blaine Lewis Stone Setting Course,
and is no longer an apprentice. We have almost completely made the
transition from wholesale to retail, and have grown our gross twenty
to thirty percent each of the last three years. Our “retirement
account” is now in our display cases, shop tools and hanging on the
wall in the form of diplomas. We are all working harder than ever in
our lives, but we are also having the time of our lives. Best of all,
for better or worse, we now control our own destiny. We are truly
living the dream (sometimes it becomes a nightmare for a little
while, but it sure beats “working for the man”!).

Life is full of gambles. If you want to live a safe life knowing
exactly what you will get paid next week, with little to no personal
risk, paid vacation and holidays, brainless medical insurance and
retirement accounts and forty hour work weeks, stay with an employer,
the bigger the better. If on the other hand you want to find out what
you really are capable of, and if you really can make it big like you
think you can, you’re gonna have to take some risk. There is no other
way, unless you marry well or win the lottery or something.



Most businesses from scratch, if they ever make it, take at least 5
years to offer a decent return on investment. I’m talking serious 5
years (not on and off type of activity). Well, in the meanwhile,
who’s going to keep the home fires burning, put the bread on the
table and so on?

Or, moonlight on the side while you have a regular job, develop
enough customers and cashflow and, then, begin running your business
full time. However, there will be a time when your side business
would make demands on you that your regular job would prevent you
from fulfilling. At that time, you would not yet make enough money
from the business and you would have to choose between your day job
and your side business. If you decide to go ahead and build a
business, your partner would have to support you in the interim
period before you make enough money from the business.

The only other option is to buy a business that is already in the
black or buy one that is currently in the red and turn it around. In
the former case, the investment would be relatively high while, in
the latter case, you would need enough funds or support to keep the
home fires burning.

In summary, there’s no easy way out. Sorry, but it’s the bitter

All the best.

Mumbai, India.

No it ain’t so Rachel. I have been a self supporting female jeweler
for all my 30 years of business. While it would have been nice to
have a supporting partner, the truth is I have been much more
successful since my divorce than while I was married. It was not a
50/50 union and I marvel at my savings account in the few short
years of single-hood.

As for trade success stories, I started with little of nothing and
built a nice little niche for custom and repairs. Even with today’s
economic uncertainty, business is booming. Though I would not like
the thought of starting over from scratch today, I think I would
still do it. Working for myself is still a pleasure and I love what
I do. It is my passion, which makes it almost not like work at all.
It just take dedication and hard work, I would like more days off.
But nothing compares with the joy of making something and the
customer absolutely beaming with happiness when they walk out the

Janine in Redding California, trying to get ready for the holiday
season just around the corner.


I like the insight you are always providing, maybe you can use this
personal story.

A friend of my dad’s and I were talking about investments and the
talk got around to farming. He said you know there is one thing that
really surprised me, I was spraying peoples fields for weeds, I was
doing ok, but not really making enough at it to motivate me. I
decided I was going to get out of the spraying business so I doubled
my prices when ever anyone called, do you know what happened? My
business doubled, I have a hard time getting into the fields now to
cut hay with all the calls I am getting.

I have thought about that and the things I do.

Dave, the guy in the above story is 78, he and dad still work their
farms to cover the extra expenses of retirement. Amazing the savvy in
the old guys.


When in doubt, ask…

I haven’t kept track but there seems to be a lot of folks on each
side of the great divide.

I’ve known people who tried to start a business and failed…but
because of the nature of their business, but because they didn’t know
how to start the business.

Your best bet is to look into entrepreneurial programs like “Urban
Hope”, etc. Your local SBA will know. Take some business classes.
Through SBA they are cheap to free, depending. My husband is in
school, and we’re in the process of moving from very small near-hobby
business to something significant.

We have children to take care of, and we’re doing this with our eyes
open. There are a lot of options open to anyone starting a business.
Make a list of who you are and what you do and know, and what you
want to do with your business. There is more than one option, and by
making lists, we start to come up with more options than we ever

Join associations and trade networks, social networks, etc. Take
some small steps. My husband went to school so that he’d be able to
learn new techniques with help from financial aid. So we are
purchasing a lot of the tools we need between this and next semester,
and so far so good.

We won’t be living high off the hog right off, but we’ll make our
bills, we’ll feed our kids, and if worse comes to worse, his
education in the jewelry program locally puts him in a position for
people calling the school and begging for hires and he’ll still be in
the jewelry business. (It’s one of the best trades as far as people
calling the school and asking for anyone who is willing to work with

There are a few niches we fill here, and we’re making sure we do fit
those niches so we have a wider customer base.

Good luck! And have faith. For us, not trying would be far worse.
Sometimes folks just don’t realize…yes, there are a lot of
businesses failing. All across the board. Does that mean we ought to
sit at home, make jewelry as a hobby to give away for Christmas, and
never fail because we never tried?

In order to succeed we have to be willing to risk failure. Sometimes
several times. But continuing to strive for our dreams is empowering.

Be well,