Truth or dare survey

All (and I do mean all)–

All this talk about pricing, etc, has led me to a question I don’t
recall seeing before. I would really like to know, for the sake of
curiosity but also possibly for an article, how many of you out
there are actually living from jewelry. If you are willing, lurkers
included (I know you’re out there, I can hear you breathing), please
tell me what percentage of your (family’s) expenses are met through
jewelry-related work-- from 0% to 100%+. More detail is welcome, but
not necessary.

Hanuman-- is there any way to do this anonymously?

I’ll be happy to share the results, if there are enough responses to
conclude anything from.


Hi Noel, I can tell you that 100 percent of my income is from
jewelry. I have been in the business for over 20 years and have
strived to keep my overhead low and produce as high a quality as I
can. I do a lot of repairs and a good amount of custom work. Being
self taught for the most part has made me under value myself to some
degree, I am working on that and have done much better the last few
years. That I love what I do has always been the biggest pay off for
me. Janine in Redding California

I’ll jump in - 100% of my income comes from the sale of my jewelry.
I’ve been making jewelry as a business for 27 years. When I started,
I had a job that allowed me to do both while getting my business off
the ground. For the last 16 years, it’s been my sole support. I sell
through galleries across the country as well as a few art fairs.

Bonnie Blandford

Well we are a two income family but my jewelry business could
certainly support my family alone if it were necessary (and I could
get my wife to stop spending money { ; )

Daniel R. Spirer, GG
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140

Wow, this is good, I had to “fire” my wife so we had an outside
income from the jewelry store. Since then the business has gotten on
solid ground. I also had to let go of my employees except Pat, who I
could not do with out. With out the employee smiths I find I have
more productive bench time and am able to produce as much with out
them here than when they were here asking questions and needing me to
set up work for them. I think that sub-contracting is the better way
to go for production. Sam Patania, Tucson

For years I was happily contributing a second income from my jewelry
making, with mu husband’s job pretty much supporting us. About a year
and a half ago, however, my husband’s company closed. Now we’re in
the position that so many find themselves in these uncertain days,
trying to make a living from home-based businesses, my jewelry and
his photo restoration. Last year I contributed a good 50% of the
household income. I’m trying to find ways to grow my business this
year, adding shows and finding other venues.

Janet Kofoed

how many of you out there are actually living from jewelry. 

Noel, my wife and I have owned a small jewelry store, where we
primarily do one-of-kind- designs,…and repairs and gemstone sales.
We have been making a living here on expensive,. Hilton Head Island
for 18 years! wOw! Hard to believe it’s been that long. We provide
honest, sincere service and have developed a very good reputation by
word of mouth, ( we rarley advertise) I have won some design
competeiton awards, which usually receive some free P.R. in local
papers and mags. And that has helped a great deal. There are no
Jewelers of America Certified jewelers in the area, so I just
received Certified Bench Jeweler certification, and will get more
free PR from that. We count our blessings, and at this time, trying
to ‘hone’ our expenses. I have been doing jewelry for 28 years, first
for other jewelers, then tradework, and finally my own shop, I dreamt
of for so long. I never thought I’d be one to work 60 -70 weeks, but
love it. Creating one-of-kinds really keeps it interesting and
inspiring, although it is WORK. Feel free to contact me ‘offline’ if
you car to. Sincerley,

Thomas Blair CBJ*
Island Gold Works
Hilton Head Island SC

*Jeweler of America Certified Bench Jeweler

I’m still building up a clientele being somewhat new to the jewelry
business. But even so after 3 years I’m quite satisfied with my 25%
contribution. Luckily for me I’ve been self employed for the
majority of my life and learned to go with the flow and cover my
tail with other income from other creative endeavors. Previously I
supported myself and two daughters with a tailoring/clothing design
business for 27 years but with very simple pleasures. I have the
expectation with the statistics of past sales, with the poor
economic situation of our community witnin the past year taking into
consideration, of increasing my contribution to household finances
to 50%. Now if current situations were altered I could be
contributing 100% and live on that with modifications in lifestyle.
Lisa in rainy NY where the temps are finally above 32 for the first
time in weeks!!!YA!


100% of my income is derived from jewelry. About 70% comes from
custom jobs and stone setting and 30% comes from my own line of
work. However, my wife contributes to the household income. She is
a classically trained opera singer. She contributes about 30% of
the household income, which is pretty good considering that she also
is a stay at home mom.

I’ve taken a pretty big hit from the economy the last couple of
years. You know it’s bad when you’re a jeweler and December is
almost the worst month of the year.

I’ve gotten into some better shows this year and hope to continue
that trend, but I also am doing more advertising of my custom work,
manufacturing and setting which has always done well during slower
economic cycles.

Interesting idea Noel, how about you? Are you going to tell?


Okay… truth time. I was tempted late last year to provide this
to the forum but decided I didn’t want to bum everyone
out. I’ve thrown in the proverbial towel. With the exception of one
show in Ft. Lauderdale over Labor Day weekend (early September), the
last half of 2002 was abysmal for me.

Many of you who have “known” me for a while know that I left a big
name software company a couple years ago to forge a career as an
artist-jeweler. My timing could not have been much worse. The first
year was spent getting my act together and putting all the pieces
into place. I got my show setup and started doing juried fine art
shows. Things were building slowly, but surely. At the end of the
first year I evaluated where I stood and where it looked like I was
going, and decided to continue on the path I had begun.

The second year started out pretty well, considering the economic
uncertainty facing many people. I was ranging far-and-wide on the
east coast, and only got rejected (wait listed) from one show to
which I had applied. Many shows were just about break-even, which
really means I lost money, but I was still learning and doing some of
my best work.

The last half of 2002 went bust. I did a series of shows in the
fall… many of them smaller regional shows in this area, with a
couple bigger “anchor” shows. At a few of the shows I only sold one
item, and the killing blow was the “big finish” show for the season
where I was completely shut out. Not even one sale… to an affluent
and upscale clientele.

Seeing the storm clouds (and mounting bills) gathering on the
horizon, I began shopping myself around to some of the better jewelry
establishments in town. Most of them are in much of a "wait and see"
attitude about the economy, and aren’t in a position to add staff. I
did have a bench test with a “sweat shop” repair facility, and after
four hours, knew I was not cut out for that kind of work. If people
bought decent jewelry in the first place, this crap wouldn’t have to
be repaired!

So, I’ve decided to rejoin the ranks of the corporate minions. Of
course, that’s easier said than done with the layoffs and downsizing
being experienced across the country. I’ve had a couple interviews
for Webmaster type positions, and am hopeful something will
materialize in the near future. My search for a new career is taking
precedent these days.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams, but
when the economy is down, its a lot harder to sell a non-necessity
item, and a salaried job looks quite a bit more attractive. I wish I
had a measly little job to hate again. I’m not a quitter by nature,
and it really disturbs me to come to the conclusion that I made a
mistake in tossing away my job to follow my passion. I’m the type of
person who believes that if you are committed and passionate, you
will be successful. Now I think I should just be committed…

Better times are sure to come.

All the best,


Hi Noel, For me it’s about 95%. I have a retail store in a small
town, plus operate a small wholesale manufacturing company supplying
to retailers around the midwest. The other 5% comes from my elected
position in county government. This supplies 5% of my income, yet
demands 25% of my time, so not necessarily a good tradeoff. Jon
Michael Fuja

I’ll respond… and based on the couple of responses I’ve seen so
far, I guess I’m the “curve-breaker”. Right now, my jewelry business
is contributing 0% to my family income. Or maybe more appropriately,
-10%. However, I’m just starting out (been working it for about 1.5
years), and up until this last month (Jan), most “sales” have been to
family members and friends. Actually, January was my first "profit"
month, grossing a stunning $115.00! :slight_smile:

I would like for this to be my sole source of income, and I’m
working slowly toward this. I’m not displeased with my “performance"
so far and feel that I am on the right track. Fortunately, I do have
a “day” job that allows me some free time to turn my “hobby” into a


Dear Noel, I was self employed for many years. The work consisted of
trade work and a school for professional jewlers(short course, 1 to
2 week concentrated study). Following some personal tragedy, I opted
to work for “someone else” and am doing that today. My income has
been essentially all from my jewelry work. However, without the wife
and her job and insurance, I would have been forced to take a more
direct course into the jewelry industry again. And, with the
crumbling of the place where I am now emloyed, that might well be
the future direction.

I am convinced if I can get past the carpal tunnel stuff and somehow
eventually get a laser, I can support the family on jewelry work
alone. If repair is not part of it, then with enough time in a bad
enconmy to rebuild a location, I do believe my custom services can
support the family if needbe.

In the earlier years, my income was about 70% of family income, not
counting insurance costs. More recently, my wonderful spouse has
inceased more than I have while I am “employed” by someone besides
myself. Today, it is about 55-45, quite a drop from 70% but with the
initiative and willingness to take the chance some year ago, that
figure could be 100% from my side. Sometimes life takes turns with
us. It has with me. So, I am where I am. Hindsight will not change
that nor will the idea of greener fields if I had done something

Thanks for hearing this. Does it help at all? Thomas.

Hello. This is my first post so I hope I do it right. Regarding
Noel’s Truth or Dare question, I consider myself a stay-at-home Mom,
yet I have established an astonishing business by pretty much just
stringing beads. I’m trying to teach myself more skilled techniques,
but that is another story. Anyway, figuring what percentage of our
income comes from my business is tough because there are so many
factors: figuring out my exact profit, and figuring in all the
expenses and taxes that go with a regular paycheck. For example, I
do not need to pay for day care, gas, lunches out, or a business
wardrobe. When I get discouraged, my husband, who is an accountant,
walks me through the numbers. His conclusion is that I am making
just as much as I would at a $40,000 or so regular management
corporate job. The beauty of it is I do what I love, I don’t deal
with corporate politics and I’m there for my kids. I can take a
vacation whenever I want, and many of my customers have become
friends. However, I realize that not all are so lucky in not having
to support a family. Rebecca

This was a hard one for me to answer.  If I look at my monthly
salary, which at this point is pretty small, I would say no. 
However, I have two employees on staff, we pay our bills, we
continue to purchase equipment, we pay our faculty what they ask
for and their expenses.  Metalwerx pays for my travel to
conferences and to shows.  We purchased Dynamic Displays to start
selling my work and others in the studio. 

I think I have struck on the formula that will allow me a decent
salary now. Since I am a for profit company, I don’t have the
problems that a lot of non-profits do such as committees deciding
what my budgets will be. I have the luxury of not explaining or
justifying a purchase. If an instructor needed a piece of equipment
and it seemed reasonable, then I just purchased the equipment.

This semester has been one of the best ever. I think in order to
stay in business, you have to be flexible and take risks. In the
end, I think my hard work is paying off. We have gone from nothing
to something in less than five years. What people did for glass and
ceramics, has just been applied to metalsmithing. It’s not unique or
different, it just takes courage and the ability to discard something
quickly if it doesn’t work. Marketing is a HUGE part of what I do. I
am always at conferences, gallery openings, trade shows talking up
Metalwerx. I’m always looking at ways to make things better, more
streamlined etc. Most important, it takes friends, support and
enthusiasm for something you love.

So the answer is yes!

Karen Christians
10 Walnut St.
Woburn, MA 01801
Fax: 781/937-3955
Accredited Jewelry Instruction

 please tell me what percentage of your (family's) expenses are met
through jewelry-related work-- from 0% to 100%+. More detail is
welcome, but not necessary. 

I think it was in the last year that the Crafts Report published a
survey on this very issue. Of course that demographic doesn’t
include retailers and bench jewelers such as are on this list.

The results of that survey were depressing – the majority of
respondents did not rely soley on their metalwork for family income.

They broke it down into part timers and full timers.

You may be able to find it on their website. It might have been in
the Insight section.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor

I’m mostly a supply business now, so maybe I don’t qualify to answer
this survey, but I thought I’d contribute my thoughts anyway. I’ve
been in business since 1997. I’m very fortunate that I’ve got a
spouse who makes a good income, because I wouldn’t have survived
otherwise. I made less than nothing the first couple of years. My
company didn’t really take off until I changed the primary focus of
my business from selling jewelry to selling supplies and teaching.
2002 was the first year I significantly contributed to our
household, but I’m still at a low percentage. It’s getting better
all the time though.

There are certainly a lot of factors that contribute to success or
failure. One of the biggest is that you have to treat it like
business. You have to work in a business like manner. This may seem
obvious on the surface, but I can’t tell you how many struggling
jewelry makers I talk to who really haven’t got a clue how to run a
business. So many are still trying to “make some money with their
hobby”. That isn’t a mind-set that leads to significant income.
There’s so much more to it than making pretty things and waiting for
the world to beat a path to your door. 90% of any business is
marketing. Fail in that, and no matter how good your work is,
you’re never going to make a living off of it.

One organization I highly recommend for anyone just starting out is
the Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE). It’s a volunteer
organization that works hand and glove with the Small Business
Administration (SBA). SCORE provides free counseling for
individuals starting or running small businesses. They also offer
free or very low cost seminars on a wide variety of business topics.
It’s an incredible resource for people who are serious about making
a living from their work. You can find more about them

Pam East
Enamel Bead Making Made Easy!

Noel, We (my wife and myself) make all of our income from being
jewelry slaves. I have had apprentices over the years. After the last
one decided he wanted to fish instead of work, I started training my
wife. She keeps begging me to fire her. I do work for four stores. I
have a studio in town nearby (SEE Orchid bench pics) and a bench set
up in a mall store. The mall store generates the most work. I do a
Penny’s store and two antique jewelry stores and anything that
crosses my path. Customs and tons of repair work. I have had my own
stores over the years. This last incarnation has been about nine
years. I spend a very unhealthy amount of time in the mall store. I
am a contractor and basically lease a very small room. It is the
width of my bench with a counter top on each side of the bench and is
about eight feet long. Stuffed with steamer ultrasonics buffers my
bench and tonight we actually had four people in there at once. The
sales staff uses my buffer to do free ring cleaning. It is starting
to get to me and I was actually thinking of working solely out of my
studio or opening another store but after reading the truth or dare
posts I am thinking may be I should wait. The grass is always

Regards J Morley Coyote Ridge


I have a “real” job, so I can afford to be a starving artist on the
side. However, in the last couple of years my jewelry income has
started to become a fairly large fraction of my year’s gross,
something over a tenth of my income at this point.

If it ever gets to the point that I lose money by being kept away
job – but then, they give me cool toys to play with and pay me to
play with them, so the difference would have to be pretty severe.


Hi Friends!

Wow! I can’t believe the outpouring of encouragement and emotional
support I’ve received since my posting about “hanging it up.” I
responded individually to the first few people who wrote to me, and
each message has touched me personally. I thank you all for your
caring and expressions of feelings.

Let me clarify by saying that I am not bailing out on Orchid, nor am
I locking up my studio and throwing away the key. It’s more of a
realignment of priorities. Having been out of the high-tech market
for a couple years is like a decade in most industries, and I have a
lot of catching up to do in order to make up for lost time and to be
competitive in this job market. After I land that elusive job, I will
have a better feeling for how much time I can spend in the studio.

One position, for which I have an second interview on Thursday, was
described to me as a “very much nine-to-five” job, which should
allow me some time to continue my jewelry work, and possibly even do
a couple shows.

The other side of the equation is why would I continue to make
jewelry when I can’t sell what I’ve already made. Well, it’s in my
blood. While the demands of home and family may lead my career in a
particular direction, the artistic compulsion is still within me. The
last couple years have been a period of significant artistic growth
for me, and for that I am thankful to have had the time.

This next phase in my evolution as an artist-jeweler will cause me
to be more thoughtful about the projects in which I invest my time.
The concern about whether I have enough inventory for an upcoming
show (ha!) will be replaced by the question of whether my limited
time is worth spending on a given idea.

Thanks again to all who have written me and offered their words of
encouragement. This is a remarkable community, and I will continue
to be one of it’s biggest fans.

All the best,


Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)