Shoot, now I don't know what music I'm supposed to listen
This writing was triggered by a certain blue pendant lately, but
it's not about it in any real way. First I'll get two things out of
the way. This is a writing about relative quality and it's assumed
that we all have standards beneath which we simply won't go. It's a
question of whether to go high or even higher, it's not a question
of putting out substandard work.
Second, very, very important - this is not, not, not a writing about
idealism, it's about having and running a jewelry business andmaking
a living by making and selling jewelry. Engrave this in your brains,
do not respond to this about how you imagine life might be in a
perfect world, because it's not.
Let's make a 1/2 round wedding band, shall we? Just an everyday band
with a domed top. I'm guessing that a good portion of readers are
saying, "Sure, I have low dome wire right over there". So, you cut
off a piece, bend, solder, file the seam and polish. Nothing wrong
with that, people do it every day. There are several potential
issues with that depending on what you consider issues. One is that
the seam CAN be perfectly filed but it rarely is, the other is that
itlooks like wire bent into a circle and most of that stock wire has
little dimension - still, they are perfectly fine rings, even if
there's usually aflat spot where it's soldered.
So, we go to the rolling mill. Idon't have 1/2 round rollers and I'm
not sure I'd use them much if I did. We roll out a piece of stock to
any dimension our heart desires, cut off a piece, bend and solder.
Then we file it flat and clean it up, and then we file the dome on
it. I talked about how to do that lately under filing, so I won't do
it again. What we run into here is the resolution ofour files - I'd
start with a #0 file and go to #2 or maybe #4 depending onmy mood.
The #0 file can only define a line to a certain degree, and ditto
for every other file. You can only file SO precisely with a #0
because of the height of the teeth, even if you are good at it. So
you grade your files just like you grade sandpaper. Me, I'll stop at
#4 and go to sandpaper, and I use an inside ring buff on the
outside, which works just fine. Then a good Tripoli will smooth it
Thing is, if weworked for Graff
that wouldn't be good enough.
After we filed #4, we'd go to #6 and file the whole ring to the
resolution of the file. I'm saying we wouldn't just remove scratches,
we'd refine all lines and curves to the level of #6. Man, that's a
lot of work. Not only that but we'd measure with calipers all along
and if it's supposed to me 4mm and somehow you fudged and got 3.9
somewhere you'd scrap it and start over. THAT'S quality. If you were
filing a prong on the sides and just caught the edge and put a tiny
nick you wouldn't file it away, you'd remove the prong and do it
again. Every wire must be just exactly, precisely the same as every
other wire. Precisely.
The problem is that the Graff ring is a $2000 wedding band in a
world of $500 wedding bands - the guy with the skill to file like
that is pulling down some bucks and it's a few hours work. And Graff
doesn't do that, or rarely. This example applies to ring shanks and
all sorts of real work. How fine is fine?
Real world. Two months ago I had a one carat natural vivid pink (mid
5 figures). Two weeks ago I delivered a 1/2 carat solitaire with 1/4
ct. of melee set into a split shank to a nice young, not
wealthycouple. Today I finished an alter job for a fine guild store
up near Cartier and Boucheron and I also took in a $20 stone to be
mounted in a silver setting, for an old colleague/friend's niece's
13 year birthday next month. The notion that somehow all of those
pieces should be worked to the same level of quality (remember
statement #1, in the beginning) is what can decide whether you
succeed in business or not.
Every piece or work in the jewelry business is about money, whether
it's high or low or thecustomer's budget or what the market/venue
will bear. You can make Graff quality work if you have Graff
clientele, otherwise you're going to have lots of inventory. Plus
they are setting million dollar stones. So, yes - bend silver wire
around and solder it for the flea market or show, roll it out if
it's more custom, put eight hours into it if somebody's paying for
that. But think about these things and maybe you'll even make money.
John D. - Jo-Ann pointed out that I never sign things - modest I
guess except I just never had the habit. I'm going to try to
John- I recently had to make two half round double rolling rings and
two plain half round wedding bands in silver as movie props. That's a
total of six rings in three different sizes. For those of you who
like, one was for Reese Witherspoon.
As is usual in the film biz it was a rush job. I had one day.
Rolled and bent heavy sterling bar stock. Soldered the seams with IT
solder. Jammed them on a mandrel on our mini lathe. Made the dome
with first a carbide cutter, next a file, and then emery. Removed
from the lathe and comfort fit the insides with a roatary file and
emery then polish. All done within two hours. Aaaand because of the
lathe, perfect. No calipers needed.
I still had time left over to work on another project that day.
I have two working speeds. Trade shop everything is an emergency,
and fine high end take my time and never rush.
I think it's important to be able to do both and make money at the
We charge $75-100 per hour wholesale for our labor and never ever
apologize for our prices.
Have fun and make lots of jewelry and money too.
Ever read "Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"? If not, you
should. The whole book is an attempt to define quality, in almost
the same terms you propose. It's one of those famous 'refugee from
the 70's' sorts of books, but it really is something that anyone who
needs to make things with their hands should read. I re-read it
every few years, and always pull something new from it. It's about
the need to create something that *has* quality.
Now if it was *me* making that ring, depending on how over the top I
felt like being, it wouldn't have a seam at all.
Specialized deep draw kit for hydraulic press, especially designed
to draw heavy walled seamless tubing for ring blanks.
Next to the lathe, from which to part off a bunch of ring blanks
(washers) (bored to ring size on ID, nach) and then onto a set of
expanding mandrels to let me get a radius turning rig onto the OD,
to turn whatever radius I want the OD of the ring to be.
Geometrically perfect, and seamless. (better even than the guys hand
filing at Graff.)
Weirdly, it'd probably take me longer to find all the parts of that
rig than it would to actually make a ring that way. (I've moved
twice since I did a lot of that, so they're all in boxes. And I've
changed radius attachments (and lathes) so I'd have to check to make
sure this setup would go that small.)
Failing that, I'd do the same thing up until the radius setup. Put
the mandrel in the CNC lathe over at Lee's place, and cut whatever
OD profile I want, simple radius, or complex form. Whatever. With
resolution of .0001".
I used to do a bunch of ring blank turning for channel seat rings.
One of the guys I worked for made a whole line that way, and I had a
lathe that could do it easily. So... (I've got a lathe with a lot of
very expensive dust stuck in the corners.)
In the real world, 99/100 of the time, I'd solder up half round
wire. You can get deep "D" wire, or alternately, if I really was
after a deeper "D", and it really did matter, I'd probably draw a
deeper "D" section myself. I've got the plates for that. (Or I could
use the lathe to *make* a deeper "D" outboard roller for one of my
The thing I notice about all of my answers is that they all require
a *lot* of tooling, just to do a very simple job, albeit in the most
accurate possible ways. Sometimes, simplicity is expensive. Or,
getting *exactly* what you want is expensive.
So is the question about the value of quality, or the value of
imperceptible differences? Or is it just how insane is insane
*enough*? Are you trying to figure out where the line is when it's
OK to say "done"?
Ever read "Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"? If not, you
should. The whole book is an attempt to define quality,
No Brian, I'm familiar with it but never read it. Maybe I will. I
have a lathe too, but that all sort of misses the point. And mostly
this is just something to write about that's hopefully useful. See a
topic, write it.......Commercial wedding bands are made on CNC
lathes with diamond tooling. They're not polished after, they come
off the machines shiny bright. There's actually two perspectives
that come to the same place. Oneperspective is the germ that started
this thought - That's not how I woulddo it even though I don't
actually HAVE a jewelry business. Related to that are those who make
"strange" things because they don't have to sell it, which is nice
work if you can get it. The other side of the coin is the more
positive side - in the real world of making jewelry as a profession
that pays the rent and the bills, you ALWAYS have to think about
money, budget, time and materials beginning with design and
continuing on through execution.
My filed-stock wedding ring is just an example of relative quality,
but it's a good one. One thing it does is mark a line between
silversmithing and goldsmithing, in a way. If I make a ring that way
ingold it will take me maybe 40 minutes, start to finish. In platinum
it's a little longer. For a 500 or 1000 dollar ring that's not
significant. I'm not going to do research right now but I'm thinking
an average bandlike that in silver is probably ten or twenty bucks on
Ebay or even onlinevendors, and that includes $5 worth of silver or
whatever. You just can't compete with that by spending a half hour
filing and the point is that we all need to think about these things
if we expect to succeed in the real world of jewelry making. That's
not to say that you can't sell it once, but you can't compete in the
marketplace. Again, it's just conversation - something thoughtful to
write about. If it's silver you need to find another way, if you
expect to make money, that is.
I remember the moment when I quit making models by contract. It's
boring to begin with, to me, but I made something for someone and
charged $150 or something and he said, "Why so much? It's just a
silver ring....." What he didn't see, get or understand in any way
was that it wasn't "just a silver ring", it was a PERFECT silver
ring. Everything was just exactly so and what he saw was the
perfection without understanding the perfection or how that
perfection came to be. The money was actually cheap for the time
because nobody ~ever~ wants to pay what models are actually worth
for the investment in time and I knew that $300 just wasn't going to
happen. And no, nothing is actually perfect but we can try.
And yes, Brian, the point is when do you stop and call it done. In
the real world of a $1500 budget we need to know how to say, "This
is what they get for the amount I'm being paid." And stillmake it
beautiful and not seem like we are cheaping out. It's probably the
toughest thing about being in business - my business is making what
people want, I don't sit there churning out my own line - knowing
how to adjust all the factors so the budget is fullfilled and the
customer feels like they got MORE than they paid for.
I guess I'm not quite understanding your question.
On one hand you're talking about production design issues related to
production methods versus part cost, and on the other you're talking
about quality. OK, so what do you mean by "quality"?
(Keeping in mind that defining "quality" drove the protagonist of
"Zen & Motorcycles" quite literally insane.) (Read it anyway, it all
works out in the end, and the road(head) trip on the way is
Seriously, how is hand filing to "X" resolution a greater grade of
"quality" than using drawn "D" section wire? If you arrive at an
essentially indistinguishable destination, (and the destination is
the goal) how does it make much difference *how* you got there?
If "finished for sale" is defined as a ring of size X, in material
Y, of cross section Z, within tolerance bands of ABC on ID, OD, and
profile respectively, with a surface finish of W, none of those
things talk about the method, only the end goal.
Where does "quality" creep into that? And what makes one approach of
"higher" quality than another?
I'm serious about that question.
I'll admit, my bit in the last message about deep drawing tube and
then lathe turning it was intended to be wildly over the top, but I
really did once *do* that, for someone who needed deadly precise
seamless channel rings. (back when gold was about $250/ozt, so the
swarf wasn't so hideously expensive.) So I've got the gear, and if I
were going to be doing enough rings to make it worth the expense of
either drawing the tube myself, or buying it, I'd give serious
thought to doing it that way. What I lose in metal costs I make up
in time, for multiples.
Objectively, having geometrically precise rings would have to be of
higher "quality" than fudging it in by hand, but somehow, I don't
think you're going to agree with me on that. I'm not even sure I
Does "quality" in the sense that I think you mean it even relate to
a finished piece of production jewelry? Or are the criteria for
production pieces more about meeting certain physical targets,
rather than ticking off checkpoints on the route to the finished
You know the old saying about most any craft: there are
"destination" people, and "journey" people. One set just wants to
see the object arrive at the destination state of "done", nevermind
how, and the other are far more interested in the "how" of the
process, rather than the end goal. It seems like you're saying that
"quality" is an attribute of the journey, rather than the
So, what do you mean by quality?
Where does "quality" creep into that? And what makes one approach
of"higher" quality than another?
Well Brian I can see the gears spinning in your brain, which is kind
of the point of my writing this, is to think about things.
Number one, we went to a funeral a few weeks ago for a 92 year old
cousin. A relatively small crowd for our Italian family, his kids
and grandkids and others. When the priest asked if anybody wanted to
say anything, nobody did. But he was never wrong, whatever that
Number two, I wrote the start of this thread in a effort to move
this forum onwards from all of that. No other reason, really, I'm
just a writer by nature.
Number three, as I said in the beginning, I am talking about
business, not idealism. Making jewelry (orrelated things)
successfully so that you have cash flow that becomes self
perpetuating and can live off of your work. The topic is phrased as
a question but it is rhetorical.
In a nutshell, time is money. One person gets a silver wire and
makes a band very casually, throws it in the tumbler and calls it
quality, another makes it in gold by filing stock as I talked about,
but fairly casually (like me) and calls it quality. Cartier uses the
same methods but insists that the tolerances must be +/- half a
tenth everywhere, and calls it quality. Yes, you can use a lathe but
theband is only an easy example and the lathe is just a labor saving
device (time=money). And yes Brian and others, they are all correct.
"This is my space and my product and if I say it's quality, it is."
That's theclassroom and book and philosophy part and I have no
problem with any of that.
Thing is, those three rings don't have the same value, meaningprice,
ultimately, even discounting the metals cost. Not only does the
Cartier ring have triple or more the time it also has triple the
skill level, which translates into labor cost. And this is obvious
but it's alsothe reality of running a jewelry business. There are
those in this world who will say, "That's not good enough for me"
and there are others who will say that they like it funky. You, as a
businessperson need to supply those people with what they want. It's
just not as simple as some philosophical argument about aesthetics
or machinery or handmade or what, it becomes about cash, and making
So. You handmake everything. Why? You never buy commercial findings?
Why not? You would never use casting as a process. Again, why not?
If the reader has good, valid answers to those (and other) questions
then that's fine. If it'sjust a mindset that "this is how things are
done", as with our seemingly dear departed, then maybe you are
shooting yourself in the foot.
If you're making a custom setting that's unique, then that's one
thing. If you're making the same setting you can buy from Stuller
for fifty bucks because "everything has to be handmade, dammit" then
that's quite another. I understand the differences between forged
metal and cast but whether those differences actually mean anything
in the real world in any given circumstance is arguable, at times,
not arguable at other times.
Business. You can fabricate your special setting over and over and
over or you can make a line of models and cast them. Not only does
your outright cost get cut by a tenth, but then whoever does the
work doesn't need to have theskill to make the setting, just to
stick it wherever it's supposed to go. The job changes from special
order to assembly and who is to say the quality is less? Not me, in
The reason this comes up is because one said that another's work
lacked something that the other justdidn't care to hear about - I'm
assuming. It's fine to be a critic if you are neither buying nor
selling nor making it and have no stake whatsoever, in the end. In
the real world of this business I have to make these decisions every
day - this is a hundred dollar job and it gets that much, that's a
two thousand dollar job and it gets THAT much. It's all a car - all
of the cars have engines, brakes and wheels and they are all shiny
and function well. That's a fundamental meaning of quality. In our
case, this car has fabric and that one has leather, that one has a
Because somebody is paying for it.
Ever read "Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"? If not, you
should. The whole book is an attempt to define quality,
Thank you for this reminder! A very good friend recommended this
book to me about twelve years ago, and when I saw it a couple of
years back, I bought it. I started reading it but got side tracked
and haven't finished it. I will dig it out and start it again! Being
a former biker, I was enjoying it.
I remember the moment when I quit making models by contract.
nobody ~ever~ wants to pay what models are actually worth for the
investment in time
I used to make masters for wholesalers who wanted me to make resin
jewellery for them. They always tried to screw me on the price. They
thought they were a genius for some crap artwork, usually an idea
they stole from some one else.
I had to turn into a production run.
Just because they had a shop and sold wholesale does not make a
I had one tell me I was too expensive because they needed to make
300% wholesale. Guess what I told them?
Had one tell me that I would be paid AFTER the order was delivered
to the shop, LOL. Said I have to think about that.
Rang the shop and sold it to them at double my wholesale price.
Delivered it and got paid, the shop was happy to pay half of what
they expected. Rang the wholesaler and told them I had delivered it
and now they were out of the equation. Wow were they pissed.
Too bad I did not work for weeks to WAIT to get paid. Did a lot of
business with that shop for years, we were happy.
Had one customer order 3 weeks production and when I came to deliver
they told me that they had spent their money on another range.
I said I have to make a phone call. Who was I ringing they wanted to
know, customs, to report you for smuggling into a neighbouring
Got paid, surprise surprise.
In the end I sold direct to shops, it was extra work but double the
money. Till I had one complain the jewellery did not sell, found the
price tag 200% over the recommended retail, too bad I said, every
customer who sells at the right price does good volume.
Then I sold to only one shop the owner paid me $500 dollars in
advance for each order and the balance on delivery. Did $2,000 a
I will never forgive him for getting old and retiring. LOL.
Just remembered when I worked for a female friend's wholesale
business. A customer turned up 3 months late to pay and then took
another order of stock and I wanted to know if it would be 30 days
as agreed. The fool said "You know you can trust me." I said of course
because if you don't a debt collector, think six foot six and nasty,
will find you. And no one in the trade will deal with you again after
you get out of hospital. I don't like guys who think they can con
women (my boss) and act like a smart arse. Paid on time, every time,
after our "little chat".
Even though the money was great I just got sick of this sh*t.
As David Bowie sang "F*ck fashion." If you play in the fashion
business you need to be very hard to get paid.
These are just a few of these types of stories, I have lots more.
There is a dark side to this business which you don't hear about
often on this forum.
Those in the trade have met the shysters, I post this as a heads up
for Newbies. Believe what you have been told when the cash is in
Now for the last 20 years I make and and sell direct to the public.
I use word of mouth, sell in markets (the best advertising) and by
appointment in my show room.
Selling direct to the customer is a very pleasing experience and I
like the direct feed back. So glad I left that fashion crap behind.
Quality is a slippery issue. I prefer the definition used by a
certainstyle mogul when he closed an entire counterfiet interdiction
division down overnight: "The customer who buys a knock item off
will never buy our product. The customer who buys our product will
never be fooled by a knockoff. They are two completely different
markets, for two completely different products. The two ideas have
nothing to do with each other." So, I think everyone is correct in
their definition so long as they can define it accurately by the
expectations and needs of their intended customer.
Re The posting from John and Jo-Ann Donivan of October 30
Not sure if it is written by john or Jo Ann, but this kind of
postings makes Orchid such a great start in the morning, I certainly
hope that Orchid stays the same format and contributors like the
Donivan's keep contributing.
And then there is that element of quality beyond and aside from the
"somebody paying for it", where quality is not defined by the cost
to make an item or the price of the finished item. It is that
ineffable and inexpressible aspect of an object, be it jewelry,
paintings, weavings, ceramics, or other media, or functional or
non-functional, that speaks with a voice that cannot be ignored and
I do understand the type of quality that John and Jo-Ann, and many
others of us on Orchid, are defining, and aiming for in our work. A
beautifully constructed article of jewelry is a lovely thing to
behold and wear. And I hope that I am understanding those comments
about quality as referencing skilled construction, no matter the
process of construction.
What I aim for in my work, my jewels, my drawings, even my fiber
work (which I do as a meditative, relaxing task) is good
construction of objects that also resonate, for want of a better
word, beyond the inherent value of the medium and the price a
collector is willing to pay. I do want a dialogue to begin between
the piece, whatever it is, and the collector. I do suspect that for
John and Jo-Ann's work this dialogue is also present, that their
work, and the work of many other Orchidians, sometimes offers this
unintentional aspect. It's just not something easily described, and
so it does not receive the attention or discussion on Orchid that it
This reminds me of the age-long discussion of duende, a concept
whose origins reside in flamenco music and dance. Federico Garcia
Lorca, spoke of the nature of duende and quoted Goethe, who defined
it as follows: "A mysterious force that everyone feels and no
philosopher has explained.. it's not a question of skill, but of a
style that's truly alive: meaning, it's in the veins: meaning, it's
of the most ancient culture of immediate creation". Now that's what
I'm talkin' about!!!
And, if I may offer a Charles Dicken's quotation I initially
encountered in Tim's "Design Language"... "The whole difference
between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing
constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing
created is loved before it exists." Yes, yes, and yes!
Love the quote! Good to have!
good construction of objects that also resonate, for want of a
better word, beyond the inherent value of the medium and the price
a collector is willing to pay. I do want a dialogue to begin
between the piece, whatever it is, and the collector.
That is what I aim for, often, in my work. It makes my creative life
And I hope that I am understanding those comments about quality as
referencing skilled construction, no matter the process of
Largely yes, Linda and thank you Peter, from John. I'llsay that I
write these sorts of things at times to try to get a dialogue going
- sometimes successfully and sometimes not - about things other than
which sawblade to use. Nothing wrong with sawblades but that can be
another thread. It's not because I like the sound of my own voice.
Or presume to lecture.
I call what Linda refers to "zap value" - my own personal term. Make
it, finish it, add up your costs and all of that and then sit back
and take a look at it. Some pieces just put it all togetherin ways
you can't define as filing or sawing or even proportion and the
like. I have a box I made years ago that's like that - it's no
longer for sale because I like it so much and it's always a big hit
when it comes out to show.
One thing I've tried to get into on this particular threadis the
unmentionable to some that just has to be addressed - money. Notthe
quest for money and "MORE, MORE, MORE" but the cash flow kind and
that's what fuels a real business kind.
I got the sense that someone with two failed businesses was telling
someone with a very successful one to invest endless time into a
perfectly fine piece already. That's what people with too much time
on their hands do, is waste it. Another side of the coin is an
experience I can tell. A somewhat arty sort we had business with
wanted a diamond. Seems like it was maybe yellow, I forget. SoI ask
him what he wants to spend, what's his budget. This is because I can
go ten bucks or a million dollars and anything in between. And I'm
not going to ship stones at $50 a box to play hot/cold with him.
SOP, really. His response I don't remember word for word but it was
along the lines of "I'm an artist and I'm not comfortable discussing
money". I told him to take the proverbial hike....... Well, nicer
than that but I don'tplay games with diamonds. We, those of us who
are successful, are in the business of making art for sale. Lots of
people need, or could benefit, from taking off the "I'm an artist"
hat andputting on the "this is a business" hat.
There's this curious attitude that's not prevalent but not rare
either - art and money don't mix, ifyou make a living you've sold
out, artists starve or they're not artists. Many or most of you
understand what I'm saying. I've had a whole list in my head,
thinking about this writing, but it's just too long - Michelangelo,
Da Vinci, Warhol, Matisse. Faberge and Lalique for jewelry among
thousands of others. Dali's estate was around 20 million as I recall,
Picasso's was around 90. Not to mention Walt Disney and well jeez you
could just go on and on. Art is just a profession, that's it, that's
all. Jo-Ann Says (besides hi), "So, did you sign your name to it?"
Which I was about to forget to do again.......:-) John D.
I had to think about this. I though about how I work.
Suppose you're a pianist. One day you're playing Chopin, the next
day a medley of pop songs. It's a living. Do you play with less
concentration or less finesse when you play the pop songs? If you're
any good, you'd probably have to actually make an effort to play more
"badly" for the pop songs.
That's how I approach jewelry. The decision making process is so old
and familiar it's barely something I conciously do. I grab materials
and tools and go from point A to point B. How careful am I, how
thorough? Well, over the years I've become better at discerning
imperfections, and I've come to a point where I automatically resolve
those. I'd no more leave them there than I would leave a spelling
error in a document that I noticed. But I mean this adamently: there
is a point at which you can be obsessive/compulsive about it and
that has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with mental
And it can cover up the fact that you haven't learned your trade
very well or discliplined yourself to take the time to attend to
what's really important. You can only recognize this by how much
emotional distress you impose on yourself and others. And learning
this is pretty much the biggest job of what's important and what's
So, it will take me X number of hours and minutes, and that's a
certain hourly rate, and add the cost of materials and the profit I
want to add for those. So yes, a silver half round band ends up
costing $100 and a gold one $400 and they take the same time. Can I
make the silver ring cheaper? Sure, but I'm not interested in doing
that just once. You want to buy 300, we'll talk. Meanwhile, the
customer doesn't want to spend $100 on a silver ring? (Actually,
that's usually not a problem). I drag out a catalog and see what I
can buy it for. Yes, it can be bought a little cheaper.
Now, I look in that catalog and see I can buy the gold ring for
about what it would cost to make it. I've learned something. Next
time, I'll be less inclined to think about making it first, regardless
of gold or silver .
So, how much quality do I put into the things I do? All of it, the
best I can do. Because that's my habit of working, and I've spent my
entire career getting to the point where I can do things that way and
get paid for it. For me, it's just easier to follow my compulsion to
do things right.
What's my point in all this? It's this; you don't do this for love
or money. Because you'll be broke some times, and you'll be broken
hearted other times.
You do this because it's something you can get good at, and get
reasonably well paid for, and it doesn't incline you to go out and
drink your lunch or come back with a gun and shoot everyone in the
place. If you want riches and stardom, go for it. I think it's
unlikely, and probably not worth it, but who am I to say?
David L. Huffman
Something that has troubled me about quality, and this is not true in
all cases. But in general I have found that in large and successful
retail jewelry stores that neither the customers or the sales people
are able to recognize quality work. That if a customer asks for a
custom made piece and it is beautifully made to the highest standards
of any critical eye, the customer and the sales person will both love
it. But if the same the piece is made 1/2 as well as it could and
should be, the customer and salesperson still love it.
For me that is a discouraging fact. The people who don't do the
making usually can not recognize the lack of quality. If they saw
the beautifully made piece next to the 1/2 as good piece, I'm sure
they would choose the better one. But they are never offered that
comparison. The stores decision makers are usually looking at the
bottom line and growth and if 1/2 as good is cheaper and still makes
people happy, then that's the way they go. Not that they can usually
recognize the quality difference. although they think they can. This
doesn't effect the way I work. I still want to do the best work I
can and always feel like it could be better. But the fact remains
that sadly there is generally a pretty low bar set for acceptable
In some ways this is good for the small independent jewelry maker
who does care about always making a quality piece. It thins out the
John-Thanks for that.
I credit my success with the fact that my late father was a very
fine artist who did commercial work as well as fine portraits. I am
totally comfortable with the concept that art and money can be good
The trick in this trade is to never sell your own wallet. "Sixty
grand for a piece of jewelry? Wow! I could never afford that." It's
not about what we can afford or want, it's about what our clients
desire and want to spend.
How careful am I, how thorough? Well, over the years I've
becomebetter at discerning imperfections, and I've come to a point
where I automatically resolve those.
Yes David, we all have a level of ability and skill that is
"automatic" for us, whether high or low. We will never go below it
because it's just what we do every day. My $20 stone setting that I
mentioned earlier on this thread is going to be finished today - a
silver basket setting for a pendant. I haven't weighed it but they
said it's 25 cts. A bright red synthetic topaz heart, 20mm by 23mm
or about an inch each dimension. For those who say they'd never
touch such a job - I do special order to begin with, this is a
friend of high affection and it's for her family. I'm charging $100
for about a $300 job because it's token payment for what is really a
favor. If it were a straight job I wouldn't accept it either.
So, the setting itself - a basket setting with a V point and two
split prongs (4 prongs in the end) on the shoulders, shaped more
like a bowl than a box. Imagine your hand with your fingers coming
up like a claw. Simple enough. A couple of things - instead of
actually setting the V point it's a sheet metalV prong filed down to
the girdle line and then a piece of sheet is soldered on top and
shaped. The point slips under and the other prongs do the setting.
I'm going to contrast this job with a 25 ct. diamond in a minute.
This is something you'd never do with a diamond. I'm going to rubber
wheel all over, throw it in the magnetic tumbler to shine up the
inside and polish with bristle brush and green rouge. If it were
platinum I'd take a couple of hours with polishing wheels and it
would be shiny all over before it ever hit the polisher. I would
have lapped the inside edges before assembly in platinum. This is
just sanded, partly because silver doesn't keep it's polish through
soldering. It's very stylish and elegant, something that has more to
do with talent than budget - just the way you choose to do things
that takes no more time than other ways would.
The bale is a piece of 4mm by 1mm stock bent into a circlewith a
tail coming off one side. The tail is filed to a point and the
circle is simply soldered to the upper gallery and the point just
touches the lower gallery and is soldered there. Also very stylish
and elegant. And simple but not plain. It's a fine looking pendant
if I do say so myself. My friend will say oooh and aaah and her 13
year old niece will beproud to wear it.
OK, so what if it was a 25 ct. diamond? You guys are actually,
seriously suggesting that everything would be the same and the time
would be the same and the level of detail and quality and everything
would be the same for a 5 million dollar, at least, stone?
Seriously? Or is that just schoolroom philosophy........
First off, the metal would be different which already changes the
dynamic. My silver prongs are large (because they are silver) and I
was pretty casual about the clearance and pushing them over. For the
diamond all the prongs would have to be tight around the girdle
which isn't just the prongs, the setting itself would need a higher
level of precision to achieve that. Just grabbinga concept out of
the air for the bale, I'd make it dangle. I'd actuallywant something
softer for a heart diamond, but a roll of graduated baguettes comes
to mind, maybe a carat or so. On the pendant maybe I'd make an arch
on the top with a drilled hole to hang by. Maybe a flat wire
archwith sheet down the center line so it has dimension, the hole
trimmed bya gold loop. Heck, we could pave' some one pointers across
the top of it, that would be nice. Just making the loop on top
exceeds the budget and time constraints of my synthetic topaz, which
is a perfectly fine piece. The baguette bale itself would take a
Again, because someone is paying for it. If you want to have a
successful jewelry business you need to think about these things
without the idealism, every day. Your skill and ability and talent
is a gas pump: "I'll take 50 bucks worth........"
Thank you David for your eloquent response. I needed it. I need the
encouragement. I sometimes wonder what I am doing making things by
hand one at a time and asking way more than a catalog price for them.
I am not appreciated. I'm not talented. I will never be famous nor
would I care to be. I just love what I do. I make things of quality
that last. I strive to make things that will last many lifetimes. I
feel to make something just for this moment is a waste of time. I can
remember be very young walking through the Field Museum in Chicago,
the Gem exhibit and later the Diamond exhibit, some pieces of jewelry
dating a few thousand years old. Who made that? My hats off to you. I
will keep making in my small workshop, small things of quality made
from precious materials. Maybe someday I will work hard enough to
become talented. I will be an old woman by then but it will be worth
it. Again thanks for the encouragement. Sincerely, Joy Kruse
Following the threads discussing quality in jewelry really resonates
with me. I have just enough people who are so fussy, I have to
remake or redo jobs for them, so it keeps me on my toes. I also have
to answer to a higher authority - the League of NH Craftsmen. They
are always on guard to maintain the quality of the crafts. Being on
the Standards committee means I have to do the best all the time, no
So yes, I bemoan the fact most people don't give a rat's a^% about
quality, and price is a big factor, I still have enough clients who
demand the best and get it. Granted, it's not necessary to make
every single thing perfect, but to me, if the backs of jewelry is
just as well-finishedas the fronts are, then it matters. In fact, I
go a step further and add texture and patterns to the backs of rings
and pendants for more visual effect.
Having worked with metal for so long, my hands know what to do. My
hands are going through the motions of making while my mind is 2-3
steps ahead. In fact, I've had to slow down in class, so that I can
get my handsand mouth to work together as I explain the technique.
Otherwise, my hands are halfway through the demo and my explanation
hasn't quite gottenstarted. Teaching forces you to slow down and
verbalize each step.
There's an old saying in ballet - "Learn the 5 positions throughly
and then quietly forget them"
Same thing applies to metalsmithing. You learn the techniques so
well, it becomes second nature. When I pick up a hammer and start
planishingor forging, I don't even think about it, and just watch
the metal form under the hammerblows. Having done years of ballet,
figure skating, taekwondo, they all benefitted from each other.
People may laugh at ballet, but the foundation you get from it
really pays off big-time in life or other sports.
So yes, it may not seem to matter that most people don't care about
quality, there's always a small group, including us jewelers /
silversmiths / goldsmiths / metalsmiths and craftsmen, plus
collectors who care and appreciate fine quality. Don't give up. Just
do your best, and the foolish people will move on to other less
qualified people. I've kind of let difficult clients move on by
ignoring them or telling them I can't do the job for the.
The last question I have, is that I have to spent many hours doing
researching and finding products to match a specific need for a
client. Howdo you handle that? I only charge when I sit down to make
a custom jobfor a client, and yet, the hours I spend in the evenings
doing research, I don't charge. Has any of you charge for doing
research or searchingfor specific products to meet a client's
specifications? I cannot tell you the hours I've spent, deep in the
wee hours, trying to find specific products. Frustrates me to no end,
for it's time away from my benchand less sleep as well. I'm usually
useless at my bench after 8pm anyways and it's good to hit the