What would you tell college students?

I get to give a talk next week to a group of college students called
My Life in Jewelry.

While my speech is already written, I’m curious what advice you
would give to college students interested in going into business for
themselves in jewelry?



Elaine, I would tell them the need a LOT of drive and need to be
able to self promote their work to get started.

I'm curious what advice you would give to college students
interested in going into business for themselves in jewelry? 

The audience for jewelry is huge, much larger than “art”. Think of
yourself as a “maker”, “jeweler” or a “goldsmith” If your customers
want to call you an artist, thank them graciously. But beware the
vanity of the artist in business.

In art school your audience is your teachers, your peers and perhaps
the jury for some competitive shows. You succeed by validating your
identity as “an artist”. In business your audience is customers. They
will not just admire or criticize your work, they will buy it or not.
If you are successful, many of your customers will praise you as “an
artist”, but it is just as likely that very good customers, the ones
that make your success possible, are not talking or thinking in
art-speak at all.

Think of specific real people when you design your jewelry. At one
point, several years after I was out of school, I had an inventory of
hundreds of pieces, but when choosing gifts for my own loved ones I
usually felt the need to make something else. The designs and themes
that I created for gifts I was giving myself often turned into best
sellers when I made more of them. The designs that were created from
a perspective of artistic adventure, without a person in mind, just
didn’t work as well.

What a fortunate group of students! A few things I think are

  • Be disciplined! Often the difference between those who succeed and
    those who don’t is procrastination and avoidance of the “not so fun
    "or” scary" stuff.

  • ALWAYS keep learning and seeking more knowledge about your chosen
    endeavor and the support industries around it.

  • Be ethical! Be honest and fair with you customers, your
    colleagues, and your vendors. (As my momma always told me, “Behave
    in such a way in your life that if someone said you did something
    bad nobody would believe them.”)

  • Be thankful! Even on the bad days or with the frustrating
    customers, be glad you have the opportunity to bring joy to people’s
    lives. (I take this lesson from our rescue dog - every day she wakes
    us up early and wags her tail and bounces around, as if to say,
    “Wake up! Isn’t it wonderful?! We are not on the street or in the
    pound today!!! BONUS, we have food and love!!!”)

We have the rare ability to impact people’s lives for generations,
regardless of our role in the supply chain (from “rock hound” to
sales), and that is a wonderful thing indeed!

Donna W
Huntsville, AL

I would advise them to look into running a business of their own,
designing jewelry and having it manufactured. I would make the
business large enough to start off with one or two employees that
can help rep the jewelry line at shows. I think they would have to
figure out what kind of jewelry they want to produce (price point)
who they want as customers, and then sort out what shows to do. In
order to be successful, they must know the different processes of
jewelry manufacturing and what is available to them before they start
the process of designing. I always go back to one of my favorite
lines of jewelry, Ed Levin designs in Cambridge, N.Y. I admire the
way they have stayed with their timeless designs, lower price points,
and been so successful over the many years, and still base themselves
in the U.S. with U.S. prices. I assume that others feel the same as I
doand are willing to show U.S. jewelers in their gallery or shop and
expect their customers to pay sustainable wages to those that are
manufacturing the pieces. When I had my shop in a resort town I took
the time to explain the difference between U. S. jewelry and Chinese
jewelry. I always had a happy customer with the U.S. Just my take on
your question. I would be curious to see a copy of your speech and
who you are talking to. (What school) Good luck to you and
especially to the students!

I’d tell them the same thing I tell music students. To major in
business with a minor in Public Relations.

If you have the talent and drive you will become a good artist.
However I have seen so many talented individuals flounder

Our local arts college says that they have a focus on making a
living as an artist. When I inquired about what they taught I was
told by former students…“Well they taught us how to write and get
arts grants.” I replied, “If you are any good you don’t need grants.
People will pay you.”

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

Take several business classes; do basic accounting; take at least one
marketing class; join your local Chamber of Commerce and GO TO EVENTS

  • be sure you know what free trainings they are offering; take at
    least one web development/design/marketing class; make sure your math
    skills are solid; learn an accounting program for your computer. Find
    your state and local arts commissions, get on their mailing lists,
    find out what trainings/grants/programs they offer.

It IS a BUSINESS. Too many come out of school ready to “make art”
with NO concept of the business part of the equation!!! SO glad for
my year of accounting in undergraduate school!

I don’t care how good their product is, if they can’t run the
business part they’ll fold.

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

Hello Elaine,

My soap box issue is that they will usually be working for

That means they NEED to take a couple courses in business, ie.
bookkeeping and how to keep records for taxes.

OK. Off my soapbox,

Judy in Kansas, who just returned from sunny, balmy Tucson to snowy,
cold Kansas. Also spent too much money, but that’s another story of

I'm curious what advice you would give to college students
interested in going into business for themselves in jewelry? 

There was an interesting discussion recently with a group of
participants in a design and writing project I have underway.

We started with introductions and have been discussing the routes
taken to get to the point each is at right now, and we talked about
where they intend to go from here.

The participants in this particular project are determined to be
makers of jewelry and after leaving their formal programs or field of
study, are now engaged in finding their place in the market and
looking for opportunities to earn a living with their education and

One member of this group said her experience since leaving school
has been challenging and disappointing. Her professor continually
emphasized the narrative voice as the most important aspect of
becoming an artist during her fine art metals program. She was
constantly reminded that a thematic story is the essential and
critical part of the work. She related that she and her classmates
in school were deeply invested in creating clever story lines and
tried to make work that had something important or humorous or lofty
or insightful to say. They spent countless hours trying to figure out
how to express ideas that would be considered intelligent and
intellectual and ‘smart’, in the hopes that doing so might please the
professor into awarding an excellent grade and bestowing glowing
words of praise upon their brilliant artwork.

They were obsessed with conceiving clever constructions and unique
and creative displays that would augment the important message in
their art and would help them stand out and get noticed in the
gallery world. She said they collectively liked to think of
themselves as the future darlings of the metal art world.

Another student was trained in a traditional professional
environment where the desired end result is producing a highly
skilled practitioner, ready to be a professional maker of precious
metal objects. Her focus was on refined technical skill, the essence
of good design, productive methods of studio organization, and how to
begin to develop a business model. Most of the emphasis was directed
towards abilities that would be necessary to be successful as a maker
of high quality jewelry.

Her instruction included conversations about what the students would
like to pursue after their training, and how they would fit into the
working world in any number of possible career paths. Her instructor
encouraged dedication to mastery of tool and material and developing
technical diversity. The instructor groomed the participants in the
program to be well spoken and professional in their presentations and
to converse articulately about their work and their process. She also
demanded they be objective in assessing the quality of their own work
and to always endeavor to see where improvement could be made, and to
follow through accordingly. Striving for excellence in craftsmanship,
design, and communication were of the highest priority in her

The first student found that after school she was not able to make
work that carried actual value commensurate with her idea of the
worth of her thematic narrative and story oriented artwork. She
discovered that her very intelligent objects were not exceptionally
appealing to the venues who exhibit visual art. Her reception in the
gallery world was one of disappointment as she learned there wasn’t a
strong market for what she had been taught and encouraged to make.
There apparently weren’t so many people standing in line to buy her
cleverly constructed and artfully displayed work as she had hoped,
and the reality of earning a living was far from becoming the art
darling she and her school mates had envisioned during their exciting
time in the university metals studio.

She has worked at non art related jobs since leaving school and has
not yet been able to secure employment involving metalsmithing or
jewelry making. The ateliers and studios where she has applied for
bench work have told her she has not enough developed skill to
provide what they need, and they have insufficient time to train her
to meet their needs in making the quality of jewelry they produce.
Still determined to make jewelry and desirous to have a viable
career, she explained that this is why she is starting over now with
a new goal; to build upwards from pretty well near the bottom, on a
new path focused on developing critical skill and refining technical
ability, along with studying design and marketing.

The second student is already an emerging young professional maker
of jewelry able to support herself in her chosen field. She is
admittedly new in the marketplace, but she is designing and creating
interesting work that is finding an audience and is building a
relationship with a clientele where her jewelry is viable and
saleable. People buy her work and are delighted to wear it. She also
has marketable professional skills and occasionally takes on part
time contract work using those skills to help fund the continued
development of her design oriented and well received body of work.

The point of this story touches on the original question of what to
tell a college student, or any student for that matter;

Choices made in education should be well paired with the desired
direction one wishes to follow afterwards. Decisions should be
informed and well reasoned and should support and enable the
practitioner to be poised for success at whatever they wish to do
once their course of study is completed.

It warrants a thorough investigation of the available programs and
predicting the results to make good choices, extract the most value
from investment in education, and put the best foot forward on the
path to one’s career goal.


Fascinating responses everyone, I knew Orchid would have some
interesting things to say!



Demographics! Too many times this little bit of Marketing/business
is told in nice text book phrases, and over simplified. The three
main points are Location, competition, and market.

Location is more than finding a place with good traffic flow, and in
a large population area. It’s influenced by the next two of

What good is traffic flow if it is near competition? What good is
location if you are in a community that doesn’t buy jewelry? What
schools won’t tell you to do is live in an area for a month or more
if you can while you are building a back stock. Get to know the
community. Who are the people? What do they like in terms of arts?
How much money is in the economic flow of the area? Are they self
reliant, the kind that has the attitude I can make it myself? Are
they open to outsiders (big one)? Do you like the area? What is the
outlook economically for the area? How much do you have in savings to
last until you can break even in that given community?

Too many young people fresh from college have stars in their eyes,
and forget the basics of what business ground work means. More than
book learning it is getting to know the who’s (people and government
of the area) What (what your selling and do they want or need it)
When (nice to start a business, but if you open with six months
months reserve monitarily it wouldn’t help to open in January in
Michigan) Where (If it is a place where you have to lean on the
locals for the majority of your sales, it wouldn’t do to open in a
poor area or one that has the attitude they will make it themselves.)
Why (are you going to set the world on fire with your art work? or
are you going to work at making what the community likes?)

I’ve lived in many parts of the USA. I’ve seen and known many who
went into business fresh from the academic world. I’ve also seen most

Just because you open your doors to a new business doesn’t mean
people will automatically start supporting you. Business schools can
teach you many of the needed skills, but they can’t teach you about
your specific community you set up in. Hence Live there for a while.
Take a job just to keep you in living expenses while you build that
back stock. Once you know that area, and you can answer the W’s of
demographics, then think of the bigger picture that business schools
and marketing courses teach you. Better to spend a couple of months
getting to know your intended market area, than to jump in and find
out you should have done more research. If you are not in your home
area, also be ready for culture shock. How you talk, how you dress,
how you act are all judged in smaller areas. Not only will you have
to sell your goods, you have to sell yourself.

Lastly, don’t give up on yoour dreams. Just research where and how
your dream can work.


Think of specific real people when you design your jewelry. At one
point, several years after I was out of school, I had an inventory of
hundreds of pieces, but when choosing gifts for my own loved ones I
usually felt the need to make something else. The designs and themes
that I created for gifts I was giving myself often turned into best
sellers when I made more of them. The designs that were created from
a perspective of artistic adventure, without a person in mind, just
didn’t work as well.

This has been a nice thread to read. The above paragraph is really
true. I am a maker of other peoples thoughts and dreams. I sometimes
get to make my own ‘thoughtful, statement’ piece of jewelry but I
make it without even intending on selling it. I make it for the
pleasure of making it. It does sell but that is icing on the cake.
Almost all of my jewelry is tomake my customer happy. It’s their
idea. It’s meaningful to them. This is my job. To know my customer.
I have had nice success with some pieces I make over and over again.
They are simple and have universal meaning, like a cross for
example. I made these pieces originally for family members, etc.
like the statement says above and the meaning carries on to others.
My artistic pieces??? I would never be able to make a living on them
unlessI was very famous. I am not even remotely known. I am very
happy making others happy with my work. It’s like magic that their
idea becomes an object. That is an art by itself. Know your customer.
Make them happy. Take your metals art class, have strong technical
skills and just as important take every single business and
marketing class you can. It’s just as important. I can create the
Mona Lisa but I can still go bankrupt and the beautiful priceless
treasure will be sitting in my safe without anyone knowing about it.
Your bread and butter is being the whole package. There is no
fairytales of metal darlings just good old fashion work and customer
service. I think that is hard to explain to a student until they are
in the muck of things, sloshing through it to get to their goal.
Have a goal and don’t stop till you get there. For me it is not
about me. I am here for you(my customer.) What can I do for you? :slight_smile:
joy kruse


I think Michael David Sturlin’s response should be required reading
for ANYONE getting a college art degree!!! I have two, one the
equivalent of a PhD, and neither prepared me for anything other than
college teaching. It was the classes and experiences outside of that
education that provided the needed preparation. and I was fortunate
in that.

I strongly advocate a college degree - but not as a “path to a job”.
As a path to knowledge and understanding which will be useful
throughout life. Different focus. My late father said “you are not
going to college to learn the answers to questions, you are going to
learn how to FIND the answers when you need them.” He was spot on
(as usual!).

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio


my mainland Chinese, Chinese language teacher, who was also my
primary supervisor for my M. A.(Hons) one day told the class this.

Some of you are going to graduate soon (B. A.s mostly). If you are
smart you will realise how little you know. And that you are now
ready to learn.

I did not think much of this at the time. But 5 years later when I
finished My M. A. (Hons) thats 200 pages of original academic
research, of which both examiners said “Was beyond requirements.” This
degree was a very humbling experience.

I really felt I knew so little, something the wife and kids had been
telling me for years LOL.

The more I learn the less I know.



my silversmithing teacher told all of us NOT to try and make
jewellery for a living.

We would be better off getting jobs as cleaners and making jewellery
for the love of it.

If we were any good at designing jewellery (he made sure we were
good at making it) the people who we gave it to e. g. the girlfriend
would show it to their friends and their friends would want to buy

So you could slowly and carefully build a business without the
financial strain.

And as it would be a hobby no tax was payable. One day you may work
full time as a jeweller.

At the time I was studying silversmithing I was making fashion
jewellery as a living.

AKA making sh*t for morons (that was the eighties) also know as
turning 20 cents in $10.

Which retailers sold for up to $70. That is while I like David Bowie
he sang in one song “F*ck fashion” how true.

The game I played with my friends was to go to a component
wholesaler and buy the cheapest make it up and see who could sell it
for the most $. Friday night was a champagne celebration.

Shame “The beautiful young things (customers) grew up and got off
the Bolivian marching powder.”

Apparently Coco Chanel was famous for her champagne and cocaine
parties. It was legal then.

I once asked my teacher about production. ‘I can make one of these
pendants in an hour. How many should I make in a day?’


To do that I was told to work for 2 and a half hours then coffee
break 2 and a half hours lunch. Sleep for an hour and do it again.
That is how you compete. I would be 3 pendants a head of my 8 hour a
day competitors.

15 pendants a week a head or 750 pendants ahead for the year. At a
profit of $35 on materials that was $26,250 ahead of the competition.
Jewellery is hard work.

Good thing I got used to it a 10 years old up at 5.30 helping clean
30 stables or coursing the hounds (on foot) to kill feral rabbits and
foxes. Thats what I did in my holidays for fun, plus busting a gut
learning Haute Ecole Dressage. Which may look nice and fancy but is
actually cavalry horsemanship as used on the battle field. All those
pretty little “dances” are actually deadly skills.

We were once asked by the top rider “When passing another horse head
on why do you do it right hand to right hand?” Some foolish child
replied “To shake hands.” “No so you can cut their bloody head of
with your sword!”

Ma as we called her was a top horse woman and someone we all feared.
Sometimes as a favour she would put me on her horse, an A grade
dressage horse and demonstrate how to use a lunge reign. I had no
stirrups or reins and had to do a rising trot to full canter.

To those of you who think you CAN ride, if you can’t do a rising
trot for 10 minutes with out stirrups you have some work to do.

All the while being on the end of some biting comments. When I
dismounted I had to hold the saddle so as not to fall over/pass out.

What we loved most were musical rides, 6 to 8 horses, doing
intricate movements at extended trot or canter. Mass destruction was
but a breath away. Got your attention. A bit like picking up a graver
after the first cut has healed. People would say we looked pretty
doing musical rides for demonstrations. If only they knew the
kicking and biting that went on during practise and that was just
between us riders.

I would tell college students if you can’t work long hard hours, get
off the bench, you will never make it in the trade.

Conversely you can have a wonderful hobby.

A very kind person on Orchid is sending me a wax of one of their CAD
designs. If it is half as good as their hand work it will be
brilliant. We will compare casters and I will get an English trained
diamond mechanic (the setter’s terminology) to set the stones.

Swmbo will get the piece of course. And that will leave me with only
another 5 pieces she has on order. Designs I have yet to try to make.
Based on the big pink’s display ring that went up for sale recently.
If you want a hard task master forget dressage instructors or
jewellery teachers get married, to a woman who knows fine jewellery.
And top that off with a daughter with her mother’s jewellery genes and
her father’s acid tongue. “Such is life!” As Ned Kelly said.

So newbie ladies and gentlemen if you make for a living or for
pleasure when the jewellery bug bites you will be infected for life.

And your life while it may not be $ richer will be enriched. And
above all pass on your skills, when you have mastered them.

Keep hand making alive. And you will thank Orchid every day, except
when the posts don’t turn up, a curse on Bigpond my IT provider.

Richard after a 5.30 start for the Bellingen markets, with people
who want settings made for opals, who have never set a stone in their
life LOL big time. As well as a Tibetan silver LOL again bracelet to
be repaired. And a cosmic woo woo (hi Jo) who was so upset that I
wanted $100 to set her crappy bit of crystal in silver for a pendant.
Oh and another cosmic woo woo who thought $200 to cut a pentagram from
a Maria Theresa Thaler was too much. Hint iustitia et clemencia. Told
them where to buy a saw and a drill and do it themselves. Next time
it will be $300 two hundred for the pentagram and one hundred for the
lesson in wisdom. Gee I am so good at pissing off brain dead hippies.


where it is tropically hot and raining and need to do another 5.30
start for a market tomorrow.

Choices made in education should be well paired with the desired
direction one wishes to follow afterwards. Decisions should be
informed and well reasoned and should support and enable the
practitioner to be poised for success at whatever they wish to do
once their course of study is completed. 

Excellent post by MDS!

Some random thoughts about the subject:

Students are highly influenced by their role models. The art
professor may have a rewarding career but is not usually a viable
role model for business.

Getting a job in the business is a really great step towards
understanding the business well enough to start your own. Students
should look for internships.

You can’t learn everything in school.

You can, however, learn attitudes in school that you will need to
un-learn to succeed outside the academic culture.

Business is a lot more than accounting and numbers. A lot of it is
human relations, customers and employees.

The business world that is just outside the realm of academic art is
what instructors are most familiar with. Art fairs, galleries, coops,
etc. The farther away you get from that into manufacturing or Main
Street marketing, the less likely the academic will see that as a
business model for their students. Most of the jewelry business world
is distant from what the academic imagines is appropriate for their

Stephen Walker

Going to bench school after college is a realistic approach. More
practical application and less theory would have been a big help to
me… I ended up as a furniture maker and worked on my jewelry and
sculpture at night and on the weekends. I have no regrets.


Ah yes - the rising trot with no stirrups! Been there, done that -
and you’re right - it’s bl**** hard work! But oh, the satisfaction
when you’ve finally mastered it! Love the fascinating digressions on
this forum.


They are lucky to have you speak to them!

For what it’s worth, here’s my two cents. Everyone’s path is
different. But basically the thing to remember is that the better you
are at doing the most difficult and complex work, the more you
separate yourself from everyone else. The more ‘rare’ your skills
are, the more you can charge for your work. While the more routine
your skills are, the more your customers will just look at the price.

I think it’s the basic bench skills that you have to perfect. To many
people skip trying to ‘master’ the basics of soldering, sawing,
shaping, setting, finishing, etc and want to jump to custom work too
early. Being able to do absolutely undetectable sizings and repairs
along with immaculate setting work will lead to beautiful custom
work. All that routine stuff that the first, second and third year
goldsmith is doing every day are the same skills you use later when
you do the trickier work. It’s just that the work gets more refined
and you’re making the whole thing instead of working on only part of
the piece.

The other thing you need is to be the kind of person who naturally
thinks about the big picture, not just what’s in front of you. Think
about how all the pieces of the business you work for now need to fit
together to keep things running so the bills get paid on time.
Observe and think about that everyday, think about how it might run
better. That will help you understand what it will take to go out on
your own and it has the added benefit of making you more valuable to
your current employer.

Lastly, Half the job is doing the work and the other half is about
human relationships. I can’t tell you how many people I have
interviewed who probably had the ability to do the work but lacked
the positive attitude that would make me think they could work well
with everyone, not to mention showing enthusiasm for the job itself
and a desire to help make my business grow.

Hope that helps,

Choices made in education should be well paired with the desired
direction one wishes to follow afterwards. Decisions should be
informed and well reasoned and should support and enable the
practitioner to be poised for success at whatever they wish to do
once their course of study is completed. 

Excellent post by MDS!

I agree Charles. Michael has a gift for breaking down the jewelry
business in an extremely well thought out, articulate and
entertaining manner.

His experience with this subject is substantial, and he really cares
about the jewelry trade and the people he is teaching.

MDS grew up on a ranch, I believe, and he was able to teach himself
the trade, successfully producing high end jewelry for over 30 years
before he started teaching and consulting full time.

Young people today must find it difficult to break into a
complicated trade if they don’t have much experience using tools,
building things.

Computers are where young people excel nowadays, and CAD does seem
to be a natural solution for the young artist or designer who doesn’t
really want to be a “maker” in the traditional sense.

Alan Revere told me when he was a young apprentice in Germany and
gold hit $35, the guy at the next bench turned to him and said “It’s
all over”.

With CAD and China have we finally reached the point where “It’s all
over”, or will the trade survive and continue to offer viable careers
to young people?

James in So. Cal.