Wholesale One-Offs

Dear Noel:

Are you saying that production work is what one needs in order to
wholesale, i.e., one of a kinds will not work in a wholesale
market? That could be... I guess I would hope that the uniqueness
would raise the perceived value in the eyes of the buyers, as it
ideally does with customers. 

You bring to light the problem many artisan jewelers face today.
Speed and production go hand in hand for wholesale work. It is where
you will make your money. Many artists I know can’t even charge for
their labor because they would price themselves out of the market.

For the first year and a half of my artisan jewelry business I had a
wholesale arrangement with one upscale boutique that nearly bankrupt
me. The contract was for 10 - 20 one of a kind peices each month plus
custom orders I received from her. (When I say one of a kind, I mean
just that, couldn’t sell the same item to another store or via direct
methods and couldn’t make the same item for her boutique twice.) The
boutique owner had other local artisan items for sale in her store
and wanted to expand to jewelry as well. I thought this was terrific
because I thought both she and her customers would understand the
uniqueness would raise the perceived value in the eyes of the
What a BIG mistake. That is exactly what you stated
above…an IDEAL situation. Not only can this be a creative struggle
every month, but my art had to compete with the Barse jewelry it sat
next to.

First of all, it’s difficult to get faster at producing work when
you aren’t making the exact same thing all the time. Yes, your basic
skillset will get more efficient but when creating something new all
the time, you are opening yourself up to that margin of error, not to
mention that it takes time to test run a piece before it goes out to
the public. Additionally, the worse the economy got, the more I was
expected to bring my prices down to the Barse jewelry (made in
Mexico) level. Remember, large corporations don’t have to adjust
their prices everytime the metal markets change! Don’t forget what
doesn’t sell in a few months, they want you to take back and expect a
full refund for. It’s the nature of the market we serve. Needless to
say, I currently no longer wholesale.

I have found that going the artist run gallery/guild route has been
very good to me. But with all galleries you need to be very clear in
what “production” or “one of a kind” mean. As I read on some of these
posts, “one of a kind” to some means that you can make multiples of
those “one of a kind” pieces to sell to one exclusive gallery and
another set of one of a kind pieces to sell to gallery B. Both of the
artist run galleries I am with stipulate no “production” peices,
meaning that you can’t produce multiples of the same work. I have
some specific pieces in mind for production but they are designed
with several things in mind (time to make, cost of materials, target
customers, etc.) but even those I will sell direct only at art shows
to the public. Of late, I have been hearing stories coming from
artisan jewelers who did large shows such as Rosen,got big orders,
only to have their buyers back out just before the orders were due to
ship. While I hope that this particular issue is in the minority (you
always hear more from the unhappy folks), it’s enough to reenforce my
thoughts about selling wholesale. But if you really want to sell via
the wholesale route, choose the art you are going to wholesale very,
very carefully, be ready to fight for those prices, and don’t be
discouraged if your work doesn’t fly out the door.

Sorry if I sound so negative…



I understand your frustration. When I began making jewelry I was so
enthusiastic and wanted only to make one of a kind pieces that really
challenged my artistic spirit. I would look at the beautiful work in
magazines and aspire to making real art pieces. Unfortunately, I got
into this business when the economy was on a down turn. When I did
shows and all I had were one of a kind pieces I barely made my booth
fee. It wasn’t until I found a way to compromise - I came up with a
line of relatively inexpensive, semi one of a kind (meaning I might
make a short run) earrings and they have kept me alive. Not only do
they make me a living but they draw people into my booth and some of
those people then find a way to splurge on a real one of a kind
piece. You know when we look at the work in magazines, the one of a
kind, obscure pieces we tend to think they are all being sold and
that is all that artist is doing but I’ll bet if we took a poll, a
great percentage of those artists have another line or teach or have
a staff that helps with the production or something that allows them
the freedom to keep creating that work - and hopefully, once in a
while someone or a museum buys it. for me compromise was the key.

Grace Stokes

i think we should start the jewelry designers version of american
idol we could try to get simon but most likely have more luck getting
paris hilton, an elvis impersonator and one of the wife swap rejects
to be on the panel of judges this is most likely the best xsection of
consumer intellect on jewelry. roll the camereas and start the
auditions and watch to see what happens… ??? any comments
???-yours truly goo

As I read on some of these posts, "one of a kind" to some means
that you can make multiples of those "one of a kind" pieces to sell
to one exclusive gallery and another set of one of a kind pieces to
sell to gallery

If they are multiples of the same thing, they are not “one of a
kind”, but “limited edition”…provided you really do limit the
number that you produce.

This thread is reminiscent of the experience of an artist I knew
(now deceased) who spent his winters creating enormous canvases of
convoluted, dark, muddy amorphous content. They may have meant
something to him, but buyers were few and far between. He spent his
summers in Maine where he tossed off hundreds of charming little
watercolors of local landscapes and seascapes. He spoke of them with
utter contempt, but they sold like hotcakes and supported him through
the winter, when he returned to painting his obscure ‘masterpieces’.