by Charli Knight.
I love designing jewelry.
I started doing production work for a jewelry designer in San Francisco over fifteen years ago as a means to pay my way through art school.
Making jewelry was an entirely new experience for me, but I quickly found myself becoming addicted to the craft. I began collecting vintage beads and buttons and started experimenting on my own.
Quickly what started out as a hobby soon turned into a vision for my future.
A few years and a few moves later I made the decision to return to school and change my major from Film and Video to Metalsmithing for jewelry design.
I knew somehow that a line of jewelry and a business of my own were in my future. I was driven to learn as much about the construction and production of jewelry as possible.
After completing the Metalsmithing program at North Seattle Community College, I enrolled in the Metalsmithing department at the University of Washington. During this time going to school became a real joy and I just couldn’t wait to learn every process available to me.
I enjoyed every lesson and especially loved meeting like-minded souls.
During this time I did feel a bit out of place within the Metalsmithing department because the curriculum was primarily focused on Metalsmithing for Gallery Art. I certainly have a love and appreciation for Gallery work, but I knew, for me, my future was in retail. It’s been a strong interest of mine since I first graduated high school some 20 years ago.
Secret Code of Silence
During this time I began working for a local jewelry designer. On my first day of work she sat me down and asked me to sign a contract stating that I would not design, make or sell jewelry for 5 years after quitting working for her.
Can you imagine? I couldn’t believe the audacity!
I simply told her “no”. I explained that at that point I had been making jewelry for some years and was not about to stop for anyone. To my surprise she didn’t fight me on the subject and I went to work.
As time passed what I did learn from working for several jewelers is that there is a secret code that exists within the jewelry world. This code is one of silence where names of vendors and suppliers are concerned.
They would actually lock away their list of vendors so that the employees could not see where they were purchasing their supplies from.
For me, as someone who was genuinely interested in learning about jewelry design and production, all it did was make me more determined to find as many vendors and suppliers as possible!
To Divulge Jewelry Supply Sources
At one point while working at a craft gallery, I actually had a customer offer to share her marketing “expertise” with me if I would divulge the material sources that the particular jeweler I was working for was currently using.
At that point I did not know some of the designer’s sources, but I did know of several that I had already known prior to working for her.
I agreed to provide her with a list of these vendors in exchange for some marketing help.
This, of course, was not good enough for the woman and in return she offered only a token effort (it’s possible that she didn’t really know anything about marketing).
I do believe her ultimate intent was to recreate the jeweler’s designs and attempt to steal her business.
Pathetic, really. If she had attended just one of the Bead Shows she could have had all the information she ever wanted.
These supply companies are public domain, for goodness sake!
Finding the Best
Jewelry Supply Vendors
As time passed I began to compile a growing list of jewelry vendors whom I felt offered reasonable to great prices.
What I have found is that there is not one single vendor good for all of your jewelry needs.
In fact, I’ve found that those HUGE jewelry supply companies that claim to carry all your necessary jewelry supplies, are pretty much the worst where pricing is concerned.
You would think given the massive quantities they purchase, that we, the customers, would receive the benefit of their discount. Not so.
In fact, through much research, as well as, attending several bead and jewelry trade shows, I’ve found that these large companies often have the highest prices. Go figure.
The only area I’ve found where these large companies seems to hold the market ‘price-wise’ is where raw material such as metal and wire are concerned.
Because they buy such large quantities at the low dips in the Metals Market they can pass on a bit of the savings to their customers.
Of course, you as the purchaser must buy a certain quantity in ounces to truly make it worthwhile. This is why it makes good financial sense to pool your metal purchases together with other jewelers in order to receive a good price break.
Staying a Step Ahead of
Jewelry Design Copycats
I do understand a jeweler’s desire to protect their designs from being copied and ultimately reproduced, as this is their livelihood, but the reality is that a good designer is ALWAYS redesigning / recreating and should always be one step ahead of the uncreative copiers of the world.
When I was in school I would design original jewelry pieces and put them on consignment in a craft gallery in Seattle to help subsidize my education.
On a couple of occasions I was shocked to find an outright copy (I mean down to the tiniest detail) of my designs reproduced and selling at Nordstroms!
On one hand it was infuriating because I did not profit in any way financially other than the sale of my original piece, but on the other hand it was flattering that someone saw enough potential in my design to recreate it.
I chose to look at it as a positive sign.
It was a good lesson too. What I learned is that there is a world of people out there who WANT to be creative, but simply don’t have the eye, the imagination, or possibly the patience. Mainly, they just want to make a quick buck. So, they copy!
I’m not placing any judgment on this act because I do believe we all copy on some level and in some area of our lives.
I learned that to be a successful craftsperson does not mean hiding your sources or copyrighting every design, it means constant evolution and attention to detail. I say, “attention to detail”, because what I found was that the copies in the store lacked the care I had put into my original design (i.e., picking nicer beads, clean and precise turned wire, proper tension on string, etc …).
This lack of attention to detail seriously affected the outcome of their pieces in my opinion.
As a consumer I personally would prefer a more quality item even if I had to pay a little extra.
Possessiveness of the Craft
Every step of the way throughout my years of gathering information, I have felt a constant and pervasive fear amongst designers that if other craftsmen learn their trade they will potentially lose their livelihood.
The direct result for me has been a feeling of discouragement. Sometimes even outright anger has been displayed towards me for stepping into a world that a particular craftsperson felt belonged to him or her.
Most of the designers I’ve met or worked with have a certain possessiveness towards the craft that is less than encouraging to new and emerging artists.
and Helping Other Jewelry Designers
I made a promise to myself a long time ago that if I were to successfully get a jewelry line off the ground, I would do my best to help teach up-and-coming jewelry designers.
I would provide as much information to help them in their journey to find and realize their own vision.
The craft of jewelry design has existed throughout the centuries and will continue to do so whether I’m successful or not.
It simply does not “belong” to me or anyone else.
For every potential designer who has been successfully discouraged, there will inevitably be ten others behind him or her who will be challenged.
I say we come together as a community and help one another to realize our own individual vision. There’s always room for one more, and the potential is quite exciting!
Author Charli Knight has owned a jewelry business called PassionFlower Designs.