“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin
There are literally thousands of specialized areas that those in the jewelry industry can explore and in which they can generate a good living. Gemology, jewelry repair, watch sales, crocheting chains, casting, photography, diamond cutting, subcontracting, refining, finishing, teaching, business management, plating, selling pearls, and designing, just to name a few.
But each of these fits into one of five major categories and these categories are useful for makers who want to generate money at their passion. Why this is important? Well, if you are, for example, in the fashion jewelry market, you will want to explore what’s happening specifically in that area of the marketplace more than what’s going on in, say, the art jewelry world or in jewelry academia. It is imperative to know where you best fit into the jewelry world so you can make wise business decisions.
There are five distinct categories for jewelry makers who generate income from their skills (this doesn’t include hobby and DIY jewelers who create for fun and artistic expression only and aren’t selling…yet). You should be able to see yourself one or more of these categories. People will often straddle a couple of categories but focus on one main area of expertise. The categories are: Art, Craft, Fashion, Fine and Academic. Of course, there are also people in the trade segment of the jewelry world who might specialize in one or more areas. They might do high-volume pearl sales or casting for fashion jewelry or repairs for high-end couture galleries. The idea here is to begin to think of your place in the larger realm of the jewelry industry. Defining what category (or categories) you belong in will remind you that you can’t be everything to everyone—and you shouldn’t try to be!
Once you have an instinct for which segment of the jewelry industry best defines your work, then you will know which shows to enter, what periodicals you should be reading or advertising in, what market is best suited for you, and what to expect from the market and your customers.
In defining these segments of the jewelry world, I am painting with very broad strokes. What I describe might not be totally accurate for each individual and category, but it will provide an overview of what is happening.
The art jeweler’s self-expression is their paramount focus. Art jewelry is definitely sold, but frequenT sales are not the sole reason for its creation. Size is often irrelevant. Wearability is optional. Materials are carefully selected as in any piece of art. There is always a story behind each piece. And it is more important to create the piece, which is an expression of art, than to specifically design within strict parameters for a target audience. Pieces can take several months to make or as little as half an hour. These pieces are usually offered to and acquired by collectors, museums, and specialized galleries.
Jewelry in this category is made to be sold either directly to the buying public at craft fairs, events, on websites such as Etsy, or to wholesale craft galleries. Self-expression is important here as are the materials (which can be anything from paper to gold) and techniques used. But the craftsperson understands their work also has to be marketable and must motivate people to want to purchase it. Most craft-based businesses revolve around one specific designer and are micro-businesses with one or two employees at the most. Prices can range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars depending on the maker and materials. Wearability is important.
Fashion jewelry, more than any other classification, is ruled by trends and fads, what is popular and fashionable, such as what the “hot” seasonal colors happen to be. Fashion jewelry designers understand their work can rarely sell above $500 retail (which means wholesale it should come in around $250). Wearability is very important. Materials are essential to the design, not so much for the material itself but for its cost and how it will hold up short term. Production is rarely done in a small studio but rather by a production company and not always in the United States. Fashion jewelry has a shelf life of a couple of months or a couple of years if the look is particularly popular.
When the purchasing public hears the word “jewelry” it’s usually “fine” jewelry they’re thinking of. Traditional jewelry such as wedding/commitment rings and bands, mother’s rings, pearl earrings, charm bracelets, cufflinks. “Fine” jewelry, however, also includes the designer movement which is the most cutting-edge segment of this market, and these designers often cross the line into craft or art. Fine jewelry uses more precious, or fine (hence the name), metals and gemstones—including materials such as gold, platinum, silver, diamonds, fine gemstones, and pearls—and is sold to jewelry and department stores. Wearability is imperative. Craftsmanship should be excellent.
Jewelers in academia can earn money without necessarily selling a product. There are hundreds of colleges, universities, and trade schools in the U.S. and around the world teaching jewelry skills and craftsmanship as well as many workshops, lectures, high school classes, videos, and private schools. Although there are definitely people making a living at teaching jewelry making, they often have other sources of income, such as a side job, a partner or spouse who will help, or sales of the products they themselves make.
As you read through the five categories, you will find you are naturally drawn to one or two which are a perfect fit for your goals, work, style, and skills. Those are the areas where you want to focus your attention. And you will nod your head realizing you knew all this from the very beginning, but maybe never really thought about it this way. So now is a great time to start defining yourself, your work, and your jewelry market.