This series of interviews explores some of the stories from the #RioJeweler community. #RioJeweler is a way for jewelers to share moments from the bench on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Designers from around the world use the hashtag to chronicle their stories, their work and their lives as jewelers. We’re looking forward to exploring stories from the Rio Jeweler community in depth through interviews here on our blog. If you haven’t checked it out yet, search #RioJeweler on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and join in the conversation!
Meet Nicole Conklin of Arrok Metal Studio. From her home in San Diego, California, Nicole creates jewelry that is feminine but edgy. Her bold designs feature mixed metals and unique stones. With 35,000 Instagram followers, Conklin has found a way to leverage the digital world to enable traditional craftsmanship. In this interview she shares her approach to jewelry and to business.
What is your approach to design?
I have a very quirky sense of humor that shows in my jewelry. My pieces start with an idea or with visual inspiration. In the last year, people have started coming to me with ideas like,”I would love a ring with a jellyfish theme.” Then I take the idea and make a piece in my style. It is a great way to get new ideas. With this approach, the customers provide the initial inspiration, but then I create the piece the way I visualize it. When I begin work on a design, it usually flows organically. I don’t pre-plan everything; I often let the designs develop as I work.
How long have you been making jewelry?
I graduated from GIA in 2011 and started selling my jewelry right away. I went to GIA knowing that I wanted to start a business.
Do you sell retail or wholesale?
I primarily sell retail directly to customers. I have sold wholesale in the past, but it does not really work for me as far as pricing goes. I try to keep my prices competitive on Etsy. Many jewelry makers on Etsy underprice their work and that tends to work against artists like me, who are trying to price for the customer but also want to keep in mind pricing for wholesale buyers. Artists can out-price themselves on Etsy if they aren’t careful. I can’t sell wholesale at 50 percent of my Etsy price, which understandably confuses most wholesale buyers.
I didn’t start my business to be a huge corporation. I want to be able to handcraft everything all the time. I do all my own fabrication, except for some stones that my husband cuts for me. I don’t ever see myself having an employee make my pieces. I also don’t see myself doing a ton of wholesale, but I have had a few accounts where we work together to make pricing fair for both of us.
How do you sell your jewelry?
When I first started my business, I sold at a lot of craft shows, including the Renegade Craft Show. It was a great way to build my business and get feedback on my designs. This year, I haven’t done any shows. I am doing a lot of custom work and I primarily sell through Etsy.
I am active on Instagram but I don’t sell there. I redirect people to Etsy because I like to have a written record of each order. Communication is just easier on Etsy, which is crucial because there are sometimes 50 messages back and forth for a custom order.
What was your Big Break?
I don’t feel like I have had a specific Big Break. My success has been primarily word of mouth and has built up slowly through Etsy and Instagram.
How and where do you produce your jewelry?
I have a studio in my garage with different stations for different tasks like sawing, soldering and polishing. I make everything myself. I work from home, which is nice because I have two boys, so I work all hours, not just 9-5.
How much time do you spend designing/making jewelry versus running your business?
I am trying to get better about working efficiently on the business. The social media in particular can get overwhelming if you let it. I spend 30-40 percent of my time running the business and 60-70 percent making jewelry, but that shifts to 50-50 around Christmas.
What are your primary marketing channels?
Etsy is huge. It has great SEO, and it is the primary way people have found me all over the world–especially before I started on Instagram. You have to be active on Etsy to be successful. You have to look at other artists and favorite them, etc. I enjoy that part of it, and I like seeing what people are making.
Social media advice?
Social media takes a great deal of time. You have to participate; you can’t just post and leave or you won’t build up a following. Instagram is my primary social media venue, though I have started Twitter and Tumblr and I do a bit of Facebook. I don’t blog; it isn’t my style so it wouldn’t be authentic.
Advice for jewelers looking to gain traction on Instagram?
It is important to follow other people on Instagram, to comment and like their posts. When I was building up my Instagram followers, I did some trades with other artists and we promoted each other’s work. Recently, I started to avoid hash-tagging most of my posts on Instagram to see if I got more relevant followers. Now people have to find me via friends or their news feed.
What are your future goals?
My main goal for myself is to keep getting better at what I do. I have tried very hard to make my style my own. I want people to see a piece and say,”That’s Arrok!”
Any other advice for fellow jewelers?
GIA is an amazing resource. It was the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of doing what I love. The skills I learned there helped me bring my jewelry to life. When people comment on my sawing skills or my craftsmanship I tell them, “I learned that at GIA!”