I am pleased to publish this guest entry from Tracy Holzman, a former successful jewelry designer for over fifteen years who wanted another challenge. Since then, she changed careers to become a pattern maker which is how she found us here. I was excited to hear from her because we don’t get a lot of questions about jewelry design although a lot of jewelry designers end up here looking for line sheet pointers. Anyway, what follows is an exploratory article on the business of jewelry design. As is often the case, it’s hard to write about something if you know a lot about it because you don’t know where to start. In this case, Tracy has agreed to write more about becoming a jewelery designer in the future if you’ll include some suggestions in comments. As many of you will see, the fashion industry has a lot in common with the jewelry and accessories business.
About her journey, Tracy says “It is kind of strange being a “midlife” changer. I think I imagined, when I quit my company in 2001, that by now I would be running a division or another company. The place I am in now feels kind of bottomless sometimes. I am not complaining, it is a place of a myriad of possibilities, and I often advise other people to enjoy the place of ‘I don’t know’ as a place that the universe has freedom to direct to a great outcome”. It is in this spirit that she offers the following.
This weekend I spent a few enjoyable hours sorting a shoebox full of buttons that I bought for $8.00 at an estate sale. At first, it looked just to be a dismal pile but as I sorted the collection, it became clear that there was a selective eye behind the collection. I sorted the buttons, first by color, size and then type. As I sorted, many ideas came to my mind as I visualized how each set of buttons could be used. I even sorted out the cute or unusual one of -a- kinds that I could use as accents on accessories.
That’s the way a lot of artisans get into business. We start by finding something that is inspiring, then making something that we like, our families like, and our friends want us to make more of. Pretty soon the famous words ” You could sell that!” are uttered, we sell a few and (hopefully) a business is born. There are a lot of jewelry makers that began their careers like that. Not everyone wants to grow a big wholesale business, but a lot of people see the potential to be a jewelry designer, and or manufacturer. Whether coming out of art school with a business plan in hand, or stringing beads to sell at concerts jewelry manufacturing can be a source of pleasure and income. Jewelry is an essential accessory to the garment business and follows the runway trends every season. Some fashion houses that lose money on their couture lines make money on their jewelry and accessory lines.
Jewelry sales follow the fashion calendar but most designers can do good business with two collections a year. In designing for those groups, it is much better to start from a known material that attracts you, which you can get more of and design backwards. In my case, as a designer working to make production products, I found the problem with using a found object, however cool on a sample, is that it was nearly impossible to duplicate that item when you need to make a production line item.Until you can get a source for materials that are nice and consistent and at a good price, you are going to make only one- of-a kinds. Some jewelry made of variable natural materials, always is always going to be one-of-a-kind.
The best place to source stones is the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. It is a fantastic way to get a feel for trends in stone color and cuts and to get a strong feel for what you want to work with for the coming year. The show takes place at multiple venues throughout the Tucson area, every year in February. This show bills itself as the greatest gem and mineral show in the world, and I believe it truly is. I shopped this show for 10 years for my company and had to spend about $10,000.00 (1990 dollars) to make it worthwhile. I figured that I needed to find, negotiate and purchase at least an estimated year’s worth of stones for production pieces. This was the best way to get the lowest price. I would sometimes have to contact suppliers to restock and the price after the show was always higher. I also would buy sample strands of beads or stones to take back for design inspiration.
I loved buying at the Tucson gem and Mineral show. It is so popular that when I was checking out of my hotel, I would often make my reservations to stay there the next year. I know some people would fly in for the day, but I couldn’t everything done that quickly. I loved seeing shows I shouldn’t have gone to and spent money at, like the handmade bead shows. I would also visit our customers in the area, eat at the many restaurants and it was a fun trip for me. I was always extremely paranoid boarding the plane on my way home, with my heavy bags, full of gems and semi precious stone beads. The show is over for 2007, if you go to the web site, you can order a great source book for stones and jewelry supplies and of course, register for next year.