Quality Workmanship and Uniqueness:
A basic tenet that distinguishes art jewelry from purely “fashion” or “costume” jewelry is that it is well-constructed, and novel in some way. Art jewelry can be simple or complex, but it has a distinctiveness about it that sets it apart from other jewelry items on the market. Large manufacturers have recently begun taking advantage of these principles, further closing the gap between mass-production and small operations. The large manufacturer has thus edged its way into markets that were once reserved only for the sole proprietor or small company making one-of-a-kind or small production pieces. As a result we are now seeing knock-off art jewelry look-alikes in chain stores like Walmart and even in more upscale department stores like Macy’s. The advent of such marketing and production by these large companies, and its advertising in direct mail sales circulars has made competition in the trade much more difficult for “the little guy” individual artist, partnerships, or small companies with several artists working together to hand-make and sell their wares.
These large manufacturers have several advantages over the small operation in that they have more capital to invest and therefore can often obtain a better wholesale price on their supplies, they have more money for advertising, and they generally can afford more expensive equipment. This allows them to sell items cheaper to the public.
Major manufacturers make their money primarily based on volume. They turn their product out in large quantities and distribute it to as many stores as they can. Somewhere down the line they have to compromise something in order to operate this way and continue to make money.
What they have in money and sheer clout, they lack in direct face-to-face contact with their customer, their customer who buys from the local big chain store is very likely to walk out of the store and see other people wearing the same earrings they just bought. At some point a product that is mass-produced no matter how clever a design at the outset eventually reaches a saturation point and the trend bottoms out. Having invested thousands (or more) on a given line, a large manufacturer must finish making and stocking its product based on its projections until supplies are exhausted and contracts fulfilled.
When a line does not reach expected sales goals it sits on the shelves collecting dust until finally the store puts it on clearance. You have probably seen instances in which there are piles of necklaces (all the same line) hanging on displays or in browse bins with sales tags on them.
Large manufacturers cannot fill custom orders or personalize jewelry nor can they change directions as soon as they find that something isn’t working, whereas the small proprietor can.
Then there is the question of how long a piece will last. Some mass-produced items are poorly constructed; lesser materials are used to save money and to increase a manufacturer’s profit margin. When a piece falls apart it is usually the chain store the customer complains to and not the manufacturer, as there is usually no contact phone number or any quick way to get in touch with the maker provided on the packaging. The chain store then gets stuck with the inferior product and any exchanges or returns become their responsibility. They may not contract with that manufacturer again but hindsight is 20/20 and they lost money on the deal on the assumption that pieces they were receiving would be reasonably sturdy.
In contrast, most small proprietors who make art jewelry are more willing to make direct reparations with the customer should a piece break under regular wear conditions. Some are even willing to adjust sizes if that is feasible given the way the piece is made.
Major manufacturers have machines that do certain tasks, and may have many people participating in the assembly of a piece from beginning to end. Constructing jewelry that way makes it harder to do quality control because the standards of all the people involved impact the piece, and success depends upon their all doing their jobs properly.
When one or a small number of people cannot hold each piece in their hand and inspect it themselves before it goes out there is the increased possibility of human and/or machine error showing up in the market place. Regardless of the amount of automation, precision is often not achieved; if you look closely at supposedly identical items in a line you are likely to see that metal seams vary from straight to misaligned, find beading mistakes or badly misshapen low-grade seed beads, notice clasps that stick, and genuine stones used are often dyed, or color enhanced by irradiation to approximate uniformity of color. The use of resin, plastic, and various other bezel- filler materials to simulate genuine stones is quite common in mass-manufactured jewelry. Though it might look like art jewelry, don’t be fooled, it is not the same.
Professional and Authentic Presentation:
You are your product and your product reflects who you are. Makers of art jewelry communicate non-verbally through what they make. This is why presentation is so important. Clear photos with compatible backgrounds and lighting to show the work in the way the artist sees it in his/her mind’s eye will convey your message to the customer most effectively. The reasons why customers buy from you or buy specific items cannot always be easily summed up (or even understood consciously by the customer). Often the reasons go beyond the concrete describable features and benefits of your item, but are more about a feeling that the piece evokes in the customer that grabs their attention and gives them the urgency that they just “have to have” that pair of earrings or that necklace.
As artists we have a vision we aim to present to the public which reflects our most authentic inner core self. The colors we choose, the shapes, sizes, proportions and textures all say something about who we are and what we want customers to feel when they look at our work. If customers “get” that message we are trying to convey they will be more likely to value our work ultimately by buying it.
Look at ads for jewelry in magazines and think about what feelings those ads evoke. You will begin to see some patterns that you can use in your own pictures. Sometimes it is a certain background color, and sometimes an angle a piece is photographed from. Some necklaces look better photographed on a bust while others look more enchanting laid out on a white table and photographed from the side and slightly top-view while still others may look best photographed on a wearer or in an outdoor nature scene in natural sunlight. Transparent stones don’t generally photograph well on black because the black shows through and washes out the color of the stone. Briolettes that are pale colored and transparent show up best on a light background and at an angle that allows light to shine through them illuminating their facets and showing the subtle, clean color of the stone without other colors competing with or overpowering it. Black can be a striking background color when used with opaque contrasting colors in a piece like red, green, or purple and controlled light is shining directly on the piece. This way it doesn’t look as if it’s obscured by darkness, but instead as if it is lit up by a spotlight on a dark stage as a backdrop.
Whichever methods you choose, the end result should be that your jewelry “pops” and says “wow” to the viewer. In addition to your pictures, your demeanor should be inviting as well. Always go on the assumption that anyone you meet could be a potential customer. If you’re in a bad mood go scream into a pillow, get off the computer, talk to a friend or whatever you have to do to get back into control of your emotions. There will be times that things in your business will be frustrating and you may feel like strangling someone, but do your best to think before you speak and keep in mind the positive outcome you want. The relationships you have with your fellow artists (in the group especially) will be extremely important down the road, so cultivate them as you would a garden. This effort will work best with all members pulling together, as ultimately our success will be determined by what we do both as a group and as individuals. Success for one will eventually mean success for all, so good sportsmanship is of the essence and patience will go a long way. We will be stronger together than each of us singly. Try not to jump to conclusions, and focus instead on common ground. If you disagree with a proposed course of action, please do so calmly and rationally explaining why you disagree, give alternate suggestions, and/or ask for it to be put to a vote but do not make personal attacks against other members. Be polite when giving feedback about others’ work and keep it constructive.
Excellence in Customer Service:
One benefit that art jewelry has over mass-produced jewelry is that as small proprietors we can offer more personal customer service to our customers. If we excel in that area then once we gather enough of the right customers we will likely keep them for years to come. Be responsive to questions, prompt about answering inquiries from potential customers, and willing to go the extra mile. Any opportunity to give personalized or customized service should be utilized when at all possible. Some customers may want specific items that have special meaning for them. The more you can fill those needs the more solid your customer-base will be. Building permanence is the key to a reliable income in this industry. If you find that there is a need you can’t meet then provide them a referral to someone else who can. Your customer will appreciate that and might end up buying something from both of you, and your fellow artist will appreciate it as well.
Appreciation and Preservation of Jewelry as a Respected Art Form:
There are still some who believe that jewelry is not art and therefore that it holds a lower status in comparison to paintings, drawings, or sculpture. This myth should be dispelled through education and the dispersal of information. Help potential customers and others in the community to understand the worth of art jewelry and why it is priced the way it is.
Upholding the Standard for a Respectable and “Living Wage” for Art Jewelry-makers:
Contribute to this appreciation of your work and that of your colleagues by not giving into pressure and selling yourself short just in order to make a sale. There are some customers you would rather not have if they don’t respect your work enough to pay you a fair price for it. Resist the urge to participate in price wars, as this lowers the bar for all in the field, and sets up customers’ lowball expectations for what your work “should” cost when you really should get more for it. Just as in any other job what you make has value. You put the hours, the expense, and the skill into it, so your prices should reflect no less. Customers will adapt (or they weren’t the right customer to begin with). If you have people constantly trying to play “let’s make a deal” with you then that is not a “living wage”. If you worked for a company your salary would not go down simply because the boss was in the mood that day to pay you less, so it should not be that way with your jewelry either.
Educating Potential Customers and the General Public Toward a more Qualitative Versus Quantitative (High Volume, Low Price) Mind-set:
One way for us to bring more customers to Etsy in addition to finding people who already understand and appreciate art jewelry is to educate those who don’t quite get it yet about why it’s better and why spending more money on one piece rather than less money per piece on a lot of pieces is a better investment. Part of this is a matter of creating demand and expanding our market so that the odds are greater. Often repetition is the key to that. People may not take notice at first, but when the word gets out there enough it will grow on some and make new customers out of them. In this current world where instant gratification rules the day we will have some work to do to convince people to forgo the fast, cheap and easy jewelry for less frequent yet nicer pieces that are well-worth waiting and saving for.
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