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Private Label

Do you have a design of your own that would make a wonderful kit? Would you love to be able to sell kits for your own designs on your website, at shows or classes... but rather not have to become a manufacturer to do it?

We can partner with you to make it happen. We'll make up custom ring packs to your specifications, package them beautifully, labeled with your own logo, and ship them straight to you. You add your own instructions and anything else you want to include, price them as you see fit and sell them on your website, at your shows, classes or anywhere else you like. You keep all your rights, we keep all your secrets and you are the sole source of your own kits.

Have you had a design published in a magazine or considered submitting one for publication? Instead of listing sources for everything used in the design, why not put together a kit and list your own website as the source? With kit sales to cover your design time, magazine publication is a great deal more lucrative, which means you can afford to do more of it. And the market potential for beautiful new designs is endless.

We can manufacture one kit for you, for a special design you're ready to share, or we can manufacture your entire inventory if you want to make a business of selling your designs as kits. We're well established, well equipped, well staffed, well trained and no one does what we do near so well as we do it. You can count on us to maintain the same impeccable quality standards you know us for if you're already our customer, and to seriously exceed your expectations if you aren't. And you can count on us to be here. That's something you need to be sure of when choosing a manufacturer for any product. Urban Maille was established and has always operated on the most scrupulously fair and sound business practices, so we'll be here for you, year in and year out.

You can get a rough idea of the prices we'll quote simply by knowing that it works out to the price of the rings (with the quantity discount) plus the price of the packaging. (We get a shockingly good price on our tins, about 8 cents each for the 1 ozt size, because of the quantities we order and we pass that through to you, adding nothing.) We can't offer any additional discount on the rings for the very reason that we don't have deeper level quantity discounts to offer: there's nothing more to trim. (See About Our Pricing for more information.) What we can and will give you, though, is a potential stampede of sales by putting your kit in front of our customers. That has the potential to make your kit profitable overnight. I don't know how to put a dollar value on that kind of exposure but you don't have to, it's a gift. What you make of that opportunity is up to you, but the opportunity is part of your package as one of our private labels.

Why This is a Win/Win/Win Situation

Our customers always want to buy more kits. We always want to manufacture more kits. Add someone who wants to design kits and you have a mutually beneficial circle of happy people.

Good for Us We're happy to get one order from you but we'd rather have lots and lots of orders from you. If your ringpacks are sitting around unsold, you have no reason to place another order. The more kits you sell, the more ringpacks we sell to you, so we are motivated to get your kits in front of people who want to buy them.

Good for Our Customers Our customers are smart people with high standards who really, really love new kits. Designing a new kit is the most time consuming aspect of what we do so we'll never be able to produce kits as quickly as our customers would like us to. But if we manufacture your kits, our customers get new kits to choose from without having to wait for me to design them... and they have the comfort of knowing the rings in your kits will be what they're used to, which makes it easier to buy from someone new.

Good for You No matter how fabulous your designs and how steller your materials, you still have to sell your kits... and most people will agree that's the hardest part. We've been doing what we do for 7 years and we have a large, well established customer base of people who are the ideal target market for your kits. We don't sell, rent or lease our mailing list -- we are very protective of our customers' privacy -- but we do keep our customers informed of all our new products via our News page and our infrequent newsletters. If we're manufacturing your new kit, it will get the same mentions in those areas that we give our own new kits. I don't want to scare you... but when we release a new kit, we get hammered with orders. Obviously, we can't guarantee you the exact same response because marketing isn't everything, but if you design a nice kit and make it easy to purchase, we'll send you a good many people who are likely to want it.

Why Would You Want to Make Kits of Your Designs?

If you're making and selling jewelry of your own design on a website or at shows, you probably get a fair number of impertinent questions from people who aren't interested in purchasing your finished pieces but really want to know how to make it themselves. It can be an uncomfortable situation... or it can be your opportunity to sell a kit. There are people who buy jewelry and there are people who make jewelry and there's not much overlap between those two groups. So when you sell a kit, you aren't selling it to someone who'd have purchased a piece of finished jewelry otherwise, you're selling it to someone who'd otherwise have made no purchase at all. Teaching with kits gives you access to a completely separate second market and provides you a second income stream. The two markets compliment each other nicely, though, because your teaching role adds to your credibility as a designer and your success as a designer adds to your credibility as a teacher, increasing your impact on both markets.

Teaching isn't for everyone... but if you have one or more original designs and you can produce your own instructions, we can help you launch a whole new business. Let us know if you're interested.

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Why Professionals Buy Our Rings

Note: The following information is meant for people who are in the business, or plan to be in the business, of making and selling jewelry that utilizes maille techniques. This article consists of very specific business advice delivered quite bluntly. Personally, I much prefer the truth to anything sugar coated and I try to treat others as I want to be treated. If you're trying to get a business off the ground in a competitive industry during a tough economic period, you don't need sunshine and rainbows, you need honest, insightful business advice from people running successful businesses. I'm giving you that, but the advice of anyone who sells what he or she is advising you to buy should always be closely scrutinized. With that in mind, I'm speaking very bluntly to make it easier for you to scrutinize my points and judge them for yourself.

It's natural to assume that making your own rings will cut your costs. Wire is half the cost of rings and your labor is free, right? Actually... no. But that's not the half of it.

In the Business of Creativity, Time Really is Money

There are only so many hours in the day and the amount of finished jewelry you can produce to sell is limited by the finite amount of time you have to produce it. You can sell the jewelry you make in a given amount of time for more than you can save in the same amount of time by cutting your own rings. For that reason alone, making your own rings is a poor business decision... but there are so many better reasons, this one actually pales in comparison.

Why Successful Designers Buy Rings

When your business takes off -- and that can literally happen overnight -- you will no longer be able to keep up with orders by yourself and you'll need help right away. The only part of your work that doesn't require your hands on are those mundane tasks that aren't creative and chief among them is ring making. Obviously, it's faster, more convenient and vastly more sensible to buy rings from someone who already makes gorgeous rings than to hire and train someone to make them with your equipment. Hence, if you aren't already buying your rings, you will be as soon as your business is successful enough to keep you busy.

So you should make your own rings until you don't have time to do it anymore and then switch to buying them, right? There, as they say, is the rub. There are so many variables to ring making that you will never find a vendor whose rings match your own. Wire tolerances vary in both size and temper; mandrels are machined to varying degrees of precision; coiling methods affect the temper and therefore the finished ring size; blade thickness affects both the finished ring size and its relative roundness. Those little differences don't sound like much but they could very well cost your business its big break.

Imagine that you've poured your heart and soul into developing a beautiful line of jewelry, making and remaking every design to get the perfect degree of snug flexibility, the perfect drape. Imagine that you've done something very right with regard to marketing and now the fruits of your labors are ripening. Orders are pouring in faster than you can fill them and you no longer have time to make your own rings, so you place a big order for every size you need. The rings arrive and you start weaving only to find that the rings are just a little different from yours... enough that your designs don't fit together just right, everything's too loose or too tight, the drape is wrong, the look is wrong. This is it, you're getting the exposure of your dreams and customers are waiting. You have no time to make the rings yourself but you also haven't the time to rework all your designs on someone else's rings. What are you going to do?

Successful business happens at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. If you aren't prepared when the opportunity comes along, the opportunity goes to someone who is. Especially with a design business, it's best to begin as you mean to go on. Choose the best quality, most consistent and reliable supplier, one you believe will still be in business years from now (more on that later), and develop your designs on those rings. Then no matter what happens, you'll have what you need when you need it.

I Love to Tell My Customers It's All Handmade

So do I. Gary makes my rings for me and he's happy to make yours, too. We don't use ring making machines because they don't make fine rings. Every coil we make is coiled by hand; every ring we cut is cut by hand. Our rings are handmade, just as fine lampworked beads and Bali and Hill Tribe silver are handmade. Our rings are every bit as handmade as any you've made yourself.

Would Your Customers Prefer...?

Brace yourself, I'm going to speak bluntly now. The rings we make are nicer than the rings you make. I mean nothing unkind by that, it's just the nature of our respective businesses. Unless you've spent at least seven years devoted exclusively to the ever increasing perfection of your rings... they aren't as nice as ours. And why should they be? Your focus is jewelry and rings are just components of what you do.

And that is precisely my point. We do just one thing - we make precious metal rings for weaving chain - and we do it better than anyone. If you make your own rings and you've been doing it for awhile, I'm sure you sometimes get rings that are as nice as ours. But let's be really honest: you also frag some coils and mangle some rings now and then. You get burs and sometimes your cuts are off center or slanted. You're paying for that scrap... so sometimes you use some of those imperfect rings in your work because you can't bear to scrap them all. You know it's true; the waste is unbearable and the rings are good enough, right?

This is why you aren't doing your jewelry any favors by making your own rings. The quality of your finished jewelry isn't as good as it could be, as good as it would be, if you were using our rings. There's a lot of competition in jewelry sales. When someone wants to buy jewelry -- whether that someone is buying for herself or for a high end department store -- she has a lot of options. When your jewelry is considered for purchase, does it meet the finest quality standards on close inspection? The difference between exceptional quality and good enough could also be the difference between life as a successful jewelry designer and just having a job.

Choosing Your Vendor

If you make jewelry for fun with no intention of ever selling any and your ring vendor goes out of business, it just means you have to order from another vendor for your next project. But if you're in business, it means each item in your line has to be reworked on someone else's rings before you can make another of anything to sell. It means you have to replace all the rings that you use to work up new design ideas because there's no point in working up designs on rings that are no longer available. If you have a good variety of ring sizes in your collection -- which is exactly what's needed to give your creativity free reign, so if you're serious, you do -- it's going to be incredibly expensive to replace them all. The amount of your limited time that will be required to rework all your designs with new rings before you can sell again is also very costly. These are big expenses for a small business and they do nothing but bring it back to where it was before your ring vendor went under. Such a big investment in your business should take it to a new level, not just barely keep it afloat. Frankly, most small businesses would not survive a hit like that, especially before they're nicely profitable.

So giving your business the best chance of success means choosing a ring vendor that not only meets your quality standards but can be reasonably expected to remain in business for at least as long as you are... and one hopes that will be for a long time. That means looking at each vendor's business practices with a critical eye. When you're considering your vendor options, take a moment to read this article, paying special attention to the Me Too scenario so you're clear on how to avoid that unfortunate situation.

Make Mine Cheap and Nasty

We all know to put a mental dollar figure on everything a company offers because nothing is free. And that's a good thing to do, as long as the full picture is taken into account. If something you purchase comes in a nice box, it's logical to assume you paid a bit more for it than you might have otherwise. If your rings arrive gleaming, you know you paid for the time to polish them. You might believe that you can save money if you don't mind picking out scraps, cleaning off greasy dirt and doing your own polishing. On the surface that seems logical... but then so did making your own rings.

Quality: Because every ring we send out is perfect, you might think you're paying for us to pick out whatever percentage were mutilated and you could save money by doing that yourself. Remember the seven years devoted to ever increasing perfection? Well, this is the payoff for all that work. We don't spend time trying to tumble off burs because we don't make burs. We don't spend time culling bad rings, we just don't make bad rings. I'm not saying we never frag a coil, we do... but our average is well below one in a hundred. That's very little scrap adding to the cost of rings you buy from us. It's a lot less than you get making your own rings and it's certainly less than you pay for when buying cheap rings.

Polish: Assuming you already own the equipment (tumbler, shot, etc.) and considering only what you use each time to run your tumbler (water, soap, electricity), it isn't possible for you to polish even perfectly bur free rings for less than we charge to do it for you because you aren't using 50-100 pounds of shot to tumble hundreds of ounces of sterling at a time. Polishing rings in bulk uses all resources more efficiently and saves energy, water and soap. As a result of that efficiency, what we add to the price of the rings to cover polishing them is far less than it costs you to operate your own tumbler.

Packaging: When you see our nice little tins, you know you're paying for them. What you might not realize is that, because we have them made and meet very high minimum orders to do it, a tin only costs us eight cents. Because we package our rings in tins, there are no plastic bags going to the landfill. The tins make wonderful storage for rings and beads, are useful and reusable, and so attractive that many of our customers package their finished jewelry in them. If you don't want them, you'll have no trouble giving them away (teachers love them) but even if no one wanted them, they're made of aluminum and glass and can be conveniently recycled. They need never end up in a landfill like plastic bags do. So yes, you're paying for them... eight cents. How much do you think plastic bags cost when all's said and done?

Back to Business

A thrifty, money saving mindset is a good way to run a household because the household is a cost center in your life, it exists to support the family and isn't meant to turn a profit. Your business, on the other hand, is supposed to be a proft center in your life. You can't run a profit center by the same rules you run a cost center because profit doesn't happen as a result of saving money, it happens as a result of making money.

Saving money and making money are pretty much mutually exclusive. Trying to save money is the single best way to handicap your ability to make money. You can save money by spending less, but it's extremely unlikely that you'll increase the money you're earning while spending less. The mindset of saving money -- the trimming this and cutting that way of thinking -- is so much the opposite of the mindset required to build a thriving business that the two don't coexist well at all. When someone suggests that you should save a few bucks at the expense of your time, effort or quality standards, just look at that person's business and ask yourself if that's where you want yours to be. I know that's harsh and I'm sorry. Sometimes reality is harsh.

That Point Bears Repeating

If someone tries to tell you how to raise your kids, the first thing you do is look at their kids. If their kids are little monsters (or they don't have kids at all), that advice is instantly discounted. (Gary and I don't have kids and we're well aware that there is no point in our having opinions on anything to do with raising them because no one with kids will ever care what we think. *snort*)

The same standard should apply to business advice. People are quick to hand it out; they want to be helpful or seem knowlegable and your mistakes don't cost them anything. Before you take to heart anyone's business advice, take a good, hard look at the business that person is running. 'Nuff said.

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Closing Rings Seamlessly

The instruction manuals in our Beginning Weave Kits all include an expanded version of this tutorial on opening and closing rings seamlessly because it's a chainmaker's most essential skill.

To make chain, you'll need two pairs of pliers. The pliers used in these pictures are our Lindstrom Rx series flatnose and bent chainnose, Aislyn's preferred combination. Some people use two pairs of flatnose pliers, some use two pair of chainnose and still others prefer one pair of flatnose and one pair of chainnose pliers. Whatever your preference, make sure you use smooth jawed jewelers' pliers with precious metals to avoid mangling your rings. For more information on choosing pliers and preparing new pliers for use, see About Our Tools.

Opening Rings

The beauty and functionality of every handmade chain, from the simplest to the most ornate, depends absolutely on the chainmaker's ability to close the rings perfectly, with joins so neatly butted they disappear, so smoothly aligned that a fingertip can feel no edge.

To keep the rings round, twist them open; never pull them apart. Once pulled out of true, the ring will never lay perfectly round and flat again.

With the cut ends of the ring in the 12 o'clock position, the ring is firmly grasped on either side, at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. One end of the ring is pulled toward you and one end is pushed away. The rings must always be twisted open like this, never pulled apart.

Closing Rings

When closing a ring, your goal is to create tension in the metal to push the two ends of the ring against each other, ensuring the tightest possible join.

To do this, press slightly inward with your pliers as you twist the ring closed, passing the point at which the ends would meet, then pull them very gently apart, only as far as needed to bring the ends back together. You'll hear and feel the ends rub against each other as they slide into place.

The tension you create in the metal by pushing the ends past one another will keep them pressed tightly together when you’ve lined them up to meet evenly. If the ends do not line up perfectly the first time, simply repeat the procedure in smaller increments until they do.

You'll notice that the metal becomes stiffer as you work with it. This is called work hardening and is the result of rearranging the molecules in the metal by bending it.

Hardening the rings as you work them makes the finished jewelry stronger, so it's good… to a point. If you work it too long, the metal will become brittle and the ring will eventually break in half. If this happens, the metal was severely overworked. Gently hardening the metal without destroying its resilience is the goal.

These images are shown in close up for clarity of instruction. In actuality, the tips of the Lindstrom Rx flatnose pliers are just over 3mm in width and the ring used in all these photos is 16g/4.5mm.

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Beautiful Diamond Flowers

I'm size testing our specialty rings whenever I have some spare time so I'll be sharing little bits and pieces of information as I get it, rather than waiting until I have all the test information for a given shape and weave combination.

This is a 3 ring flower, made with 14g/8.5mm diamond rings. It's so gorgeous with the way the rings fit together, that I wanted to show it to you right away. As it happens, that's the same ring size I used for the diamond Half Persian 4-in-1 so you might already have them. You can make 12 flowers with 1 ozt.

If you want to try it in some other gauge, just calculate the aspect ratio. Flowers are quite forgiving in that way so you don't have to get it exactly right. Have fun. *s*

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It's our 6th anniversary as I write this and we've just implemented a custom kit concept that I've dreamed of for as long as we've been making kits. I'm delighted with it and I want to take a moment to explain why it's such an important change and what it means for you.

As much as I love teaching through kits, I've never felt comfortable with the 'learn to make a bracelet', project based way of teaching. Almost all jewelry making lessons are project based, meaning you learn to make a particular thing, say a tennis bracelet, for example. Although the techniques used to make the tennis bracelet can be applied to any number of other types of projects, some of which are nothing like tennis bracelets, many people have trouble separating the design from the technique and see them as one and the same. Hence the 'tennis bracelet technique' becomes nothing more than a way to make tennis bracelets.

My goal has never been to simply teach people to make this bracelet or that necklace. My goal has always been to teach techniques that you can use to make fabulous things of your own design, things I've never thought of. That's the true joy in any creative endeavor; conceiving an idea and using your skills to make it real.

Imagine that I'm teaching you to make rope. I wouldn't need to tell you what to do with your rope, now would I? You know what ropes are good for and if you made one, I'm sure you could think of something nice to do with it. Making a chain for jewelry isn't much different. Weave this much chain and you have a bracelet, weave twice that length and it's a necklace, weave a single unit or three and it's an earring. When I'm teaching a chain weave, my job is to teach the weave (which is the technique), not tell you what to make with it (which is the design).

I believe it's vitally important to clearly define and distinguish technique from design when teaching. A weave is a technique. What you make with that technique is your design. The most common designs -- bracelets and necklaces made of straight lengths of chain -- are beautiful with a fluid look and feel, like pouring precious metal. And those are the simplest uses of the weave. While you're weaving that simple chain, you'll always think of ever more unique and complex ways to use it.

Obviously, in order to learn a technique, you must have something to make as you follow along with the instructions. My goal has always been to thoroughly teach a technique while keeping to the shadows with regard to design; to make a kit project as much a blank canvas as possible so your burgeoning ideas show up more brightly against it in your mind. Originally, I did this by keeping all our project pieces simple and elegant; simple designs, plain clasps, as little other componentry as possible, offered only in the ring size or combination of sizes that results in the most perfect example of the weave at its best. However unobtrusive, though, simple and elegant is still a style, an element of design. What I really want to do is leave a vacuum where design belongs so that the design, even for the learning project, is yours rather than mine. I always knew how to do it... but it's taken six years to build up the teaching experience and the manufacturing muscle to pull it off.

And that's where we are now. Our new KitWorks is not a product, it's a tool that you use to design your own learning project. You choose every component of your kit: instructions, ringpack, clasp, everything. There is no design except your own. The instructions teach the technique, the weave itself; you decide what to make with it. You choose the metal(s) and ring size(s) from among the matching ringpacks, each of which will make 10" of beautiful chain. If you want an Argentium necklace, choose two Argentium ringpacks in the same gauge. If you want to make graduated sterling necklaces, choose sterling ringpacks in the range of sizes you want to graduate and combine them for the look you have in mind. Each item is sold separately and you choose as many or as few of anything as you want for the project you have in mind.

KitWorks is all about freedom and it isn't a foolproof concept. I'll always include recommendations (and the whys of them), such as why it isn't a good idea to try to learn a weave with 22g rings... but you are free to disregard those recommendations and do it anyway. In designing your own learning project, you get to thoroughly exercise your freedom of choice, cater to your own your tastes and push your creative boundaries. You also have the freedom to get in over your head with big rings that are uncomfortably stiff or small rings that are hard to see... but true freedom always includes the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them.

I hope you love our KitWorks as much as I do. Now go make something you love. *s*

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Design Theft at Shows

Today I was talking to Bill (who works here) and he was telling me about this show he did once (he's a blacksmith) at which there was another blacksmith of obviously limited creativity (not to mention integrity) going booth to booth, photographing other people's designs. Everyone knew he was going to try to copy them and everyone was disgusted but there wasn't much anyone could do about it without making a scene and putting off the paying customers in the process. I told him that jewelry people have the same problem because I can't count the number of times I've heard that exact same story from jewelry designers who do shows.

About two minutes later, I had the most perfect idea. Perfect because it's simple, easy and absolutely effective, yet diabolical... in a karmically righteous kind of way. ~evil little smile~ Naturally I couldn't wait to share it with those of you who do shows and must deal with these design poachers.

The next time you do a show, take along the compact digital camera you usually use for family shots. Turn on the date stamp feature. When one of the ethically challenged comes along, photograph the poacher photographing your work. When the poacher asks what you're doing, answer... "Gathering the only evidence I'll need to prove copyright infringment." Then smile... because if the person has any sense at all, you just became too risky to copy. And if she doesn't, well, that picture's worth a thousand lawyers. *s*

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Stones... to Tumble or Not?

Here's a question from the mailbag that I thought might make a good topic of discussion. Please feel free to comment with your own experiences and we might just create the requested resource ourselves. *s*

"Do you know of a resource that tells you which gems/semi-precious that can/can't be tumble polished with stainless steel? I am looking for a general resource, but specifically moonstone."

I don't know of a definitive resource and I don't really see how there could be one because a lot depends on the quality of the stone. Low quality stones that have cracks and fissures or are chalky aren't as likely to take the millions of tiny pings of tumbling as well as higher quality, more solid stones. And that's just one example of a difference... any stone could have a flaw that doesn't show itself until it's tumbled. The way I see it, though, that flaw is going to show itself sooner or later and I'd rather see it while I still have it then after its gone to a customer.

If you're concerned, the best thing to do, in my opinion, is sacrifice the least appealing stone in the strand and tumble it alone. There's usually at least one stone that's a little wonky so throw it in the tumbler overnight, examine it closely the next morning and you'll know what to expect. As for moonstone, I've tumbled it dozens of times and never had a casualty so you're probably pretty safe with that one. *s*

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More on Pricing

I've had several questions lately on pricing and, while replying to one asking whether $175 is a good price for a bracelet, my answer accidentally turned into an essay. So I thought I'd just post it here, instead. *s*

Pricing is not a one size fits all proposition because it's less about inherent value than it is perceived value. In other words, an item is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it; no more, no less. So I can tell you whether the bracelet is worth $175 to me but that doesn't do you any good because I'm not the person you hope to sell it to.

I have an analogy for you that will initially seem unrelated, but it'll make sense in the end. When taking a photo, you can set the lens opening (aperture) to a certain size and the camera will determine how long the shutter must remain open in order to get enough light through an opening the size you chose. Or, you can set the shutter to a certain speed and the camera will decide how far the lens must be open to get enough light within the time frame you've chosen. One setting dictates the other. If you choose a tiny lens opening, giving the aperture priority, then the shutter will have to be open a long time to get enough light. If you a choose a fast shutter speed, giving the shutter speed priority, the lens will have to be open wide to get enough light.

Pricing is a lot like that, in that the price you choose dictates your market or the market you choose dictates your price. You get to pick one or the other. If you pick the market, meaning that you choose a place where you want to do your selling because it's convenient or you like it or whatever, you're stuck with the prices that market will bear. If a flea market is your sales venue of choice, you're stuck with low prices and, in order to be profitable, your items have to be inexpensive to make, both in terms of materials and time. Think of that choice as the Market Priority Model. You choose the market and the market dictates the price.

If, on the other hand, you choose good prices -- and I think $175 is a good price -- then you have to find the market that will bear it. By that I mean that you have to come up with ways to get your product in front of people who will see $175 as a fair price for it. There are plenty of people in the world who recognize fine craftsmanship and won't settle for anything less and it's quite possible to find them. But you do have to know who you're looking for. (See the other posts in Sales and Marketing for more on this.) Think of this choice as the Profit Priority Model. You choose the price and the price dictates the market.

You'll often hear jewelry people claim that they can't raise their prices because, 'people in this area won't pay more than $x'. In that case, the person is choosing the market (for convenience or other reasons) and that market is dictating the price. That's a perfectly viable choice but it is a choice. The person could, instead, give the pricing priority and seek what might be a less convenient market that will pay higher prices.

It's important to realize that the choice between the Market Priority Model and the Profit Priority Model leads to two completely different types of businesses. Each has it's own advantages and disadvantages. Both are viable business options but they have little in common with one another.

The Market Priority Model

The biggest advantages are convenience and quick sales. The sales venues are close, easy, comfortable or all of the above, and the customers are often friends and acquaintances from work, school, community activities, etc. It's easy to be one's own target market and to predict what will sell within one's own peer group so sales can be fast and furious, inspiring a burst of early confidence.

The disadvantages are that, for the vast majority of us, selling within our own peer group means lower prices than we'd like to get for our work. Trying to keep the prices low means not getting to use all the nicest materials and not being able to spend a lot of time on each piece... unless a person completely sacrifices their profit margin, in which case it's a hobby, not a business. At the lowest price points, even discount store jewelry competes for the same shoppers. Although sales are initially easier, production is harder because a low profit margin means that a great many sales are necessary in order to make a substantial profit. With that many sales required for true profitability, a person will eventually exhaust their own peer group and have to cultivate outside sales in order to continue to grow. That means that, to make serious money, a person will eventually lose the convenience that made this method appealing in the first place. So although this method is great for small money and very nice in the short term, if the goal is really comfortable money, in the long run, this method is probably the harder way to go.

The Profit Priority Model

The biggest advantages are getting to use all the nicest materials and take all the time required to do spectacular things with them while making a healthy profit that allows for growing one's business and having a comfortable life. And, of course, the luxury of pursuing quality over quantity is more satisfying to the soul.

The disadvantage is that sales are neither quick nor convenient. They require time, effort, cultivation and reinvestment of profits. More investment is required upfront, in terms of both money and skills. This is not the way to go if you're trying to be profitable quickly; it takes work and patience. This method takes a long term plan and a serious business mindset... but the payoff of success is serious business profits, happy work and a manageable workload because a healthy profit margin on each item means you can afford to turn down work when you run out of time. In the short term this method is harder and requires more of a person... but it has much better potential for long term satisfaction and business success.

When a jewelry designer comes from a privileged background, she's able to cultivate a Profit Priority Model while keeping all the advantages of a Market Priority Model in that she's selling to her own friends and acquaintances. If it happens that those friends and acquaintances are celebrities whose photos are snapped while wearing the jewelry, her jewelry business might become successful overnight. That's the best of both worlds and we'd all love that kind of opportunity. Since envy makes for bad karma but the universe smiles on wishing well for others, I propose that while we're honing our skills, working on our businesses and sowing the seeds of our own future successes, we should also cover our friends in jewelry and wish them all great fame and fortune. *s*

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More on Tumbling

I get a lot of questions about tumble polishing jewelry and I will eventually rewrite our Tumble Polishing page with additional information but for now, I thought I'd try to cover the questions here.

Vibratory versus Rotary

We've added a couple of vibratory tumblers since that page was written so I can now offer some comparative information. The vibratory definitely works faster. Some people claim the vibratory is more gentle and maybe it is, since everything in it shuffles around on top of the shot rather than rolling in it, but since I've never had anything, even the most delicate wire earrings or stones, damaged in a rotary, I don't know that more gentle is of any actual benefit. The vibratory is quite loud and requires a good deal more shot. Since the shot can cost more than a tumbler, this can be a bad thing. Gary prefers the vibratory tumblers because they hold a lot and they're faster but he's tumbling massive numbers of rings. I still prefer the rotary tumblers for jewelry because I'm never tumbling great quantities at once, I'm never in a huge hurry and it makes a soothing, swishy sound that isn't annoying.

Hardening: Fact or Myth?

Some people say that tumbling doesn't actually harden the metal. I know otherwise because of an experiment we did when we got our first vibratory.

Gary wanted to know how long we should tumble rings in the vibratory in order for them to match the hardness of the rings tumbled in the rotary. He tumbled four batches of 16g/4.5mm rings in increments, increasing by a half hour each time, and put cryptic labels on them so I wouldn't know which was which. I made a bit of chain using our normal rotary tumbled rings in the same size, then I worked with each of the mystery batches of rings to find the one that most closely matched the stiffness of our usual rings. I picked out the match, but I also put the mystery batches in order from the least time tumbled to the greatest, based on how hard the rings were. If the rings weren't hardened by the tumbling, I don't see how it would have been possible to order them as I did. The difference was significant enough that it was quite easy to order them correctly.

Stones and Glass

I still tumble everything I make and I still haven't had any damage... except for one small thing. I tumbled some pink mystic topaz which is actually white topaz with a coating on it that makes it pink. I forgot it was in the tumbler, left it all night, and it was white topaz when I took it out. So again, tumbling anything with a coating is risky business. It could probably tolerate a short tumble but not all night. I recommend test tumbling a single bead when it's important. I wish I'd taken my own advice on that because those earrings were really nice when they were pink. ~wry smile~

If you tumble a dyed stone, it's very likely to lose its dye. The answer to that, of course, is don't use dyed stones. They're going to bleed on your customers' skin anyway so it's better to just avoid them altogether.

Gun Stores

Evidently, vibratory tumblers are used to polish shells for reloading and so are available in gun stores and at a better price. Be aware that weight is an issue with tumblers and stainless steel shot is very heavy. If the tumbler is intended for use with ground walnut shells, rice or some other weightless tumbling media, steel shot is likely to overload the motor's capacity. Also, some of those tumblers are meant for dry media only and can't take the water and soap used with stainless steel shot. So if you shop for a tumbler at a gun store or some other alternative outlet, ask about the weight capacity and ask about using water in it.

Note: The stainless steel shot used for tumbling jewelry is not the same thing as shot used in shotgun shells. Don't buy gun shot for tumbling jewelry.

Yellowed Silver

If you've read our Cleaning and Polishing page reference above, you've seen the bit about the mysterious darkness. Yellowing is the first stage of that darkness, just like it's the first stage of tarnishing. If you get yellow, brown, grey or black on your metal and you've followed the directions for rinsing the tumbler and shot, adding clean water and a lot more Dawn, given it another tumble and it still hasn't gone away, you need to do two things.

First clean your jewelry using this method: Line the bottom of a glass pan with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Boil water. Lay the jewelry on the foil (it must be touching aluminum) and sprinkle it with a generous amount of washing soda. Washing soda is an old fashioned laundry additive. It might be hard to find locally. This is what it looks like. Baking soda will work but it doesn't work as well as washing soda. Let the boiling water cool a bit and pour it in the pan to cover the jewelry. Bear in mind that some stones are sensitive to heat. I cracked some fluorite doing this but that's been my only casualty. You'll see bubbles forming. Very quickly, the tarnish will jump off the jewelry and get on the aluminum. It just takes a minute, then you can remove and rinse the jewelry and it'll look nice again.

Once your jewelry is clean, you have to figure out what contaminated your tumbler. Base metal of any sort is usually the culprit. Some people say that black comes off the inside of the tumbler barrel and gets on the jewelry but I've never known that to be the case and we've done more tumbling than most people will in a lifetime. Of course, we only use Dawn in ours so it's possible that people using some other cleaning compound, perhaps something that damages rubber, would have different experiences. We have worn out tumblers to the point that the metal barrel was peeking through the rubber inside and contaminating the sterling, though, so watch for that if your tumbler barrel is metal and you've used it a lot or the rubber has been damaged in some way.

Tumble scrap sterling to test your tumbler so you don't risk jewelry while you're cleaning it up. If Dawn isn't working to get the black out, put a lot of baking soda in your tumbler with the shot and water and tumble it overnight. Rinse the shot and tumbler really thoroughly because baking soda is slightly abrasive. Then test tumble some scrap sterling with Dawn and water again. I've never seen a case of an undamaged barrel that wasn't cleaned by this method.

Where to Buy Stainless Steel Shot

There are many places to get it but it's hard to buy something you've never seen before, so here's a link:

Stainless Steel Shot

Scroll down to Stainless Steel Shot and get the 1lb. Mixture. I would recommend two of those with a 3lb. Lortone tumbler but 1 pound will work, it just takes longer.

If you have tumbler questions, please feel free to post them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. *s*

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Courtesy vs. Marketing

I've been missing our little conversations here but with nothing new to report at the moment and no essays rattling around in my head, I had nothing interesting to write about. But then today, while emptying tumblers, Gary and I started talking about something that I thought would make an interesting topic for discussion.

Let me preface this by saying 1) this issue doesn't apply to the kind of teaching I do because our kits are intentionally designed to teach techniques independent of any particular style so that you can more easily work them into your own individual styles and 2) I do not yet have a fully baked opinion on this topic.

My question is, should a designer be expected to, or feel obligated to, credit or otherwise name his or her instructors?

Obviously, it's courteous to do so and, assuming your instructor was good and helpful, it's a nice way to say thanks. It kind of conflicts with good marketing, though. If you learn a particular style of wirework and you're selling items made in that style on your website, linking to your instructor's site kind of gives the impression that you're the apprentice and a shopper on your site might decide they'd rather buy from the master. If you paid for your instruction, then the exchange is complete; you traded money for knowledge and, technically, you don't owe anything more. On the other hand, if you don't acknowledge your instructor, you might give the impression that you're claiming the style as your own, and that's not right.

If your instructor is a legend who doesn't teach anymore, or accepts only a few select and talented students or if the program of instruction is highly respected and only graduates those who meet its exacting standards, then listing that instruction is tantamount to listing degrees on your resume; in other words, that's listing your accomplishments. That's not the kind of situation in question here.

Back in the days of guilds, an apprentice worked under a master, doing the master's lesser work and absorbing his wisdom for years and years. Then he progressed to journeyman and could accept pay for his work but he couldn't have apprentices of his own -- in other words, he couldn't teach -- until he became a master as a result of submitting a 'master work' to the guild and having it pass inspection.

I would imagine that, if you were a journeyman, people would ask who your master had been and probably base their assessment of your skills on the skills of your master in deciding whether to purchase your work. But once you became a master, although you might mention the name of your own master as a matter of pride if he was well known and respected, you should have your own style by then and the quality of your work should stand on its own and speak for itself.

In thinking about it that way, I'm leaning toward the opinion that a person should probably credit the instructor as long as his or her work looks like the instructor's work... even though it might cost that person a sale now and then. But once a person has taken all their skills and evolved in new directions whose origins are no longer identifiable with a particular instructor, that person's work stands on its own merit and to his or her own credit.

As I said before, though, that opinion is still under consideration. What do you think?

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