Thursday, April 17, 2008

Creating Custom Jewelry – a step-by-step mini guide

If you’ve ever wondered how custom jewelry is created, here’s all the answers you’ll ever need. Enjoy!

Step One: Get a commission. This is actually the hardest part – finding someone who wants custom jewelry, and wants it from you. Etsy’s Alchemy has been good to me, so have family and friends – but I’ve also picked up random orders through my website, my LinkedIn profile, and other places. (Friends and family are great for getting your feet wet, but they can only buy so much stuff. Branch out before you have no friends left!)

Step Two: Design brainstorming. Every customer has some idea of what they want – it’s your job to help them decide exactly what their piece should look like! My example for this post is a recent Etsy alchemy request. Initially the customer wanted a duplicate of a necklace: white ceramic beads with painted roses, brass pieces, and black silk cord. In the process of hunting for just the right beads, he ran across a different style – acrylic, and much more golden. This changed the design of his necklace entirely – these beads, while pretty, were too small to stand on their own. I grabbed screen shots of his focal beads, as well as some coordinating colors in other beads, and created 4 different versions of a necklace. The customer picked his favorite, a necklace with lots of brass and gold, and a little pink. (Give the customer options, but not too many. If you ask lots of questions up front - gold? silver? real pearls or glass? - you can narrow down the design choices to just a few. And that's much easier on you!)

Step Three: Shopping. My favorite part, both online and in-store. When you have an idea of the “look” you want, you have to find the right pieces for it. This means both the obvious focal components, but also the supporting structure – will you use sterling silver or gold-fill clasps? Covered wire or silk? What size and color coordinating beads? Shopping is divided into two aspects: first, an initial (online) browse to get pricing, and second the actual purchasing. My online browsing is critical – it’s what allows me to set a price, and meet all the customer’s needs. (Setting a price is a whole other post!) Fire Mountain Gems is usually my first stop for browsing (and some purchasing), just because they have a huge variety of items and a good search feature. Actual buying, of course, comes after you and the customer agree on materials, and the customer pays the deposit. (Did I mention deposit yet? Always, always have a least 50%. This keeps you from getting screwed!)

Step Four: Design Layout. Once you’ve picked up all the materials, it’s time to create the final design. I rely on my beading board – with channels and inch markers – to create necklaces and earrings of the exact length my customer wants (and keep the mess to a minimum). This is where the artist really comes out – tweaking bead layouts, trying different shades of color, etc. Once I’m happy with the design, I take a picture for the customer (still in the bead board) for final approval. (Don't actually put the piece together yet. Some customers change their mind, and want different length/color/arrangement. You'll be really angry if you have to restring something 3 times)

Step Five: Completion. Once the customer gives the final thumbs-up, it’s time to string those beads. Depending on the type of request, this can be quick and easy….or slow and painstaking. My golden-floral necklace and bracelet request was fairly quick; however I’ve also hand knotted pearls and created custom wire-wrapped designs that took hours. Still, the beauty of your finished work is always worth it. I take a few flattering pictures, box the item nicely, and away it ships. (Taking pictures after is important - you want to remember what you did, but you'll also want them for a portfolio of your work, to solicit new customers. Trust me.)

Step Six: Waiting…. When you put hours and hours of labor into a piece, it starts to feel like your child. You do your very best, and you know that the customer has been happy with each picture sent. Still, until you hear from them, you just don’t know for sure if they’ll really like it. Nerve-wracking! And I will admit, I’ve shipped jewelry Priority Mail just so I wouldn't have to wait the 4-5 days for First Class arrival. (I don't really recommend this, it's an extra $2-5 out of your already slim profit margin.)

To view more of my previous custom work, please visit my website: TexasTesla's Custom Jewelry Designs.


T said...

Very interesting to see the process you go through - thanks for the tips too on custom orders. :) Very helpful! That piece turned out great!

ThePeachTree said...

Love to see your process :) Great photo commentary!

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