Know Your Materials

Rob Bates, the news director of JCK, a leading trade publication recently wrote an article entitled “Jewelry is About Craft. We should tell Consumers.”

His point is that manufacturers should take the time to tell retailers what goes into the manufacture of a product, including interesting and important information about the gemstones.

This echoes a point I’ve tried to make for years. When I owned the gallery, I was consistently amazed that otherwise competent craftspeople would bring in items and yet be unable to describe the gemstones. They put hours of work into the piece, may have used multiple and sophisticated techniques in assembling it, yet didn’t have the curiosity to look up the gemstones.

This kind of omission (laziness in some, although not all cases) is also a nuisance for any sales intermediary. When this happened to me, I was frequently able to identify the gemstones, but I couldn’t identify all of them, particularly those I didn’t use in my own work. How on earth did they expect me to sell a product if I didn’t know what it was? I remember one of the most arrogant craftspeople responded to my question by lecturing me to “sell the design, not the materials.” This was a mistake.

It’s true that none of us can be experts on everything. In fact, that’s one the enduring appeals of working in the industry…there is always something new to learn.

But when we’re trying to sell our work, it’s important to understand exactly what we’re offering. If the raw material appeals to you, but is unfamiliar, ask the dealer what it is before you buy it. Then, write it down or have him write it on the sales receipt. Often we buy materials that we don’t immediately use, so keep your notes…maybe in a zip lock bag where you store the gemstones. Keep your sales receipts where you can easily refer to them. Then, when you incorporate it into a design, look up the material, so you can describe it to your clients or your gallery reps.

Many craftspeople don’t take the time to understand or familiarize themselves with the sales process. But, the best – and most successful ones – do. Remember, most people, particularly buyers of one-of-a-kind jewelry, love knowing about their purchases. It’s up to you to provide them with that information.

Posted in Business, Jewelry Design, Sales | Tagged , , ,

Stretching Silk for Stringing

Pearls showing dirtOne of the issues confronted by all professional pearl and bead stringers is that most thread, including silk, stretches. Despite our best efforts and the best efforts of manufacturers, over time, the stretching results in gaps between beads and pearls, not, obviously, an attractive look. (Recognition of this normally occurring stretching is the reason GIA recommends pearl necklaces be restrung every six months and is clear in the dirty and stretched thread of the pearl necklace pictured above.)

I’ve developed a DVD, a bonus that accompanies Vol. I and Vol. II of the Professional Pearl and Bead Stringing course, that details my own approach to the issue. However, I recently saw these tips, one of which makes a lot of sense, and one of which doesn’t.

Both tips were reported in the February, 2015 edition of MJSA Journal in an article called “Stretch it Out.”

  • Kimberly Ingersoll in Viola, Wisconsin, wrote in to suggest that pearl and bead stringers immerse the silk thread in water and then hang it with a weight to dry. She suggests using fishermen lead weights. An alternative might be a hammer. I haven’t tried this technique – frankly, it was new to me. My only concern is potential damage to the thread in the same way that water can damage silk clothing. I may be wrong, though, and this definitely sounds worth trying.
  • Another reader, a Judy Willingham from Manhattan, Kansas, suggests attaching the clasp and dipping the exposed silk in ordinary rubbing alcohol to wet the string. Then she shifts the pearls back toward the clasp and suspends the whole thing to let the silk dry. Willingham claims this straightens the silk and stretches it a little before knotting.

I would strongly recommend against this method. In fact, I’m a little surprised MJSA Journal printed it without a discussion. I wouldn’t knowingly expose pearls to rubbing alcohol any more than I’d knowingly expose them to acetone or perfume. The risk of nacre damage is too great.

However, the first recommendation makes sense. If you try it, let me know. I’d be interested in your results.


Posted in Gemstones, Jewelry Design, Manufacturing Tips | Tagged , ,

Your Imagination and the New Year

Although I know that starting the New Year isn’t really a clean slate, it always feels like one, and it’s a good time to set goals and plan for a productive year.

As a manufacturer of jewelry, you should have two overarching goals: ensuring you’re getting the creative stimuli you need to keep the ideas coming and, just as important, trying to get out before potential clients. In this blog and in the next, I’ll suggest ways of doing that for the New Year. First, your needs.

Creative Stimulus

A very well-known studio jeweler once told me that “we all borrow ideas from each other.” In no way was she suggesting that jewelers plagiarize work. What she meant was that new techniques can appear and reappear and artists often incorporate those techniques into their work in different ways.  In this case, she was talking about fusing different metals together which many artists are doing to save on money and to achieve different visual effects. More generally, she meant that artists learn from each other.

The remark gets to the point of this column: you must ensure you keep a steady flow of visual input coming your way. And, equally important, be sure that most if not all of that input is from artists who are at the top of their game. It doesn’t do you any good to look at work that is sloppy and/or poorly conceived. You’ve got to look at work that challenges and inspires you; work that has the “wow” factor.

Here are ways I stay interested and challenged:

  • Magazine subscriptions – If I were to discontinue all my subscriptions, save one, I’d keep “Ornament” magazine. Devoted to wearable art, including jewelry, the magazine covers the best of contemporary work, but also looks back at ancient and ethnic work, including beads. The magazine itself is beautifully executed with stunning photographs. It will challenge, inspire and teach you.
  • Museum shows – Many museums have caught on to craft, including wearable art, as worthy of notice. Here in Houston, the Center for Contemporary Craft was founded some years ago. In addition, the Art Museum of Houston bought the Helen Drutt collection five or six years ago. (Helen Drutt was a pioneer in recognizing the beauty and value of post-WWII studio jewelry.) Check exhibition schedules in your area and put them in your tickler file. Don’t neglect shows that may seem off-point such as gold of Roman or Greece-type shows. Those designs are more relevant than you might think. Also, if you’re planning trips outside your area this year, be sure to check museum shows in those locales and try to schedule trips to catch those that might be of interest.
  • Trade Shows – Trade show promoters publish dates of shows at least a year ahead of time. Check their schedules. If you live in a big city, one or more of them are likely to have a show during the calendar year. Some of the biggest are the International Gem and Jewelry show and G&LW (Gem and Lapidary Wholesalers.) If possible, go out to Tucson for the big gem and jewelry at the end of January and beginning of February. Dealers from around the world come and it’s a terrific place to discover new gem finds and new trends in handling them. Best if you have your wholesale license, however, many of the shows are open to the public.
  • Craft Shows – Unfortunately there are fewer of these. The best are SOFA, American Craft Show and the American Made Show by the Rosen Group. The Philadelphia Craft Show is good and I hear Art Basel in Miami Beach is fabulous although I haven’t been. Here is a link to a list of shows, however, be sure to also google your area, I don’t think this list is complete.
  • Books – Lark Crafts does a good job covering the jewelry making scene with books. Be sure to browse their website, you may discover something you can’t live without. Books, especially art books, are expensive, so don’t neglect the possibilities of local second hand book stores.

The point of all this is to nurture and nourish your imagination. Frankly, it’s critical for your well-being as an artist and jewelry manufacturer.

Posted in Business, Jewelry Design, Reference | Tagged , , ,

Technology and Organic Gemstones: An Uneasy Marriage?

Technology and Organic GemstonesI’m all for new technology. I may be dating myself, but when I went to graduate school, I was considered lucky because I owned an electric typewriter.

Obviously, I don’t embrace all the new systems and platforms available to us…who can? But I use some and I enjoy them.

The above is by way of saying I don’t have a knee jerk negative reaction to new technologies…at least I don’t think I do.

Still, I’m a little confused about what to make of Galatea’s new line of “Momento” jewelry products which imbed NFC (Near Field Communications) technology in cultured pearls. This allows a user to “create a tailored voice message that can be played when the pearl is tapped against a compatible mobile device. The smart jewelry also stores digital content…images, messages and videos.”

OK. So if I understand this correctly, the giver of the jewelry (or the owner) records a message or some kind of communication which is accessed by tapping the pearl to a NFC-enabled device such as a mobile phone. The user then listens to the message, views the images or listens to the tape.

But why would you want to listen to private messages when you’re wearing jewelry in a public venue? (That is, I usually wear jewelry when I’m dressed up and going someplace or meeting people, certainly not when I’m working around the house or slopped on the couch. I think this is generally true of most of us.)

Also, a ring can easily tap a mobile device, a pendant and earrings cannot. So, unless you’re wearing a pendant on a long, long chain, you have to either take off the necklace to tap the device or bring the device awkwardly to your collar. A similar issue obtains with earrings.

Finally, and this may be a little old fashioned, but pearls are a member of the group of gemstones we call “organic.” (Organic gemstones also include amber, coral, jet and ivory.) The distinction we make between other gemstones and organics is that they result from biological processes. So, to me, the marriage of a gemstone we love because of its organic beauty and modern communications technology seems a little odd because it changes the nature of the gemstone.

I admit, I may be missing something…Below is a video from Galatea describing the Momento line. See for yourself.

Posted in Business, Fashion, Jewelry Design, Pearls | Tagged , , ,

Protect Yourself & Your Client

A young relative of mine became engaged recently. Her mother, my sister, gave her an eternity band which had belonged to her husband’s mother.

I’m not trying to confuse you with relatives. I looked at the ring years ago under a loop and recall that the diamonds were about 35 pointers and fairly clean. I don’t remember much more than that, so I was no help at all when my sister called and said that the national chain to which my niece had taken the ring for cleaning had lost it.

As described by my niece, the take-in procedures at this chain – and believe me, you’d recognize the name – were shoddy, at the least. She did receive a receipt for the ring, but there was no real description. The number of diamonds or the size of the diamonds weren’t listed. The type of setting wasn’t described. All my niece had was a receipt.

The store acknowledges it lost her ring and offered her $4,000 to settle the claim. But, upon what basis does it arrive at that value? They lost the ring and the receipt doesn’t describe it. The $4000 is just as apt to be too much for the ring as it is apt to be too little. That’s because the store can’t prove or even suggest its value.
It’s nuts. And, for my niece and sister, just beyond frustrating.

sample receipt formI really doubt the clerk who took in the ring stole it. The ring is beautiful, but certainly not worth the risk of jail time. I suspect the clerk was just sloppy and allowed an accident to occur such as carelessly tossing the envelope containing the ring into a wastebasket.

Accidents do happen. They shouldn’t. But they do. When they do, though, the client should be protected and you should be protected. That means you should have an accurate description of the item.

So, the real grievance here is the laziness of the take-in clerk who provided a receipt without details.

My niece’s fiancé is a lawyer and they’ve already filed a law suit against the chain.

As professional pearl and bead stringers, we are often asked to repair necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry. Please protect yourself and provide your client with a detailed receipt and keep a copy for your own records.

Please understand, it’s important that you NOT accept customer claims about the piece. For example, you should not describe the piece as “antique amber beads.” You should describe the piece as  “Client says beads are antique amber.”

If the client objects, tell her you haven’t identified the stones, so can’t accept that they’re whatever she says they are. Tell her you don’t doubt that they are what she says they are, but that you cannot issue a receipt certifying this without additional tests and/or study. Most people will accept this. Then be sure to include a good description, including size, color and whether they’re graduated.

Back when I was running the gallery, digital wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. Today, I’d take a quick picture of the jewelry and keep it with the receipt which I would get the client to sign.

Whatever procedure you decide upon, please be sure to protect yourself. Also, be sure to follow the procedures you’ve decided upon. No one wants a lawsuit, but they can happen and often are the result of carelessness.

(There are plenty of forms available such as the one I’ve posted. You can pick up packages of these at office and jewelry supply stores. Using a pre-printed form, of course, is a signal of your professionalism.)


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A Happy Ending

Natural Saltwater PearlMore than once I’ve mentioned that one of the reasons for my continued fascination with jewelry is the history that can be associated with it.

Here is a present-day story involving an important antique brooch with a happy ending. It’s always nice to see a story like this, but perhaps particularly affecting as it occurred so close to the holidays.

A family of modest means, living in New Jersey, was reeling from the costs of caring for an ill mother. In addition, the family has a child on the cusp of college and the huge costs associated with that. They family decided to sell an antique brooch to help with the expenses.

Fortunately, they knew or were told not to break up the piece which some might have been tempted to do. It features a large center pearl and is surrounded by diamonds. The pearl could have gone into a brooch as a stand-alone; the diamonds could have been re-set as “eternity” bands, currently popular as wedding and anniversary bands.

Instead, they took it to Rago arts, a Pennsylvania auction house, which identified it as the “Putilov brooch,” once part of the Russian crown jewels and the setting for the world’s largest known near-round natural saltwater pearl. The pearl, a lustrous white, measures 19.08 x 16.50 mm and is set in platinum.

The brooch itself measures 2” x 1 5/8” and is framed by 16 old mine cut diamonds. According to the Rago specialists who reconstructed the history of the piece, it was owned by Alexei Putilov, a Russian financier and industrialist, who fled Russia in the spring of 1918. The family member consigning the piece is his great grandchild.

Rago asked $100,000 for the brooch. It sold for more than $800,00.

Rago spokespeople said the family was in tears at the conclusion of the auction.

A happy ending, indeed.

Posted in Gemstones, Jewelry History, Pearls | Tagged , , ,

Resources for Pearl and Bead Stringers

As the holidays approach, clients may ask you advice about pearls and/or gemstones. And, although professional pearl and bead stringers typically can answer most general questions, occasionally we can be stumped. Here is a list of web resources you might be interested in that provide serious and substantive information on a variety of jewelry related topics. (Note: I’m not affiliated with any of these organizations.)

In addition, I’m making my book “Fast Facts about Pearls” free on Kindle this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, December 13 and 14. While not as technical as some guides, it’s a handy and general reference. So, download it for free one of those days.

Here is a good starting list. I’ll be adding to it as I find more resources and if there is one I’ve missed, let me know. Once I’m satisfied with the list, I’ll post it permanently on this website.

  • – A professional resource, however, not restricted. Offers very solid and up-to-date information on pearls. An excellent discussion forum.
  • – A rich, marvelous site dedicated to antique jewelry. Includes articles, videos, reference sites, images, etc., etc. A go-to site for questions about antique jewelry.
  • – The website for retail jewelers. Offers a number of buying tips and general information on finished goods. Tilted commercially, but worth looking at.
  • – Antique jewelry. Site contains an excellent glossary of terms and a list of reference sites.
  • – Founded by Charles Lawton-Brain, a jewelry artist who invented fold forming, the ganoksin project is dedicated to professional jewelers and hobbyists. This rich site contains articles and videos from some of the most well regarded jewelry makers in the world. In addition, numerous forums are available for questions and answers. Maintains jewelry galleries which are worth browsing.
  • – “Bridges” the gap between the layman and the professional. Only real issue I have with it is that it presents gemstones as “precious” and “semi-precious,” a misleading distinction.

There are many other fine jewelry-related sites. This is just a start, but I think a good one. I’ll be adding to it and if you have one you like, please use the contact form to send it along to me.


Posted in Jewelry Design, Jewelry History, Reference | Tagged , ,

You’re a Designer? Show them!

One of the Google alerts I’ve set for my g-mail account is “designer jewelry.” Frankly, I don’t pore over these entries, but there are a few design contests I look at and occasionally, a headline will capture my attention. Today was one of those days where a couple of headlines prompted me to click the link to learn more about the designer.

The links took me to news stories where the designer was allowed to wax on about his or her inspirations, the techniques, gemstones and materials he or she used. But there were no pictures of the jewelry.

Annoying, to say the least.

Having looked at a couple of these stories in succession, I realized they were part of a pattern…that pictures of the jewelry were deliberately omitted from the stories.


This is easy. The designers don’t want to show their designs because they’re afraid they’ll be copied.

This is an issue I ran into all the time when I ran the gallery. The fear of copycat designers. It may be one you’ve grappled with.

While it’s a legitimate issue to the extent that a brilliant, innovative designer can come up with unique designs people copy, to be honest, most designers aren’t in this category. Moreover, if people don’t see the jewelry, however beautifully designed, they don’t buy it, talk about it or show it to other people. A decision to limit exposure of your designs is a decision to limit the growth of your reputation and consequent acknowledgement of your achievements.

I know and admire a pearl and bead stringer whose designs are stunningly beautiful. (I won’t use her name.) She used to show with me and currently shows at exclusive galleries around the country. She never allowed her jewelry to be photographed for fear it would be copied. But she failed to realize that her designs are instantly recognizable as hers. They’re unmistakable.

She’s older now and not producing as much. Because she’s not leaving a legacy of photographs (as far as I know) her overall contribution to the art of jewelry making will be limited and I believe will be eventually forgotten sooner rather than later. It’s too bad.

The basis of this fear is of course insecurity. But, really, without sounding harsh, my advice is to get over it. Let people see your designs and evaluate them. It’s the only way to build a reputation and gain real and sustained exposure.



Posted in Jewelry Design | Tagged , , ,

Price and Value Tension

beading, necklace, jewelry, wearable art, beaders(Note: Yesterday I rather casually tossed off a suggestion to beaders that was criticized by one artist. In the following, I hope to clarity my thinking and meaning.)

Beading, the technique of using complex stitches and tiny seed beads to create jewelry, often in complex designs, became popular a couple of decades ago. Since then a number of artists, primarily women, have produced stunning, jaw dropping work and pushed the limits of the medium to produce beaded sculpture, book covers, quilts and other work.

The achievements have been recognized by other artists, craft museums, galleries and publishers, including Lark Publishing, a leader in providing exposure for craft artists.

Despite the undeniable quality and beauty of the work, many beaders, including prominent artists, are unable to make a living selling their work. They supplement their income by teaching, running bead stores and by other means.

This is true for many artists and I don’t for a minute suggest it is peculiar to beaders. I do suspect, however, the issue is more acute for beaders.


There is always a tension between the price of a work of art, especially for emerging artists, and its perceived value. An artist will judge his or her work by the excellence of its design and the skills necessary to produce it. A client looks at the price of the work, its durability and what can be called its inherent value.

Let me explain. Beaded work is primary created from tiny inexpensive seed beads, mostly glass, base metal and crystals. The thread used in the marvelous intricate stitching typically is some form of nylon and, despite the best efforts of manufacturers, over time, nylon stretches and can break. This is an issue for wearable art.

Jewelry artists typically build in some kind of pricing to recoup labor costs in their work. But a complex piece of work can take months.

So, while well-heeled clients who “get” beaded work may be willing to pay design and labor-based prices, less affluent clients shy away. The tension between price and perceived value is too great.

This hurts beaders.

So, how to resolve it?

As with any piece of art, it sells better if the artist takes the time to explain the materials and techniques used to create it and explains the care it will need for maximum longevity. But for beaders, I think this isn’t enough. I’d suggest that beaders begin to incorporate gemstones into their work and learn how to manipulate wire in their patterns. This answers the value equation clients make when evaluating work. Beaders should go to the gem and jewelry shows, learn the properties of various gemstones and price the small diameter beads. They’re often more affordable than many suspect.

Please understand me. I’m a former gallery owner, goldsmith and professional pearl and bead stringer. I love beaded work and believe it’s underexposed and underappreciated. I would also like to see more beaders making a living with their work rather than having their energies drained by constant teaching and retail activities. I make the suggestion in this spirit.


Posted in Business, Jewelry Design, Sales | Tagged , , ,

Beading and Value

beading, beader, pearl and bead stringingArtfix Daily has posted a terrific column about the upcoming Fine Craft Show at the Brooklyn Museum, November 22-23. Although the article is ostensibly about the show, its real value is that it briefly reviews the work of some of the 90 jewelry artists showing at the event and then provides links to their websites. If you can’t make the show, browse the work of these marvelous artists.

One of these artists is Elizabeth Farber, whose work is new to me. One of the issues encountered by many beaders, those artists who use tiny beads in intricate designs, is that the jewelry is so labor- intensive, they cannot recover their costs unless their work is very well known.

This is a serious issue. It results in many beaders not making their work available commercially, thereby limiting public exposure of what in many cases are stunning designs. Others abandon the niche entirely.

Elizabeth Farber has come up with an elegant solution. She incorporates gemstones into the designs and, as a result, can recoup some of her labor costs.

gemstones, blue topaz, beading, beadersNow, I’m not saying she made the choice deliberately. That is, I very much doubt she looked at her work in this kind of calculating and cold way. That’s me entirely. Moreover, her designs are stunning.

However, we’re foolish if we overlook “perceived value” in calculating the eventual price of beading and pearl and bead stringing designs. To a customer, pearls have more value than wood or plastic or other faux gemstones, for example. As a gallery owner, I had to decline representing some beaders because I knew that the prices they wanted (and sometimes deserved) for their work were a real barrier to sales. While a gallery owner should make markets in new niches, and I attempted this with various degrees of success, price for design alone could and often was an insurmountable obstacle to sales. However, if the piece was also perceived to have inherent value, that is, if it was constructed with precious metals and gemstones, clients were far less reluctant to buy.

I’ve posted two images of her work. The first, a Deco neckpiece, is handwoven of 18K gold, black spinel and rutilated quartz. As you can see, the design is marvelous. Moreover, it could be executed by using beads alone. But, I suspect she can sell the beautiful piece far more easily because she’s invested in the gold and gemstones.

In the second piece, she’s used blue topaz and sapphires in a simple beaded piece. In this instance the gemstones provide the color component that elevates the piece. That is, the colors of the gemstones are unique to those gemstones. They can be faked, but not convincingly.

I hope you’re not offended by this frank evaluation of what in any circumstance is stunningly beautiful work. I believe I owe it to you to give you my best advice…even if it’s a little cold. Please consider what I call “perceived value” in determining the components you use in your work.




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