Saturday, 28 May 2011

A - Z of How to Make and Sell Handmade Silver Jewellery

Letter E
  • Process 
The controlled corrosion of a surface using acids to create decorative or textured patterns.
The acid eats away at the metal until it is removed from the acid and rinsed.  Areas of the metal not to be etched are covered with a stop-out in the for of a varnish, a black bitumen-based liquid or a mixture of beeswax, bitumen and rosin. As the acid sometimes eats in to the edges of the work, despite the stop-out then it's important to ensure that there is extra metal around the pattern which has been scribed into the work, so that this can be pierced away later.  Anneal, pickle and rinse and clean thoroughly - the lines made with the scribe will now be visible. Paint stop-out up to the lines and along all the edges (or alternatively paint the stop-out and allow to dry, then scratch the design into the stop-out).
Immerse the piece into the nitric acid/water solution (4:1 of water to nitric acid). The etch will occur quicker if the acid is warm.
Rinse well when the required depth is achieved - keep checking by brushing with a feather whilst raising from the acid.
Remove the stop-out with white spirit.
  • Tools
Etching Bath
Refer to letter A - for details of the acid bath used for pickling.
"I use a slow cooker which has worked perfectly for me to do this job.  I use one for etching and one for the safety pickle salts.  The cost of these 2 units from a local cooking shop - less than £20 each!"

  • Selling
  • Selling your handmade silver jewellery / Selling your handmade jewellery / selling your handmade goods
When exhibiting your work it's important to have 'show pieces' which are unlikely to sell as well as a selection of jewellery which is more likely to sell to recoup the costs of exhibiting your work.  With exhibition venues costing anything from £50 - £2500 it's naturally key to cover your costs!
Think about the venue that you're attending - is it a venue which will attract trade buyers or galleries or mostly customers? Arrange your exhibition stand to play mostly to the attendees.
Many times I've heard the phrase that it was a 'good day' when the seller covered their exhibition fee.  I personally disagree with this if no further business is forthcoming.  How many people should be satisfied with working for £0 and selling their jewellery for £0 - because this is what it amounts to!  Surely, a good day should be when the cost of the goods, the exhibition fee, expenses to and from the exhibition AND have been paid for the hours that you've spent manning the exhibition are covered?
Analyse the exhibition and really see if it was commercially viable before considering doing it again.
A lot of sellers are happy that their business cards have been taken - just how many follow ups are received?  Do you question where the caller has obtained your details?  If not, how do you know the call asking for a certain item of jewellery has stemmed from the exhibition?  Again, if no follow ups are received - then that's more expense because it's highly likely that business cards were taken and then thrown in the bin as soon as the customer got home.... and you have to order more business cards!
In summary - realistically cost out how much the exhibition has cost you - estimate an hourly rate of pay that you'd be happy to work for.  Calculate the cost of materials sold and then work out whether you should apply to participate in the exhibition again in the future.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The A-Z of how to make and how to sell handmade silver jewellery

Letter D
  • Process
Doming a circle can be achieved by the aid of a doming block and dapping tools.  Place the disc in the doming block and use the dapping tool with a hammer to form the disc into a dome.The majority of steel doming blocks are sold with similarly metal dapping tools.  However, if you have a texture on the disc which is to be domed then the metal on metal could damage the texture.  Wooden dapping tools are available. As mentioned in a previous blog, wood on metal prevents stretching of the metal and will therefore protect the textured disc.
Take a look at the textured disc earrings to see how the texture can be protected with wooden dapping tools.

  • Tools

Depth Gauges

When making silver jewellery, the depth and diameter of a piece of metal (sheet or wire) is vital when the metals become mixed in the store. For instance when making a gem setting the calcualtion includes the depth of the sheet and if the depth is incorrect then the gem won't fit! I have purchased several depth gauges - electronic and manual slide depth gauges.  The electronic gauge is brilliant - but when the battery begins to fail then the readings cannot be reliable and who knows when the batteries are running out?  The best depth gauge I have in my toolkit is the dixiem gauge and it's also relatively inexpensive to purchase.

  • Selling your products / How to sell your handmade silver jewellery /  how to sell your jewellery

Do you sell at fairs?  The golden rule for selling your products at fairs and events is to make it easy for the customer.  What does this mean?  Make it easy for the customer to view - if they have to bend down to look at every item on your stand - they may well do this for a couple of  items but then get fed up. If you're displaying on a table, it's important to have height built into your display.  Usually layer the height from nearest the customer on the table level to build upwards, so their eyes are drawn from the table up to you. By the time they've looked from the table upwards they'll be meeting your eyes and will be ready for a chat!

The other important factor for customers is that they like to touch.  This has to be balanced with security.  If you can display pendants open to the customer, but with the chain itself attached in some way, you're achieving your security and also enabling the customer to get a good look at your wares.

Sometimes putting items in a cabinet can have the effect of customers knowing that it's 'top notch' in that cabinet and therefore they'll ask to see them - but if all your jewellery is in a cabinet, then it becomes too much 'hassle' for the customer and they'll walk away.

If you get the balance right then you get an attractive looking stand which invites customers to view and buy your jewellery.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A - Z of How to Make and Sell Handmade Silver Jewellery

Letter C
  • Process

When thinking of casting, it's widely believed that many items will be exactly the same.  True, but also a cast item can be completely individual!  To produce more than one item to be exactly the same a mould is made - for instance from, silicone or vulcanised rubber.
Vulcanised Rubber moulds can last 20 years or more but shrink around 5% hence going one size smaller. You have to use a master that will stand 150 degrees centigrade and high pressure for an hour. So in practice your master must be made of metal or similar material. Rubber moulds take a couple of hours to make and are ready to use right away.

Silicone moulds do not shrink and do not need heat so you can mould directly from fragile materials such a leaf or a wax master. But they are hydroscopic and deteriorate in sunlight, are liable to tear if abused and have a life of about 2 years. Silicone moulds take about 2 hours to make and need 24 hour set properly before they can be used.
One-off casts can be produced by sand casting , lost wax casting, cuttlefish casting - these moulds can only be used once.  Another form of casting is with PMC. This is a relatively new process and doesn't need excessively expensive tools or equipment, but does allow the maker to produce a 3 dimensional object from silver without the expertise which would be required from a traditional silversmith.  The PMC (precious metal clay) is silver mixed with clay and can be formed into a shape and then fired to remove the clay. The item which is left, is silver (either 925 sterling  or 999 fine).PMC does shrink by about 10% and the finished item, in my opinion is more brittle than silver wire or sheet - I certainly wouldn't use it to make a ring! - the use that a ring gets over the years, I believe could mean the ring cracking later on it's life.  PMC hasn't been around long enough perhaps for this theory to be tested yet.

If I needed to make a starfish as a traditional silversmith, I would cut out 2 starfish shapes, dome them gently and set them back to front. They would then be hollow.  Take a look at the starfish earrings that I have made from PMC - they're solid 925 silver and because they didn't take me hours to make (which they could have done if I'd used traditional silversmithing methods), this makes them more cost effective for the purchaser.  A lot of PMC artisans create the hole by creating it during the PMC shaping process - I prefer to drill a hole afterwards and natuarlly I solder the jump ring through.  PMC workers don't even need to know how to solder but it is most certainly an artform in it's own right.

  • Tools/Equipment
Copper Tongs

Having discussed Acid Baths previously - one piece of vital equipment for the sulphuric acid bath is a pair of copper tongs. The heated item of silver needs to be put in / removed from the acid bath.  If another metal is used, then any item of silver in the acid bath turns pink! - the acid needs to be thrown away and the 'damaged' pieces require a lot of emery paper to get rid of the pink.
Plastic tongs are also ok to use in the acid bath, but it's best to buy copper in the first place because it you want to pick up a hot item from the soldering block - then quite clearly the plastic tongs won't be any use

  • Selling your products / How to sell your handmade silver jewellery /  how to sell your jewellery

So, you've designed the most amazing piece of jewellery - but how do you stop someone copying it?

Copyright protects 2 dimensional work - so photographs of your work can be copyrighted.

ACID is a member based organisation raising awareness of Intellectual Property Rights - (IP).
 So how do you protect 3 dimensional work such as jewellery design?
You do not have to apply for intelectual property rights, but ensure you keep very good records of when the design was first recorded in material form and when products made to the design were first made available for sale or hire.
This information may be useful if someone challenges your rights in the design or if you believe someone is infringing your rights and you wish to take the alleged infringer to court.
The hallmark is an excellent proof of the year of manufacture - I always keep the first item made!
For items which don't require a hallmark, when I upload the jewellery onto my website I print the page which alwasy prints the 'online' date and the proof is immediately available as to when it was first available for sale. Alongside this, I keep accurate records of how I made the jewellery.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

A - Z of How to Make and Sell Handmade Silver Jewellery

Letter B
  • Process
Bangle Mandrels

When creating a hand hammered cuff bracelet, if you were to have the correct length and width of silver sheet to start, then as soon as you hand hammer the sheet it changes shape.This results in having to re cut or re file the bangle to the desired shape.  As any silversmith knows - this can result in hours of extra work!
Bangle mandrels are often available in metal, however if you find one in wood then you can avoid the need to reshape the cuff bracelet.
First of all shape your cuff bracelet and then wrap it around a wooden bangle mandrel.  Using a metal planishing hammer you can then create the hand hammering without affecting the shape of the cuff bracelet.  It does take more hammering because you're not hammering metal on metal, so you do need a very large planishing hammer - but the results are most definitely stunning!
Take a look at some examples of my  hand hammered cuff bracelets:

  • Tools/Equipment

The bible for silversmiths is Oppi Untracht - Jewelry Concepts and Technology.  How much does it cost? Well a quick search on one of the leading sellers of books on Google shows a second hand, hardcopy fully illustrated copy of this selling for just over £230. Phew!  What a price - but it is most definitely the best book a silversmith can own.  (the non illustrated hardcover version is considerably cheaper).
I own the fully illustrated hardcover copy and I found it at an antique fair a few years ago.  It's definitely worth checking book stalls if you attend car boot sales/flea markets or fairs because you never know what might be there.  I had just started silversmithing and was intrigued to see a pile of silversmithing books - 6 in all. A couple I've still only flicked through, but Oppi Untracht was amongst the selection.  I didn't know at the time how invaluable a reference book this was (and certainly didn't know how expensive it was!) , but I asked the stall holder how much they were charging for the 6 books.  I struggled back to my car with these 6 books for a mere £15.
There really are bargains to be had - lots of people start silversmithing as a hobby and just give up - so keep your eyes peeled!

  • Selling your products / How to sell your handmade silver jewellery /  how to sell your jewellery

Believe in your own product.  If you don't believe how good it is, then no-one else will!  It's hard to stay confident when you're sat behind a craft stall and someone is stood in front of you saying something like "Oh, I don't like that!" or "that's expensive, I bought a silver bracelet in Tibet/India for a quarter of the price when I was there last year" or  when the person next to you is selling imported jewellery at a fraction of your price.

Has this happened to you?  What did you do? Email me and let me know:

What should you do in these circumstances?  If someone doesn't like your jewellery - ignore it!  After all, think of Marmite - love it or hate it  - that's how they sell it!

If someone's bought an item abroad very cheaply and are happily telling people who are looking at your stand about it !*! grrrr... Ask them all about it.  Needless to say when they describe it, it'll be completely different from what you're selling and highly likely it'll be machine made.  However if,  for instance they describe a hammered cuff bracelet (which could be similar to yours), then explain that the depth of the silver you use/width of the cuff bracelet for STERLING silver determines the price as well as the craftmanship that goes into the making of it.  Gently say, that silver isn't all the same as there are different grades of silver and sterling silver is the only silver that can be sold as such in the United Kingdom. (As an example - for your information only - not to totally upset the person who's standing in front of you.... Indian silver is generally less pure than sterling silver and Tibetan silver can sometimes have a low content of 30% rather than sterling which has 92.5%!).  It's also probably not worth getting involved with discussions on poor working conditions that some people suffer abroad/ or about 'handmade jewellery' where it's highly likely been produced by a machine!  If they want to argue a point though, then why not show your knowledge?  It might make the people around them realise that you are actually an expert as well as a designer/maker.

If someone next door to you is selling machine made imported jewellery and selling it as hand crafted.  Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do except when people visit your stand greet them and tell them that you make everything yourself.  If they look at an item in particular, start explaining just what has gone into the making of it.  The person next door can't do that, can they?  Plus, don't forget - the person next door will be selling jewellery that's availabe everywhere the world over.  So, whilst talking to your customer explain how lovely it is when you see people wear your jewellery, because you know they've bought something that's unique and no-one else could ever have the same as them. Each one you make is completely individual.  Chat a bit about how you like to buy direct from craftspeople yourself (think of an example of something you've bought) and go on to say about how lovely it was and how you felt as if you'd bought something truly special.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The A - Z of handmade silver jewellery - and how to sell. Starting with A

I quite often get asked by people if they could carry out work experience with me, offering their services in my studio for free for the benefit of my advice and some experience in a silversmith's studio.  I've also seen people who've got 'carried away' with the idea of making silver jewellery, give up their job, rent a workshop in order to make a living from it when they've only been making jewellery for a few months. Naturally, after the rental period has run out, they've realised that it's cost them more than they've made and actually despite the fact that they thought they'd sell out at their first event - they came back with more than they went with(having bought from other stand holders!). Plus, buying tools can be a very expensive business and as I was largely self trained, I've learned to find tools that will do a job and don't necessarily cost the earth,  The same applies to techniques: the standard method of making something can sometimes be a long and drawn out process as 'that's the way I was tought' rather than discovering new and often easier methods of doing it.  So, I thought I'd put a blog together with an A-Z of handmade silver jewellery making, but also for anyone who sells handmade goods an A - Z of selling. 
The topics I intend to cover will generally be: Tools, Techniques,  Selling

  • Tools
Acid Baths
 After silver has been heated  in preparation for soldering it needs to be put into a mix of  heated sulphuric acid and water.  The same suppliers who sell the sulphuric acid (known as safety pickle salts) also sell the 'pickling machines / pickling units '.  So, how much do these cost?  Just over £200 + Vat,=£240, plus delivery, so start off with £250.  One big expense to start the jewellery making career.  But it needn't be...  What do these units do? they heat the water and sulphuric acid.  I use a slow cooker which has worked perfectly for me to do this job.  I use one for etching and one for the safety pickle salts.  The cost of these 2 units from a local cooking shop - less than £20 each!
  • Techniques
All metals react in similar ways with regards to compression, hammering, rolling etc, but the degree of how they react differs with each metal.  As a silversmith, silver is naturally what I'll discuss but the principals are the same for all metals.  When the silver is worked (as above) it becomes work hardened and can fracture. So to avoid this, the metal needs to be annealed whilst in the process of making the jewellery.  The annealing process is done by the use of torches - heat the silver, hold the heat and allow it to cool to cause thermal recrystallisation in order to relieve the stresses built up in the silver.
  • Selling
  • Selling your handmade silver jewellery / Selling your handmade jewellery / selling your handmade goods
This is probably one of the key factors that designers need to consider before they begin the designing process.  As an 'oldie' of this world, I see some wonderful designs by young people who are delighted with their fantastic work of art. For instance a ring with an absolutely stunning butterfly standing proud  from the ring about 3cm high in full flight, all worked in wire and taking several hours to make.  Yes this is a stunning creation and yes it is beautiful and yes it will be widely admired.  However, who will buy it?  One day, someone will.  In the meantime it will sit with the designer/maker for a long time.  Firstly, the bullion has been paid for and secondly, year on year it will be on the accounts as stock in hand, so any new bullion purchased will increase the stock and therefore the stock in hand figure will be greater at the end of the year than at the beginning - which meas a greater liability for tax.  The idea should be - handmade craft should be made to sell.  The reason why this beautiful butterfly won't sell quickly?  A 19 year old would LOVE it and be able to carry it off on their equally beautiful young hands (if it fits of course!). However, can you see a 35 - 60 year old woman wearing it? Think about the people and what their daily tasks are.  Shopping, cleaning, working, looking after kids etc etc.  The fine and dainty ring wouldn't last 5 minutes. That's what they'll think about and would you spend £100 - £150 on something that you could only wear on very rare occasions?  So to the 19 year old.... they've fallen in love with it - but they're at Uni and every penny is being spent on books and living.  So, the stunning ring sits there until one day someone buys it as a very special gift as long as they know the recipient's ring size.

Therefore to make jewellery to sell - work out before you start what is the age of the person who will buy your jewellery.