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.

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