Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rising Price of Materials

If you haven't noticed, the price of us silversmiths' main material -- Silver -- just reached another high today. As I write this it is sitting at $19.20/oz... whoa!! I check the price everyday and I have been watching it creep up little by little to where it is now from around $4.50/oz in 2001.

Except for the historic and failed attempt by the Hunt Brothers that drove the price up to $48.70 an ounce for a short time in 1980, the price of silver has remained low and an affordable material for hobbyists and jewelers. Now this (close to) $20/oz is really causing some changes in the jewelry industry. I don't see the price going back down.

I am not a financial analyst or a commodity trader but I know enough about what is happening to know that the price rise is caused by two things. Mainly it is a reflection of the weak US Dollar. For example, what I use to pay for a 200 ounce order of silver in 2001 (at $4.50/oz) was around $1200 which included fabrication charges and some shipping. That same order would now cost me over $4000. That price is an indication of what the dollar is worth and not based on the quantity of silver that is present in the planet. There is a lot of Silver!! I read once in an encyclopedia that most silver is micro-crystalline in form (not nuggets) and is actually a bi-product of other metal smelting processes targeting nickel, copper, etc., which are in even more demand than silver.

The other factor is actually the same one -- as the dollar weakens, more and people are using Silver as an investment strategy (along with Gold). Basic supply and demand working here, the more people that want something, the more the price rises.

So what do us craftsmen and hobbyists do? We really don't have much choice, just like we don't have any choice about the price of gasoline, so we must pay the price what ever it is. The good news is that it is clearing the field of people who have a ceiling on the price they can pay to create a product that has a preset cost. In other words, if somebody wants to make a piece of jewelry that wholesales for $8 they must reverse design their costs and at this point there is not a lot of cheap stuff that can be made using the current prices of metals.

I asked an associate in the manufacturing sector what he thought about this (actually, this was a couple weeks ago and Silver was only $16/oz) and he me told this: The trend will be in Stainless Steel, Silver with Gold accents, a lot of 10K gold and the manufacturing in the US will be ALL big-ticket. I am curious to see what will be in all the department stores showcases next season.

The good news is that as it becomes more and more difficult for the major manufacturers to pump out cheap goods (China, India) it creates more room for small merchants to fill in the space. That small merchant is YOU and ME!! The world is moving more towards handmade items and quality and away from mass consumerism. Another indication that this is true is the number of people who are making sales via the internet (eBay, Etsy, etc), home jewelry parties, and at shows.

What we must do is pay what we have to for the materials we need and adjust our prices accordingly. Actually, I am encouraged -- I have been selling my jewelry for a lot less than I wanted to for many years, and even though now I must pay more for my stock, I am actually realizing more profit due to the markup. Another really cool thing is that more people will be able to start craft ventures (woodworking, pottery, etc.) and make a living while joining the 'work at home' crowd... you've heard of that, right? Remember, one also gains tax incentives (write-offs) with owning a business.

So don't despair! Let's all stick together and support each other in our quests to learn the arts that we have only dreamed of in the past. I pledge my help to all those that I can reach with this Blog and through my classes. I encourage you again to subscribe so you don't miss anything. In my next post I will begin discussing tools -- what do you really need. Check back!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Upcoming Information -- Subscribe today

I have been making silver and gold jewelry for about 20 years now and during that time I have been asked many times, 'How did you learn to make jewelry?'

I started by taking a class at an Art Center. It was typical - crowded, not a lot of instruction, with short availability/access, and not enough tools to go around. But for me it was a great start, especially considering the cost, which was low. I took notice of what I needed and what I didn't -- I inspected what was there and I made a list of the essentials. For example, I wanted to solder so I knew I needed a torch. I then proceeded to buy the tools and materials I needed to make the things I wanted to make. Since that time I have accumulated many tools and gone through lots of materials in pursuit of my quest to learn.

Unlike many more typical careers like doctor. lawyer, fireman, etc., becoming a jeweler has always seemed to be shrouded in mystery. There are specialty schools and some really good metalsmithing programs at a few colleges around the U.S. where you can go and take classes. But the availability of these just didn't compare to other fields (for example, not many colleges have jewelry programs, but almost all have Philosophy), why is this? There are probably a lot of reasons why. One reason, I believe, is somewhere in the realm of 'social design'. In other words our culture just didn't need that many jewelers so it wasn't thought of as a normal money-making career. Our jewelry was made by lower paid people in third world countries and by factory processes. Since I wasn't looking at it as a way to make money I wasn't deterred. When I decided I wanted to learn to make jewelry, and I couldn't locate an easy path, I got some books and I taught myself.

Again I will say put your emphasis on creating and learning basic skills rather than starting out thinking about making money. If you develop your skills you will make money. In my opinion, it takes as much perseverance, training, skill, and enthusiasm to become a jeweler as it does to become a lawyer, doctor, engineer, or any other occupation. With the same dedication to training one can expect to earn a decent living as a jewelry maker -- it is really just a different application of very similar skills. What I am trying to say here is learning basic skills is the first and foremost task that one should try to complete. This means sawing, filing, hammering, and yes, soldering! (I have never understood peoples' fear of fire, I am much more in awe of the power of water).

The purpose of this Blog is to help people to learn how to make fabricated jewelry. So I will be providing lots of information about specific processes and tasks, tips and information, tools, materials and where to get them. A community will form and we will all be able to meet here to promote and cheer each other on. Since I am a person that was able to learn how to make jewelry and have seen that many people can excel at it with a little help and guidance, I am willing to share what I know. I have started a jewelry making and metal smithing program before and I currently teach classes to any group of people I can round up. Let me give you my opening introduction -- I always start the classes with this -- to what I will try to do.

I always tell my new students on day one, at the very beginning, that making jewelry is not a matter of having a bunch of tools and stuff. I liken it to learning a musical instrument, like the violin. I am willing to tell you everything I know and help you in any way I can, show you demos and direct you to great pieces of jewelry to be inspired by. But nothing happens until you practice. It is never a matter of me telling you something, it is up to you to learn from your doing. Having said that, I will say that it gets easier each time you practice and most of you can become very proficient very rapidly. I have seen students go from frightened to fantastic in a weeks time. You can do it -- you will be able to create beautiful jewelry!

I hope you will subscribe to my Blog so you won't miss anything. Right now my posts are a little sparse, but I am just getting started. I am spending a lot of time preparing great documentation to post that will help you. Videos, printed demos, audio Webinars, and an ongoing discussion of everything Jewelry, including metal prices, Gems, PMC, tools, etc. So look for the link on the right side of this page and subscribe today (your email will remain private).

PS - I teach classes both for groups and private instruction and I am available to travel to do this, just drop me a note if you are interested.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Visualize your Jewelry

When I was a kid, we used to get a Sears catalog every year before Christmas. I would spend a lot of time looking at the pictures of all the toys and stuff and eventually tell my parents what I wanted, and most often I would receive it. I know now that this is where my creative abilities were developed. As a child I was totally into playing, I lived in a fantasy in my mind and spent many, many hours playing with all the various toys that I had over the years. I never lost this and playing has been my modus operandi my whole life. Consequently, I have experienced a lot of good things because I lived this way... but that is another story.

The reason I bring this up is because I want to say how important visualizing is in developing a jewelry style, what a good aid it is in creating jewelry that is your own. Books are good -- there is a multitude of books on the market that will give you ideas. But hopefully the things you see in the books are only launching points for getting the skills you will need to make the pieces that you want to make. I have seen a lot of jewelry that is just a copy of another piece of jewelry. I want to encourage you to shoot higher, to believe that you can make the pieces that you imagine in your mind, instead of just becoming another cookie-cutter copycat artist.

I have been using a certain catalog as a visualizing tool since I started making jewelry, when it was a little skinny thing. Now, it has grown to a 2" thick monster with everything you could ever need and more. What is the catalog? Well of course it is the Rio Grande Company's. Before I say more, here is the phone number, 1-800-545-6566. I have used this catalog like I did the Sears catalog when I was a child. I have spent many hours looking at all the tools and imagining what I could do with them. This visualizing was a key to my success at learning to make jewelry.

I was a obstinate kid, if I wanted to do something I was not going to give up. Well, I ended up with an Art Degree and I have tried many forms of art making. As a Jewelry Maker, I am mostly self taught, but where did I get my inspiration? From books of course (I will talk about some of these in my next post), but I must give a lot of credit to the Rio Grande catalog. Of course they are not the only Company selling jewelry tools and findings, in fact a quick search on the internet will net you a bonanza of information. But the internet didn't exist when I started making jewelry.

So call them and get a Tool catalog (ask for the Findings catalog too) and look it over. Imagine what you can do when you put my mind to it. I am grateful to my friend who gave me the phone number when I started. Enjoy making jewelry and learning to express yourself this way and don't get caught in the money-making aspects too much. Keep it original and you will enjoy every minute that you spend making your jewelry, it will never be like work. If you do this people will be asking you for your jewelry and you will make all the money you want effortlessly. I am amazed at how many people now own my jewelry, even Internationally.

I hope this info helps you in your jewelry making quest. Thanks for dropping by and check back soon.