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What's a Jewelry Designer to DO? (Read 10,386 times)
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What's a Jewelry Designer to DO?
Oct 18th, 2013 at 7:51am
I've had my 15 minutes of fame.  I've struggled and perfected my trade and there is truly nothing out there like my work.  In the beginning, I learned quickly that I was my own best representative.  No store, no gallery, no sales rep. could sell my work better than I could. In 1984 I got my own store and grew my clientele in NYC.  I exhibited in fashion shows, had my work used in major magazines and sold to upscale department stores.  Celebrities bought my work.  I had 9 employees, subcontractors, a manufacturing facility and a store in SoHo.  In 2001 I closed my store after years in NYC because I longed for a slower pace and I moved to the county in upstate NY. Almost immediately I got cancer, but kept my wholesale accounts with stores and catalogues and grew my online presence.  I worked through the cancer.  My partner of 15 years left me during that time and I sustained a small business through it all.  That's when I decided I'd try the trade show circuit. 

I applied to small, local shows and did relatively well.  I kept making more and more one-of-a-kind pieces and applied to better shows.  However, it seemed I'd missed my window of opportunity because everyone, in 2002, was a jewelry designer:  There were beaders, hobbyists, celebrity designers, many people who no longer even knew how to make their own jewelry.  I invested in better display systems, lighting, gold and silver.  I poured my heart into everything I did.

I stopped wholesaling, because the economy crashed.  Brick and mortar stores were failing.  All stores wanted consignment and those that didn't would pay Net 60 or 90 or, even worse, never!  I could not afford the hours, days and months it would often take me to track down payment. 

Since 2002, the trade and craft shows have become flooded with Jewelry Designers.  The competition is staggering.  Wth application fees $25 to $50 a pop, show dollars really add up.  Many shows even list their jewelry category as closed.  What does this mean?  Are they only accepting the veteran show jewelry designer?  When I am accepted into a show, I am amazed how flooded the show is with jewelry.  Does this help or hurt the vendor? 
I notice that when I do a show, the client fits into two categories:

1.)  Those clients that are truly jewelry officiandos and collectors.  These clients know the process of metalsmithing and are knowledgeable of market pricing.  They generally shop the show and come back to make a purchase of something that is well made and unique.  I am pleased to be one of the vendors to which this happens often.

2.)  Those clients that know only jewelry that is made overseas and sold in low-end department stores.  These clients are surprised by the price of hand-made, precious metal jewelry but often are delighted to be informed.  Yet walk away, shaking their heads, because they just don't comprehend.

I have not stopped aspiring into what I what I want to be:  A top-rated jeweler.  However, lately I am wondering:  Should I stop applying to shows and get a job at Target?  I've developed a habit of calling the shows from whom I get rejected regularly.  Some never return phone calls or emails, which I find to be a rude and dismissive process.  Some will talk to me and tell me that I should make sure I have other resources for photos of my work online, a place like Flicker.  "Call back", they say, "let us know where we can see more of your work."  Often, I can never reach the producer of a show at all.  To have an intelligent conversation with someone who runs a show is a daunting process when they have no knowledge of your work in front of them, or even seem to care.

My work over a 30-year time-space is vast.  I do Flatware, Lockets, Object's D'Art, Reliquaries and Hardware.  Not just jewelry.  Should I JUST do Flatware?  Rings?  Hardware?  What are the judges searching for when they accept a jewelry designer into a show?  Trend?  Technique?  Range of abilities and designs?   

I find the lack of a resume and the limit of 4-5 images of work limiting in show applications.  Some of my pieces open.  Some of my pieces are as beautiful on the back as they are on the front.  Where have I been and what have I done as an artist is irrelevant.

As someone who has devoted their life to their art, I am moving more and more towards working in oblivion.  Creating for the love of the process.  Creating to make people feel happy and add more beauty into their lives and thus, into the world.  Currently, I am writing a book about my experience, geared toward young designers who want to start their own business and life of creation.  It is a companion piece to my work because the path I have traveled is far and the work just keeps getting better, even if it is not wholly visible.  At this point the work is rarely about visibility.  It is about truth.  This is what a jewelry designer is to do.   

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