Thursday, January 29, 2009

how do you respond?

Okay, here it comes! It's a Tracey Diatribe! Maybe it's because I have been snowed in or because I'm in the 'paperwork' stage of most of my business, but I feel like sharing!

Recently I was speaking with an acquaintance and I showed them the baby spoon I was working on. When they asked the price and when I responded they proclaimed 'that sounds like a rip off to me.' How do you come back from something like that? I was just stunned, babbled something and changed the subject. But really, I need to figure out how to respond in situations like this.

I decided to do a little math. Was this baby spoon a rip off? The cost of the sterling silver and the hand engraving (which I have done by a master engraver) comes to over half of what I was charging for the piece. BUT then I spend around 6-8 hours making the spoon (sawing, filing, dapping the bowl, sanding, tumbling, polishing and delivering it to the engraver), one full work day. By doing this math, I realized I make under 10 dollars an hour fabricating this piece. I'm sorry, I don't work in a 3rd world sweat shop. And just like everybody else, my time is worth money.

So, what does this make me realize... well, first off, I'm not charging enough for baby spoons. And second, I need to figure out how to defend my pricing.

I thought I should do what Sal would do, start off with research. A basic Google Shopping search for 'Sterling Baby Spoon' gives a few options of mass manufactured, plain, thin, machine engraved spoons ranging in price from $30 - $100. Okay, that is less than I charge, but mine is made by me specifically for the client... not by a machine. Then I added in the the word 'handmade' to see what that would result in, and there were only antique pieces for sale with the price closer to $225. So, where does that leave me? Upping my price.

Let's think about this. I not only spend the time fabricating the piece, but I spend my time with the client designing it (in person/answering emails/on the phone), writing up contracts, ordering materials and laying out the pattern ALL BEFORE I START MAKING THE PIECE! And none of that time gets figured into the final price.

Sal gets really upset with me because I am constantly working (even while we're watching movies or television, I'm on the computer), but not charging anything for that time. It's not that he feels I'm a bad business person, he just wishes I could be more like a lawyer, charging down to the 15 minute intervals. Wouldn't that be nice? I do have 4 years of college, 2 years of jewelry training (student loans up the wazoo), and then apprenticeships with a few different people (nearly unpaid.) That equals about 7-8 years to training total... so why can't I charge more for my craft?

I guess I don't have a final answer with this note. I just need to figure out how charge properly to survive and keep my clients. It's all about a happy balance.

But, as a side note, every once in a while I receive a little something extra from my clients. A hug, a note, a special thank you. And no matter how much I make, the unsolicited thank you is the most delightful part. But don't get me wrong, I still like getting paid so I can pay my bills, too.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Elephant Baby Spoon

Just thought I would share a sweet little sterling baby spoon that I finished. It's for Sal's older brother's baby (Milan.)

Sal got to choose the pattern... so he decided on dragonflies and an elephant because he had bought them a piece of artwork with a similar image. And to finish it off, the initials 'mDs' were hand engraved in script.

Super sweet.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nouveau inspired engagement ring

I finished the Nouveau inspired Calla Lily Engagement ring. It came out beautifully. Unfortunately, the photographs didn't.

I know I have mentioned it before, but sometimes different pieces of jewelry do not photograph well. I have taken over 500 photos of this ring... and while they have gotten moderately better, they still do not show the beauty of this ring.

Basically, because of the multiple contoured surfaces of this ring, along with the extremely high polish, the camera is having problems reading the light and dark areas.

But I got a few decent photos... I just wish I could share when it truly looks like!

It is a 1.25 ct blue sapphire bezel set in a hand carved calla lily patterned platinum band.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

little snag...

I was so excited to finish the Nouveau engagement ring... 'was' is the key word in this sentence.

Let's back up a bit. Right after the New Year I carved the calla lily pattern into the wax ring, but left a space for the oval tapered bezel. I decided that it would be best to get a wax bezel from the company where I would be having it cast.

Now, after the holidays all jewelers close for a bit... some a few days, some a month. The casting company I wanted to use was closed till the 12th, so I sat on it for a few days. Well, I wish I could have those few days back.

I dropped it off on last Monday and was supposed to be able to pick up by Friday at the latest. Unfortunately, when I called, it wasn't done. So I picked it up yesterday... and it was wrong. My simple task of dropping a wax bezel in it was unfortunately not noted properly on the job envelope. The bezel was supposed to be set horizontally in the ring (to run parallel with the shank) but was set in perpendicular.

I first hoped that I could cut it out and solder it back in, but then I realized a couple of things...

1. To cut out the bezel without disturbing the thickness of the metal, and then cut out a curve to fit the contour of the bezel back into the shank the proper way, I would loose the top of calla lily pattern.

2. And if I did manage to set it in there w/o loosing the pattern, I would then have to size the ring down (because it would be adding a couple of mm to the size.) And I refuse to size a piece that I am making from scratch.

Call me stubborn, call me a perfectionist... but if somebody is paying for their 'dream' ring, I need it to be perfect. So, it's back at the caster! I should have it back this Friday.

But if you want a quick peek at some fuzzy photos of what it looked like straight from the caster, spru still attached, and bezel in the wrong direction... well, here ya go!

I must say, it will be beautiful when it's finished! Now if I could just finish it ;)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Working, working, working...

Okay, here's a quick photo of the wax I'm carving for the Art Nouveau engagement ring.

It is going to be cast in platinum with an oval bezel to hold a beautiful pale blue/purple sapphire.

I'm going to work on some designs for wedding bands tonight... and meeting with a client about some custom earrings later this week. The new year is starting off strong with exciting custom orders!

But, after doing my inventory, I realized that I just need to sit down and start making some pieces. I have sapphires galore! Oranges and pinks and reds and purples and such. Then I have this 6+ carat star ruby which is nutty. And I bought a matched pair of canary yellow round sapphires that would make an amazing pair of earrings. Ugh, too much to mention! Maybe I'll start posting some photos!

Monday, January 05, 2009

So You Wanna See My Shop...

I decided to start of 2009 properly... organized. It's not a New Year Resolution, I don't believe in those, it's just that I have lots of papers and receipts and little teenie tiny stones and scraps of metal and such... all of which need to be organized for taxes.

So, my shop is now spic and span! And what better time to show you where everything is fabricated. Here ya go...

That's it! I know, shockingly small. But I do have a few other pieces of equipment scattered about that I don't have room for down here. I have my ultrasonic in a kitchen, my tumbler in a pantry and a few large pieces (rolling mill, full sized polisher, anvil on a tree stump) in a basement in storage. But I have what I need... and I think it works pretty well.

My favorite piece in the shop is my double bench. It was originally a watch makers bench, somewhere in the ballpark of about 100 years old. I've modified it to my needs... added blocks to make it a bit higher (to be ergonomic), a sheet of metal added to the top of the left side for soldering (acts as a heatsink), and added lots of storage to hold all of my itty bitty tools.

And living on my bench is my sweeps jar. What is a sweeps jar, you may ask. Well, to fabricate a piece the metal goes through many steps to become an actual piece of jewelry. Metal can be filed, pierced (drilled), sawed, bent, hammered, soldered, and then finished (sanded, polished, etc) and all of that creates sweeps (dust.) All of those sweeps are to be saved to send to a refiner because it is a combination of precious metal dust/filings and little bits of emery paper, rubber, pumice, non precious metal and anything else that can break off of the tools used. On it's own, it's basically worthless... but once refined, it is transformed back to pure precious metal.

But as I was cleaning, I became a bit nostalgic. My Grampy Bonfiglioli used to tell me stories about working in a foundry where some of the screws and nails contained gold. He said the women who worked there would keep running their hands through their hair in hopes to trap any gold particles. When they would return home at the end of the day, they would rinse the gold out of their hair so they could save it and sell it.

Now knowing what I know, this would be REALLY difficult to do... there would have to be some very large particles of dust for it to equal anything. But, I still smile at the thought of him telling stories, so what the hell... I'll believe it.

But while I was thinking about Grampy, I remembered that he was the first person to ever teach me how to make a piece of jewelry. I'm not talking beads and strings... I'm talking about hitting metal with a hammer... getting dirty. You see, he proposed to my grandmother while he was in the Navy in WWII. He didn't have any money, so he took a nickel, drilled progressivly larger holes in it and then put it on a mandrel and beat the snot of it with a ballpean hammer. When he stretched it up to the proper size, he cleaned it a bit and scratched a diamond shape into it. Voila... instant engagement ring.

I was so impressed with the idea of hitting metal to force it to change shape, I had to make one for myself. So we spent the day in the basement and made a ring for me... which I still have. I should start wearing it again (even though it turns my finger green from the quantity of copper in it.)

Actually, now that I think about it... I also learned about metal compounds from him. My college boyfriend's little sister wanted to make one for her high school sweetheart, but a nickel wouldn't stretch large enough (especially since we weren't using any heat to anneal it.) So we attempted a quarter. Well, I'm not too sure of the metal/alloy content at that time, but the sucker just woudn't stretch. Maybe if we had heated it, sure, but just plain old hammer to metal didn't do it. For me, it was an early lesson on how different metals 'work'... for the little sister, dissappointment that her ring wouldn't fit her beau.

I wonder if she still has her ring?
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