Thanks to the innate desire to decorate ourselves, humans have worn jewelry for eons.
In fact, evidence of adornment goes back so much further than the organized jewelry production in the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia; there is evidence of Nassarius shells beadwork made 100,000 years ago!
If you therefore are one of those creative types that love to tinker with stuff only to turn it into a catchy item of jewelry moments later, you’re rightfully taking your place in the long line of craftsmen that have every now and then been inspiring awe in the rest of us.
Well, how about inspiring awe and earning money while doing it?
Statistics indicate that this is an industry on the rise.
According to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, total spend on jewelry and watches in 2016 was a record $85.4 billion, up 6% from the 2015 spend of $80.6 billion.
In perspective, the 2016 global spend on jewelry was $316 billion, further cementing the U.S. as the most mature jewelry market.
Internet jewelry retail sales in 2016 totaled $19 billion, a very significant rise from the $9 billion made in 2011.
Analysts predict that the costume jewelry global market will be worth $41.7 billion by 2022, spurred by a timeless penchant for personal adornment and an increasing preference for stylish affordable jewelry. Here are 10 reasons why this forecast can become a reality.
In terms of U.S. jewelry sales, this 2015 chart will help show the category your business will fall under:
These charts from a 2012 survey of Etsy shoppers should also provide important insights:
In my opinion the outlook and prospects are quite positive.
As such, despite the industry being crowded, chances are that your handmade jewelry small business can find a spot and thrive.
So, how do you get started?
1. Understand what you’ll be making
Costume jewelry came to prominence in the 1930s when women commissioned jewelers to create replicas of their pricey heirlooms. It was obviously less risky to wear these replicas.
With time this creation of faux jewelry rose in popularity as it gave women the ability to diversify their jewelry collections at an affordable cost. This was also an opportunity for less moneyed women to own pieces of their own. Back then women bought and wore jewelry to accessorize individual outfits.
Fashion jewelry was popularized by the young women of the 1980s. These pieces are more outgoing than their predecessors and are used for multiple outfits. Also, unlike costume jewelry, their designs change constantly in response to new trends. Their affordability ensures that ladies can spend money on pieces that will only be fashionable for two seasons at most.
Some of the materials used to make costume and fashion jewelry include plated metals, pewter, aluminum, nickel, rhinestones, colored glass, plastic beads, acrylic beads, non-precious stones, cubic zirconia and Swarovski crystals.
A third category would be the sort of jewelry made from mixing items (such as metal, textile, 3D printing, wood, etc.), pieces matching the definition of art, and pieces produced through skilled craftsmanship. These are generally uniquely designed one-of-a-kind pieces.
2. Define your ideal customer
It’s vital to carve out a niche for your jewelry; trying to be everything to everyone is ineffective because you’ll be spreading yourself too thin — a mistake you want to avoid.
Knowing the following about different types of jewelry-wearing personalities will be vital in identifying your ideal customers:
- Down-to-earth — These are generally nature-loving people. They are drawn to pieces inspired by nature and themes like recycling. They love jewelry with earthy tones like brown, ocean blue, forest green and beige.
- Fun-loving — These are typically cheery, bubbly and socially-active persons who other people tend to be drawn to at parties. Their choice of jewelry includes big hoop earrings, ornate rings and thick statement necklaces.
- Classic elegance — These are more or less traditionalists, focused on family, and whose idea of a night out is a quiet gathering of close friends. For jewelry they love simple but elegant pieces like pearl necklaces and earrings.
- Best of the best — For these people everything is chosen carefully and with much attention to detail. They are very specific about what they want and will rarely deviate or settle for alternatives.
- Color-coordinated / matchy-matchy people — When buying jewelry these people intend it to match pieces they already own and/or match it with specific outfits and shoes.
- Trendsetters — Their choice of jewelry stands out for its rarity and uniqueness; current trends and brand names are the least of their concern.
- Wash and wear — They have an active lifestyle and they therefore go for jewelry that matches their energy such as tennis bracelets and necklaces with light pendants.
In terms of age, research shows that jewelry spend peaks during two periods of life: the mid-20s to mid-30s and between age 55 and 64 i.e. marriage age and maximum earning power respectively. Nevertheless, jewelry is purchased by consumers of all ages; age is therefore not an accurate predictor of expenditure.
3. Define the occasions when your jewelry can be worn
Jewelry is also defined by its suitability for different occasions as follows:
- Casual jewelry — These are easy-to-wear and mildly flashy pieces ideal for casual occasions like brunch, weekends and outdoor activities
- Work jewelry — By being subtle and refined these pieces will complement the professional appearance ideal for the workplace, job interviews and lunch dates
- Party jewelry — These are typically flashy and chunky pieces that are used to jazz up the stylish outfits worn at cocktail and dinner parties
- Formal event jewelry — Such are timeless classics reserved for special occasions, like weddings and galas, when a lady needs to look stunning
- Drawer essentials — The emphasis here is on jewelry that is simple and versatile enough to be adequate for both daily use and different occasions in the year
Your target customer/s will want to know which of their jewelry requirements you can be relied on to satisfy. You will therefore need to decide what to focus on; will you be a specialist or will you cater to multiple preferences?
4. Find sources of inspiration for designing your pieces
As a new entrant into the market your chances of success will heavily depend on your ability to launch a product collection that has its own identity and aesthetic. Achieving this sort of uniqueness will be instrumental in helping you to develop your brand.
So, what are the possible sources of inspiration for your jewelry?
Well, ideas are to be found just about everywhere you look. Nevertheless, singling something out from this very vast abundance can be rather difficult for newbies.
Don’t worry though; you’ll be in good company. Even successful seasoned designers, like Boodle’s head of design Rebecca Hawkins, often find inspiration when they least expect it.
This series of articles by Susanne Kathol describes how you can use seven principles of design (balance, emphasis, movement, proportion, contrast, unity and harmony) to find jewelry-making inspiration.
5. Keep things fresh by observing industry trends
Even if your handmade jewelry is focused on classic elegance, or based on personal style, it’ll be important for your collections to constantly evolve. Costume jewelry has an estimated in-fashion period of 4–6 months; you have to keep bringing new stuff to your displays.
Keeping up with the trends isn’t about copying but leveraging and capitalizing on them to get ideas for new creations.
For example, this list of the 10 best jewelry trends for 2017 can give you a handful of ideas.
To stay on top of upcoming trends your options include:
- Following fashion forecasters online
- Following industry news and attending trade events
- Checking out consumer magazines and media
- Getting inspiration from trendsetters and influencers
- Getting inspiration from top brands
6. Defining your overall signature
In the early days you’ll most probably be churning out pieces that have an assortment of influences simply because you are trying to apply everything you’ve learned. At this stage it’s quite possible that you won’t be able to identify jewelry you’ve made.
As time goes by though, the onus will be on you to define your work by creating a signature for it.
A look at the work of famous establishments like Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston and Bvlgari will reveal particular elements that help to distinguish them from others. Away from the jewelry scene you may think about the red soles on every pair of Christian Louboutin heels.
It is these signatures that customers relate to; they know what to expect every time they make a purchase.
Of note is the fact that all these brands developed their signatures early. You’ll therefore need to start thinking about it soon; you’ve got a brand to develop and it will take time.
There are various way to go about creating your signature, including punching your initials on metal jewelry tags or always threading an identical bead at the same place on your jewelry. The choice is yours; it all depends on your creativity.
Here are five approaches to signature creation you may want to consider.
7. Start defining your brand
Steps 1–6 above are the foundation for this important stage of your handmade jewelry small business’ journey.
Branding is so much more than the logos, icons and ads that we associate with successful brands; branding expert Pamela Wilson defines it succinctly: it’s what people think (and feel) about a business.
From this statement you should realize that defining your brand will take into account every manner in which your business interacts with customers, including products and quality, customer service and marketing efforts.
This will obviously require an intense effort over a long period of time.
There’s one exclusive advantage that you have over every other business out there though — you and your product are unique. It follows that only you can create the brand you want and make a success of it.
There are a number of things you must do to achieve this and they’re described here; notice that with the exception of coming up with a brand name and brand story everything else has been covered in steps 1–6.
In addition, you definitely need to read successful jeweler Tracy Matthews’ post about the seven qualities all thriving jewelry brands share.
8. Get comfortable with product design
There are a slew of reasons why you need to be able to draw your own jewelry designs.
Perhaps a prospective customer really loves your work but wants you to create something unique for her. Regardless of how well she describes her dream piece you’ll have nothing much to go on except the concept in your imagination.
Perhaps the best you can do in this situation is actually creating the piece and then have the client critique it. At the end the two of you may have to settle for a compromise; not so rewarding.
And don’t even get started about the time and expenses that will have been involved.
Alternatively, your business may find success early and in a bid to service all your orders you are compelled to hire a team.
For both situations accurate sketches of your designs will make your work so much easier.
Product design using pencil and paper is only the beginning. From here you can graduate to jewelry design templates and bead design boards. Later you can start rendering your designs with 2D or 3D design software.
In this article the three elements of proper jewelry design drawing i.e. perspective, scale and proportions, and wearability and comfort, are discussed. Jewelry rendering using pencils and paint has been superbly described in this guide.
9. Actual production of your handmade jewelry
For the purposes of this post the emphasis is on creating both fashion jewelry and costume jewelry.
Just about anyone can do this; no special training is required. Once you have gathered the supplies and the required tools you are good to go. It’s all about assembling different pieces in the best way you can; only your creativity and imagination will set you apart from the next jeweler.
As the business grows and demand for your handmade jewelry increases you may want to consider concentrating on the design aspects of your business and have the manufacturing done elsewhere.
Outsourcing will prove to be cost-effective if you have bulky orders; the challenge is to find a company that can produce the quality of work you desire.
You have two options here — local manufacturing OR overseas manufacturing — and each has its pros and cons.
10. Where and how to buy your supplies
Knowing where to buy materials and supplies is crucially important for two reasons: you need a wide range of high quality supplies and they have to fit in your pricing strategy.
Like for any other business, you can’t rely on a single supplier; you always have to keep looking for the best bargains.
Perhaps the first thing you need to do is ensure that your handmade jewelry business has a sales tax license. With this, and an ability to meet a wholesale store’s minimum order amount, you’ll be able to purchase your supplies at wholesale prices — greatly improving your hopes of breaking even and becoming profitable.
Visiting bead shows and expos is another option worth considering — if only just to sample the amazing variety of materials the different vendors will be selling.
Flea markets, estate sales and thrift stores can also be the source of some interesting supplies, and where you’ll have the added advantage of paying secondhand prices.
On the other hand, you can opt to make your purchases online and enjoy the convenience of doing so. Some of the more prominent suppliers include: Beads.US, Alibaba, Rio Grande, Fire Mountain Gems and Wholesale Jewelry Supply Co.
Lorelei Eurto has put together a superb post listing various vendors of packaging supplies, business cards, wire, tools, brass findings, and beads and supplies. You can also go here for a guide to buying charms.
Last but not least, always reach out to other designers to find out where they buy their supplies.
NB: When buying tools prioritize the following: round-nosed pliers, half-round pliers (flat-nosed pliers), side cutters, multipliers, crimping pliers, memory wire cutters and snippers. Learn more here.
The threads you must become familiar with include: leather thong, Nymo nylon thread, Super Ion D, Wildfire, cotton thong (aka bootlace or veggie leather), silk thread, nylon thread, waxed thread, and beading wires e.g. Beadalon and Tigertail. Learn more here.
11. Setting up your jewelry studio/workshop
In the initial stages of your small business, your first studio can be really minimal — all you need is some space, a tray, and a table or desk. This should suffice for your beadwork, wirework and tools storage.
Once things really get going you’ll obviously need to find a bigger space to accommodate the team and replicate your initial setup multiple times. This will be an opportune time to invest in suitable containers and storage for your various supplies and tools to ensure that everything is well organized.
Other investments you may have to consider include a bench that’s sturdy enough for hammering and clamping purposes. In case the bench will also be used for soldering work it will be prudent to place a fire-proof surface under the solder board thereby protecting the bench from damage.
12. Considerations for hiring
When entrepreneurs launch their startups they are usually in charge of every aspect of the business. With success comes the need to hire extra hands.
In this article, Megan Auman discusses how to go about hiring your first employee.
Basically, you first need to determine the employee’s job description. The idea here is to identify the tasks you are comfortable delegating and the ones you know require your personal attention. It’s likely that you’ll delegate production in order to concentrate on design ideas.
Megan further highlights the need to be sure you can afford to hire, as well as the importance of having cash reserves just in case your sales targets won’t be achieved for a few months.
13. Take jewelry product photography very seriously
One of the prerequisites for successfully selling your handmade jewelry online is to go for stellar photography.
Later on it’s advisable to hire a professional setup including photographer, lighting, models, and even makeup artists and stylists.
14. Diversifying your set of skills
Taking time to learn new jewelry-making skills will ensure that your small business can offer its customers more variety, or at least distinctly unique costume/fashion jewelry.
Some of the new areas you can explore include: wax carving, wood jewelry, fabric jewelry, silver jewelry, stone setting and wire wrapping.
An online search will provide details of online classes, tutorials and resources that’ll help to get you started. Alternatively, you can register for local training programs and workshops.
15. The art of selling jewelry
As an ambitious handmade jewelry small business owner you are most likely very drawn to the thought of selling your stuff online. This is understandable — we are in the e-commerce age.
Nevertheless, if you are one of those to whom growing small and constantly validating your ideas make sense, there are other options you may consider exploring first well before making your online debut.
- A car boot sale — While this may seem unglamorous it is a time-proven way to get eyeballs on your merchandise across the country. Your participation in these sales shouldn’t necessarily be about making money but validation and learning.
- Jewelry home parties — Find out how you can get invited to one or make arrangements with a party organizer to have one hosted in your house. Either way you’ll have access to a captive audience, a good number of who will feel obligated to buy. Don’t expect too much in profit. This is a perfect place to impress, get people talking (word-of-mouth), and hand out business cards.
- Fairs, events and festivals — At these venues you can hire a stall or spread out a fold-up table or two and display your jewelry. People attending these events are usually prepared to spend some money so you can expect to make some sales. You however need to ensure that the demographic there matches your ideal customer’s profile.
- Pop Up Shops — These are a great way to generate buzz for your handmade jewelry and validate your concepts.
- Market selling — After getting some much needed exposure (and some money) at car boot sales and fairs you can now take your game to the markets. Expect to make good sales here.
Fully confident that your handmade jewelry small business can thrive, and with systems that work already in place, you can now try taking your merchandise online.
Getting started is easy and there are many places to do so.
This excellent guide details the steps you’ll take when setting your online store at Shopify. Helpful insights from the success story of Biko founder Corrine Anestopoulos and tips from Hawkly founder Gillian Johnson are provided.
For incredible advice about starting your jewelry business you really must read this detailed guide. Just about everything you need to know is covered here; the author has 20+ years experience in the industry and this guide makes for really good reading.