Customers often ask why handmade costs so much more than mass produced and I don't always know how to answer without boring them with long drawn out answers. What they see, that is the end product doesn't reveal the amount of hard work and dedication that not only goes into the finished piece but also the training and skills development that get them to that point in the first place. So I have compiled a list of steps that Jewellery designers take in getting from conception to final product.
1. From Concept to Design
The design process of handmade jewellery begins often as a vision or an inspiration or doodling. It is often hand drawn on paper, an effort that in itself is time consuming. Design is as much about proportions, texture and combinations of metals, colours and shapes as it is about form.
A spontaneous idea may be drawn in 2D or 3D and evolve many times until the artisan is happy with the final design. In fact a technical drawing is a specialised field in itself and the same item drawn from many angles.
If you are like me and you enjoy the weird and wonderful, it is this design process that accounts for the individual unique style of the designer.
In fact customising jewellery requires the knowledge of specialized techniques such as how to create texture, how to forge metal and how to set gemstones. All these techniques are conceived during the design process which can often take hours to complete.
I recall someone telling me that they didn't get why something was referred to as "designer" after all it had to originally be designed by someone therefore isn't it all designed! The answer is the time that a designer creates an original piece, and a non designed item is copied or manipulated on a computer.
A designed piece takes time, it is not a one size fits all strategy, it is not mass produced but rather carefully thought out and customised. It is a creative process that begins with a thought and ends up as a beautiful object that has tangible as well as emotional value.
Construction is such an important part of the process, it is the nuts and bolts of jewellery making. It is time consuming and requires highly specialised skills. Metals and gemstones need to be measured and weighed, cut, filed and soldered. Sounds simple?? It's not as it has to be perfect for the jewellery to have integrity and wearability.
Handmade jewellery is constructed using hand held tools. This is an incredibly time consuming process but also means that the end product is stronger and will last longer. There are no robots involved in the production of these items. Some of the tools that are used are a hand saws, files, wire cutters, pliers and polishing plates and discs.
At every stage, every piece of jewellery is given its shape by cutting, rubbing and scaling the metals, setting the stones, and finally polishing, polishing and more polishing (did I mention polishing) to end up with a highly individualised final product giving special attention to the strength and durability as well as beauty or artistic form.
3. Branding, Marketing & Promotion
Oh Boy!! where do I begin? how about PPPP or Product, Price, Place and Promotion, Marketing 101. Now days, a lot if not most is done online, think Instagram, FB, Twitter, adwords, and having an online presence through a website. This is not only time consuming but costly. You have your product a beautiful handmade pair of statement earrings. They are unique, made with quality materials and no one, I mean, NO ONE else makes them right! so what now?
Beautiful photographs on beautiful models or with other complimentary products. A professional photographer or good equipment costs money, promotion costs money and thinking bricks and mortar, paying a shop to sell for you costs money.
Then there is branding, this is essential, there are so many beautiful brands and clever artisans out there competing for customer attention. Building a brand that conveys your ethos vision and point of difference is what builds trust and loyalty.
All these are considered overheads and to run a viable business these costs have to be recovered by the sale of goods. If artisans don't recover these costs then their businesses run at a loss and they cannot afford to remain in business.
4. Shipping and handling
If running an online business, an item that has been sold has to be shipped to the buyer and often at the cost of the artisan. The item has to be packaged, firstly in a beautiful box for protection and branding (these can cost anywhere from $5 to $20 particulaly if they have the brand or logo printed on them).
Once boxed it is posted, If an artisan is accounting for their time appropriately, they will include the cost of petrol, or public transport or couriers service and time spent at the post office in their costings. Again, these costings are a part of running a business and all costs have to be taken into an account to recover these costs through the sale of products.
Handmade jewellery designers and makers put in a lot of time, energy and hard work into creating their pieces. The love and passion that they have for their art is unmatched even by resellers, If people don't appreciate it that is ok, but to undermine all of it by saying that they are overpriced is not fair to them and the creative process in general.