Net Profits: Should You Have a Production Line

Net Profits by Cathleen McCarthy

Established art jewelers say the pressure is mounting to produce production lines over one-of-a-kind craft jewelry. If you expect to sell via retailers – even high-end craft galleries – making a living at art jewelry now pretty much requires it.

“I think the trend – I’ve heard many gallery owners say this – is well-made production jewelry,” says Carolyn Morris Bach, who has relied on gallery sales throughout her career. So far, she’s managed to resist the pressure to produce a production line, but suspects that may be impossible for newcomers.

Markets for pricey, one-of-a-kind, fine art jewelry are dwindling. While a few of Bach’s regulars remain, such as the Sam Shaw and SmithKlein galleries, many have closed in recent years.

One danger of the “well-made production line” is that they’re easier to rip off than labor-intensive art pieces. Production lines are beginning to look more and more alike. Part of the balancing act of creating a lasting brand is to make sure your production line is not only accessible and scalable, but an ever-evolving spin on the thing you do that nobody else does.

Maintain that front and center, and other people can rip off your production pieces all they want without impacting the core of your art: your signature. No matter how few one-of-a-kind pieces you actually sell, they will be the draw, the equivalent of showpiece in the window that brings customers into the store. If you want a good model for this, watch Todd Reed.

For many jewelry artists, it’s the satisfaction of creating those special pieces that keeps them in the game. In return, those pieces fuel the production line, produce ideas to spin off and keep the look interesting and ever evolving. In this way, the creative work can sustain the rest, even if it’s the rest that’s paying your rent.

In Bach’s case, for now at least, those one-off pieces are the whole ballgame. “Thankfully, I have an amazing fan base,” she says. “I’ve never used any assistants. I make every piece by myself and I think that’s what keeps it unique. A lot of people try to copy my work but they can’t.”

CATHLEEN MCCARTHY is a freelance writer whose stories about jewelry, art, and business appear in dozens of magazines and newspapers, and her own site, The Jewelry Loupe. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

NET PROFITS is a regular feature about using the Internet for jewelry selling of special interest to those with a home-based jewelry business that appears in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Learn more in “Lessons from the Fall” in the September/October issue.


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