How to Win a Jewelry Grant: Tips from a Judge
by Cathleen McCarthy
I had the honor this summer of being a guest judge for the prestigious Halstead Grant, one of the only serious cash prizes available for emerging jewelry designers in the U.S. This year, the jewelry grant rose from $5,000 to $7,500, plus $1,000 worth of jewelry-making supplies from Halstead. Top four finalists won $500 each and the next five won $250. Every one of them got a major promotional boost and a trophy made by a former grant winner. Wow, right?
This year, the contest expanded to all metals, not just silver. It was also the first year anyone outside the company got a vote. I spent four days in late August at Halstead’s Prescott, AZ, headquarters, poring over applications while taking breaks to hang out with Halstead & Co. doing hot yoga, sipping wine on rooftop terraces and outdoor patios, and hiking in the beautiful hills outside town.
And the Jewelry Grant Winner Is…
Guess what all that adds up to? That’s right. I have the inside scoop! I’m going to tell you exactly what to do so when you apply next year, you can follow in the footsteps of these amazing jewelry artists:
- Niki Grandics of ENJI Studio, first place winner of the $7,500 grant
- top 5 finalists Kristen Baird, Nikki Nation, Olivia Shih, and Studio SophiaSophia who won $500 each, and…
- top 10 finalists Alexandra Scarlett, Bohemi, Letters to Sarah Metalsmithing, Stacy Rodgers, and Tara Hutch who won $250 each.
Key to making the final cut for the Halstead Grant?
Convince the judges you have both a strong design sense and a clear vision and strategy for your business. “Usually applicants are strong on design or they’re strong on business,” Hilary Halstead says, “but rarely both.”
You should begin planning right now to:
• Start the process early. This is a contest for emerging designers. You have to show proof that you launched your business within the last three years. While you may not feel quite ready to win this in your first year, I recommend applying early enough to reapply before your three years run out. Because what you learn that first year will help you the next.
Case in point: Niki Grandics was a runner-up last year. And she’s not the only finalist to end up winning the big prize. If you do reapply, don’t just send in a slightly tweaked version of last year’s application. Show what you’ve done and learned since then.
• Hone your collection. What we looked for was a well-organized body of work with a recognizable signature look running through all of it. We wanted to see something we hadn’t seen before, something that sets you apart, but also something we could imagine expanding and selling. It’s good that you’re experimenting, but take care with what you put out there. Too many unrelated collections — or parts of collections –muddy your brand.
• Define your target market and explain your strategy. Whether your designs are streamlined or elaborate, bold or feminine, you need to show you’ve identified a viable market for them and explain how you plan to tap into it. Radical design is fine if you make a strong case for where, how and to whom you are selling and plan to sell it. You will be asked to show, specifically, what you’ve done to this end, and what you plan to do over the next three years. If you haven’t thought this through, applying for this grant is an excellent excuse to do it.
• Keep track of when judging takes place. During the final weeks leading up to judging, your website, online shops, and social media are being reviewed and discussed. Not a good time to post negative messages, bad photos of inventory you’re trying to unload, or Playboy-style lingerie shots (unless you’re selling belly chains). Cute pictures of your dog, however, will not hurt. I’m mostly kidding, but Halstead is seriously dog-friendly.
So, start planning that pitch – and good luck!
CATHLEEN MCCARTHY has written about jewelry and business for Town & Country, Art & Antiques, Washington Post, and her own site, The Jewelry Loupe. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, 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 “Going for the Grant,” December, 2016.
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