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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In yesterday’s post on my Freud cufflinks, I mentioned that a client who orders custom jewelry from me will get a lower price if I wind up adding the design to my line. I promised a long explanation of that and here it is.

Click to buy the Freud cufflinks.

Remember my January post about manufacturing costs and how larger quantities mean lower prices? Then you’ll remember that making one piece is expensive, while making many pieces is less expensive per item. I’m amazed by how many people think a one-of-a-kind jewelry design will be less expensive than something mass-produced. I’m sure the same people would understand that if Karl Lagerfeld made them a couture dress, that dress would cost more than one off the rack at the Chanel store. Or that if Henry Ford rose from the dead to make them a built-to-order car with his very own zombie hands, that rare zombie car would cost more than a Ford Fusion at the local dealership.

I keep thinking I should watch this movie.

The price puzzlement might stem from the fact that basic engagement rings and wedding bands made by an independent jeweler can cost less than ones from, say, Tiffany. Tiffany has more overhead than I do. It has to pay rent, salespeople, manufacturers, public relations and marketing people, advertising agencies, etc., whether a customer buys a ring with an elaborate setting or a basic four-prong setting. And, yeah, I know people say about Tiffany, “Oh, you’re just paying for the box” but guess what, people? Boxes cost money. They can even cost a LOT of money. I’ve learned that the hard way. That will require a whole separate post someday.

Anyway, for wedding jewelry, I don’t have Tiffany’s costs, and I benefit from the fact that simple solitaire and eternity settings are such common orders that no significant design is required. (Note: I’m talking about standard solitaire and eternity designs that all jewelers can do. I won’t copy Tiffany’s trademarked designs — or anyone else’s for that matter — so please stop asking. You know who you are.) I pass the savings on to my customer and trust me, I’ve come up with rings for ALL budgets. One of my favorite pieces was for a gorgeous client who wanted a basic eternity band with princess-cut diamonds. As I recall, that time my price wasn’t much less than the Tiffany ring that the client had looked at … but my ring was twice the carat weight and was platinum instead of white gold. My client got a lot more bang for her buck.

I can do this setting with a variety of center stone sizes.

On the other hand, my price might or might not be more expensive than an online retailer such as Blue Nile, where you are not going to get the service that I provide. If you’re buying an engagement ring from me, I will take the time to personally talk you through the 4 Cs of diamonds … and assure you that my wholesalers guarantee they buy stones from legitimate sources. I will discuss your budget with you. If you’re the one who will be wearing the ring, we can talk about your style, your height (stones look smaller on tall ladies, larger on petite ladies), your coloring, your job and your hobbies — anything that might have an impact on the ring style. We’ll talk about your matching wedding band. I have even spent an hour on the phone with a guy advising him on how to propose to his girlfriend! After I know what you’re looking for, I’ll talk to my diamond wholesaler about your needs. He’ll gather 8 to 10 stones. I’ll review them, weed out any I think are unsuitable for you based on our conversations and ask the wholesaler for a few others to show you a full range of quality, price and size. Then, if you’re in New York, you and I will meet so you can see the stones with your very own eyes. You might take an hour, you might take two hours, you might need to come back for another appointment. Take your time! During all of this, I will, of course, respond to your many emails and phone calls as you ponder your options. At this point, I would probably go to your wedding if you invite me and stand godmother to your first child. I don’t mind that you’re taking a lot of time. I’m happy to help you make what might be the most important jewelry decision of your life. But my time isn’t free. No one’s time is. If you work overtime, do you expect to get compensated in some way? I bet you do. If you don’t, I bet you bitch about it. That’s why my prices MIGHT be higher than an online retailer’s — though I’ve been known to beat those anyway — where your entire interaction will consist of browsing, pointing, clicking, entering your credit card information and seeing exactly one stone when it arrives in your mailbox.

Click to read the story behind this billboard proposal.

Now, getting back to a truly one-of-a-kind order, you’re probably starting to suspect that if so much work goes into the selling of basic wedding ring designs, even more work goes into creating something that’s never existed before. You’re right, smartypants! A one-of-a-kind gold or platinum piece will be made with a technique called lost-wax casting. After you approve the initial sketch, I will make a wax model of your piece (you can see two of my waxes here and here). Then I’ll make a mold from the wax model, so that I can make an inexpensive silver model. There’s only so much work you can do with wax before it breaks. Gotta switch to metal. I’ll make a new mold with the improved design. Then I’ll make the gold or platinum piece from that mold and finally get to work on the real deal. Wax models have cost me from $150 for a simple computer-generated design to thousands of dollars for elaborate hand-carved work. Now, imagine I spend $2,000 on a wax model for a one-of-a-kind piece. I’ve got to recoup my costs. But there’s only going to be one of these ever made, right? So that means the buyer of the one-of-a-kind piece has to pay for everything: the sketches, the model work, the molds, the stones, the metal, all the labor I pay for and all the labor I perform myself. Expect a $10,000 minimum price for an elaborate, hand-made, gem-encrusted, one-of-a-kind, gold or platinum piece.

This is one of my one-of-a-kind rings.

Of course, as I said in yesterday’s post, if it’s your lucky day, I will like your special design so much that I’ll want to add it to my line. Then I will make multiples of the item and have more than one chance to recoup my costs and make a profit. That means your price comes down. Sometimes it’s not in an obvious way. I don’t necessarily say, “I’m going to cut the price of your silver cufflinks from $1,500 to $400.” I might not even tell you my initial estimate for the piece if I know it’s far outside of your budget. But after I think, “Hey, I could add this to my line” and do a few calculations, I’ll say, “How about $400?” and, of course, you’ll happily agree. Basically, without your even knowing it, I’ve taken your piece from beyond the realm of possibility to reality.

I turned this bat pendant into cufflinks for blogger Jill of Stella’s Roar.

You’re always welcome to ask me about custom designs via wbjewelry at hotmail dot com. Maybe I’ll even name the piece after you, or your design will become the Jewel of the Month. (But don’t ask me about a personalized version of the onyx skull ring unless you’ve got at least $15,000 to spare.) About-to-be-married peeps should remember that I can deal with a wide range of budgets, so don’t be shy about letting me know your wedding jewelry budget. I’ll even throw in a free piece of advice to would-be grooms right now: don’t propose to someone by hiring a sky-writing plane. Just don’t.

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47 Responses to “Get Smart (About Custom Work)”

  1. birdie says:

    Great piece. With jewels and clothing alike, sometimes independent designers are cheaper, but often they don’t have the income overhead to cover jobs that don’t pay as well.

  2. eyeliah says:

    great rundown, I do love those cufflinks too btw. And if you think Woody Harrelson is hot (like me) see Zombieland. 🙂

  3. Rosie says:

    I have long admired your jewelry, and sadly it is still all out of my price range. Some day though, I am going to have a fabulous, one of a kind, Wendy B wedding ring. I don’t know when the wedding will be, or who I will be marrying, but I will have a Wendy B ring.

  4. Sara says:

    I love your designs – seriously, you have such a great eye and sense of humor and style. That uniqueness is another thing I love about independent designers.

  5. Tam says:

    Such an informative and well-written piece. Now, I understand…

  6. deja pseu says:

    Testimonial: I’m currently working with Wendy on a custom ring design, and she’s provided not only a knockout gorgeous design, but an exceptional level of service and input. She’s been patient as I’ve peppered her with questions, and worked within my budget with no pressure to go beyond. I’m hoping to have more custom Wendy B pieces in my wardrobe in the future!

  7. Farah says:

    Love the pink ring its gorgeous

    D e g a i n e


  8. K-Line says:

    Wendy: That shell ring is perhaps the MOST beautiful of your pieces! It’s like a piece of the ocean!

  9. Jennifer says:

    All of your pieces are one-of-a-kind to me. Each one is so special and beautiful. I’ve never seen the likes of them anywhere. I was so blown away at your last show.

  10. Brie says:

    Great explaination.

    I would never expect cheaper for csomething custom made…but then I am an artist and understand that someone specifically made for me is going to cost more than something mass produced. Many people in the public do not understand this. It’s great to see a reminder in the form of your blog.

  11. Very informative! When I’m ready to do something with all of my bits and bobs, you know you’re my woman! BTW, Zombieland was a hoot, especially the cameo, so watch it! (I usually hate those things, but the man is zombie obsessed.)

  12. Nathalie P says:

    My Chaucer exam covers the beginning of the Canterbury Tales to the Wife of Bath’s prologue. Mostly translation and interpretation. I’m probably going to stay up all night to cram for my test in the morning. I’ll probably get a little loony and end up thinking in Middle English for the rest of the day. Thanks for asking!

  13. lisa says:

    I said before that I’d come to you to get a non-boring wedding ring done and I stand by my words! Btw, you should DEFINITELY see Zombieland. I nearly passed out from laughing too hard.

  14. Dona says:

    I love the unique designs of your rings! I just discovered this site (although it is priceless to my brain), and am intrigued by your rings!
    Please visit my blog


  15. hiyaluv says:

    you are splendid WendyB. I will be sure to keep you in mind if I ever need anything custom made. So glad to know somebody who is so talented. 🙂

  16. I love it and am so not surprised that you spent an hour telling that guy how to propose. Hope he knows how lucky he was to get such valuable insight!

  17. Eli says:

    Wendy you always write the most eye opening pieces. They are so thrilling to read. I myself am not in the market for a wedding ring, but imagine one day will be. And can appreciate how much more special a custom piece would be than a cookie cutter ring from something like Tiffany would be. Coincidentally enough, I’m watching Breakfast at Tiffanys right now. But I think one day, I would like my wedding ring to be vintage.

  18. Kb says:

    What an interesting and insightful post into the creation of jewellery; I’m sold, now all I need is for someone to propose!

  19. I’m not a diamonds kind of girl but that dragonfly ring is making me a diamonds kind of girl. SO beautiful!

  20. I like when you do these posts.

  21. Kari says:

    Wendy, this is fascinating to read about the process involved in creating (and pricing) custom work. That’s wonderful that you offer so many options and are so accomodating – I think a post like this would be great to have somewhere in the info section of your jewelry website because reading about this process really helps me appreciate the vast amount of work you put into custom designs.

  22. I can hear ocean from that beautiful shell ring darling!
    Great info; everything costs $ & cents…down to the paper clips we use in our office!


  23. I’ve just bookmarked this post on my bf’s computer: I suspect he’s in the market for a ring, and a girl can only hope! I love your work Wendy x

  24. sharon rose says:

    A really fascinating post, its great to know how you work and how intricate each step is, thanks for sharing!!

  25. Lenya Jones says:

    Very informative. You should turn this post into a brochure. Seriously

  26. Great post, Wendy! Lots of useful information. I also have to say that I love your Gravity Engagement Ring. I so rarely like any engagement rings at all, that it’s a big compliment lol I also wanted to inquire about some of your pieces, so will be sending an email soon 🙂

  27. Love your education pieces!!

  28. miss sophie says:

    oh my heart flutters just looking at these gorgeous creations of yours! 🙂 i’d love to get a WB piece for my engagement ring when i grow up…in the meantime, i think it’s great that you stick to your design ethos…who’d want to get a tiffany knock-off when they could get your fabulous designs instead? 😉

  29. Chessa! says:

    I love reading these posts from you. They are so helpful!

  30. Lynn says:

    That’s why I love indie designers, not only you get one-of-a-kind item, you get personal attention and if you’re lucky, an education just like this! Love your approach and designs, Wendy. I don’t know when, but someday surely. I just hope I’ll live long enough for that custom piece/s lol!

  31. Kristin says:

    This is being saved for upgrade time! Your own gorgeous engagement ring still floors me.

  32. Maddy says:

    Thanks for sharing all the nuances that go into custom designs! I’ve never thought to get a custom jewlery piece. But if the opportunity ever arises, you’ll be my first go-to person 🙂

  33. Vivian says:

    You’re such a true artist Wendy – your posts and related jewelry are always so thought out and explained in such detail. I’ve long wanted to be a wedding planner and I can see you doing ANYTHING in the wedding industry (especially make jewelry) and be incredibly loved and respected! Heck – if you made anything for me, I’d have invited you to be at the wedding – probably be IN the wedding! 🙂

    xx Vivian

  34. janettaylor says:

    By the way – Thanks for your support comments on my previous post.♥♥♥

  35. Fascinating as always. I think people see a finished result and have no idea of the complexity or work that goes into producing it, particularly if it’s one of of a kind. And I’m almost certain they don’t consider the labour time involved in all that either. Amazing.

    Do people often veer off the traditional path with wedding jewelry? Say unorthodox stone requests instead of diamonds and so on?

  36. WendyB says:

    Veggie, I sometimes steer people towards white sapphires when diamonds are out of their budget. Generally, I don’t like to do anything except the very hardest stones (diamonds, rubies or sapphires) for an engagement ring. I know how people wear their engagement rings — on the beach, in the pool, while lifting weights, doing laundry, moving furniture, etc. They wear them to death, every day, in places and at times the rings don’t need to be worn …yet expect the rings to stay pristine. That’s hard enough to deal with when you’ve got a diamond (diamonds are the hardest substance on earth but that does NOT equal “indestructible.”) When you’ve got a softer stone that can be easily broken or scratched, you’re going to have a problem. I’ve known people who want pearl engagement rings. I couldn’t think of a worse choice. Pearls are so easily damaged. So while I’ll do pearl cocktail rings, because people won’t be wearing those every day, I would refuse to do a pearl engagement ring. The aggravation of dealing with the complaining customer down the road would far exceed any money I’d make on the sale.

  37. lei ann says:

    hi wendy! while i appreciate you schooling us on the intricacies of custom jewelry work as you are truly knowledgeable in your field, sadly, my only contribution to the convo is YES!!! GO.SEE.ZOM.BIE.LAND!

  38. That one of a kind ring is really stunning!

  39. wow! great job..love the bat and the shell ring. i really need to get my ass back to a lost wax casting class. A cloud of lazyness has fallen over me.

  40. Miss Janey says:

    Excellent and informative post, Miss Wendy. And well-timed for Miss J. Recently, the Mister asked what Miss J desires for her next piece of jewelry. (Their 10 year wedding anniversary approaches.) Miss J was quick to say, “A macked-out WendyB ring.” She made it clear, she wants her next piece of jewelry to be a BIG step up in terms of quality & that price will be commensurate- Miss J ain’t playin’… Although the Skull Ring is beyond budget, Miss J has longed desired the gorgeous Queen Min ring…

  41. Wendy, great post with lots of important information. Jewelry is expensive, and as long as you are paying for it, you might as well consider getting a custom made piece. I’m certain that you can make a diamond ring cheaper than Tiffany can…with either more carat weight or better quality diamonds. Why anyone would pay full Tiffany retail is beyond me.
    And yes, packaging is expensive. My boxes come from Italy and they cost a fortune!

  42. Alicia says:

    I can’t wait for you to do my $28 wedding ring.



  43. enc says:

    Very educational! Someday, you and I will work on a piece so spectacular, you’ll put it in your line and name it after me!

  44. Susan says:

    awww, those rings are wonderful!

  45. Jessica says:

    It’s seriously one of my long-term financial goals to be able to have you design wedding rings for my husband and I…the plain bands we have from when eloped broke and in-love stlye are sweet, but I would freaking cherish something custom-designed so much. I can’t afford that now, but it’s definitely on my list.

  46. Queen Michelle says:

    You HAVE to watch Zombieland! It’s amazing.

  47. Jill says:

    I love these posts where you explain the process of fine jewelry design…very interesting!