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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.