Professional Jewelry Designers Offer Tips to Students


Placeholder Alt Text
Paul Klecka encouraged students to focus on what they do best. “You can always hire out the rest,” he said. Photo by Eric Welch/GIA
Learn as much as you can. Understand that you’re probably going to have to start at the bottom. Follow your passion. And most importantly, believe in yourself.
 
This is just some of the advice members of the American Jewelry Design Council (AJDC) shared with GIA students when they visited the Carlsbad campus last week. The designers were in California for their annual meeting and took the opportunity to tour the campus and participate in a panel discussion on how to succeed as a designer. Here are more of their tips:

DON'T STOP LEARNING
 
Get as much education as you can in all aspects of the jewelry business. -- Mark Schneider
 
Learn as much as possible about what you’re interested in. “Learn through academic classes -- stone setting, rubber mold making, design, fabrications -- so you can speak the language. Then you can speak to your customers, vendors, suppliers or people who are going to work for you, and fully understand this medium. The more knowledge you have, the broader base you have and the more appealing you’ll be to somebody else. Then, if an opportunity comes up, you’ll be able to fill it.” -- Alan Revere
 
Figure out what your strengths are and focus on them. Get other people to help you with the other aspects of your business (managing, selling, etc.). “It’s hard to have (and use) the left brain and the right brain in the same person.” -- Scott Keating
 
Learn how to render your designs digitally. “There are jobs out there, but they want you to know Photoshop and Rhino on the computer.” -- Diana Vincent

GET YOUR NAME OUT THERE
 
Use Facebook and Twitter. “You can do a lot and get your name out there and get exposure for very little money.” -- Keating
 
Send your portfolios to jewelry magazines. “You’ll be surprised how much they use them; they’re looking for things to talk and to write about.” -- Susan Sadler
 
Get your jewelry on people. “If that means giving it away, give it away. If it means selling it, sell it. It doesn’t do any good to be in your drawer, so try and spread it around.” -- Revere
 
Go to every trade show you can. “Have your resumes ready -- it’s face-to-face-contact and exposure.” -- Schneider
 
Connect and network at conferences. (Two suggestions: Society of North American Goldsmiths, American Craft Council). “Go and see what everyone else is doing and you’ll meet an enormous number of people who have the same questions and problems, but they share their solutions.”  -- George Sawyer
 
Wear your own jewelry. “Everybody should be wearing their jewelry -- it attracts people’s attention … and they’ll ask about it.” -- Revere

Students hung on every tip the designers offered. Photo by Kevin Schumacher/GIA
BECOME BUSINESS-SAVVY
 
You will have to pay your dues. “No one here is an overnight success. Keep your faith and plan on working extremely hard. Take entry-level jobs. They may not pay very well, but it’s the best information and you’ll learn more from on-the-job experience than anything else.” -- Schneider
 
Don’t try to chase the market – chase your own ideas. “Always reserve a portion of your life for the reason you probably started out, and that is to make things that you like to make. Don’t try to chase the market to see what’s selling … it’s a mistake a lot of people make and you can never catch up. To make yourself be original is more fun.” -- Sawyer
 
There is no specific formula for success. “There is no specific data that will tell you: you do one, and then after one, you do the second, third, fourth and fifth steps and you’ll become a successful designer or businessman.” -- Alishan Halebian
 
Make the leap from artist to business negotiator. “If a buyer is wowed by your work, approach [the negotiations] from a reality base and say ‘Look I’m a young artist, I’m just starting out, you love what I did, so you need to buy it because I can’t afford to finance your store. You need to pay me up front or you need to pay me half now so I can make the pieces, then pay me half on delivery. If you cannot do that, I’ll take my fabulous piece and market it elsewhere.’ And believe me, if it’s that fabulous, someone will want it and go on those terms. Don’t be afraid to explain that you're small and starting out or don’t have the ability to financially make the deal the way they might expect. Don’t undersell yourself and always base your negotiations on your own capabilities based on reality.”  -- Paul Klecka
 
Get it in writing. “You might want to have a consignment contract in place if you leave your work with the store. Talk to other artists about what the wording of a contract would be or ask the gallery or store if they have a contract.” -- Barbara Heinrich
 
Work within your ability to fulfill orders. “Grow within the abilities you have. If [the order] is going to be something that can’t be fulfilled or you can’t make it to the quality and controls you want, I would advise you to stay within your abilities to fulfill it. Then you’ll grow. Every sale you make you’ll learn something from.” -- Schneider
 
Jump in with both feet. “Don’t hold back. Don’t wait for anyone to come to you. It doesn’t matter what you do, but you have to be true to yourself and do it with a lot of enthusiasm and then it will come to you.” -- Sawyer

Christoph Krahenmann acknowledged the difficulty of getting started in a down economy, but urged students to believe in themselves. Photo by Kevin Schumacher/GIA
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE DESIGN
 
Design drives the planet. “It’s what makes people want to buy the new iPhone 3GS --they’re sleeping on the sidewalk to get it, right? Look at a company like Crocs that came out of nowhere with innovative rubber footwear … it’s great stuff and it’s for a lot of people. It’s not exclusive, it’s inclusive. Somewhere someone was inspired to do it, whether it’s a phone or shoes.” -- Klecka
 
Find your own style. “Look what’s out there so you know what not to do, then find your own truth and try to be original, then you’ll stand out.” -- Vincent
 
Brand your designs. “Put a design element in that is uniquely yours, you’ll develop a brand that will be recognizable for you.” -- Schneider
 
Spend your time on design pieces you love. “When you say, ‘Oh, I’m going to design something that’s going to sell in this price range,’ you’re starting from the bottom [of your ideas]. That energy comes out in the piece and I can guarantee nobody’s going to want it. You have to love that piece, and when you love it -- even when you’ve scaled it down [from your original idea] to meet the [market] criteria -- that energy will get across to the customer. They’ll feel it without even knowing it, and it will sell.” -- Vincent
 
Trust yourself and your message. “You matter and your unique vision of this world and what’s important and your values, matter. It’s important that you trust yourself and connect with yourself to bring your vision forward to make this world a more joyful, wonderful place. There is no right or wrong. ” -- Heinrich
 
Create an emotional response. “If what you do in your designing, or in your career, can create an emotional response with others, then you’ve succeeded.” -- Klecka

Amanda J. Luke is a senior communications manager at GIA. She is the editor of the GIA Insider and Alum Connect and was the editor of The Loupe magazine.