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Custom Orders Revisited

Posted by Yvonne Raley on

Last year my gemstone category outsold every other category I have on Etsy. So I have upped my gem offerings, as you no doubt have noticed. As a result, I have gotten a lot more custom order requests. This is loads of fun, but way more time consuming - plus many quotes don't go anywhere. This is because on the customer's part, there is the experience of sticker shock. What makes custom work so ridiculously expensive?  

 Well, the average labor cost for jewelry work in my area is about $50 per hour. And if i don't do the work myself - I often don't because I don't have the time or the expertise - then that's not money I make. My earnings are Incorporated into my markup formula. That's why so many jewelers manufacture overseas. But I like supporting local artisanship and I don't like not having any control over what happens with my designs and my gems. Nor would my customers like it.

Some pieces I make take perhaps an hour. Soldering just a bail is only a few minutes. But there are labor minimums. Which can be reflected in a per piece price. Making a five stone ring can take 3 hours if done from scratch. The channel wire pieces that are so popular in my shop take about an hour. 

Made For Tracy: Three Hex Bezels Soldered Together Plus Bail
This is why, whenever possible, I use stock settings that I have developed, and occasionally I buy supply parts like pre-finished settings or shanks. Stud earrings for instance come ready made as most etsy sellers that carry studs will tell you.

Another expensive item can be CAD -computer aided design work. This is also billed at $50 per hour. Now, when I commission CAD work, my goal is to cast several pieces and sell all of them. That distributes the cost. But when I make a custom design for one person, the customer has to pay it all. Plus 3-d printing and mold and casting labor.

Made For Julie, Using Channel Wire and Petal Settings
Adding all that up, a custom design might cost a few hundred dollars before any materials and before markup. 

So let's discuss markup. What is that for, and why is it 2-2.5 x cost for wholesale and double that for retail?

Take my case. I do Etsy 30 hrs a week minimum and that's not making any jewelry. 

I also pay my assistant for 1-2 full days. Not making jewelry. What do we do? Photos, listings, convos (oodles and oodles of convos), quotes, bookkeeping, shipping. That's the work at home, 20 hrs minimum.

Then we buy supplies, pick up castings, place orders, wait for pre polish, take the pieces home, inspect, fit the gems, pack each order for setting, go to the jeweler that helps me (or the engraver, or the wax carver), pick up and drop off from setting, inspect again, drop off for electro plating, or final polish, or get rhodium done. Inspect again. That's 2 full days each week with lots of waiting at suppliers when it's busy, or waiting to have a bill done, go over each item. I work on 20-30 items each week. So it's a ton of running around, the convo system always going off in my iPhone. 

Made for Lynne, Channel Wire and Hex Bezel
Let me throw in one more piece of the puzzle: pieces that don't sell and new items you want to produce. That costs money. Production and development that's called. It's so you can grow. But you can't grow unless you have extra profit worked into your formula. 

Long story short, if something you want done costs $20 in materials and $50 in labor, then you might pay $150 at my shop and $300 in the store if its made here. And if I don't charge that, I fold. It's that simple. And that expensive. 

Made for Julia, Hex Bezels and Rose Gold Chain


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