Outsourcing: What you Can – and Shouldn’t Do at Home
I produce an average of 20 items of jewelry per week, and if you assume that one item takes an hour, you can do the math of how long it takes to make everything from scratch. If you then add the time to make listings, photos, convos, pack orders, shop for gems and supplies, it adds up to this: not gonna happen. Not even if I quit my full time job. Which I love.
So I do what most people do who have opportunity: I outsource. Not to China or India, but to NY, where you can find professional casting and polishing services, as well as excellent setters and jewelers. (And sometimes I outsource to friends and family who like beading…)
Let’s look at outsourcing in the order in which you might use it.
Casting: When you have items that you want to reproduce in exactly that form, you can have them cast. I cast my stacking rings and some of my filigree items, for example. But you have to pay for a mold first, and there is a casting fee, so casting makes sense only when you want to sell the same thing more than once, and maybe also in different metals. The downside to casting is some loss of detail – and of course there can be no variations. My casting service, Taba Casting, is certified green, and they also take mail orders, so casting is an option even if you live in the boonies.
Pre-polish: All castings have to be “cleaned” – the sprue is cut, areas that didn’t come out well are polished, and the piece is tumbled. I use a polishing service for this because they have a better tumbler, large polishing wheels and they can offer other services, i.e. steaming, ultrasonic, gold and rhodium plating. My polisher also does minor soldering work: adding jump rings, bails and posts to earrings. By using him I can do many pieces in one wash, which saves time. Soldering also requires pickling and further tumbling or another round of pre-polish, so it’s a very good idea to do several pieces together. Some casting services actually offer pre-polish, or polish, you might check into it.
Setting: I utilize many different setting techniques in my jewelry line: my pieces are prong set, hammer set, burnished, pave set, bead set, etc. Prong setting is the easiest – I can do it a little – but most of the rest, especially hammer setting and the fine pave and bead work, require lots of practice and training. After inspecting my pre-polished items and making any necessary adjustments, I take them to the setter together with my stone. Fitting a stone to the right setting it itself a work of art, but I am very good at that. Plus I love my gems and I select well. Most of my customers come to me because of my gems I think, not so much for the jewelry itself (I don’t want to put myself down but I think what I offer design wise is not that out of the ordinary.)
Final Polish:After setting, most items have to be polished again. Setters often bend the metal, especially silver (which is soft), and their tools leave marks around and inside the bezel wall. Many a prong or ear wire is bent as well. Final polish can also involve sandblasting or satin finishes, all of which are done at this point. So is rhodium and other plating. This means that after setting, I inspect again, looking for nicks in the stone that the setter might have missed (that would spell a do-over), spots on the jewelry that need extra TLC, and take my stuff back the polisher for final polish.
I also outsource my CAD designs to Belenki Girl Designs (Brandy lives nearby), and my fine jewelry work to Goldmaster on 47thStreet. Vasken from Goldmaster does all my lazer settings and anything that requires fine jewelry work and gold soldering, where no mistakes can happen – he has nearly 40 years of experience, he’s worked all over the world, and he’s a great guy as well. Both fine jewelry work and CAD work are expensive though. Prices are fixed per piece but they are calculated by the hour, and a $100 per hour fee is not a-typical. Fine jewelers have to pay for their shops, tools, and they have to take out extra time to discuss designs for you, all of which has to be rolled into their fee, or they can’t survive. Just consider what you pay a plumber to come to your house for an hour or two, and you get the idea.
Casting and polishing work is the least expensive to outsource, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Setting is tricky, setters can charge anywhere from $2-$200 for a job, depending also on difficulty, stone size, and their own degree of expertise. Expensive diamonds for expensive stores (like Tiffany's) can cost a couple hundred to set and not every setter is cut out for it, but if you want a quick prong set job with a replaceable stone, it should only be a few dollars. The main reason I can offer such variety in my shop is because I have a couple of setters that are very reasonable in price, are willing to work in silver (many aren’t because there’s less money to be made) and who are very skilled. Much of my appreciation for what I can do goes to them. When you set as many unusual stones as I do, your relationship with your setter becomes essential, because I often ask them to do risky stuff for a low price (i.e. setting a large tanzanite in sterling silver). The risk is one we have to share, and a broken stone can cause money but also heartache with the customer when it’s a custom order. My setter needs me as much as I need him – when you do many pieces they count on the income from you and possibly turn down other orders because they know they need to set time aside for you. Broken stones and botched orders strain the relationship and cost money. Gold is replaceable and can be melted down, gems are often one of a kind. Especially mine.