Something I have been planning to share for a while, is how I approach the whole ‘interacting with paying customers’ part of my little jewellery business, and why.
When my newly-wed, city dwelling parents moved to rural Devon from the suburbs of London in 1970, the small village had it’s own saddler, blacksmith, baker, shop, post office, doctor primary school and until just before they moved, a bus to the local town and it’s own fully staffed tiny police station, complete with cell. Plus of course (like most Devon villages) a couple of pubs, a church and a chapel. It was still lacking any useable public transport, and by the time I
escaped left the village in 1990 to go to college, all bar the school, churches, pubs and Post Office had closed. I have an extremely faint memory of watching the blacksmith in his forge, none of the bakery but many stronger memories of Alan the Saddler (they lived opposite us) and the shop. What I do remember is being able to watch their commissioned work being made, and I wanted to be able to echo that with my work.
Most of my sales come through Etsy, and are either of items I’ve already made, or repeat sales of an item I made earlier (at the moment Bat’leths and these earrings are very popular 🙂 ). I make practically everything myself (regular exceptions being boltring clasps, butterfly backs and fine chain) and it’s important to me to try and engage with each person; recapturing and sharing that sense of creation, community and awe I gained as a child when I watched an expert craftsman make something useful and beautiful from raw ingredients. That connection – with craft and with people – however minor is crucial to me.
Now, I’m far from expert, but I do recognise the element of truth in the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ Anyone with a skill will understand how, one friend will be completely amazed by something you can do well, without thinking about it – parallel parking, joke telling, knitting, long division, tolerating small children, sewing – all these are things I wish I could do better (or in the case of knitting and maths – do at all!) They are also all things that most other people don’t see in themselves as an amazing skill / superpower, merely something they learnt along the way.
The same thing goes for me and my jewellery. As I said, I’m not an expert, I don’t consider myself highly skilled and I learn something new every week – usually via a mistake, but I recognise that for most people the process of forging something wearable from a precious metal seems shrouded in archaic skill.
So, whenever I receive an order for something that I need to make before I can dispatch it, I send my customer regular work in progress photos. ‘WiP-Pics’. Yes it adds to the time it takes me, no I don’t factor that into my fee, yes it bemuses some people, but I like to think it adds to their overall experience. Crucially it helps me feel that connection to my roots as a craftswoman / artisan maker (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious). The upside is that it helps me justify that my work is more costly than something off the shelf, or imported from overseas, and I feel that my Wip-Pics help to communicate why that is the case. Of course, if it’s a gift then the giftee will also get to benefit from the experience of having commissioned something. It’s all part of adding value.
So, here’s a recent commission, and some of it’s allied WiP-Pics here, so you can get an idea of how this might feel.
Before I start- here are the formal photos of the finished piece, taken with my 2009, point and click compact Fuji FinePixF10 (that’s my neck, not my customer’s!). I don’t do any post production editing with my pictures – I want the finished article to be better than the photos, so I never use a filter, or do anything editty other than crop, group and superimpose text. I might not get quite as many sales as all those flat-laying professionals, but I’m happier
WiP-Pics. All taken with my phone (Sony G3121)
I’ve annotated each of them – when I send them to my customer, I include a brief summary of what’s happening, and any decisions that need to be made by them – choice of stone, changes if the original brief isn’t going to work, clarification on sizing etc
Firstly, after the design is agreed upon, there’s inevitably some fine tuning. In this project that was predominantly on the sizing of the beaten hoops, and the exact gemstones to be included
Planning Sizing and shaping the test rings
Design process Before and After – stone selection Rough Apatite nuggets – apatite used to be mined on the local moor – these were sold unwashed – a quick scrub with simple soap and an old toothbrush, and see how they come up
Then there’s the manufacturing of the pieces. Done in three stages- the main decorative element (silver rings sawn, beaten, stamped, shaped, stones wrapped, assembled)
1 Using a socket set to form a consistent coil, which I then saw from the inside, to create evenly sized jumprings
2 Annealing the jumprings after filing
3 Jumprings soldered closed, any unevenness filed, hammered on my block to make them flat (and the rest of that day’s coils for other projects which includes the components for those earrings I mentioned earlier)
4 Reshaping the rings – the hammering tends to distort them a little Selecting the best and putting them in order, annealing after the letters are stamped in, taping one to my steel block so it doesn’t move when stamping
The second part is to make the chain that goes round the back of the neck
Chain 1 Coiling the jumprings for the individual links, setting them up on my saw, the coils after sawing
Chain 2 Tiny pallions of solder (this gets rolled through my mill, pickled to clean, then snipped into pieces – see one on my finger tip?!) All those jumprings came from the three coils in the last collage The difference in finish that a tumble makes
Chain 3 Stretch the jumpring Pinch the jumpring Bend the jumpring Repeat. I need 5 for every 2cm of chain (All four stages)
chain 4 Not all joints survive the stretching process! Assembling the chain
chain 5 Using the draw-plate (before, with a scrap of leather I use to help protect my fingers when gripping the leading wire) One un-drawn, one drawn, one tumbled Into the tumbler they go
Finally, assemble the two and dispatch, all the while hoping that the finished article is better than the customer envisioned!
Quick photos with my phone, to check everything works