On my artisan highhorse

I’m fixin’ to git irritated.

We’ve all been taught that good jewelry is a good investment.   And what is good jewelry?  Good jewelry is jewelry made of precious metals, and  set with precious or semi-precious stones.  The value, we’ve been taught, is in the resale value.  And I do believe good jewelry is a good investment, but not all “good” jewelry is created equal.

Recently, a neighbor went to an upscale national jeweler and purchased a lovely necklace for his mom.  When the piece was described to me, I couldn’t quite picture what the pendant looked like, and so I went online to see if the jeweler’s website showed a picture of the necklace.   It’s lovely, and I’m really annoyed.  I’m annoyed about the public perception of jewelry value.

At the time, I spent days telling everyone in earshot about how deeply offended I am by this necklace.  Weeks later, and I’m still asking anyone who will listen, “Can you believe that necklace was a thousand dollars?  A thousand dollars!  A thousand dollars.  Seriously, can you believe that?”  Everyone assures me that, no, they can’t believe it and they are as appalled as I am.   I’m not sure I believe them.  But blogosphere, listen!  Ima break it down for you, k?

First, the facts, and then I’ll show you the necklace.

1. The resale value of jewelry lies in two things: the value of its materials, and/or its pedigree.    How much gold is in the piece?   Is it rare or an antique? Was it made by a renowned designer?  Most jewelry is not rare and not made by a famous designer, and so the investment value of most jewelry lies in its material worth.

2.  Material value is based on the current price of raw materials at the time you  sell your “investment.”   What you paid for your jewelry–its retail price–doesn’t matter one bit at the time of resale, unless the piece is rare, antique or has a designer pedigree.

3.  Next, bear in mind the basics on how prices are usually calculated: Wholesale is roughly 4-5X the cost of manufacturing the piece.   Retail is usually double wholesale.

So, here is the necklace that offends me so:

I am offended

The jeweler’s description says that this pendant is 14k white gold, and is set with 47 diamonds totaling 1/2 carat in weight.  The pendant hangs on an 18 inch box chain.    It is a new piece from a large retail chain, and therefore is not rare or antique.  While the jewelry store is upscale, its reputation is not such that it would confer a designer pedigree upon this necklace.

This next part is very secret, so don’t tell anyone, ok?  I could be kicked out of the jewelry club and not invited to any of the sleepovers anymore for sharing this information.  I’m going to tell you how much it costs to make jewelry. I’m going to tell you how much these materials would cost for me, at my wholesale prices, although  I imagine that this large national chain buys their materials at much lower prices.

The pendant:

My current wholesale price of 14k white gold  is 35.47 per DWT (a DWT is about 1.5 grams).  There’s very little metal in this pendant, and I estimate that it weighs no more than .75 DWT, for a metal cost of $26.60.

The diamonds:

Say the word “diamonds,” and everyone has a huge collective diamond orgasm.  They should totally not.  The total carat weight of this piece is 1/2 carat, and that and a nickel will get you…..not much.  While the website says the pendant holds 47 diamonds,  I count 31 white diamonds, and 18 champagne.  The champagne appear to be significantly bigger.  Based on the given dimensions of this piece, I’d say the white diamonds are 1 mm stones, and the champagne are 1.5 mm.  My supplier offers good quality 1 mm diamonds for$2.00 per stone.  Champagne are $1.50  Total diamond cost: $89.  See?  Why are you orgasming over diamonds? Stop it.

The 18 inch box chain:

My wholesale price, if I purchase ten or more of these chains, is $34.50.  I imagine if I ordered thousands of chains that they’d bring that price down a bit.

Total material cost:

26.60 + 89 + 34.50 = $150.10   Again, this is based on MY wholesale prices.  I have no idea what prices a large, national chain would pay, but I imagine it would be significantly less than my cost.  One thousand dollars, people.  One thousand dollars.

Now, let’s talk about artisan jewelry.

Simple Diamond Ring

The gold in my Simple Diamond Ring weighs,  on average, 1.8 DWT, for a metal cost of $62.23.  The 1/4 ct diamond currently wholesales for $58.   Total material cost: $120.23.   I charge $400 for my Simple Diamond Ring, and that price is in the range other artisans charge for similar pieces.   My ring looks as if I might go a bit heavier on the gold than my competitors do, but I’d say our material costs are within $30 of each other.

*What I’m not accounting for (but my head might pop off if I don’t mention it), is the labor involved in each of these pieces.  The commercial piece is mass-produced by casting, and then polished and quickly set with stones.  My piece requires hours of work.  I do not use milled stock, but forge my work from ingot to finished piece.  I could save time by using standardized milled stock from my gold refiner, but then my pieces would have the perfect symmetry of commercial jewelry.  And then I’d have to be mad at my own jewelry.

To summarize:

$150.10 of materials in a mass-produced piece selling for $1000.  The workmanship? Feh.

$120.23 of materials in a unique, custom-made piece selling for $400.  The workmanship?  On behalf of myself and other artisans, total awesomeness.

My point is this:  artisan jewelry is a better investment, and that necklace makes me mad.  Artisan goldsmiths sell their jewelry at prices much closer to wholesale prices, which means less devaluing of your investment. With an artisan piece you are NOT paying for national advertising, a big store,  a retail staff, executives, and a team of mechanical laborers.  You are paying for materials and the time of an artisan.

Artisan gold is a much better investment because we price much lower.  Why?  Because we’re stupid.  We’re artists.  If we had good business sense, then we’d be upscale national jewelers.

Personal Entries · Studio

New camera: a photographic orgy

Have you noticed, my ducklings, that I haven’t posted any photographs in ages?  That’s because my camera died.  But!  A new one is arriving tomorrow, and then there will be an orgy of photography going on at the Vaka Design photography studio.

You know, I’ve noticed that when I use profane or graphic language in my posts, my views plummet.  Obviously, the language causes the site to be censored in searches and by the blog rolls which pick it up.  This time I didn’t even mean to be profane, and I’ll totally get censored anyway.  This time I was just being accurate.


1.   wild, drunken or licentious festivity or revelry. 

My mother is flying in from the Netherlands today;  from the land where  Dutch veins run with lager, thoughts of legal prostitution, and THC.   So yes, some drinking during the photoshoot is likely, and between Karen and my Mom?  Jeesh!  I’ll be the only sober voice of reason to be found, and that’s saying something.  Things have deteriorated badly when I am the voice of reason.
Licentious?  Not strictly so, but I will make that camera my bitch.
2.   uncontrolled or immoderate indulgence in an activity: an orgy of spending.
We have a huge number of pieces to photograph, and while I’m eager to post my own,  I’m excited for you to see what Karen has been working on.  Dude has seriously found her groove, and is churning out some very pretty stuff: pierced and layered silver pieces, some which look almost medieval. 
Brushed gold, diamonds, silver, white gold, earrings, necklaces, bi-metal pendants, lions and tigers and bears.
There is nothing moderate about all the awesome we will be shooting with my new bitch.
3.   orgies, (in ancient Greece) esoteric religious rituals, esp. in the worship of Demeter or Dionysus, characterized in later times by wild dancing, singing, and drinking.
Nope, not applicable.  Unless we find a young Greek guy named Dionysus, give him a glass of wine and allow him to be our eye candy, a la Madonna’s twenty-four year old boytoy, Jesus.  That might be a religious experience. 
4.  Informal. a boisterous, rowdy party.


 To describe my upcoming photodocumentation of new work  as an orgy of photography is grammatically precise.  I don’t care what the fucking censors say.

Personal Entries · Studio

Black Diamond Pendant

Blogosphere, one of you who I won’t name (her name rhymes with Shmarla) has had ants in her pants about the black diamond I purchased a while back, and rightfully so.  It’s a beautiful stone, and it’s been hanging on my wall for ages.  Shmarla wrote to ask after the black diamond’s health recently, a subtle nudge and one that makes me wonder if Shmarla might be Catholic, because she guilted me just right.

1.24 ct natural black rose cut diamond, set in 14k gold
1.24 ct natural black rose cut diamond, set in 14k gold

I wanted to do right by this gorgeous diamond; I wanted to create a diamond pendant which would be the antithesis of the generic white diamond solitaire pendants I see far too many of.  A sparkly thing to wear on your pretty neck, but a rich and interesting, warm and elegant sparkly thing.

black diamond pendant 2

I mulled and mulled until I came up with this design, and it took several attempts before I got it right.  It’s the gold granules.  Let’s talk about them.

Before alloying was discovered, granulation was done differently than it is today.   24k does not require solder because it tacks to itself with heat.  Ancient goldsmiths would set the granules in place and heat the base layer from underneath, causing the granules to delicately bond to the piece.  Clustered granules were the norm because they provided support and strength for each other; the bond of each individual granule was to fragile for it to stand alone.

Today, in karated gold, solder is used, and it’s this additional ingredient which can make granulation so tricky.  Strong and wearable, but tricky.  Solder needs flux, either applied separately or mixed with the solder as paste solder, and the solder and the flux move when heated.  Granules are tiny little suckers, and as the flux bubbles and settles, the granule rides the flux like a buoy rides a wave.  The best way to apply granulation is to melt the solder and flux first, and then add the granule.  The molten solder still “grabs” the granule and moves it, but you have much more control.   Unless, of course,  the tiny pieces you’re working with overheat and collapse into a big ball of goo, which they tend to do if you’ve skipped  lunch and are thinking about dating while you work.   Because you’re still as boy-crazy as you were at 15.

So Shmarla, thank you for your gentle nudging, because I needed it to make me get this finished!  I thought of you while making this piece, and I hope you like it as much as I do.  I like it so much I want to marry it, but I’ve already committed myself to the Aquamarine Waterfall Pendant and that would make me a jewelry bigamist.

Older favorites · Studio

Puppy kickers!

Hey, look at this.  Are you looking?

Reversible Petal Pendant
Reversible Petal Pendant

I’ve been wanting to create a casual summer pendant;  the kind of thing you can throw on with a pair of shorts or a fluttery silk dress, and I think we’ve done it, Watson.

Blogosphere, meet the Reversible Petal Pendant.  Petal Pendant, blogosphere.

I’ve forged a piece of 14k into an organic circle and worked it until no part is left unrounded, almost like a rose petal.  One side is a soft matte finish, the other is a deep shine, and it will be offered on one of several different colors of silk cord.

While this design will be listed for sale by later this afternoon, I’m also donating one of these necklaces to the Independent Animal Rescue of Durham, NC, for their upcoming annual silent auction.

I receive many requests to donate items for fundraising auctions, and I rarely oblige; often the charity seems far-fetched, or a poor fit for me.  When asked to donate to help  “Struggling Working Women”  in an upscale Charlotte community, I felt it would be more effective to just give the item to myself.

But this request was a no-brainer.  My baby girl Kita and that Damn Cat are rescues, and so I was happy to be asked, and happier to help.   Kita is a joy and a wonderful friend who I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for an animal rescue, and that Damn Cat…..    well, he lives here.

If you are in the Durham area and need a good reason to justify buying a piece of jewelry,  here’s your chance.  It would be altruistic to go bid on this or another item.  You’d have to be a real bastard to not go to that auction if you could.  Not participating in the auction would like kicking a puppy, or torturing bunnies.   Not criticising,  just observing.  For Heaven’s sake,  at least give them a ten dollar donation if you don’t want to attend the auction, would you?  Would ten dollars kill you?  No.  I didn’t think so.

Puppy kickers, I can’t even look at you.

Kita the Dog and Jake
Kita the Dawg and Jake

Independent Animal Rescue of Durham