Thursday, December 10, 2009

Help! My jewelry isn't selling

You're doing a craft show or art event, you bought displays, you paid $100 for the vendor space, and spent countless hours making inventory.

You put up a website, opened an Etsy store, and started a blog.

And you haven't sold a thing.

Every seller has a bad show once in awhile. And jewelry is an EXTREMELY subjective thing. Remember, it's a form of personal expression -- not just for you, the creator, but for the person who will buy it from you and continue to wear it for the rest of their lives.

But, if you're really having a hard time selling (and profiting), consider these suggestions. Some of them might seem contradictory -- "Try being more creative" vs. "Try being more practical" -- because I'm trying to offer a buffet of food for thought. Pick what applies to you.

First of all: Does your jewelry suck?

Are you making something people would actually be willing to pay money for? Don't trust your friends and family to tell you. If they like you, they will lie.

Be honest with yourself. How are your skills? Is your wire marred and your loops lopsided? Still using barrel clasps? Can't seem to figure out how to get those crimps to stay put? I spent several years making jewelry for friends, family and myself, honing my skills, before I started trying to sell it to strangers.

Are you using unusual, interesting, creative and quality ingredients? Or just throwing together a few "made-in-China" bits you bought at Michael's?

Is your style dated? There's nothing wrong with that, if you're audience is the same age as you are, or if you are going for the "hip," "vintage" or "retro" styles. But, then again, you might be styling yourself out of a sale.

You don't necessarily need to know what's "in" at the moment. Beautiful color combinations, balance, symmetry, artistry, creativity, the appeal of semi-precious stones, meaningful symbols, excellent craftsmanship -- these sorts of things are eternal, while trends come and go.

Does your jewelry have wide appeal?

No matter what you make, there is probably someone, somewhere, who will like it. But that someone might be on the other side of the country, and they never shop on Etsy.

You will have a better chance of selling your jewelry if you aim for colors and styles that have a wider appeal. That doesn't mean you have to compromise your artistic vision... but if your vision involves a lot of neon green and bright orange, it wouldn't hurt to make a few items in basic black, the ever-popular pink, or wedding white, just to see what happens.

Does your jewelry cater to a niche?

Catering to a niche or special interest can improve sales, so long as you find your market. Over the years, I've made jewelry for people interested in sci-fi, cosplay, Irish/Celtic culture, steampunk, fairies, Renaissance Faires, natural childbirth, sock monkeys and gnomes.

These sorts of items consistently sell much better than my other jewelry. For me, the more unusual the piece, the more likely it will sell -- in the appropriate venue. But it can't be too weird... I always try to balance my creativity with good design, quality ingredients, and the preferences of my clientele.

If you are going to create niche jewelry, however, you'll also have to be more selective about the shows you do and the places you advertise. If I'm making jewelry for fans of the sci-fi TV show "Firefly," I post pictures on -- but I don't try to sell it at the Celtic Christmas event at Tir na nOg Irish Pub.

Pay attention to what sells

Making jewelry to sell means that you're not the only person involved in the process. The buyer is involved, as well. Pay attention to what sells and why -- whether it's being sold by you or by the vendor next to you. That doesn't mean you have to make the same thing over and over, and you should certainly NEVER try to copy other artists. But you can and should consider your audience when making the bulk of your inventory.

On the flip side, consider where you are selling your jewelry. My jewelry tends to sell really well to people in either California or the UK. I don't even bother trying to sell it locally. Ask yourself who you're trying to reach with your jewelry -- and then figure out where they shop.

Can they buy it at Target or Kohl's?

Your jewelry is beautiful and marketable. After all, it looks just like the stuff selling in the department store.

So, why should they buy it from you? A lot of people don't care whether something is made locally or made in China. So what if you use silver wire and real stones? The one in Wal-Mart looks just like yours, anyway, for 1/3 the price.

I hear this again and again from handmade jewelry sellers: "People just aren't willing to pay what this piece is worth."

This is where creativity, presentation, customization and forging customer relationships are important. You have to make the buyer want to buy from you instead of the chain store. Mention the fact that it's handmade in the USA, that you love doing it, and that their purchases help you support the local no-kill cat shelter. Personalize their experience, so that they will have a special connection with you.

Durability and practicality

I've seen a lot of beautiful and extremely impractical jewelry. Ask yourself, could this be worn to work? To a night on the town? Will it snag sweaters, get tangled in hair? Scratch the wearer's skin? Is it too heavy or too bulky? Would it be easily broken by the grabby hands of a baby?

You can certainly make some wild and woolly pieces of wacky adornment, but if you just can't seem to sell anything, you might try adding some more practical and durable jewelry to your offerings.


On the other hand, if your jewelry is already very sedate, practical and conservative, maybe you need to mix it up with some unusual color choices, more elaborate pieces, or try using some entirely new technique.


Less is more. Don't get too cluttered. The jewelry should be easy to see.

Displays. Are they clean, in good shape? Are they creative? Your presentation says a lot about you and your jewelry.

Pay attention to lighting.

If it's online, revisit your photos. If you shot it on a white background, try re-shooting it on black, or with a prop. Try a different angle, or a better closeup.


I've found that it helps to have a wide range of price points, so that there's something for every budget. If everything you have is $15 or less, those with fatter wallets and finer tastes might pass you by. If everything is $60 or more, you might be passed up by 3/4 of the buyers -- the ones who are looking for a small birthday gift or fun memento, the ones with children to feed, the ones hit hard by the economy, etc.

When I say that you should offer some less expensive items, I mean simpler items. Things that cost you less time and money to make. What I DO NOT want you to do is lower your prices on your regular jewelry, nor skimp on quality. In my experience, most jewelry artists are already under-pricing themselves. What does lowering your prices say to your clientele? "I don't value this work, so why should you?"

Have patience

I've heard jewelry-makers say things like "I put up a shop on Etsy, and nothing sold within the first two months, so I closed it."

When you put something on the internet, you have the potential to reach the whole world. But that doesn't mean you will reach the whole world. Or that you will have the world knocking on your virtual door within the first five minutes you appear online, no matter how great your jewelry might be.

As I write this, I've had a website selling my own jewelry online for about a decade. It took me at least three years to build up a customer base and to work my way up in the Google rankings. I do have several pieces that will sell immediately... but I also have pieces that don't sell for 6-8 months or more. Just recently, I had a necklace that hadn't sold for two years. I finally cut it apart to use the beads in other ways, and the very night I'd deconstructed it, someone ordered it on my website before I'd had a chance to remove the listing (and I had to issue them a refund). So, you just never know!

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.


  1. hi- i've just discovered your blog and am reading up everything voraciously. it's so much less stressful to have an actual jewelry maker telling you to keep track of expenses and such. this is amazingly educational, helpful and even reassuring to those of us who run screaming from numbers and business stuff.
    Thank you so, so much!

  2. Fanciful, you have absolutely gorgeous jewelry! Thank you so much for your kind words, and I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. If you have any topics you'd like to see discussed, let me know. I run a meetup group for jewelry artists, and I tend to write about topics that come up in our meetings. When I have time to write, that is. :)