Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tips on pricing your handmade jewelry

When talking to other handmade jewelry artists, it seems that pricing one's work is as painful as keeping records, paying taxes or filling out forms. Maybe even more so, because it involves the psychological and sometimes very emotional element of putting a value on your time, creativity and joy.

But if you want to sell your work, it must be done. There are several variations, but the general formula goes something like this:

* The total cost of your materials (beads, wire, thread, clasps, etc)
* PLUS the total cost of your overhead (travel, vendor or web fees, etc)
* PLUS $10 per hour for the time it took to make the item
* MULTIPLIED x2 EQUALS the wholesale price.
* MULTIPLIED x2 again EQUALS the retail price.

But "formulas" don't take into account things like marketability, venues, or learning curve.

"I set an hourly rate of $10 since this is mostly still a hobby - some people who do this for a living use $20+ but it's really up to you." - Jill Liles, Liv'ngood Jewelry


It can be a balancing act... If you price your work too low, it won't be valued by your customers. But if you price it too high, they won't buy it -- unless you're absolutely brilliant and you create things that people can't live without. Genius trumps all pricing rules.

"While I'm sure it makes sense to you that the more time you put in the more valuable it is, that is only true if the final product is something that people will pay much more for. Focus on making beautiful woven-bead designs, and charge as much for them as you think people will pay. If you find that customers are not willing to pay more for the designs that take you more time to make, you may consider focusing on items that you can charge more yet which take less of your time and labor." - Dr. David Weiman

Bead weavers spend several hours -- even days -- making one piece, and their skills are incredibly admirable. But, from what I've heard, they are rarely able to sell their jewelry for the $10 to $20 hourly rate in the formula. There just isn't much of a market for $500 to $1,000 artfully arranged beads.

I've found that the value of a particular piece of jewelry can be as much about supply and demand as it is about the cost of materials and time. This is when it helps to stand out, to have a reputation, a client base, well-developed style and skills. With jewelry, as with other arts and crafts, customers are buying a particular theme, style or artist's name, and will be willing to pay more for something in high demand or of high personal value to them.

In addition to supply and demand, I've found that earrings in general tend to support much higher markups than bracelets, and bracelets more than necklaces, even though it takes much longer to make a necklace (usually) than to make a bracelet or a pair of earrings.


The same pair of earrings might sell in a boutique in upscale Cameron Village for $25. Put them on a pretty display, under a light that makes them sparkle, and you might even get $35. But hang them with 20 other pairs on a cheap wire rack at the flea market, and you can't sell them for $5.

Consider your venue, and the buyers it brings in contact with your work. If you're putting your work in a beach-resort boutique, you are reaching people with a lot of money to spend on $200 glass fish and seashell jewelry. If you are putting your work on a card table at a church bazaar, you are reaching an entirely different group of people, perhaps those who want inexpensive lanyards for their eyeglasses, or a $10 pair of earrings for a niece. These are two entirely different markets. Some market out there is YOUR market, and you should know what it is.

Venue is also part of your presentation, and presentation can add $ to your prices. This works online, too. You'll get away with charging more, and be more likely to sell your higher priced items, if you have your own gorgeous website with clear pictures and a user-friendly ordering system, rather than just an Etsy store or some lousy-looking website your cousin threw together.


Following the jewelry pricing formula, a beginner who takes a long time to make something would charge more than a skilled artist who can make it better and faster. Of course, that makes no sense at all.

Don't let yourself be pressured by other jewelry artists. "You should charge more" is a common refrain that can sometimes mean, "I feel like you're underselling me." Keep in mind that jewelry makers who are just beginning to sell are not going to charge as much as established, in-demand artists. And those who make jewelry as a hobby typically are not going to charge as much as those who are doing it for a living, offering wholesale, and working with boutiques.


"I took an intermediate forging class and my instructor, Michael David Sturlin, was full of stories. We briefly discussed the subject of pricing jewelry and he told the class this: 'A jeweler colleague was asked at an artisan show how long it took him to make a particular ring. He responded “30 years and 15 minutes.' - Jodi L. Bombardier, Jewels By Jules

This is a common mistake made by handmade jewelry artists. Remember that customers are not only buying the materials in a piece of jewelry, and the time you spent making it, they're buying your unique vision and expertise. They're buying the hours you spent in metal-smithing classes, and the beadweaving books you read, and the 20 broken necklaces you had to restring before you perfected your technique. They're buying your life-long love of the Victorian Era, and the visit you took to the Louvre, and all the doodles you made as a child. All of this is contained in each piece you make, and it lends value to your work.

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.

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