From the Arts and Crafts Business e-mail bag:
A reader has some questions about the jewelry manufacturing process - specifically how to tell if the type of metal used by the manufacturer is what was agreed upon in the contract and the typical cost range for manufactured jewelry.
Wholesaling Arts and Crafts Items
Many arts and crafts business owners have both one-of-a-kind (OOAK) and production-line style items. Original designs manufactured in mass and sold wholesale provides a great backbone for your business and personal budgeting needs.
Then OOAK items satisfy your creative side and keeps you in the handcrafting arena that is so important if you want to enter juried shows. As a matter of fact, many arts and crafts business owners use a different business name for the manufactured and OOAK side of their company.
Creating a Relationship With a Manufacturer
Dealing with a manufacturer, even one who works in your area of design can be rocky at times as you work your way through the contract and production phase. Basically, you prepare a prototype giving the manufacturer your specs (size, materials, flat or dimensional). Depending on the type of item, the prototype is usually a drawing or image of the item.
The manufacturer works up a price quote, payment terms and production date. For your first order, the manufacturer will always have a minimum order requirement. After you come to a meeting of the minds, the manufacturing process starts.
Labeling and Hallmarking
Manufacturers are usually required to label the content of their goods. If the manufacturer makes karated gold or sterling silver items they must designate the item's metal purity and stamp the item with their hallmark (a unique symbol for their business). Both are usually placed on the underside of the item and will be in extremely small script.
For karated gold, the designation can be 10K, 14K or the like. Wondering about the difference between 10K and 14K? All gold castings start with pure 24 karat gold. However, 24 karat gold is too soft for most handcrafted items.
For jewelry, this pure gold is mixed with an alloy to provide the strength needed for continued wear. These alloys may be copper, zinc, silicon, nickel, silver or boron to name a few. The mixture of metals then designates the gold as 18K, 14K or 10K and so on rather than pure 24K.
For sterling silver, the designation also varies. Some examples are STER, STG or 925. Why the 925? Well, for the item to be designated sterling silver, it must contain at least .925/1000 fine silver. For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.
Please note: If you have purchased karated gold/sterling silver items that only have the purity designation stamped into the metal - not to worry. This indicates that the jewelry was artisan crafted and not mass-produced by a manufacturer. Quite a few artisans do have their own hallmark but it is not a legal requirement for OOAK items rather than mass produced jewelry.Estimating Manufacturing Costs
If your manufactured items contain precious metals, the cost of your item can vary wildly from production run to production run based on the metals market. In fact, the cost of the precious metal could have even sharply risen during your pre-production phase.
The Rio Grande website is a good place to see what the metals market is doing. Monday through Friday, international metals dealer Handy & Harmon, Inc. sets its daily market price for the various precious metals. At the top of the Rio Grande home page, you'll find the current price for gold, silver and platinum.