This is a long-running debate in the jewelry world. Metalsmiths from traditional programs learn how to make every single component needed in jewelry as part of a thorough education in fabrication craftsmanship. Purists believe that jewelry should come from only raw metal materials: sheet, wire and casting grain. But, at a certain point, your time is better spent tending to higher skilled fabrication work or the business of running your studio. Still, some jewelry artists swear by making their own simple jewelry findings. So, does it really make sense? How do the dollars shake out?
We took the guesswork out of this discussion by running the numbers. The answer? – Yes and no. It saves you money to make your own parts if you look strictly at material cost vs. prefabricated findings cost; but, the time and energy put into creating piles of basic findings may not necessarily be the right choice when you look at your business expenses overall. Labor cost is the critical consideration. This debate really comes down to how much value you put on your time or the time of an apprentice. We will share some additional thoughts in the sections below.
Both of the calculation examples shown here are based on the following figures:
• 31.1 grams = 1 troy ounce
• Silver market basis $17.14 per troy ounce (updated for market trends January 2018)
• Sterling round wire price at that market is $24.09 per troy ounce
Making Your Own Jump Rings Comparison
Our SJ95 jump ring is a 5mm 19 gauge open ring that weighs .1069 grams per piece. Making your own jump rings can be done by tightly coiling wire around a jump ring mandrel or looping pliers, then removing the coil, and finally, carefully sawing a cut down the entire length without deforming the round rings.
It takes .344 ounces of 19ga wire to make 100 jump rings.
100pcs of SJ95 jump rings cost $11.52
Savings = $2.43 or $.024 per jump ring
If you do not take tool costs into account, that is about 15 minutes of prep and labor time for a jewelry making assistant making $12 per hour. One quarter hour of labor time at that wage would add $3 to the cost of the batch, or $0.03 per jump ring, thus consuming your savings.
Making Your Own Earwirew Comparison
Our round wire, plain earwire S3006 is a style that is easy to make with an earwire jig, mandrel, or a dowel rod and round nose pliers. It is made from 22 gauge wire and weighs .142g per piece.
It takes .457 ounces of 22ga wire to make 100 pcs of S3006
100 pcs of S3006 cost $18.13
Savings = $6.05 or $0.06 per earwire
This is more substantial savings, but earwires are more time-consuming findings to make. Think about the time it would take you to make 100pcs of an earwire. If you can measure, cut and shape one piece every 30 seconds that would still take nearly an hour. Is your time worth more than $8 per hour?
The Bottom Line
If you are using small quantities of findings and you have plenty of time to spare it will save you some money to make your own jump rings and earwires. However, most designers prefer to use their time for the creative process of designing jewelry. Taking hours out of your day for the menial tasks of producing basic findings is far less rewarding and rarely saves enough money to justify the time.
Moreover, think about what those savings mean to your costing and pricing. Saving 12 cents per pair of earrings is not going to have a large impact on what you can charge for your earrings or your profit margin. Ditto on the 2 cents per jump ring. The more compelling way to think about it is that you could probably make more pairs of earrings that would earn you revenue with the time you would spend making findings. Which is greater, the potential earnings or the savings on buying findings?
Also, consider the reality of sitting down for an hour to make these things. The novelty can be fun at first but if you are making any quantity of jewelry it will get old really fast. So, ignore the ghostly voice of your metals studio 101 professor in your head and let it go. I have to remind myself of the same thing when I have ripening bananas in my kitchen. I hear my mother telling me to stay up until midnight to make banana bread instead of throwing away $0.65 worth of bananas and wasting food. I’m learning to let that one go too.
Some will argue that using machine-made components would somehow detract from the craftsmanship of work that is otherwise entirely handmade. What about the hand of the maker? Indeed, that is an issue to consider in your designs. I would counter that using manufactured basics for the less prominent features in a piece does not detract from the artistic quality of the design and craftsmanship. The use of components exists on a broad spectrum ranging from minimal inclusion of minor parts to designs that are entirely assembled. Where you are comfortable is ultimately up to you.
P.S. I love you, mom. And the banana bread would be delicious…