If you are a jewelry student, the school studio probably has all the tools and materials you need to complete your class assignments. Or you may even be provided with organized kits that include everything you need for individual workshops. However, once you complete your education, you will need to start sourcing materials so you can keep making. Sourcing can be overwhelming at first. It is hard to know where to look and who to trust to get what you need. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Get Familiar with Units of Measure
I often joke that only jewelers and drug dealers can hold an item in their palm, bounce it up and down a couple of times and guess the gram weight to the nearest tenth. It takes time and practice to get used to all the different units of measure in our field. Precious metal materials can be sold by the gram, troy ounce or pound, to name a few. Some items are sold by lengths like meters, inches or feet while other items are described using conventions including millimeters and gauges. Know how much material you need and the best way to purchase it at that quantity level. For example, volume users will want to purchase bezel strip wire by large troy ounce coils but an infrequent bezeler may want to buy by the inch for just one particular custom piece. It gets really confusing! Two tips here to help you navigate.
- I always keep a bench ruler at my desk that has both millimeters and inches on it. My spatial imagination is limited. So, even after decades in jewelry, I still pull it out and look at it to fully grasp the dimensions of an item I may be reviewing online. It is tough to understand the scale of website products without a physical tool, in my opinion.
- I also keep several printed conversion charts taped to the wall by my desk. I have memorized some of these but I still refer to the charts often and am so glad I have them right at my fingertips. You can print out the tables below to keep handy.
2. Reputation Matters
When buying precious metals or gemstones, reputation is critical. Do not search for an item online and pick the first Amazon reseller or Google Shopping ad you see. There is a lot of product out there that does not meet metal alloy specs or is outright fake. Be careful. Ask your suppliers about their quality control programs. At Halstead, we randomly screen products every quarter with lab assay tests to verify alloys are within tolerances. New supplier lines are assayed before they ever go online for sale. We take quality seriously. Know who you are dealing with.
3. Read Carefully
Reputable websites and catalogs clearly describe their products by material and provide thorough specification details. Be wary of the word “silver” on descriptions since this is often used as a color descriptor and does not necessarily mean .925 sterling silver, for example. By the same token, as a new professional in jewelry, you are responsible for learning how to accurately disclose your materials and educate your buyers on their purchases. Learn the lingo and look for complete details.
4. Build Relationships
Solid suppliers may end up serving you for decades. You don’t want to work with a faceless logo. It is important to build relationships with your sources. Find out the names of the other people on the end of the phone line. Know who you are dealing with and ask questions that will help you in your business. It is amazing the lengths that service teams will go for the customers they have come to know over the years. Here are examples of a few things you may want to start asking if an item is important to your line:
a. Is this item usually available in the quantity I order?
b. How long does it take to replace inventory when you run out?
c. Do you offer close substitutes if it isn’t available?
d. Where is this item made?
e. What do you think of this item?
5. Have Back-ups
Use several different sources. Jewelry is a fashion-based business and trends move fast. Stock use is volatile and unpredictable so stock-outs are a regular reality in jewelry supply sourcing. Have back-ups and price some variability in your work so you can cover the materials you need. Think about supply reliability when you design pieces that you want to stock or use in a production line.
Of course, we recommend Halstead as your primary source for jewelry making supplies. But there are several other reputable suppliers in the trade as well:
- Otto Frei
- Rio Grande
Interested in opening a Jewelry Supplies for Students account with Halstead? Review our criteria and register today. A service representative will get back to you once your account is ready to roll.