Before I began making jewelry as a career, I was like a lot of people. I didn't understand why some artists charged so much for their handmade jewelry pieces. Yes, they may be beautiful and be very sparkly, but why couldn't I go to the mall and buy a piece from a chain store for $12 versus the $70 price tag on the handmade stuff? I have always been a cheapskate, not wanting to pay more than $20 for clothing or accessories. I would scoff at the prices I saw at craft shows and wonder how they sold anything. I didn't really get it...until I began making it myself as a business.
From the viewpoint of a designer and small business owner, here's the reason behind the seemingly higher price tags:
The first thing that comes to everyone's mind when thinking about handmade jewelry is quality. Of course a hand-crafted item is going to take more time to make than a mass-produced piece that was created by a machine. Of course there is more attention to detail and for the most part, higher quality materials are also used. However, just because something is handmade, doesn't always mean it is quality. Check out the piece for yourself. If there are wires poking out, messily wrapped stones or pieces, gaps, seemingly broken or missing pieces, unsymmetrical lines, etc., chances are the handmade piece you are viewing was either made in a hurry or the creator is inexperienced.
Materials also play a huge part in the quality. Mass-produced items usually use the cheapest materials so that the company can keep the cost per piece down. Handmade items are typically used with the highest quality wires, silks, and stringing materials. The beads are real stones, not plastic or resin. If a piece is not created absolutely perfectly, we remake it. Quality handmade pieces will last; mass-produced pieces will not. It's that simple. You can pay $12 eighteen times or you can pay $80 one time for a handmade piece. Buying mass-produced pieces over and over again adds up. Buying a quality handmade piece does not. At circa1910, we take pride in quality pieces. We never, ever use fake materials. We never lie about our materials. When choosing a handmade jewelry company to splurge on, please also be sure that your piece is actually handmade. Many 'jewelry designers' order mass-produced, pre-designed pieces from third world countries and label them as 'handmade.' If you see many jewelry designers on Instagram who all have similar bangles, cuffs, rings, etc. you can bet they they did not create said pieces. We do not believe in this practice, which leads me to the next point.
Ethics and Our Economy:
I don't believe in purchasing mass-produced, pre-designed pieces at next to nothing, and selling them at ridiculous prices here in the States. It's just not ethical. I can't imagine the workshops and sweat shops that these pieces come from. I also believe in supporting our own economy. Every purchase made with circa1910 goes right back into our economy. We only buy pieces from suppliers here in America. We try to only purchase materials by other locally owned or small businesses rather than chain stores. We love our country and take pride in it.
Cost Per Piece:
The fact is, if a handmade piece costs $25 in materials to make, it is going to be more expensive to purchase. If you want to pay only $25 for a handmade piece made with those same materials, I suggest you learn to professionally create quality jewelry.
As a designer and business owner, I take on many roles. Many, many roles. Photographer, website creator and designer, social media marketer, sales director and traveling sales agent, email and customer service, packaging and shipping manager, creator and designer, inventory and stock manager, supply and materials orderer, and more. As a business, I have to pay myself an hourly wage, which is actually a lot less than you would imagine. If a piece takes me 30 minutes to make or 6 hours to make, I have to take that into account. I can't price those pieces the same. We also have overhead costs to pay: electricity, internet, computers, business supplies and marketing strategies, employees. All of this is taken into account. Every week, I work about 70 hours. Most of those hours I don't pay myself for.
Selling to Stores:
On top of all of these expenses, and to be a successful jewelry company, you need retail stores to carry your line. circa1910 is sold online at www.circa1910jewelry.com but we also have more than 30 retail locations across the country. When a store purchases pieces from us, they only pay the wholesale price of 50% of our retail. From there, they mark the price back up in their store. If a handmade company marks the retail prices too low, we either do not make profit or end up paying ourselves $3 an hour. Neither of which are good scenarios. At a rate like that, a business will quickly fail. We must pay ourselves and also make a profit. Point blank.
Time Spent Outside of Creating:
No one sees the behind the scenes aspect of owning a handmade jewelry company. The gas spent traveling, hotel rooms booked, fees to enter craft shows and wholesale markets (which can be up to $4000 or more!), and the time spent away from the studio that is spent searching for pieces and scouring bead shows and flea markets and bead stores for the next great materials. It is way more money spent than I'd like to think about right now...moving on...
One of a Kind Factor:
circa1910 is well known for our one of a kind designs. When we go to bead shows, we don't pick out a strand of beads and order 50 of those same ones. Every. Single. Piece. has different beads, different 'wow' factors, different vintage and antique materials, different pendants, different beads and stones, different everything. We want our customers to feel that a piece was specifically made for them, because it was. Because of this, finding materials is that much more complicated. We scour flea markets, antique and vintage stores, yard and garage sales, to find hidden treasures that can be given a new life. To keep everything different, we have to have a vast array of materials to choose from and keep them on hand. That means traveling, hand-selecting, inspecting, imagining, purchasing hundreds and hundreds of different materials.
You may wonder why you see a designer who, after all these factors, chooses to price their pieces incredibly low. Please note that someone who creates jewelry as a hobby will have much lower prices verses someone who does it as a business. They will also often use mass-produced supplies that were acquired from chain stores. They do not have to sell wholesale, therefore, they are able to sell their pieces for pure profit rather than take into account the markup for a store purchasing wholesale. Hobbyists do not have to pay overhead, and do not pay themselves hourly. They create pieces with no thought to how much time they are spending on a particular piece, because it doesn't matter. They do it purely for the enjoyment and because of these factors, they are able to set their prices much, much lower. Just because someone has a name, logo, website, and professional pictures does NOT make them a business, therefore, they do not have to think like a business. A true business will have a registered, trademarked name and a business license. They will also have to file taxes quarterly (...yay!) and pay their own social security by the dreaded day of April 15th.
I hope that an inside look at life behind the jewels helps you to understand the pricing, but also the time and effort it takes to create quality, handmade pieces.
Be sure to follow us on Instagram for more behind the scenes adventures!: @circa1910jewelry
Owner/Designer of circa1910 Jewelry