5 Jewelry Making Tips for Beginning Jewelers
Hey! I'm Julia, the maker behind Third Hand Silversmith. I've been running this small business for over two years, and have been a metalsmith for about 4 years. I was able to make a full-time career out of my passion for jewelry-making, so I want to share my expertise and help beginning jewelry makers start their journey off right.
Here's a snapshot from my Instagram, so you can get an idea of the kind of jewelry I make. Follow me @thirdhandsilversmith!
Love jewelry and interested in making your own? It's difficult to know where to start, especially if you don't have a formal background in art or metalwork. I was lucky enough to take metalsmithing classes in college, which led me to my job as a jewelry production assistant for a small local business. I was so lucky to experience these environments along with countless hours of self-teaching because they allowed me to develop my jewelry-making skills at an accelerated rate. But that's not to say I didn't encounter my own learning curves and speed bumps along the way, and I'm still learning how to improve my work every day!
Here are 5 things I wish someone would have told me when I started my jewelry-making journey:
Experiment as Much as Possible
When I first started my creative journey, I was frustrated that I didn't immediately have a "signature style". I thought having work that looked cohesive was my ticket to more marketable products. Looking back, I realize that was a huge thing to ask of myself. It's nearly impossible to create cohesive work before you even know what your own creative skills and strengths are. Instead of getting stuck on what you wish your jewelry looked like, get comfortable experimenting with different materials and types of projects, and your style will come to you. In fact, you may stumble on a completely unique and wonderful idea that ends up being a staple in your work (which is what happened with me and my Boob Rings). Your style will develop around your strengths, the materials you use, and the places you find inspiration. Most importantly, create work that doesn't exist yet, but that you wish did. There's nothing wrong with taking inspiration from jewelers you admire, but if you begin your jewelry-making journey copy-catting, you'll probably get stuck. The market is saturated enough with cliches and copies, so be original and your customers will be happy to find something they can't get anywhere else.
Embrace Your Failures (and Budget for Them)
Making jewelry is hard. It requires real skill that cannot be developed overnight. You will make things that are scrap-worthy at first (and occasionally years into your career), and that's okay. When sourcing materials, make sure you factor in your skill level and the amount you expect to fail, give or take. Failure is a difficult thing to anticipate, so don't focus on it too much, just be open to it. As an example, if you know you need to make 5 rings, order the materials to make 7 instead. If you end up with extras, that's even better!
Share Your Work
It can be scary to put yourself out there, but it's the only way to get feedback. And feedback is the only way to improve your craft and ensure you have a desirable product. Ask your friends and family what they think, share photos on social media, and ask jewelers you admire for feedback. Be clear that you are looking for constructive feedback, and ask them to dig deeper than "I like it" or "I don't like it". Be honest with yourself, too. Check in occasionally to make sure you are creating work that holds up to the craftsmanship and design standards you set for yourself.
Don't Put all Your Tools in One Shopping Cart
When you're first starting out, it's super tempting to buy every tool you think you'll ever need, all shiny and new. But, you will eventually discover that you actually don't need every single tool on the market. I only use one of the metal files that came in my set of six, prefer one grit of sandpaper, and really only use two kinds of pliers. However, it can be hard to figure out which tools you'll love and which ones you'll pass on if you're just getting started. To avoid spending a ton of money on tools you may never use, shop pre-owned tools on Ebay, Etsy, or in antique and second-hand shops or garage sales. Older tools (non-electric ones anyways) are built to last, have already been broken in for ya, and look pretty cool.
There are some tools I recommend buying new including:
- Burnisher for stone setting https://www.riogrande.com/product/burnisher/113029
- Saw blade sampler pack (because old saw blades don't exist)
Seek out Mentorship
Seek out help from someone who does what you want to be doing. Chances are that they were in your position once and are open to helping you succeed. Mentorship can happen in person or digitally, so don't be afraid to send that dm to your favorite Instagram jeweler. Keep in mind that everyone's time is valuable, so don't expect lessons or advice for free. Offer what you can, and see what happens.
Anything you'd like to add to this list? Comment your tip below!
A quick shout out to say thank you for you honest and humble advice. This is exactly what I needed to hear and I didn’t even know it.
Nothing to reply to, just wanted to show some love.
I am a new metalsmith and after finding your Instagram, I just wanted to say that your skill level has become quite the aspiration for me. Your work is beautiful, modern, and it’s clear that you put a great amount of work and thought into each piece. I can’t wait to see your shop next time I’m in your neck of the woods.
Anyway, I figured you’re very busy answering questions and working but thought I’d leave an appreciation post.