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All That Glitters

Dreaming of starting your own jewelry business? Better be prepared -- it's more elbow grease than glitz and glamour.


It's making something glittering and beautiful. It's creating a sparkling necklace or a pair of earrings. It's designing and manufacturing jewelry to your heart's content--while making profits at the same time. Think you can handle the glamour of running a jewelry business and seeing your creations adorn the rich and famous? Then prepare for the serious hard work it will take to get established.

"Sometimes [jewelry entrepreneurs] try to go too big, too fast," says Ann Barber, director of membership benefits at the National Craft Association, a professional trade association in Rochester, New York, for the arts and crafts industry. "One way to start is doing craft shows so you can get direct customer feedback." It's not just about setting up shop with your wares and expecting people to buy them--it's about researching the styles people buy, the prices they're willing to pay and what works in a particular geographic area. A key to success in the jewelry business? "Make sure your designs are unique," says Barber, "not something you can buy everywhere."

Once you set yourself apart as a hot jewelry designer, you'll be ready to approach trendy boutiques to carry your wares. First, create a catalog of your designs or sell sheets with your designs and wholesale pricing information. "Send the packet to the buyer from a particular shop, and then make an appointment to meet," says Barber. Many buyers have specified days and times to meet with new jewelry vendors. According to Barber, "When you go in, have everything ready on [your] order form so you can speed right through the process."

When Maya Brenner of Maya Brenner Designs in Los Angeles started designing jewelry part time in 1998, she successfully got the attention of a boutique owner. While shopping one day in New York City (her former home) and proudly wearing her creations, Brenner was spotted by the owner of a trendy boutique, who noticed her jewelry and ordered some on the spot. After that exposure, Brenner found a sales rep, and today her designs are in boutiques like Fred Segal as well as online at, pushing sales to about $200,000 annually.

Brenner, 34, who has even seen her jewelry adorning actresses Debra Messing, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Reese Witherspoon, found one of her biggest challenges was transitioning from manufacturing everything herself in the wee hours of the morning to calling for outside help.

Deciding when to expand depends on your volume, say experts. "The decision is dependent on your skill level, production size and cost-effectiveness. If you cannot make your jewelry by yourself well enough or fast enough, then you need to outsource," says Cindy Edelstein, founder of the Jeweler's Resource Bureau, an education and marketing consulting firm for jewelry designers based in Pelham, New York. "There are contract shops in many major cities, and many work by mail as well, so you don't have to physically be there."

In fact, the world of jewelry design is rife with options. In terms of what's hot, be aware of the fashion trends in your area. Edelstein notes that upcoming jewelry trends include a return to yellow gold (a rollback from the all-white gold and diamond phenomenon) and the addition of lots of color. Beads, stiletto earrings and layered necklaces are also heating up. But, warns Edelstein, "Long-term success comes from developing your own unique style through which you can interpret the ever-changing tide of trends." Bottom line--if you can dream it, it's a good bet that someone will wear it.

A Jeweler's Toolbox

Want to find out more about the jewelry industry? Cindy Edelstein of the jeweler's resource bureau suggests the following sources for information on the subject:

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