Create Production Processes that Work for You
Organization is a priority when I design jewelry.
To each piece I create, I assign a unique style code, a “SKU,” in the retail world. SKU is shorthand for “stock-keeping unit.” A SKU is a singular code assigned by a maker to an individual item. In big businesses, SKU’s are printed on tags and often accompanied by bar codes. Bar codes are scanned electronically to facilitate consistent and speedy organization in a storage area or on a sales floor.
I believe it’s important to differentiate between designs, but a small business like mine doesn’t use SKU’s and electronic equipment. Instead, I developed my own system of style codes that supplies important information consistently over time. Here’s what works for me:
Each of my designs gets a code starting with a letter that corresponds to its jewelry type. That means each necklace code starts with a capital letter “N,” each earring design, an “E,” and so on. Every once in a while, I run into a problem when I apply a “P” to a pendant. I use “P” for pin as well, so I’ve created my own confusion on this one. Oops. “P” for pendant is infrequent, however, as I usually make complete necklaces, which of course will start with “N’s.” Situation resolved.
After the letter comes a two-digit number specifying the year the design was created. When you see a letter followed by “19,” for example, that means the design was created in 2019. I have pieces in my collections whose codes start with “91.” That means I first made the design in 1991. The craziest thing is that those items are still relevant, which is just one of the benefits of buying jewelry from an artist: items are seasonless. Customers still order these designs. That’s the sort of thing that makes me feel really good.
The last two numbers in the code indicate the order in which the design was created during that year. This designation is simple and sequential. An E2011, for example, is an earring design created in 2020. It the eleventh piece I designed that year and incorporated into my line.
Pieces in a suite- that is, pieces made using the same design motif or similar style- usually carry the same style numbers. As an example, an E2011, Single Star Earring, relates to the N2011, Single Star Pendant, and R2011, Single Star Ring. This device makes sense and helps me remember groups of pieces more easily. When I have an order for these pieces, I know instantly how many settings I need to make in a sitting at the torch. This helps me batch my tasks, an efficient way of using my studio time, which lowers my costs, keeping studio overhead as low as possible.
With the style code set, I can move on to the next step in the process: making a pattern. As in fashion design, patternmaking is a critical aspect of production. The process helps me work out production details and define a logical order-of-operations. Without a written recipe for each design, I’m unable to reproduce the design for customers.
I prepare by pulling a piece of graph paper from the pad and a pen from the cup on the table. Tools in hand, I sit at my worktable. I like to start by writing a title for the piece, like Lemongrass Earrings or Three Star Cuff. Titles come to me during the process of making the prototypes. I add the item’s unique style code. Under this heading I hand-draw my illustration of the piece, usually a front view and a side view. These drawings are the equivalent of a fashion flat, a line drawing usually created on a computer using a program such as Adobe Illustrator. I can use Illustrator- I’m actually pretty handy with it- but I’m old-school. I opened my jewelry studio right out of college in 1991, when drawing was the way. While I totally believe in embracing new technologies, my drawing process is quick and can be done on the fly. I continue to work this way because it works for me.
Beneath the illustration, I write out the steps it takes to fabricate the piece. Fabrication, my method of working, means I solder pieces of metal together using a controlled flame. I record which gauges of wire are required to make parts of the item and what lengths need to be cut. I draw pictures of beginning and intermediate steps, adding construction illustrations as needed to ensure the new piece will match the original. At the end, I include finishing steps, item numbers for purchased parts like earring backs, and notes to remind me how to move through the challenges that inevitably rear their ugly heads during production.
The patternmaking process may sound laborious, but it is incredibly helpful. It’s necessary, in fact, to reproducing pieces added to the line. It also facilitates the next step in the journey: pricing the piece. Understanding exactly how much of which materials goes into making each piece is critical to pricing jewelry fairly and giving customers good value.
Some days it’s fun to turn off the analytics in my head and just make things, but organization sets the wheels in motion for important future steps in jewelry production. My code system works for me, and as an added bonus, serves as breadcrumbs leading me back through my artistic forest. My hand-drawn patterns add production details to new designs. Maybe one day I’ll “upgrade” to computer-aided flats, but for now, I have all I need. When it comes to adding new jewelry designs to surprise and delight you, the process starts with organization.