What Jewelry Would You Be Most Likely To Buy This Holiday Season

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fire Mountain Gems Responds

by Pippit Carlington
Well, this was predictable, but rather than to respond by saying that they are going to scale back its efforts to serve peddlers of lower-quality material in stone beads Fire Mountain Gems issued what appears to be a denial and self-justification for their move in that direction.

I encourage you to dispute their assertion that they do not offer less high quality items and more low-quality items than before. Doing so is one way you can affect positive change in the jewelry industry. If you feel they are not meeting your needs, that your products are being drowned out in the schlock and don't see what you want there then tell them about it and ask why it isn't offered.

Their letter is re-printed below;

Dear Pippit,

Thank you for your email. Your feedback is very important to us. Please be assured that your message will be brought to the attention of the appropriate departments. We sincerely appreciate you taking the time to write us and look forward to hearing from you again soon.
It is not our intent to influence the beading industry into excepting lower quality gemstones.

We offer a very broad range of low cost to high cost products to a very broad spectrum of consumers ranging from classes of small children to bead store owners. It is our goal to offer something for everyone. The 'promo beads' are an excellent way to introduce gemstones to new beaders who are generally hesitant to work with gemstones. In addition many customers prefer the natural and rough look of lower grade gemstones as opposed to the more uniform, polished look of A grade gemstones.

We have offered the promo beads on sale for nearly six months and they have by no means replaced our higher quality gemstones. We look at these beads as an opportunity to add more members to the steadily growing diverse beading community. We hope that this information assures you that we do not plan on lowering our standards or quality and only wish to add to our ever growing family of loyal beaders.

If you should have any further questions or comments, please feel free to reply to this email. You may also contact us via Live Chat by clicking the button below or contact one of our friendly Customer Service Representatives at 1-800-423-2319 during regular business hours.

Best Regards,

e-Service Contact CenterFire Mountain Gems and Beads

Many businesses' number one mistake is believing they can serve two masters (or be all things to all customers).

While Fire Mountain Gems says it is not their "intention" to influence the industry into accepting lower quality stone bead strands it has that effect anyway whether they want it to or not, and they are being short-sighted if they think that manufacturers and others who are less than scrupulous won't take advantage.

Besides, there is really no need to do this, as beads like agates and the pale green Serpentine commonly referred to as "New Jade" are very inexpensive and plentiful even when well-drilled with no flat spots and imperfections.

I believe there really is no justification for a supply company to recommend that buyers use defective stone beads by hiding them among bundles of others in hopes the eye won't notice. Let's be real; that really is trying to "get over". There's just no way to candy-coat it.

If in fact they want to encourage more people to start beading then the way to do that is to teach good core values of design and workmanship; not to say, "Good enough for government work" , "Don't and say you did", etc. There is a difference between taking creative license and just flat out cutting corners.

My grandmother had a saying. She used to say, "Do a thing right or don't do it at all." She came over from Russia at the age of 12 or 13 and when she met her husband the two of them worked their way out of the sweatshops and started a sewing business creating fancy, elegant clothes for people with lots of money. They didn't get there by using seconds to sew their garments or saying "Uh-oh there's a mistake; let's hide it and nobody will notice". They'd re-do it if necessary until it was up to par. They started with little money and their customers respected their work ethic and were willing to pay for it. They did not make clothes geared toward every market as that would have watered down their ability to create a niche market for themselves and would have scattered the little resources they had to start with.

At some point someone has to decide to be part of the solution or part of the problem and whatever it is you multiply and present to your customer will increase; be that quality or disposable product.

Yes, there are people out there who will buy crap but is that what you want to perpetuate or do you want them to appreciate quality? There are those who don't see the connection between beads and social responsability but there is one.

Like it or not; companies like Fire Mountain Gems are quickly turning into supply places for hobbyists and not for the serious business-owner. There is only so much room left when somebody divides their market between two demographics, especially when those demographics are at opposite (and competing) ends of the spectrum.

To give you an example; Do you know why extramarital affairs don't ever work? They don't work because there is only so much love, attention, time, etc. to devote in a day, and when it's divided between two lovers both of them get less. It is too much to juggle and often to financially afford. Things get neglected, key dates forgotten, and nobody involved really gets what they need out of it.

Can you see the parallel between that and choosing a market to focus on?

There are designers who also make this mistake and they spread themselves too thin, and run out of money, especially in this poor economy.

In a time in which many big companies are suffering financially, resorting to laying off employees, and even finding it necessary to close up shop, it is important for one to know what one is (and is not), and what one represents.

It just simply does not make sense to offer hot pink, cheesy plastic beads and fine gemstones. The money allocated for the hoaky pink beads does reduce what is left in the budget to purchase checker-cut lemon quartz, for instance, and it reduces the choices of checker-cut gemstone materials. They may have one or two but they will not likely have an entire page devoted to such high-end stones when they have spent money to fill up 2/3 of a catalogue with neon plastic hearts and second-rate gemstones they get by the Kilo.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Advocating For Quality- A Letter To Fire Mountain Gems

written by Pippit Carlington

Fire Mountain Gems, one of the well-known suppliers to makers of jewelry, as many of you may have noticed has become increasingly commercial in recent months and over the past year. I have had conversations about this with various AJC members at different times, and have been disappointed to see the choices in fine gemstones shrink while the number of cheap and lower-grade materials increase over time as each catalogue comes out, cow-towing to the low-cost/high-volume demographic. I kept telling myself I would write them a letter one of these days and last night after receiving one of their e-mails I found the perfect time to do so.

The e-mail I received last night from Fire Mountain Gems had the subject line; Promo GEMSTONE beads-As Low As .49 per Strand.

I didn't jump to conclusions, figuring it could always be some new product that they were selling at a really low price just to get people interested in something new they were test-marketing, an overstock, or a number of other honest marketing strategies...but no, it was worse than I had imagined.

As I read about these bead strands they were advertising, several clauses in their explanation really didn't sit well with me. The following is an excerpt in their own words:

"What does Promotional Quality mean?
Promotional Quality is also known as "commercial" or "C"-grade quality. The appearance of the beads is similar to our regular stock, except that you can expect to find occasional flat spots on some beads and mild irregularities in the drilling. You will find that 90-95% of the beads on each strand will work perfectly in any application. The defective beads can be used in applications where the size, color and shapes of the beads, along with the strand, are mixed.

Who uses Promotional Quality beads?
Traditionally, they have been used by jewelry manufacturers, particularly those who are working to meet price points. Now, we are finding that they have a place in bead stores and other retail bead outlets. These stores are learning that many of their customers will gladly put up with the minor inconvenience of using this grade, in return for the significant price savings."

As a jewelry artist and running a street team based on valuing quality over price, I find it shocking that a major supplier would recommend;

Number 1; that people who buy supplies from them, many of whom they know re-sell either raw materials they obtain from them, and/or designers who produce finished jewelry made from their products buy inferior stone beads and then pass them on to a customer.

Number 2; that they'd encourage brick and mortar bead stores to do so, and encouage them to think that passing off an inferior product just to save money is ethical.

If customers "put up with" an inferior product that is not true choice, and anytime such compromise is made it further devalues those artisans who do not compromise their standards or cut corners merely to make a buck but instead strive to give customers what they really want.

There is a local bead store (which shall remain nameless) here where I live that gives customers what they want to offer them and if that's not what they want then tough luck. That is not the way our parents did business, and we should expect no less in our time.

Needless to say, I believe this "supply determining demand" mind-set has infectiously perpetuated an anti-customer-service era we have entered into in this society so gradually we don't see that we're being manipulated.

Remember when Burger King's motto was "Have it Your Way"? Well, now all too often it goes more like this in places of business; "We Use Second-Rate Burgers, Second-Rate Fries, You don't Like It, Well Get Used To It! Have it OUR Way or No Way At All!"

Should customers aquire a taste for crap for the seller's convenience? I think not. The same rules of ethics, fairness, and good customer service still apply. It's just that too many have forgotten their manners when it comes to business today.

What's next? Disposable beads? What an awful thought. There are ways to offer lower price-points without sacrificing quality.

My letter to Fire Mountain Gems is re-printed below;

To whom it may concern;

I've been reading about your "Promotional bead strands" and the description and rationale doesn't sound very good. I'm not sure it's in the best interest of the jewelry field to lower the accepted quality standards in beads because of the economy. It's one thing to offer smaller strands like has been happening for a year or so now to those that want to save money, but if customers are becoming willing to accept lower quality just to save money then that will ultimately hurt jewelry artists who base their product on quality rather than on price. In addition this is a very slippery slope in terms of manufacturing because the end result may be the reduction in the availability of really fine stone beads because manufacturers and bead stores figure "why spend more for less material when we can get by on spending less on lower grade material. The customer won't care or they won't know the difference". I really think this practice sets a bad precedent and would be a form of market manipulation utilized by those manufacturers who wish to make a wider profit margin at the expense of their customers.

The increasing amount of lower-grade material carried by Fire Mountain Gems and decreasing choices in higher-grade material has troubled me for some time, but this latest move in my opinion really crosses a serious line.

I really hope that your company will not continue in this direction because you have a lot of long-time customers whose demographic is not low-cost/high volume that you will alienate by catering to the other market.


Pippit Carlington

I would like to encourage all of you readers who also create jewelry with high quality beads and materials to write them as well either online or by snailmail and ask that they go back to focusing on carrying more high quality stone and precious metal beads and less commercialized low-grade material.

This trend has seeped insideously into the local bead shows that serve both retail and wholesale buyers and it is saddening. At the last show I attended I could not find even one strand of transparent 4mm. Sapphire rondels of intense color, but saw plenty of commercial-grade strands of other stones.

Please let your voices be heard to prevent the dumbing down of the jewelry industry.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Care and Feeding of the Creative Spirit

Written by Pippit Carlington

Many of the articles you’ll read here are of a technical nature, related to the nuts and bolts of gems and jewelry, but at the core of this end product is motivation; the driving force which makes all these great ideas, techniques, and productive and focused action possible.

Like a plant an artist needs care and nutrients to grow and blossom, and like the engine in a car the artist’s brain needs fuel to run, but also requires regular maintenance to operate at peak performance.

Before readers conclude that this article is only meant for artists I must address the importance of buyers in the equation. You buyers and jewelry enthusiasts play an integral role in the nurturing of the creative spirit, and contribution to the field of art jewelry. You may not realize how much impact you have on what is created, and at what rate it is offered, but in many subtle ways you influence the market, determine demand, and in so doing, have a say in the supply of handmade goods that are offered for sale.

Historically art has been viewed as a solitary process, one in which the artist mysteriously closets him or herself in a studio and comes out only to unveil the end result of his/her labor. Even the idea of tutorials showing what goes on behind closed doors is a relatively new concept, and artist co-ops like The Art Jewelry Collective are still something new to many artists, unused to the level of disclosure and collaboration this format involves. Being part of an artist community requires a certain level of trust in the support, security, and camaraderie which makes it a mutually satisfying experience.

Building relationships and alliances with other artists and interchange with potential customers is a very effective way that we can nurture our creativity.

Communication is vital, so those of you who buy jewelry; let us know what you like, comment on our blogs, contact us through Etsy and other sites, let us know your wishes at our shows, and in the brick and mortar stores that carry our work. We want to meet your needs, and in turn, your patronage encourages us to make more of our beautiful items, reach higher, and develop further. Humans are by nature wired to respond to positive reinforcement whether they are artists, brick layers, or doctors. Freud once said that the two most important self-esteem dependent elements in a person’s life are “love and work”, and art embodies both of those in one. The artist’s interaction with his/her medium is an act of love. Then the interaction between the artist and the appreciator culminates at the point of sale as the ultimate compliment, making it possible for the artist to say goodbye to one creation like one’s child leaving the nest to go out and sow seeds of their own. Then the creative process cycle can begin anew.

It is necessary for this flow of energy to keep moving for an artist to stay creative and motivated. Sales and compliments are the exogenous source of motivation; that type which comes from outside us. The other side of the coin is the endogenous sources of motivation; that, which is self-propelled, generated from within.

All of us go through dry spells for a variety of reasons; family demands, a soul-sucking day job, depression, becoming over-extended in other areas of our lives, due to an economic slowdown, overwhelming living expenses, lack of sleep, lack of adequate supplies, not eating right, or too many interruptions. There are times when it feels as if there just isn’t enough time in a day, or enough room in our brain to take the time to do our creative work. I believe that artists are born, not made, and that artists are hard-wired to do what we do. For us, creative time is as much a necessity for overall health as eating healthy, getting enough rest, having loving relationships, exercise, and getting regular medical check-ups. An artist without art will always feel that something is missing, and like muscles, creativity must be exercised or it atrophies.

Imagine if a bird’s ability to fly were taken away. The bird would adapt out of necessity, but its evolutionary destiny to fly is so strong it would never really feel fulfilled, and most likely its lifespan would be shortened. Taking away its ability to fly does not neutralize its need. Unlike other animals, humans have the unique ability to rationalize away their needs and drives in an attempt to adapt to adverse circumstances, but this only works as a temporary fix. I have witnessed the result of this inactivity and creative decline in many people I have come into contact with over the years and it’s not pretty. They become increasingly unhappy, depressed, anxious, withdrawn, and often irritable, and sooner or later it affects their relationships.

If you’re faced with this existential crisis you may be tempted to just throw in the towel, but don’t. Doing so will take away something which is in itself a reward, something positive that helps you cope with things that are not so pleasant but “necessary evils” we are faced with in the course of our daily lives.

What You Can Do if You Find Yourself on Empty

*Identify those activities that have inspired you in the past, and make a list of them. Place it somewhere where you can see it everyday.

*Talk to other artists and supporters. Don’t cut yourself off or shut these people out. They can hold your dreams for you until you can reconnect with your creativity.

*Set aside a time each day for your art and adhere to it, (only pre-empted by something catastrophic). Avoid the urge to multi-task during this time. This should be your special time when you can really focus on the creative process. If you’re so far down you absolutely can’t create new pieces, do other related activities such as planning, record-keeping, market research, look at other artists’ work online or in trade magazines, learn a new technique or perfect one you already know by taking a class or printing out written instructions off the internet. There are lots of free tutorials offered online if money is a barrier.

*Get together with a friend to work on art-related activities such as going to bead shows, work on marketing, go to check out local stores for more places to sell your work, or to talk and share ideas. An outside opinion is helpful in expanding the flow of ideas when you’re stuck, and replacing any negative self-talk inside your own head that may be keeping you stagnant. Doing this can also get you to associate creating with fun again.

*Beware of “yes buts”! In times of stagnation it may feel like a strain to continue to stick to your routine and your goals, and you may find thoughts coming into your head like; “I’m too busy. I don’t have time to work on new pieces, to promote my work, or list it for sale.” “I’m not selling anything anyway, so what’s the use.” “I’m too stressed out by family matters, job, etc. and making new things, buying supplies, investing any time and energy into my business is just too much pressure to put on myself.” “I just don’t know if I care anymore.” These kinds of thoughts are not usually something you should follow. Instead, take a breather and regroup. In most cases thoughts like these are a sign that other issues in your life are intruding upon what is usually an enjoyable activity, and a sign telling you to look at other areas of your life that are not working for you. The beliefs that keep you in a deadlock are often related to assumptions that other commitments are immovable. Part of the static nature of these beliefs is due to an overgeneralization, a perceived lack of time. Often we are unaware of the actual amount of time spent on each of our activities during the course of a day. You may find more spare time than you knew existed when you actually map it out.

*Try this; take one day as representative of your schedule and carry around a notebook with you. Mark down the time you start and he time you end each activity; for example;

Tuesday, Feb. 12th, 2008
Start -Finish

8:00 AM- Breakfast 9:00 AM
9:00 AM- Etsy (forum, convos, check shop) 12:00 Noon
12:00 Noon- Talking to daughter on the phone 1:00 PM
1:00 PM- Surfing the internet 3:00 PM
3:00 PM- Talking to husband on the phone 4:00 PM
4:00 PM- Dinner party 8:00 PM
8:00 PM- Watching American Idol 9:00 PM
9:00 PM- Chatting in chat room or social networking site 10:00 PM
10:00 PM- Rearranging the living room furniture, filling out surveys 12:00 Midnight
12:00 Midnight- Going to sleep 8:00 AM

Or in the instance of somebody who has a “day job”;

Tuesday, Feb. 12th, 2008
Start -Finish

7:00 AM- Stopped at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and Danish on the way to work 8:00 AM
8:00 AM- Talked to 3 people on cell phone 9:00 AM
9:00 AM- Work (1/2 hr. lunch break 1:00-1:30 PM) 5:00 PM
5:00 PM- Driving home in traffic 6:00 PM
6:00 PM- Dinner 7:00 PM
7:00 PM- Time spent at the local bar 11:00 PM
11:30 PM- Home and sleeping 6:30 AM

Now, look at the time spent on each of your activities and ask yourself whether the time spent on each is absolutely necessary and whether the consequences of not doing it (or not spending as much time at it) would be sufficiently serious to warrant continuing it as is or whether you could replace it with some art-related activity.

With family-related activities often the underlying feat is that is we don’t do certain things our family member will be angry or feel that we don’t love them, or we ourselves feel that taking time for ourselves is somehow self-indulgent and disloyal to our family.

If we’ve volunteered for our church or other community commitments in our local area we may feel obligated to devote time to that for fear that we won’t be liked or well-thought-of if we say to those people that we need to spend more time on our art instead. We may fear that if we don’t continue to do those things nobody else will do it, but in truth those people will manage without our intervention and others will take on those roles we’ve been assuming up till now. In some cases we might need to set up alternative arrangements, but nevertheless most of these situations can be managed without our being solely responsible to the extent of giving up our own life and sacrificing the success of our business.

First an artist must entertain the idea that there is an alternative before one can take the steps necessary to unburden one of those activities that are not conducive to creativity.

Although this is an extreme analogy think of it in these terms;

If you have a burning hot ember in one hand and a soft bunny in the other which would you drop?

More times than not suffering and self-sacrifice don’t bring virtue and bliss, but instead resentment and cynicism, neither of which is good for the heart or the soul.

Take care of your creative spirit and it will take care of you. It is in large part what has gotten you through the hard times thus far.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Trip To Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

Written by Heather Gill

Turquoise Cabs mined in the Southwest

If you're a jewelry designer or just love jewelry then February isn’t just for Valentine's day. In Arizona it's also for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. This show brings people from all over the world to this small town. I met people from India, Africa, England, Australia; just to name a few.

Carved matte Quartz and Rhodalite Garnet dogwood flowers
This was my first time to the show and to say that it was overwhelming at times would be an understatement. Most of the vendors are in large tents with folding tables in front of them, the strands of gems lying on top, tempting you to look and touch. There are lights all over, so the brilliance of all the facetted gems catching the light is an amazing sight. Some tents only had facetted stones, and others had cabochons in every shape and color imaginable.

Labradorite Cabs
Some of the vendors were willing to explain some of the cuts, and it was a wonderful education. As this is the Southwest, you are sure to find lots of Turquoise, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was interesting to learn about the different mines and places that Turquoise comes from.

I was able to find cabochons in just about every gem I could ever want. It was also fairly easy to find them at very reasonable prices. If you have a wholesale license bring it as some shows won’t let you in even to look (without one). Make sure you bring business cards and ID as well.

Rhodonite Roses
Most of the shows won’t let you take pictures unless you have press passes. The mineral people don’t have a problem with pictures (I’m sure it's because it would be a little hard to copy the large fossils!) but I did take pictures of the gems that I purchased, and a few of the tents' vendors said okay to me.

I also found it was a great way to see some of the trends in jewelry for the upcoming season.

Strands shown left to right:
facetted cubes of Quartz Crystal, Green Amethyst, Lemon Topaz, Carnelian, and Black Garnet
All the faceted cubes (shown above) are fairly new, and some varieties are new for the show – like the Carnelian and the black Garnet. They also sold out quite quickly!

Labradorite rhondelles

Green Jasper Clover Beads

Assorted dyed and natural colored carved Mother-of-pearl flowers
If you have time when you come to the show you can even take some classes. There are classes available in just about every subject and medium related to jewelry-making. Most of the classes are reasonably priced and I saw a few that would offer a class with the purchase of their product.

Sodalite rhondelles
There is a lot to see at the gem show and I didn’t even come close to seeing it all. I will say that if you are a jewelry designer this is one place you should come to at least once in your lifetime.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Update on Latest Group Activities

I have been swamped (but happily so) with all the membership requests coming in about AJC, and with the 90 Features in 90 Days Challenge; http://www.etsy.com/forums_thread.php?thread_id=5276160 , which is still accepting participants, so it has been awhile since I've had a chance to post an update here on the group's current workings, but exciting things are happening!

We have completed two issues of our full-page ads in Ornament Magazine and still have one more to go in March's issue. If you purchase a piece from one of our members, you saw our ad, and that was what generated the purchase please let us know. We are always curious to see how our advertising is working, and that will help us evaluate where to spend our advertising dollars in the future.

Patricia Vener (SilverDragon) has agreed to be the webmaster for a new AJC e-commerce site and we are currently discussing the details to get this up and running. This site will provide another outlet besides Etsy through which to sell members' work. We are very excited about the prospect of having our own self-supporting e-commerce site and no additional fees other than PayPal or Propay and the proceeds gathered from yearly membership dues. It appears that this will be even more cost-effective than what we're currently paying Etsy for listing and commission, maximizing our profit. This venture really puts the "Independent" in Indie! The Website Maintenance Committee is currently involved in planning for what it will look like, how it will function, and the overall look of the site.

A number of members have placed their jewelry in Emily Conroy's (Precious Meshes) new brick and mortar store in Philadelphia, VIX Emporium, which opened in November, and sales are already off to a great start! We look forward to a long and happy working relatrionship for many years to come! Thanks Emily for extending this opportunity to our membership.

Over the holidays, Kelli Coaxum (Kelliope), Jill Quisenberry (JQJewelryDesigns), and Teri's Treasures (now on Ruby Lane), compiled a Holiday Gift Guide featuring designs from many of the members in order to spur sales. This guide has the potential to be made into a catalogue either online or in print. It can be viewed at our other blog; http://artjewelrycollective.wordpress.com . Valentine's Day is coming sooner than you think, so be sure to take a look at members' available jewelry from which to make that special purchase this year.

Also, over the holidays AJC held a "Secret Santa" organized by Catherine Marche (Kalicat). I received some of her beautiful BlumBlum rings from (one little flower ring and two plain thin bands to go on either side of the focal band). These are a great design and would make great engagement rings!

At last count we had 55 members, but that number is growing daily. I am thrilled to see the new pieces of jewelry on our slideshow above. We are growing, not only in number but in diversity of techniques and styles, and we are sure to have something for just about any buyer who values upscale, well-constructed, and unique jewelry. We hope that readers will check back here often, if not for the articles, at least to see what new pieces we have for sale.

We now have members who work in PMC, hydraulic fold-forming, metal fabrication, casting, etching, wire-weaving, beadweaving, stone-cutting, and many other fascinating styles.

Keep your eyes peeled for tutorials, how-to articles and other interesting jewelry and gem-related articles to come! We have several members now who have a greed to contribute interesting material to one or the other blogs.

We are always in need of people to help with the massive work that must be done to keep things running smoothly, so if you feel your jewelry might fit and you are reliable and responsible with skills you can offer the group, convo me on Etsy. My username is Giftbearer. We are especially looking for at least one or two people who can help with the Etsy group shop, and possibly also in posting members' bios and banners on the Wordpress blog. Right now both Kelli and Winnie have their hands full with the volume of new members to be processed. I may need someone to assist me in the near future to send out welcome letters to new members as the rate of applicants continues to increase and to get information that new members might have forgotten to provide.

We are looking forward to a lucrative 2008!


Pippit Carlington
The Art Jewelry Collective