There's a line from the song, "Happy Talk", which is part of the score of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical SOUTH PACIFIC. It goes something like this:
"Happy Talk, keep talkin' happy talk,
Talk about things you'd like to do,
You got to have a dream,
If you don't have a dream...
How you gonna have a dream come true?"
Allison Murray has a dream.
She is the designer of Bordeaux and Pearl Jewelry. It's an artisan line that has a great deal of heart and lots of vintage elements. Much of what is presented can be mixed and matched. The components used are culled from U.S. jewelry making history, parts also employed in many of the golden-age lines made in the Victorian Revival period of the 50's. As you can see, the work is assemblage. It has a hint of the old Miriam Haskell look with a twist of Hattie Carnegie and modern repurpose on the side.
Many, just like Allison, dream of becoming jewelry designers. Often they start out on an incredible high, but it's inevitable, there will be obstacles to overcome. Some will really hit a wall. Hitting that wall too many times can kill a dream.
Why does something so much fun, something they love to do so much, all of a sudden become so difficult for newer jewelry designers?
There are many reasons.
For one, it's common to loose viable opportunities due to not having enough components on hand. It also might be that their work is too much one of a kind, custom work. Their prices might be too high or even too low for the market. There may be a failure to completely identify the target customer. Maybe what is being made is dated work, too fussy, much to be admired but not what customers want to buy. Or, perhaps the craftsmanship is not consistent and the artist is frustrated by having returns caused by issues with skill level, or even components.
Allison is working hard on her dream. Right now she is in that spot where she's learning new techniques and experimenting with many ideas. Each demi-line of jewelry or parure that she makes, shows more thought and more skill than the one before it. She is working hard at presentation, photography, and knowing her target customer well. If she keeps that up, and continues to work hard on her brand through all the glitches, she just may arrive at her destination. Her dream of being a self-supporting artist or a jewelry designer with her own company might just come true.
I felt the same way back in the 90's when as a fluke and maybe a little natural talent, I created a jewelry line quite by chance, and it worked. In a few years we had 500 wholesale accounts and the line was 300 styles deep. Yet, within a decade, it had run its course....as many small lines do.
I didn't have a good plan. The line didn't change as trends changed, so it lagged behind. I had trouble having enough inventory on hand to ship quickly, and trouble hiring enough competent help. My line was hard to make, so it was hard to train people to make it the same way I did. Eventually, I threw in the towel. I had had enough. I have no regrets because I learned so much for having the experience. Still, I have to be honest: I jumped in madly with no mission, no view of what I wanted of the future, no knowledge of the trade. It's amazing that it worked for me at all, actually!
My friend, Mel Bernie, owns the 1928 Jewelry Company. Back in the late 60's, not long out of the service, he decided his vocation would be to create and sell jewelry to small chains of retail stores. From what he could see, it didn't look like it would be so hard! So, he saved up from his day job of selling watches so that he could buy some basic tools and manufacturing equipment, and then he tried to teach himself to use it in his garage. He had great ideas, but bringing the great ideas out to the public in a sophisticated way was going to take more expertise than he could quickly learn. He really didn't know how to make jewelry.
Since his dream was to go BIG, he needed to surround himself with competent, knowledgeable, highly-trained jewelry makers who could not only help him make his dream come true, but teach him how to make jewelry in the process. Mel was now on a mission and would not quit until he found the right people.
Well, he found them. In a very few years, the company catapulted to huge success, selling their lines to the buyers of every major department store around the world. And....many of the people who are working today at 1928, have been with him for years.
On the right is Pia, who has been designing for 1928 since the very beginning. She has designed many of the 1928 pieces that you have collected and loved. And yes, that guy next to her is Mel. We were out having Thai food. Pia is an expert on Thai food, as she originally comes from Thailand.
Here I am in the factory at 1928 with my friends, Rene, who is the factory manager for many years, and Oscar, who came to 1928 a long time ago after having trained as a goldsmith. He knows well how to cast gold and other precious metals, but he is amazing at spin casting the proprietary blend of pewter that 1928 uses to make their products.
The guys explained to me that the 1928 pewter blend flows exceedingly well and contains a bit of silver. The best lead free pewter blends do! Their expertise as well as this special pewter blend is why 1928 is able to cast intricate filigree like no other company can.
Check this out and you'll see what I mean:
This is a very special vintage piece, a locket, from their castings archive. A few of you may even own one!
Every creative or business journey has its ups and downs....there are always highs and lows! But when many US companies have failed or pulled the plug on their enterprises, Mel Bernie's continues. 1928 is still known as one of the largest costume jewelry makers in the United States. They have not only made their own lines, but they have made jewelry for many other companies as well, under private contract.
There has ALWAYS been a plan at 1928. Since I've become friends with Mel and some of the great folks who work with him day in and day out, I've learned a great deal about working "smarter, not harder" in the jewelry business. Here is Mel meeting with some of his designers, working out a few bugs on a new line for New York Market Week:
I got to be the proverbial 'fly on the wall', listening to them and even having a tiny part in the conversation that day.
The line they were working on did not have lots and lots of pieces. It was pulled together just right, with a certain type of customer in mind. Everything about it was costed out to perfection so that it could be wholesaled to department stores and still allow the company to make a profit.
When they decide to put a piece into a line at 1928 Jewelry Company, the piece is sketched in such a way that every component is obvious. There is NOTHING that is casual about it. Every casting that is needed for the piece is referenced. The designers must come out into the large archive of over 35,000 molds owned by the company, and find the part number for every last piece used in that style. They made need to consult with Rene and Oscar or the mold maker, Herman, to see if the mold just right to do the job and if there is anything impractical about using it in the design. All the other components must also be referenced so that they can be sure they have enough to make hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of the style. If they don't have enough, it must be ordered immediately.
Then: every component is counted, down to the last jump ring. Quality is number one; only the pieces that truly work for the design and that are durable are used. It's been done this way, from day one. Every piece in the style must be referenced, costed, and then, the entire design costed out, including the cost to plate the pewter. It all has to work, or they cannot put it in the line.
Do you approach your design work this way? Yes, I know, it doesn't sound like tons of fun! Who wants to do all that dull planning? But if you do not have your information at hand when you work your dream and design a line, you could make little profit or even lose your shirt! Or, you might be caught short right in the middle of a huge order, where you have a strict deadline.
I said I would never design a line again. I had had the experience and was very glad for it. I was content to share what I learned about having done it with others. For a lark, though, I did it in miniature for my yearly Build a Line business class last year. The initial plan for the line and its sublines made a great deal of sense and everyone loved it. I even seriously considered going ahead with it:
I decided to call the line Sugar Shop Jewelry. I even purchased the online domain for that name and I began to think about creating a dedicated website so that I could sell it. The photo above was when I was in the planning stages of the first part of the line, which was going to be done in segments. This segment was to be called Chocolate Frosting.
Why didn't I refine and simplify the line, cost it out properly and keep going?
Well, my 'day job' is running B'sue Boutiques which is a small jewelry supply company where we sell very unique things and have been doing it online since 1997. It takes most of my day to manage it! Part of managing B'sue Boutiques is providing a great deal of support to new to intermediate jewelry makers who are working hard to work and live their dreams. They need quality findings and they trust me to provide them.
These days you cannot have a supply company without providing strong support. In these days of strong competition and burgeoning social media, it can be quite a juggling act!
Another blow to progress on Sugar Shop Jewelry was that the choxie finish on the brass I was using suddenly became inconsistent. Apparently there have been some changes on what chemicals may be used for plating in the US. A crucial part of the plating 'blend' became unavailable. So, I couldn't get the chocolate ox finish to match, batch to batch. Not good.
Lastly, I was offered another opportunity that I felt was much better for me and for my customers. Mel Bernie asked me if I would consider pewter and have my own proprietary castings made for B'sue Boutiques. I would also be permitted to curate part of the line from their castings archive.....and I would be allowed to put my own designer finishes on them.
Two factors here were extremely unique: first, pieces and parts made for 1928 Jewelry have never been released to the creative marketplace. It was never considered to allow artisans take their specially-designed pewter and use it to make their own jewelry. Second, 1928 would never put my custom finishes on their lines. These finishes are by plan very funky and geared to current trend in the crafts industry. They wouldn't work for most department store buyers.
Since last fall I have been working very hard on this line, which is called B'sue by 1928. The name of this venture includes the 1928 logo because it IS 1928. At the same time, it is my B'sue line, totally B'sue Boutiques, echoing my roots in the vintage jewelry trade and everything I personally love about designing jewelry. I curate the collection based on my knowledge of selling components for parts of three decades. It is a high-end designer line of unique components like no other.
We got our first batch of samples back from the finisher at the end of November:
This is the Rusted Iron finish, which you will find here: https://www.bsueboutiques.com/category-s/1927.htm
By the end of December we had nearly 30 styles and were ready to launch. The line has done very well ever since. In fact, it was just on the back inside cover of the current BELLE ARMOIRE magazine:
The editor of the magazine liked it so much, she gave it a full page "Editor's Picks" review:
They said such nice things about B'sue Boutiques and the 1928 Jewelry Company, too!
I am still pinching myself that Mel not only invited me to test the waters with pewter findings this way, but he allowed me to be called, in part, by the 1928 name. He gave permission to use their logo known all around the world, melded with my own, to establish a brand.
The line I created in the 90's was a dream that came true out of nowhere. By all rights, it should never have succeeded at all, because there was no adequate planning. For my B'sue by 1928 components line, the game has changed. All I do is plan!
What's coming down the road for The 1928 Jewelry Company?
Well, I think their catch phrase says it all: Then. Now. Forever.
As the company reaches out to its public through its website, 1928.com more and more people will be able to enjoy new designs as well as the timeless ones they have always loved. When you visit their website, be sure to click on the top drop-down boxes and see how many lines there are.
Each line has that unforgettable 1928 look that we know and love. Everything is well planned and beautifully designed and crafted. Much of the work is done by hand! Nothing has happened by accident. It's classic and will never go out of style.
Well, there are certainly no plans to try to corner the market, not now, anyway. For now there is more need to observe what happens and how people use the components. I need to be thinking of new ways we can use them. It's about enjoying the journey and presenting constantly via our You Tube channel: B'sue Boutiques at You Tube
We hope to partner with other artists who successfully submit to quality craft magazines, or who have a proprietary line that would blend with this one, being ambassadors for each others' lines. We will continue to advertise in print in BELLE ARMOIRE as well as JEWELRY AFFAIRE, both being jewelry crafts magazines produced by the Stampington Publishing Company.
Perhaps down the road we'll will do a little wholesaling, but we are not ready for that or for distribution, now. I don't think we will be, for awhile. I'm still building the line. In a few weeks what we have to offer will more than double. After that, the intention is to add new pieces more slowly, 5-6 at a time, every 6 weeks to two months.
It's all about experimenting, watching and working the line, listening to what community and customers have to say and suggest.
Mel Bernie calls it 'chasing the business'.
So....the clock is ticking! I guess I'd better run!