COVID has been a very eye-opening experience. At the start of the pandemic, I had no idea what to expect. Everything felt so bleak that making jewelry felt like too much to handle and I couldn’t tell if I was wasting my time or creating something positive in the world.
When I look back on these few years, I’ve had to kind of downsize some of grandiosity of my work and how I approached it. It’s made me reevaluate every single aspect of what I do and how I create and I thought I’d share some of those changes with you.
The Journey from Gemstones to Oil Painting
At the start of the pandemic, getting materials suddenly became really difficult. I prefer to shop for my gemstones in person and I didn’t feel like this was a safe option until I was fully vaccinated. So I turned to the internet to find reliable gemstone dealers. One of the issues is that my local suppliers and I have established relationships over the years, and they usually guide me through my purchases. After many attempts to shop online for gemstones, I thought that maybe I needed to approach my jewelry differently. I use gemstones because I love adding color to my designs so then I started to turn to techniques that could offer the same colorfulness that I'm normally drawn to.
That’s when I began experimenting with enamel. I had to teach myself how to work with enamel and once I got a hang of the basics, I found out that I could paint with enamel. An interesting setback to enamel is getting a whole range of colors. Some time in the 1990s, the US passed a law prohibiting manufacturers from using lead in their facilities/factories. Enamel is a glass powder that is combined with a composite of metals which produces the range of colors. With the elimination of leads, you’re eliminating an entire spectrum of colors like pinks, certain oranges, reds, and purples.
It posed yet another challenge which ended up leading me to oil painting. I loved that I was able to paint with enamels, but to not have access to a whole range of colors wasn't ideal. I began experimenting with oil paints and that has opened up an entire world for me. With oil painting, I am not only able to get fine detail and work with any color, but I am also able to create very lightweight pieces since I work on wood panel.
The Price of Silver
I hadn’t really thought about how the price of silver was tied to the world markets until the pandemic hit. If the market shifts, it affects the price of metal and as a jeweler, you pay for what is reflected by the daily stock market. Since the start of the pandemic, the price of silver has increased 50% and hasn’t really come down at all. Initially, I was so shocked that I didn’t know how my business was going to survive. My work had notoriously aired on the side of statement and that meant that I used a lot of silver in my pieces. I had to analyze every aspect of how I was designing so that I could see where I could ‘lighten the silver load’ of my work. I decided to make spreadsheets of every item that I had available and for about six months, I recorded what was selling and what was sitting.
The key point that emerged from this analysis was that I was selling way more earrings than any other item. This was actually great news for two reasons: a) I absolutely love making earrings, and b) they use less metal because I have to keep them so lightweight. That’s when I decided to give myself one year to create exclusively earrings, aka my Year of Earrings challenge. I wasn’t able to finish the challenge due to my pregnancy, but I’ve decided to stick with earring designs and have them be the main focus of AyC.
Running the Numbers
Lastly, I made the switch to becoming an online-only business.
This was probably the hardest and scariest decision I had to make during the whole pandemic. I know that on the outside, becoming an online-only business could appear as me being antisocial/introverted/stubborn but when I sat down with those spreadsheets and looked back on previous years, I honestly couldn’t afford to do markets or be in galleries anymore.
Markets and galleries have always been a wild card for my work. Some markets are super successful, while others have been a total bust. The same went for galleries. I worked very hard to maintain good rapport with gallery owners, but you just never knew who was going to walk into the shop that day. On top of it all, the fees and commissions were starting to get expensive. I never once questioned whether a market or gallery owner ‘deserved’ these fees because you know, they have bills to pay and a business to run and everyone I’ve worked with, I could see was very hard-working. But to pay for a website and markets and galleries, was too much. I was/am honestly too young in my career to take on so many avenues when the reality is that I need(ed) to build my own clientele before branching out into the world.
It was a hard decision to make because I was afraid to take on all of the responsibilities of my business. That being said, I had always been intrigued by the idea of running my own show entirely. And it's turned out to be an exciting time.
I sat down with myself and wrote out what I was best at and decided to nurture those skills. This included website design, photography, and one-of-a-kind work. In the process of taking on every aspect of the business and the designing, I also saw that transitioning to online-only was actually exactly what I needed to do. When you go to a market or a shop, you spend just a few seconds scouring what they have and if nothing catches your eye immediately, then you move on. Whereas online, I’m able to build a story with you over the span of months because that’s how long it takes to design and create my work. I get to share with you every aspect of what I do whereas in a market, you want to know the bare bones about a piece and that’s it.
The other luxury of becoming an online-only business, is that now I have total freedom when it comes to designing. Normally when you work with a gallery or apply for a market, the owner or the jury panel are looking for your specific aesthetic. They don’t want you to stray much from that style because that’s what they use to promote your work and how to include you in their brand. Again, I’m too young in my career to really harness a style. I’m in the process of discovering what makes AyC unique, but it takes years to get to that point. Now, I’m free to design whatever and you get to come along for the ride. If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know how much I love designing and I felt like I had to tame that side of me in order to fit in with the requirements of markets and galleries.
In the process, I’ve realized that designing is what makes my work unique. I'm unlike other jewelers, where I design once a year and make that piece over and over again. I get the most satisfaction by designing every time I make a new piece so instead of trying to put that side of me away, I’m embracing it fully and it is so. damn. liberating.