After college, to balance to my creativity-sapping day job, I designed textile necklaces as a hobby in my free time. Jewellery making was good busy work for idle hands. But when my handcrafted masterpieces started to garner repeated compliments from friends, I wondered, “Could my hobby really become a legitimate business?”
Jewellery making is a viable business idea for hands-on creatives, but crafting skills aren’t necessarily required. Maybe, instead, you’re the technical type, looking to learn a new trade and dive wholly into fine metalworking or precious gemstones. Or, perhaps you’re DIY-stunted but have an incredible business idea based on an untapped audience.
Whatever your motivation or skill level, starting a jewellery making business comes with its own set of considerations and complications. For one thing: it’s crowded out there.
In the US alone, the jewellery industry generates a hulking $70 billion dollars yearly in sales, with the lion's share in fine jewellery. Talk about bling. It’s a saturated market but there’s still wiggle room for newcomers who can bring a fresh take to an old school craft or carve out a new niche.
photo: Dear Rae
Within the wedding industry, customer tastes are shifting to less traditional and more personal, increasing demand for smaller designers working in alternative and less expensive materials. An industry once dominated by high-end designers and massive chain retailers has a few opening spots on the elite guest list.
In this post, we’ll explore jewellery making businesses from conception and design to production and marketing. This go-to guide includes advice from the pros, tactical takeaways, and examples from established Shopify stores.
Let’s get creative.
What’s Your Angle?
The first question to ask yourself is: fine or fashion? Or maybe your interest lies somewhere in between. Each category has its own materials, production processes, price points, and customer profiles:
- Fashion or Costume Jewellery:
- Follows trends
- Inexpensive metals and materials (bead, wire, plated metal, plastic, synthetic gems, etc.)
- Lower price point, sometimes mass-produced
- Everyday/trendsetter customer
- Example: ribbon choker with plated silver pendant
- Fine Jewellery:
- Precious and semi-precious metals and gems
- Higher price point, excellent craftsmanship
- Luxury/wedding/occasion customer
- Example: diamond engagement ring
- This category covers everything else from mid-range materials (or high-low mix of textile, metals, gems, wood, 3D printing, acrylic, etc.) to jewellery defined as art (collectible, ooak) or craft (highly skilled craftsmanship)
- Emphasis on design and uniqueness
- Price point varies but usually mid-range
- Occasion/statement, design-savvy/collector/gift-giving customer
- Example: structural laser cut acrylic statement necklace
Once you’ve narrowed down the broad category for your jewellery business, carve out a niche for your products. Start by defining your ideal customer (classic, trendsetter, brides, socially conscious consumers, etc.), and decide whether your products are occasion-specific (wedding, party, everyday, etc.).
Researching trends is one way to determine (and validate) your chosen direction. Make reading fashion and jewellery blogs part of your daily routine to stay on top of trends for each upcoming season.
From Google Trends, you can see broad global search for a particular term. Here are a few good examples of current upward trends in jewellery:
Alternately, you might opt to offer a customizable experience (engraving, etc.), take an ethical stance (Fair Trade), or cash in on memes or pop culture references.
necklaces: Erica Weiner
Biko founder and designer Corrine Anestopoulos went against the grain, and launched her collection based on personal style:
“In the beginning, I was doing a brassy finish. Nobody else was doing that. Silver was the thing at the time, but shinier silver. Somehow I felt like just by fluke I found a market for something new without meaning to, but it was just my taste.”
While her collections evolve with trends in the industry every year, the common thread is a recognizable look that defines her brand, and secures repeat business.
“I call my aesthetic ‘modern nostalgic’. I used to work with a lot of vintage found pieces, mostly pendants that were from places in Africa or somewhere in India—old pieces that had a story to share. I still try to stay true to that when I'm designing, but lately I'm leaning more towards a few more modern minimal pieces. That's also what's trending, but at the same time, I like to think I'm doing it in my way.”
Design & Inspiration
Success as a newbie in any facet of the fashion industry depends on strong aesthetic, unique design/product, and consistent branding. Before working with a designer to develop your branding, or before designing individual pieces, run through a few exercises to help define your overall signature.
unique material mix by Camille Enrico
Mood & Inspiration Boards
Depending on how you like to consume or collect inspiration, you may elect to set up Pinterest boards, design your own digital mood boards, or even assemble inspiration physically on bulletin board or in a sketchbook.
Clip ideas from fashion and jewellery blogs. Collect images, colours, and textures from nature, architecture, fashion, or travel, then identify themes that emerge. Never stop being inspired, says Corrine:
I'm always drawing inspiration, collecting inspirational images, no matter where I am.
Once you’ve established your products’ aesthetic and nailed your customer profile, it should be easier to identify an overall look that will define your brand.
On the low-cost end, you can set up a basic Shopify store with a free theme and develop the logo yourself using a free online logo-maker. In this case, you’ll still want to spend your budget, however, on professional photos. We’ll discuss the importance of photography for jewellery later in this post.
For larger budgets, work with a designer to translate your vision into a full branding of your business from the logo and website to packaging and marketing materials. Peruse the portfolios of Shopify Design Experts to find a designer whose work resonates with your tastes.
Branding, however, is more than just the look of your brand. It also encompasses your voice, vision, and story. Fashion purchases are often emotional, and emerging brands can win customers by connecting on a personal level. Tell your story through your about page, inject yourself into your social media posts, and share your process and inspiration for your designs.
Vera Meat on Instagram
For Cred Jewellery, ethical practices and materials are at the core of the brand. The copy throughout the site repeats this message consistently:
“At Cred we believe in honest luxury. Your bespoke jewellery will be made in the UK using the finest Fairtrade metals and gemstones from responsible sources. People are very important to us, from the miner of the gold to the recipient of the jewellery. Our personal touch ensures full traceability on our materials and the highest of standards of design for your unique piece.”
Cred Jewellery about page
Accurate sketches or 3D renderings of your designs are necessary if you’re hiring assembly staff or outsourcing to a manufacturer. There are several options, depending on your skill level and budget:
- Manual design tools: pencils, sketch paper, jewellery design templates; for bead and wire jewellery, use a bead design board ($)
- 2D or 3D design software: Photoshop, Illustrator, GIMP, Pixlr, Inkscape, DrawPlus (free to $$)
- Jewellery-specific design software (best for fine jewellery): JewelCAD, Matrix, Rhinojewel ($$$)
Production & Materials
How you’ll make your products—by hand or in a factory, at home or outsourced—depends on the complexity of the design, price point, materials, and skill level.
Production: Handcrafted, Custom, & One of a Kind (Fine/Art)
Handcrafting jewellery can be one of the most involved, yet personal and versatile of the production methods. Depending on materials and design, some methods of jewellery production require specialized training/certification and expensive equipment. These methods include:
- 3D Printing
- Laser cutting
- Leather tooling
- Gemstone setting
Production: Assembly (Fashion/Costume)
Handmade jewellery often involves, simply, the assembly of existing elements—chain, wire, beads, cast pendants, etc.—and does not require special training or equipment beyond pliers, jewellery hammers, glue, and wire cutters.
This type of business is easier to scale, as elements can be purchased in bulk and assembly can be easily templated and outsourced to interns or staff.
photo: Loriann Garner
Production: Outsourcing & Fulfillment (Fashion/Costume)
Rather than making the jewellery with your hands, you can elect to have your designs manufactured by someone else. This method is not ideal for fine, custom, or OOAK jewellery, but is cost-effective for fashion/costume jewellery produced in larger quantities. There are a few options for outsourcing:
- American/local manufacturing: higher cost, less choice, “made in America/made local” appeal, quicker ship times, easier communication, easier to verify reputation. Find a manufacturer: Makers’ Row, MFG
- Overseas manufacturing: lower costs, more options (material and process), less stringent labour standards (sometimes), potential communication barriers. Find a manufacturer: Alibaba
The most hands-off production method involves sending your designs to a fulfillment company like DazzleMark or Zazzy Live, which operate much like print-and-fulfil t-shirt/merch app, Printful. Your original designs are recreated in stainless steel, wood, plastic, gold and silver and shipped directly to your customers.
Materials & Tools
There are several online resources for wholesale jewellery making equipment, tools and supplies including precious gemstones and raw metals.
Get started here:
- Wholesale Jewelry Supply Co.
- Fire Mountain Gems (Swarovski crystals, pearls, unique beads)
- Rio Grande (metalworking equipment and supplies)
- AliExpress and Alibaba
- Gem Select (wholesale precious and semi-precious stones)
- JewelrySupply.com (Displays)
I spoke to Gillian Johnson of Hawkly Jewellery about her own sources:
“I have found a lot of my suppliers through word of mouth—don't be afraid to ask other designers where they find their supplies. My favourite place to source the newest stones and silver findings is the Tucson Gem and Jewelry Show which happens annually during the first two weeks of February. It is obviously an absolute treat to head down there, but I promise it will not disappoint. There are thousands of vendors from all over the world.”
Don't be afraid to ask other designers where they find their supplies.
photo: Dear Rae
If you elect to learn a specialized skill like gem setting, there are plenty of jewellery education resources, including formal classes and online tutorials. Look for local workshops and programs, or start with these online resources:
- Top 10 Jewellery Design Schools in the World
- Metal and Jewellery Arts Schools in the US, Compared
- London Jewellery School Online
- Howcast: How to Make Jewellery (Video Tutorials)
- Craftsy (Online Classes)
- Annie’s Craft Store (Online Classes)
Workspace & Team
If you elect to make the jewellery yourself or with a small team, setting up a workshop in your living space follows the general guidelines for home office design, with a few additional considerations:
- Maneuverability: Consider the flow of the space, especially if assembly has multiple steps—do you flow from one station to the next in a logical sequence?
- Safety: some chemicals or heats tools involved in jewellery making require proper ventilation, and safety precautions
- Storage: well-organized multi-compartment storage is essential for small parts
“A jeweller's bench, a flex shaft, and your safety would be the most important considerations. The flex shaft is a wonderful and versatile tool that you can use for drilling, finishing, and polishing your pieces. As for safety, after being warned but still catching my hair in my rotary tool, I strongly advise pulling your hair back and using a face mask and safety goggles as much as possible.” – Gillian Johnson, Hawkly
A jeweller's bench, a flex shaft, and your safety would be the most important considerations.
If your production team is larger or your requirements are a little more complex—as with metalwork or silversmithing workshops—consider commercial space outside of the home. If it’s out of your budget at launch, look into co-op studio space or share the costs of space and equipment with other creatives. Gillian splits her studio with two other businesses.
Space sharing also helps combat entrepreneur isolation.
“After doing Biko full time for a while, I ended up working at American Apparel once a week just to not be lonely at home in my studio, to meet people and get out in the world.” – Corrine Anestopoulos, Biko
Corrine now has a rotating team of part time interns and assembly staff. As you scale your jewellery business, determine the parts of the operation that you enjoy and tap into your own strengths. Hire around those to fill in the gaps.
"For interns, I've reached out to local colleges with really great fashion communication programs. I don't ever look for anyone who is interested in design. What I need is someone to help me free up my time so that I can be designing more. I always look for people interested in the management side of running a fashion business.”
TIP: Start by using a VA service like Fancy Hands to help alleviate some of the mundane aspects of the business.
Product Photography for Jewellery
We’ve told you before: product photography in ecommerce is extremely important. In a lot of cases, with a very simple lighting setup, you can achieve great DIY on-white photos of your products, even with your iPhone.
Jewellery, however, can be a little more challenging due to its tiny details and often reflective nature.
Don’t skimp on photography, Corrine says, even if you’re on a budget. A professional photographer is skilled at making models feel comfortable, and setting up complicated lighting. Other additions to your photoshoot team include stylists, makeup artists, and models. While working with skilled people will yield better results, it doesn’t have to blow your budget.
“My mom always says, ‘Oh, your friend so-and-so is so pretty. Just take photos of her.’ When people are pretty in real life, they're not necessarily photogenic. You should try to find a model who is actually a model—it doesn't have to cost money. There are always people who are looking to build their book, or who are willing to work for product. It's not about taking advantage of people. You are all new to the game. If you get a group together, join forces, you can create magic together.”
You should try to find a model who is actually a model—it doesn't have to cost money.
It’s also important to offer two views of your products:
- On white: minimizes distraction, and highlights the details and different angles of the piece, offers a clean, consistent look on collection pages. (Note “white” can also mean another solid color or minimal pattern, like the marble in the example below)
- Lifestyle: to show scale on the body, and suggest styling ideas to customers (often great for upsell–combine multiple pieces into one look). These shots can work on product pages or in a lookbook, and are generally better for social media posts
photos: Wolf & Moon
TIP: Partner with complementary apparel brands to reduce photography expenses, or lend your pieces to fashion editors for photo shoots in return for product photos and exposure.
- 10 Common Jewellery Product Photography Mistakes and how to Avoid Them
- The Beginner's Guide to Product Photography
- DIY Product Photography Tips: How to Easily (And Affordably) Capture Beautiful Product Photos
Your Online Store
In a matter of a couple of hours, you can set up a functioning ecommerce store on Shopify. Now that you have your products, branding, and photography nailed down, let’s put it all together.
Consult Shopify resources to help with initial basic setup of your store. But first, sign up for a free trial:
Theme suggestions for jewellery businesses:
Birds N Bones homepage
Examples for jewellery businesses:
- Jewelfie – Allow customers to “try on” jewellery by uploading photos of themselves
- Loox Visual Reviews – collect and add customer photos reviews to your site
- Ring Sizer – help customers determine their correct ring size to eliminate returns (essential for fine or custom)
Product page copy should reflect brand story and include details like sizing, materials (important for metal allergies), and, if applicable, material sources.
Fashion and jewellery are heavily saturated industries—how will customers hear your voice above the noise? Where to spend your marketing dollars will depend on your product, audience, and budget, and may require some trial and error.
For Corrine, she put her money on PR and won:
“In 2011, I realized that there was a lot more competition, so I paid for a re-brand. I bought a new domain and I started working with Shopify. I hired a PR firm to get some press locally and create some buzz because I was like, ‘How are people going to know I'm online?’ It's expensive to work with PR but really, really valuable. It led to the best press I had to date. I sold $5000 of one particular bracelet after it was featured.”
It's expensive to work with PR but really, really valuable.
She has also had success in working with Instagram influencers, bartering product for a dedicated post. Before reaching out, she says, be sure your Instagram curation is strong, so that influencers get a clear idea that your brand aligns with their own:
“Creating a lifestyle around what you do is worth more than anything. I'm personally really into Instagram. I find that helps me with connecting to people and building the face to the brand. If you're not a selfie person, which I'm not, I recommend posting inspirational images and after awhile, you'll realize that you are inspired by a similar stream of things and it tells its own story.”
Biko on Instagram
Pop-up Retail & Artisan Shows
Corrine’s career began when she was invited to share a booth space at a local clothing show to sell her creations. At the time, it was simply a hobby. She sold out in the first day of a 2-day show, validating her designs and helping to turn her hobby into a business.
Small craft shows and pop-ups are not only a great way for emerging brands to gain exposure to built-in audiences and validate an idea—they’re also important for established online businesses, Corrine says:
"I do the One of a Kind Show twice a year, which is a good chance to get out and see customers in person, and get feedback directly. Sample sales are fun too—they're a good way to liquidate older stuff and also invite people into your space and your process.”
Corrine also grew her business initially through consignment and wholesale agreements which she gained by approaching local retailers in person. Cold calling has a high rejection risk, but you just need one "yes" to get started.
The Silver Lining
Many successful jewellery designers and merchants made their debut as a side gig. Small-scale production means you can get designing from your kitchen table. Go for gold!
“Jewellery is a very saturated market but I think the best way to stand out is to be authentic, trust your design instincts, and listen to your customers.” – Gillian Johnson, Hawkly