Is Business more important than Art?

I recently had dinner with an old friend that I had not seen for more than twenty years. He was my goldsmith when I had a retail store and I can honestly say he is the best jeweller I have ever known. His attention to detail and perfectionist technique coupled with the most laid-back attitude made it a pleasure to work with him. He hand-crafted many fine pieces of beautiful custom jewellery to the delight of my customers.

After leaving my employ he opened a trade shop. He found himself doing detail work for an internationally known artist building jewellery that sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. During that time he mastered Champlevé enamelling and went on to develop his own line of artistic jewellery, successfully selling his work at art and jewellery shows throughout the US.

I was excited to see him and discuss the possibility of purchasing some of his work. However I was in for a big shock…he has not touched a torch or a piece of jewellery in over five years. He is through with the jewellery business forever. He went back to school and is now a Registered Nurse working night shift in a hospital. Of course I had to find out why he made such a major career move when he had so much talent to offer the jewellery world.

He told me it was a combination of burn-out and disappointment with the business of jewellery. He sold both retail and wholesale. At wholesale he always left enough on the table for a retailer to make a fair profit.

We need our artists

We need our artists

His burn-out came from trying to do it all himself…. making the jewellery, traveling to the shows, taking care of the books and all the other things that go into running a business. Because of his intense need for perfection he found it difficult to farm out the work to trade shops. Other successful artists routinely focused on design and let others do the hard work…and their quality inevitably suffered because of it. He could not let that happen to his art.

His disappointment came from dealing with wholesale clients that didn’t think a fair profit was enough. They wanted lower prices, longer terms and memos. After all, this is what all the major jewellery factories offer. These demands would only lower his profits and increase his management load. All he wanted was to be paid on time and earn a fair wage. Rather than submit to these greedy demands, he left the jewellery industry forever.

In these days of mass-market jewellers and rock-bottom online pricing we often forget that there are still artists that are willing to pour their entire being into creating beauty and quality. They are the heart and soul of our industry and have been for centuries. Without the artists and innovators we would have nothing but factories and mediocre goods.

Please respect our artists and don’t try to squeeze every last penny out of them. Treat them fairly and support their efforts or they will leave us and we all lose. We need them now more than ever if we are to survive.

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