I have a friend in the jewelry biz in Providence, RI. When I was starting out in the biz, he was very kind to me.
He reps for one of many U.S. manufacturer of jewelry findings. These companies have been producing jewelry components–clasps, headpins, tie tacks, ear wires, etc.–for many decades.
And they are hurting.
I don’t understand all the issues. The world of commercial fashion jewelry is a mystery to me, though fashion jewelry is about all I ever buy.
Apparently, the minimalist, tiny jewelry of the late 1980’s and 90’s just about did everyone in. Jewelry sales plummeted, and what was sold was pretty small and simple. I’m personally glad that era is gone for awhile!
The way fashion jewelry is made and marketed has changed drastically, too. Much, much more is imported from overseas, and marked up 3, 4, even more times for resale. It’s hard for small jewelry producers to work with that kind of mark-up in a country where you would hope to at least pay your employees minimum wage and a few benefits.
The hobby jewelry industry has grown exponentially, too. More people than ever are making their own designs, whether for resale at craft shows, wholesale to stores or just for personal use. This is a good thing, actually. Jewelry is BIG again, interesting, collectible. But it also means the actual sales of components are in smaller lots. I buy HUNDREDS of components, not hundreds of thousands. I am pretty small potatoes to the jewelry components industry, and there are thousands more like me.
And the market has become more cost-driven than ever. If components can be made cheaply and quickly overseas and sold here for a fraction of U.S.-made products, people will buy them. As fads and fashion change almost overnight, quick turn around and variety are also the name of the game.
It would seem there is no place for those big ol’ dinosaur American manufacturers of jewelry components anymore.
Unless you care about quality. And choice.
This is not a “buy American!” rant. This is my personal worry about a world that is cost-driven above everything else.
Because ultimately, even if you try to AVOID the cost-driven mindset and buy quality, this “best price” thing can bite you in the butt.
Take a couple of recent headliner examples. It’s turning out that commercial pet food is now mostly made in China, and even if you think you are buying a premium brand for your beloved pet, chances are some shortcuts were made that not only compromised its quality, but perhaps your pet’s health (and life) as well.
It turns out that all those wholesome vitamins and herbal supplements you’ve been taking, because you care about your health and well-being, are probably made in China, too. And many may have the same dangerous quality control issues as uncovered in the recent pet food scandal.
Even though we cared about quality over price, even though we thought we were making good choices, it turns out we actually had NO choice. And very little of the quality we paid a premium for.
My experience with most imported jewelry components has similar threads. The parts look good in the catalogs. Just as nice as American-made products, but soooo much cheaper. What a great buy!
Until you have them in hand and see that they are just not as nicely made.
Or until you go to use them and realize the silver casting is not as well done. I have a whole batch of sterling toggle clasp sets where I have to hand-ream out the silver “sprue”-like stuff clogging the jump rings. It was a fine detail I overlooked until I actually put the parts into production, too late to return them.
Or until you actually sell the items and then have to deal with the returns for faulty parts–clasps that quit working after a few months, or micro-thin silver plating that wears off quickly. THAT was a fun lesson to learn in quality. NOT.
Lately I’ve seen advertisements for gold-filled components that my friend points out simply can’t be MADE in gold-fill. Gold-fill components are a nice-looking and well-priced alternative to gold. Real gold-fill is a kind of sandwich technique, with an actual layer of gold “bread” covering a base metal “filling”. It’s much more durable than gold plating, which is not regulated and so the gold plate can be as thin as a few microns.
But he points out that gold-fill cannot be used in CAST components. Because when the high heat of casting is applied, all the layers melt and blend together. You end up with a discolored glob of gold and base metal, NOT your lovely gold bread sandwich. Components made by casting and cannot possibly be “gold-filled”. They are probably gold-plated at best.
The clasps and findings he showed me are made of cast components.
Are they at least good-quality findings, though probably not gold-filled as advertised? Well, my thinking is, if they are not being truthful about what they are and what the actual gold content is, do I think they are being truthful about their durability?
I’m not a betting girl, but even if I were, that’s not a bet I’d make.
There are overseas components I do trust and use in my work. Sterling silver findings from Israel, Turkey and Italy offer variety and interest, and “work” just as hard as my American-made components. But I’ve learned the hard way to either test first, or ask my friend when it comes to other sources.
And there is a place in the world for cheap or low-quality. Not every piece of jewelry is meant to last forever, or even more than a season.
What bothers me is, if people continue to choose price purely over quality, then someday, when all the American jewelry components can no longer compete with overseas manufacturers, they will fold up their tents and disappear.
And then we will have NO choice.
It’s up to us. It’s not about “buying American” to show our patriotism or “because we should.”
It’s because it’s the right choice all the way around.