How to Quit Your Job and Become a Jewelry Maker
If you want to learn how to sew your own clothes, you need a sewing machine. If you want to learn how to paint a canvas, you need paint and a canvas. But getting into the art of jewelry making can be a bit more intimidating. We’re not just talking knotted friendship bracelets here. We’re talking about the people who are designing your engagement ring or hand-crafting that family heirloom. Like, where do you even start?
The Jewelry Pro: Altana Frantz
Altana’s Etsy shop is full of everything from dainty studs to showstopping engagement rings. She’s always been creative, but finding her way to making money from her love of three-dimensional design took more than inspiration. It took hard work.
For Altana, making is a way of life. She said, “My siblings and I have artists for parents, so we had a very rich, creative childhood. Although I did not intend for it to be my career at the time, I did make a tremendous about of jewelry when I was young.” She wasn’t only interested in jewelry. In grade school, she was using her dad’s power tools to make anything she could dream up.
Altana is all about keeping things simple with a focus on craftsmanship, and she loves stacking. She said, “My first jewelry memories were my mom’s jingles and sparkles. My mom is an OG when it comes to stacking jewelry. She had her rings stacked high and even wore upper knuckle rings in the ’80s.”
Even while she was studying sculpture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she was making time to teach herself new techniques to pursue her passion for finding beauty. Altana said, “The desire to continue learning is what drives my creativity and my career.” After realizing her knack for sculpture, she enrolled in goldsmithing school in San Francisco.
Make a Plan. It takes a lot of gumption to start a business, and even with her passion for sculpture, Altana was hesitant to jump right into a business. But when she hit a crossroads, she decided to take a leap. She didn’t do it blindly; before she started selling, Altana picked out her target market, so she’d know who she was making jewelry for. She tested out which designs sold best online and at trade shows.
Altana even took a business class so she could “create a roadmap” to grow. She said, “Writing a business plan was one of the best things that I did for myself.” She found out how much money she needed to break even, so she was more prepared for the journey. The more Altana learns about the business side of things, the more she can concentrate on complex jewelry making.
Keep Your Business Lean. While Altana was learning what people did and didn’t want, she didn’t make anything in excess. This freed up some of her cash to invest in quality tools while her clientele was growing. Altana has some advice before you take the leap though: “If your initial startup funds do not cover your cost of living after paying your business overhead, you will need to keep some sort of a job while starting your business.” That’s one of those lessons she learned the tough way, though it forced her to work even harder.
After You Create, You Have to Sell. Before going into jewelry making, Altana said, “I’ve worked for a decade in customer service, sales and marketing positions. When I was younger, I held some very strange sales positions that got me out of my comfort zone.” Being comfortable in sales gives her an extra edge, so maybe those summers working at the mall weren’t all for nothing, right?
Feeling Nervous Is Part of It. Altana’s biggest fears in starting her business were not being successful and being seen as an amateur, but she said, “Perseverance is a wonderful characteristic to live by. Fear will always be a part of this process.” You’ll never stop having new challenges, but the more of them you face, the better you’ll know how to roll with the punches.
Give Your Products Meaning. When people are buying a piece of jewelry from Altana, she aims to give them a “genuine, emotional experience.” Especially if you’re talking about engagement rings, because if any piece of jewelry is going to carry a lot of emotion, it’s that: “The pieces that I make for engagement surprises tend to be the most exciting and intricate work that I do. It’s truly amazing being able to participate in such an intimate, joy-filled experience with my clients.” She said when she creates a one-of-a-kind piece, it’s more difficult, but all the more rewarding.
Don’t Be Afraid of Growth. When it’s time to go bigger with your business, make a plan and go for it. Altana is in a transition right now, trying to make her brand more visible and market on a national scale. In the beginning, Etsy was 90% of her business, but as she goes to more trade shows and puts her brand out there in more places, it’s now about 75% of her business. She’s getting ready to launch a fine jewelry line, which we can’t wait to check out! You can peek in on her progress via her Instagram account.
Talk to Your Customers. Learn From Your Customers. Altana does not sell rough drafts. To start a piece, she engineers a vision in different ways and creates multiple models so she can pick and choose what’s working and what’s not. In addition to selling online she also sells at trade shows and in boutiques, so she’s able to see how customers are actually interacting with her designs, which dictates how she displays and sells each piece. She said, “With every transaction, I learn more information that adds to my collective knowledge of sales within my industry.”
Keep It Ethical. All of Altana’s materials are recycled, eco-friendly, environmentally safe, sustainable and ethically mined. She’s a big proponent of the idea that, when you have the option, why not make the ethical choice? Even if she makes less money with each purchase, Altana cares about making informed purchases that she and her customers can feel good about.
Don’t Rely on Trends. Altana loves that people are now seeking out smaller brands and “no longer equating [luxury] with flaunting labels and obsessing about ‘blingy’ jewelry.” And she loves seeing more women designers in the industry, especially because women are its main consumers.
Find a Mentor. Altana’s final words of advice are: Find someone who’s already doing what you want to do and learn from them. She said, “You’d be surprised how many people would love to assist you in your success.”
PERFECT YOUR SKILLS
If you’re looking for some serious jewelry education, and you’re in the San Francisco area, Altana recommends Revere Academy for divine guidance and inspiration. If you’re elsewhere in the world, we’ve found just what you need to get going in the jewelry world.
1. Get Your Feet Wet: We’re biased, but we think Brit Kits are a great way to test the waters if you’re going into this whole jewelry thing as a total rookie. You can go geo with a wire design or boho with leather. Whatever you decide, the kits come with everything you need to make a statement piece of jewelry, and — who knows? — maybe start a whole new career. ($25-35 per kit)
2. A Hefty Overview: Our very own Brit Morin is something of a jewelry fiend herself. In her “Amateur to Artist” Skillshare class, she’ll guide you from getting the tools you need and making repairs, to creating your own statement necklace from scratch. (Check out Brit + Co e-classes here, $96 for annual Skillshare subscription to view all classes)
3. Get Your Solder On: When you’re getting into jewelry making, you’ll become a total tool junkie, and one of the most fun tools to use is the soldering gun, but first you should know what you’re doing. Get soldering insight from this 14-year jewelry pro who will teach you not only how to solder, but also how to start sanding and texturing your pieces, like a boss. ($25 for a 6-part class)
4. A Bit of Charm: If you want to start your own personal charm collection to enhance your jewelry, working with silver metal clay may is a good skill to have. This class covers the materials you need and how to use the torch to create a shiny, unique bauble. ($29 for a 5-part class)
5. Let’s Talk Business: It’s not all beads and bangles. If you were taking mental notes from Altana, you know that managing your business is a huge part of your potential success. Kari Chapin is a maker guru, and she’s teaching an online class on how to start your jewelry business. From finding your niche market to making a display, she’s got you covered. ($29 for a 5-part class)
We hope this column will continue to bring you the advice, inspiration and skills to go forth and create a life you’re stoked about.
What passion would you like to see covered in your Live Your Love Series? Let us know in the comments!