Why is so much that’s good for us heinously awful?

Why is so much that's good for us heinously awful?

Finally, after record procrastination could not be prolonged (there are only so many to-do lists that can be re-written), it was tax paperwork day today.

Tasks I put off tend to hang around, stinking like an old kipper the longer I leave them, but I’ve noticed that they often don’t, in the end, take much time or effort to complete.

And the payoff is that the space in my head that was being occupied by ever-so-slight and almost-subconscious fretting about the admin task is now free. At least until next year.

To illustrate the point that not everything that’s good for us is heinously awful, here are the banana, date and apricot cinnamon muffins that I managed to bake (probably as a result of freeing effect of ticking something off my list).

They’re no-wheat, no-dairy and no-sugar. Rather rudely, Mr W calls them my “no-fun muffins”. So that’s more for me, then.


Non, je ne regrette rien

Sparked off by a weird dream the other night about a long-unthought-of ex (hello Richard), I’ve been musing today about my life path.  Pretty heavy for a Tuesday, no?

It’s always fun to see what those we’ve lost touch with are up to (this is my justification for a leetle trip down memory lane):  I was amazed to see several of the people I worked with over 20 years ago at Mishcon de Reya solicitors are still at the firm – and doing brilliantly well for themselves (hello James – and before I get my butt sued, may I make absolutely clear that James and I were just colleagues at MdR – we were in the same intake of trainee solicitors, and both stayed on after our articles ended.  Him rather longer than me, as it turns out.)  I remember James on our first day, fresh out of college, so it’s great to see how well he’s doing (4 years as head of litigation at MdR, and now executive partner… impressive).

The firm (and especially my charming and erudite boss, Anthony) gave me a terrific training, but I couldn’t toe the line obediently enough to be happy longterm at MdR.  After a contretemps with a partner who (in my recollection) was pissed off at me daring to leave work at 10pm on my birthday (these were the go-getting 1990s, remember), I quit in a huff – somewhat unwisely, given I’d just got a mortgage.  Thankfully Anthony offered to let me stay on a few weeks until my new job at BPP law school started.

Within two years, I was head of litigation at BPP, but serious health issues cut my law lecturing career short.  It’s easy to think “what if?” – what if I had stayed at MdR, what if I hadn’t got ill?  Would I still be a lawyer, with jewellery-making as a hobby?  I’d certainly be a lot wealthier in money terms, but would I be happier?  Somehow, I doubt it.

Since then, I’ve been leading a wonderful but rather split career, as a jewellery designer-maker and jewellery school tutor, and as a homeopath, always keeping the two lives completely separate, but I reckon it’s time to come clean about the fact that I enjoy helping people with their health and happiness issues, as well as doing the jewellery stuff, so in the interests of integration, here’s my new FlavorsMe page.

It’s not been the most usual – or direct – career path, but I’m happy to say that it is, indeed, as the lady sang.  At least today.  I may say differently next time the washing machine breaks down and there’s no cash to fix it.

To patina, or not to patina…

That is the question. I’m working on some new designs using gemstones and crystals – very tempted to oxidise the lot. Personally, I’m a big fan of oxidised (antiqued) silver, but my work tends to sell best in most places with a polished finish.

* Thinks *

(Ooooh check me out, tussling with the artist’s eternal dilemma: whether to stay true to the creative vision, or follow the money.)

I did overspend today on this gorgeous handmade sycamore bowl with indigo blue interior (don’t ask, pricey, but worth every penny, and hey – I’m supporting a Somerset-based designer-maker, right?). So maybe wise to keep some pieces shiny, to restock the coffersSycamorePot.

Unethical? You decide…

I had a call yesterday from a well-known deal-of-the-day promotion company (let’s call them company A), keen to run a discounted Sussex Jewellery School promotion for their members.  I told them that I dealt with their main competitor (company B) on one occasion in the past, and seemed to remember that company B’s contract terms (draconian IMHO) prohibit me from running deals with anyone else for some years afterwards.

Company A then emailed me saying they “guarantee” that company B would take “zero action” against the Sussex Jewellery School for breach of contract if we decided to jump ship and work with company A.

I used to be a litigation solicitor and law lecturer way back when, and though my legal knowledge is mega out of date, I’m pretty sure I remember a few basic principles of commercial contract law.  Whilst the prohibition in the contract with company B might be considered to be in restraint of trade (and therefore unenforceable or void), there’s no way one company (A) can guarantee whether a different company (B) will sue a third party or not.  And, generally-speaking, the courts are, I think, unwilling to set aside contract terms freely agreed by commercial trading partners.

In my view, it’s pretty unethical of company A to promise me no comeback from a third party if I breach my contract with that third party.  After all, an unwise small business owner could rely on company A’s promises, and could end up sued by company B.  However unlikely, this isn’t impossible, and there’d be no comeback on company A for their erroneous and misleading promise.  It’d be the small business owner who paid the price.

A cynic might deduce that company A would promise anything to nab themselves a lucrative deal (and I doubt company B are any better) – though I couldn’t possibly comment of course.

Fortunately for me, discounting the Sussex Jewellery School’s top-quality and carefully-priced timetabled courses doesn’t make much business sense, so I won’t be signing up.


Exploded silver

Image of exploded silver cufflinks by Mike Shorer

Image by Mike Shorer Jewellery

Just had a call from Mike Shorer, a local goldsmith, and checked out his website:   “These are a pair of cufflinks from an unusual new range, ‘Exploded Silver’. I have come up with a way of making silver ‘explode’. This is, frankly, a bloody dangerous way of creating jewellery but I am prepared to take the risk.

Genius. See Mike’s work at http://www.mikeshorerjewellery.com/html/sussex-jewellery.html

Looky, looky at my Facebooky

Looky, looky at my Facebooky

Call me a bit of an old tart (actually, please don’t) but I’ve been vastly enjoying getting fairly instant feedback on design ideas via my Facebook page lately.  Sure, FB friends and fans will ‘like’ a lot of pics just to be nice (thank you for being so nice!), but it’s great to have a chance to see how this (admittedly somewhat biased) focus group respond to changes like new earring presenation cards, for example.

Being a busy bee

Image of sterling silver bee earrings with lemon jade gemstone dangles

Maybe I’m channelling the bees too much?

Having cleared my diary this summer to tackle a health problem, now that the little op I’m due has been postponed, I could have a really good rest.  But you know me, right?  Somehow I’ve found myself sucked into getting a proper online shop set up, so although I’m definitely taking it easy, I’m still being a bit of a busy bee, much to Mr W’s chagrin.

I do know it’s important (for me more than most) to take proper rest, and I have spent a lot of this week snoozing in the garden, with the buzzing of the honeybees (in daytime) and the bumblebees (during early evenings) that love the lavender we grow, honest.

It does take me ages to unwind and settle into R&R mode, though I think I’m getting there now.  In fact, why am I indoors writing this when I could be on that sun lounger?

Please… price properly, people

Pricing handmade work properly is always a concern for makers who book onto the jewellery business workshop I teach in Sussex a couple of times a year.  Generally, makers are nervous about charging properly for their work, but it breaks my heart to see talented makers charging prices that risk them never making a profit, or ending up disillusioned and burned out.

Costings are often a thorny issue:  inexperienced jewellers often cost a piece per component – fine if you buy a pack of 20 clasps and sell 20 necklaces made with the clasps, but if you end up only selling 1 necklace, the component cost for the clasp isn’t  1/20th of the packet price – it’s the full price.  Yes, you have 19 unused clasps in stock for future use, but the cost of these has to be set against any profit for the necklace you did sell.

Sterling silver, fabricated, £49.95 per pair

Sterling silver, fabricated, £49.95 per pair

New makers often baulk at the need to fix a trade price (the price they can make and wholesale to galleries or shops at, and still make a profit) and a retail price (usually around double the trade price, to allow a profit margin for stockists).  The truth is that too many makers unwisely sell their work direct to the public at trade prices – until they wise up and realise that they’re never going to be able to work with galleries and retailers successfully like this.

If you sell your work direct to the public (from your website or a selling forum like Etsy) and via a stockist (and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t), it’s really not done to undercut your stockist by selling cheaper than they can.  Level pricing across your various selling venues is the way to go – after all, why should a gallery promote you as a maker if the thanks they get is you undercutting them and nicking the sales?  And they won’t take kindly to hearing from customers that your work is available more cheaply via your own website.

The standard 100% mark-up on top of trade prices that many galleries charge might seem extortionate to the uninitiated, but galleries and shops generally have very high retail rents, business rates, heating, lighting, insurance, phone and broadband fees, staff costs, card payment machine and website costs – these add up to hundreds of pounds every week, whether customers are buying, or not.  My partner runs Cuckoo Cuckoo, a beautiful contemporary crafts gallery on the South East coast, and believe me, we consider he’s doing well if he can cover the rent and other outgoings – and that’s before paying himself anything.  In quiet months, his own salary can’t always be paid – not an unusual story – the well-established Weekend Gallery round the corner couldn’t get through these tough times, and very sadly has recently closed.  Running a gallery is definitely a labour of love.

It does make me go “Grrrr”” when makers undervalue their work, and don’t price it properly, claiming they don’t need to make any money as it’s “just a hobby”.  Spare a thought for the makers who do need to earn a crust from their making – by pricing at or less than the true cost of the piece, you’re skewing the market’s expectation of price, and scuppering professional makers’ chances of getting a fair price for their work.

Plus, time and time I get told my my jewellery students that, although it was a confidence boost to sell at all initially (even to friends and friends’ friends at cheap prices), it established a precedent so their contacts then baulk at paying a fair price for the same work, further down the line.

For obvious reasons, makers rarely talk about costs.  But I think the public needs to know the actual cost of that lovingly- and locally-made unique handmade treasure they’re admiring in a gallery window.  Take the Solo Bird stud earrings in the pic, for example – at £49.95 per pair, they’re not exactly cheap.  Remember, though, when sold via a gallery, I get half this sum (eventually – often after many months – but that’s another story).  My cut is £24.97 of the retail price.  I have to buy the precious metal for the earrings for this (around £12).  From the £12.97 left from the retail price, I have to pay for Special Delivery shipping to the gallery (or petrol to deliver the work, if I’m near enough), pay for the presentation card and packaging, plus pay my studio overheads, including rent and electricity, website costs, phone, and so on. Bear in mind that I haven’t allowed anything for the not inconsiderable time taken to actually make and polish each pair yet, and you see why I have been known to get a bit narky about the need for proper pricing in crafts.