Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The price of exclusivity?

The British Museum shows off treasure buried for 1000 years

From time to time, we hear about hauls of treasure being found, dating back a thousand or more years, such as this one described here in this 2007 article from the Guardian. Do you think your jewellery will still be around in 1000 years time? Would you want it to be? There has been a growing trend in the western world for "throw away" fashion, buy something cheaply and then if it gets ruined in the wash or falls apart, no problem, just throw it away go and buy another one. But this wanton waste of resources is not sustainable. Quite apart from the drain on the planet's resources in producing the textiles that are then discarded in landfill, the way the world's economy is heading, it is no longer financially viable to produce such cheap and shoddy garments. Even poor sweatshop workers are feeling the pinch!
Fortunately, this trend seems to be changing, and rather than buying cheaply now, and never mind the consequences, shoppers are being more careful with their money and in turn becoming more discerning with their tastes. They can no longer afford to be replacing worn out clothing after only one season, and are looking towards better-made, more classical styles, and as result, are often looking for products that are made a little closer to home.
I'm hoping that these trends will have a positive effect on my jewellery sales. After all, would you rather buy something that is truly unique, where you have had a relationship, of sorts with the person who made it, who you can turn to if something goes wrong? Do you think the Chinese seller on Ebay would be interested if you lost one of your earrings and needed another made to match the remaining one? Do you think they'd still be around to take care of you if you needed to repair one of their $10 "silver" rings?
The thing is, I have been seduced by buying inexpensive jewellery, too. Who hasn't? I recently bought a fine (.999) silver bangle from a shop in town. It was made in South East Asia and is really lovely. Now, I only paid something like €40 (£34) for it, but today I started thinking about if I had tried to make and sell a similar bangle. It weighs 25g, and with today's silver prices, the metal alone comes in at something like £25 (€30), and that's without all the work that's gone into making it. A bangle like this would take me at least a morning, or 3-4 hours to make. If I bought it for €40, I can only imagine what the shop bought it for and in turn how much the poor silversmith who made it, earned. I feel really guilty about buying it now! However, a similar thing is happening to me every day, thanks to the horrendous rise in metal prices and the state of the economy.
Today, I was comparing how much a shopping basket from my metal supplier cost in 2006 and how much it costs now. This is an example of stock I bought in November 2006:

Sterling silver 1mm round wire 2m             £6.30
Sterling silver 0.8mm round wire 2m          £4.33
Sterling silver 2mm round wire 2m             £23.26
9k medium solder wire 5cm                        £0.60
9k easy solder wire 5cm                             £0.60
Sterling silver sheet 0.9mm 1cm x 50cm    £16.12
9k sheet 0.2mm 4mm x 30cm                    £16.02
Total                                                            £67.23
VAT 17.5%                                                  £78.99

And the same basket today would cost:

Sterling silver 1mm round wire 2m             £14.11
Sterling silver 0.8mm round wire 2m          £9.45
Sterling silver 2mm round wire 2m             £53.26
9k medium solder wire 5cm                        £1.65
9k easy solder wire 5cm                             £1.65
Sterling silver sheet 0.9mm 1cm x 50cm    £38.51
9k sheet 0.2mm 4mm x 30cm                    £42.56
Total                                                            £161.69
VAT 20%                                                     £194.03

So, a big leap. But have my prices increased to reflect this? Well, no.
My costs go up and up, my prices stay the same. However, my jewellery making, like the throw away culture we have, is no longer sustainable. I, in effect work for nothing. Would you do that? I suppose not. Everyone wants jewellery at South East Asia prices or the prices offered by dodgy "here today, gone tomorrow" Chinese sellers on Ebay.
So, I return to my original question. Would you want your jewellery to still be around in 1000 years time? I can't promise that either I or my jewellery have that much life in us, but speaking for my jewellery at least, I'd like to think it will stand the test of time. The fact is, if you don't start looking closer to home to buy your stuff, and you buy junk, then you're cheating yourself and you're cheating the environment and you're cheating your own economy. Think about it this Christmas.






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