Sunday, September 2, 2012

Your Labor Day

First order of business is to report that my little patient came home Saturday and is doing well. She will have the pic line to her heart for her antibiotics for 2 or more weeks at home. She will probably be able to go to school with it. We're hoping.

Also, my sale at Etsy ended, but there are 2 more weeks at my web store


Labor Day. In America, we celebrate our own labor on the first Monday in September. But, like a lot of holidays in our society, it has turned into more an excuse for a big sale than for a time for reflection. This Labor Day, I'm putting some thought into my labor and sharing it with you.

In my business, the business of making and selling jewelry, people use many different formulas to come up with a price for their work. The key ingredient is always labor. How much time did you spend working on it? Rather than talk about the price of a piece or the wage we charge for ourselves, let's talk about how much labor really goes into what we do. Whether we are selling jewelry, or making for friends and family or just for the pleasure of it, it is still good to know what is actually going into our handcrafted treasures.

I have begun to get into the habit of taking ALL my working time into account. I used to under report my time, but not anymore. That would be like working off the clock.

I'll use me as an example and look at what goes into a piece. I mostly make pendants with cabochons. For ease, let's say I found a really great stone on eBay and got a great deal at 15.00. Really? Ooops! I mean 20.00 with shipping. Let's say it took me about a half hour (pretty conservative time, actually) to find it and watch the bidding to the close. So, my project just started off with a half hour labor.

My example stone came in the mail and I looked it over. I decided that I wanted to work on it right away because it really inspired me. I sit with it and sketch ideas and percolate for about 30 minutes. I haven't touched any wire, yet, but the project is at 1 hour already.

Before I do any actual work, I set up my area for the project at hand (a very simple wrap). I have calculated my approximate wire needs in the last step and now I prepare my wires. I usually straighten, clean and twist them all. I'll call this step 15 minutes. (1 hour 15 minutes total.)

Now on to the wrap. Like I said this is a pretty simple wrap and it goes off without a hitch. I'll say this took 45 minutes. Most people would think of this stage as the only stage to count for labor. But, I'm really not finished by a long shot. (2 hours total.)

I take the piece and file a few ends, test a few things and make a couple of simple adjustments before I toss it into the tumbler. I won't count the tumbling time. But, this small step does add about 10 minutes to the project.(2 hours 10 minutes total)

While the piece is tumbling, I clean up and get set up for the next piece. I usually put everything away before I start a fresh project. I'll call this 5 minutes. (2 hours 15 minutes total.)

When I am done tumbling, I pull the piece out and clean it with a brush and dish soap to get any residue off before I give it a patina, which I almost always do. So, I prepare the LOS and set the piece in fresh, hot tap water before adding the LOS. In a matter of seconds, I am rinsing the piece and drying it. This is a relatively quick process, say 10 minutes. (2 hours 25 minutes total.)

Next, I need to take steel wool and brass brush to the piece, wash it off again and then polish it. 15 more minutes. (2 hours 40 minutes total time.)

Finished? Nope! Now I need pictures because I sell online. This can be a long process, but for the example, let's say a series of 10 good editable pictures takes me about 20 minutes. Add to that the post work of 10 minutes for a total of 30 minutes. It could be a little more or less but this a pretty good number. (3 hours 10 minutes total.)

For selling, let's say I did a little research and spent some time writing a good description and uploading the pictures. I think a simple piece would be about 10 minutes. Now the total is up to 3 hours 20 minutes.

You could add anything you left out or deduct some time if you think it was unreasonable (say you were interrupted during the wrapping phase for 5 minutes).

You should also add a small amount of time to compensate for maintenance you routinely do. Say, you recondition your pliers every month or so, or change your tumbler water or whatever. Consider, the time that you spend sourcing and buying materials, too. You can't just add that to the piece you finished directly after ordering. You have to break that down over lots of pieces. I'll add 10 minutes to pieces to cover all the in between stuff, which when you think about all the miscellaneous little things that you do they actually add up to a lot time. 

I left out the time it takes me getting things ready to mail because I call that the cost of doing business. But, you can certainly add that in.   

The value of your labor in any given piece is the amount of actual time you worked multiplied by your hourly rate. My number for this simple project is 3 hours 30 minutes.

I used to say that I could finish a piece in under an hour. After really thinking about it, I realized that I was working off the clock for about two and a half hours! I sure wouldn't do that in a 9-5 job and I certainly shouldn't do it to myself.

Happy Labor Day!!!

Fire Agate- go ahead and click for a bigger view. It's really nice. :)



  1. Tela, this is such an awesome post! I never thought about how much work really goes into a piece of jewelry.

    Honestly, if artists accounted/billed for their time the way lawyers do, we wouldn't have the "starving artist" stereotype.

    1. Exactly, Sarah! Let's count our time the way lawyers do! LOL! That should be our mantra. :) Thank you!

  2. Tela, I have been thinking a lot about pricing lately, as I am almost ready to post a bunch of pieces for sale on Etsy. This post was SO helpful to me! Especially the part about how we sell ourselves short sometimes ... literally! Thanks again for the encouragement I always get from reading your blog :o)


    1. Good, I'm glad this was helpful. :) I think we tend to under appreciate the time and effort that goes into our work.

  3. And that fire agate pendant is gorgeous! :o)

  4. Hey Tela, So relieved and happy your little one is back home with you. What an ordeal this has been!

    Thanks for sharing how you break down your labor costs. There is so much involved from the start to finish of a piece.

    The fire agate seems to glow from within!

  5. Hi Christine :) Yes, we have been through an ordeal with this. But, as they say, all's well that ends well. I can't see any set backs at this point. YAY!

    Thank you! :)

  6. Tela, I'm glad to hear that your granddaughter is home. One can only imagine how much she feel comforted by being in her own room with her family. Thank you for the update.

    It is truly amazing to see how you have broken down the process of making and posting of your work. It is really time consuming and although it is a labor of love, it does involve the mind, body and spirit to complete.


    1. Yes, Susan, she was getting depressed in the hospital. She's very happy to be home and have life back to normal. She even gets to go to school. We weren't sure she would be able to, but it turns out our school district says YES she can. YAY! She really likes school, so that made her real happy, too.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments.