How to Design an Effective Jewelry Collection: Part 2

Marlene Richey recommends creative exercises for honing your aesthetic and discusses how to identify your ultimate customer.

Authored by Marlene Richey

Last edited: 9/16/2019
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How to Design an Effective Jewelry Collection:
Part 2

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” —Steve Jobs
“Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.” —Coco Chanel
“Design is a way of life, a point of view. It involves the whole complex of visual communications: talent, creative ability, manual skill, and technical knowledge. Aesthetics and economics, technology and psychology are intrinsically related to the process.” —Paul Rand

In my first article on Designing a Collection, or as one student calls it, Demystifying Design, I covered being a designer, creating a collection or body of work and some basic design principles. In this second article, I want to cover the act of creating a collection, how to take your work to the next level, what you might want to think about as you design your work and who is your ultimate customer.

The blog article will cover more comprehensive thoughts about being a designer and designing, as well as touching on the complex, fascinating and debatable subject of the difference between being an artist and being a designer. There are literally hundreds of websites, quotes and blogs about this very subject, so you can read up about it before the next blog is posted, and I would love it if you shared your thoughts and opinions.

Necklace from designer Kirsten Rothe’s Cube Collection
Necklace from designer Kirsten Rothe’s Cube Collection

So let’s get down to the work of designing a collection. If you are the designer, you are also an engineer. You must make sure your pieces sit evenly and hang right around the neck, ears and arms. They can’t be too heavy or flip over. They also need to be easy to put on and get off and require no complicated findings that need a manual to operate. And you don’t want your pieces to snag on the customer’s hair, clothing or skin. So, in essence, your jewelry needs to be user-friendly. You are an innovator. You are bringing new concepts, designs, visions and mechanics to the world of jewelry. And you are also a customer advocate, bringing to your audience work they will find appealing and beautiful to wear (or give). You understand their needs and what they value and you fill them.

Remember that to be a designer you need to have the ultimate customer in your mind during the entire design process. You need to consider usability and the function of each piece. Your design’s purpose must be self-evident and not need instructions or explanations.

Creating a Collection from the Beginning

A second necklace from Kirsten Rothe’s Cube Collection.
A second necklace from Kirsten Rothe’s Cube Collection. It uses the same elements present in the first necklace in a different way.

I mentioned in the first blog article that I wanted you to do 40 thumbnail sketches using a single element. This will help you discover just how many ways you can stretch a single, simple idea. This part can be very creative. To be able to find new and exciting ways to create around a single element makes you start to view your designs as more than just a single piece but as a collection, the beginning of a look, your “look.” At the end of this blog, I am attaching a merchandising list that should help you visualize different ways you can use your “element.”

The second part of the process of creating a collection is to collect words that describe your work. Collecting words is one of the first steps in knowing your work. You want visual words, words that paint a picture, words that tell a story. Instead of “inspired by nature” use starfish, branches, snowflakes. Instead of “unique” use fashion-forward, elegant, classic, whimsical. And don’t edit your list of words, let it grow. Your word list will help you understand who you are, where you are going and what you are designing and to be able to vocalize it. Collect and write down at least 25 words.

A third necklace from Kirsten Rothe’s Cube Collection.
A third necklace in Kirsten Rothe’s Cube Collection uses the same element in yet another way.

As I stated before, you are not limited to one collection. You may have any number of collections, but they all should work well together and have a similar aesthetic, style, process and materials. You might be able to use the same 25 words for more than one collection since they should have a similar feel.

Who is your Customer?

Back in a 2013 blog, I covered how to find and attract your ideal customer in depth. But I want to go over the salient points again. When you visualize who your ultimate customers are, answer these tangible questions about who they are:

  1. What is their age?
  2. Are they local, national, international customers?
  3. Are they in the northern, eastern, western, or southern parts of the U.S.?
  4. Are they male or female?
  5. What is their education level?
  6. What is their income level?
  7. Are they urban, rural or suburban?
  8. Do they have special interests? Horses, gardeners, mothers, brides, LGBT etc.?
  9. Are they collectors or occasional purchasers?
  10. What generation are they from? Baby boomers? High school students? Generation X? Y? Millennials?
  11. Are they seasonal or year-round clients?
  12. What churches, organizations, schools do they belong to?
  13. What types of events do they attend?
  14. Where do they buy their jewelry and what experience do they want?

The answers to these questions will give you a better view of your specific customers and how best to get your jewelry in front of them. Then try to see your work through your customers’ eyes. What do they like? What draws them in? What is their aesthetic? This will all help you become a better designer.

Pulling It Altogether

Earrings in Kirsten Rothe’s Cube Collection.
Earrings in Kirsten Rothe’s Cube Collection.

Once you have a collection and you know who your customer is, you are ready to begin your design journey. You can start to understand that design Is about the whole experience. You can start to see the details of your work and other products that have been designed. What is working and what isn’t? And why? Start looking at the world with new eyes and a new understanding of design and how much it impacts every aspect of our lives. It is truly about the whole experience.

Merchandising List

This list will be helpful when you want to stretch you line even further. Refer back to it often.

  • Pins — Suit/lapel, hat pin, stick, pin/necklace
  • Cufflinks — tie tacks, studs, tie bar/clip
  • Charms — Bracelets/necklaces, beads, drink (wine glasses)
  • Earrings — Posts/studs, clip-ons, dangles, chandelier, hoops, wires, pierced, ear cuff, ear climbers
  • Piercings — Nose, tongue, lip, eye brow, other
  • Bracelets — Charm, bangle, link, cuff, leather cord, beaded, tube with ball
  • Rings — Stacking, center stone, wedding, engagement, fashion, costume, with charm, expandable wrap, mother’s rings
  • Bands — Commitment, stacking
  • Pendants — Symbolic, chains, bolo, locket, adjustable chain, coil
  • Necklaces — Wow, chain, lengths (double over), pearls, beaded, lariat, ribbon or cord, coil
  • Miscellaneous — Hair lips/combs, barrettes, money clips, buttons, bridal party jewelry, children’s jewelry, belt buckles



Marlene Richey started a jewelry design firm with no prior business experience. During the 35 years since, Marlene has run a wholesale business and a retail gallery, participated in hundreds of craft and trade shows, and traveled across America selling the pair’s jewelry. She has served on the boards of SNAG, CJDG, Maine Craft Association, Metalwerx and WJA. Marlene consults with artists, teaches workshops and was professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Maine College of Art. She is also a contributor to various jewelry and craft publications and wrote an award-winning book on running a jewelry business, Profiting by Design. Have a business question for Marlene? Leave it in the comments section below and she’ll get back to you.


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