Evolving Beads into Bling

Evolving Beads into Bling
by Stephanie Hintz

Courtesy of Handmade Business

When North Carolina jewelry artisan Jay Schiavone, The Artist Jay, started out in the handmade culture, he did not originally have his heart set on creating jewelry. He began designing handmade bead and wire wine glasses in 2007, and upon the urging of many others, decided to explore the opportunity. What Schiavone discovered is an increasing demand for upcycled, unique wearable art.

Jewelry Artist Jay Schiavone ''Everyone bugged me to make jewelry for years, and I fought it, fought it, and fought it,'' began Schiavone. ''Now, I've embraced it.''

Schiavone decided he wanted his jewelry to be as eco-friendly as possible, and most pieces are comprised of 70% post-consumer material. He explained that when he hunts for and salvages wire, he cannot always find the size wire he typically uses, and in those cases must blend in some old with some new. It is a challenge not uncommon in the field of recycled handmade arts.

In his jewelry, Schiavone uses aluminum and copper. However, the copper is known as ''red brass,'' which has zinc in it, lending a gold color to the copper; it's often used as an accent in various pieces.

When he collects the wire, it usually comes in the form of discarded residential wiring and must be cut and cleaned prior to shaping. All unused scraps get recycled back to the salvage centers.

''It actually is considered food-grade aluminum, so it is extremely hypo-allergenic,'' Schiavone touted. ''It's better than jewelry-grade aluminum.''

Growing up, Schiavone was influenced by both his parents. With his father, he restored exotic sports cars and learned to make, build and repair things. He attributes his sense of color and creativity to his mother, a painter.

Schiavone's most challenging collection to create to date is his Meanings Collection. ''Sometimes we use a design that's already out there, like for luck, a four-leaf clover,'' he explained. ''Sometimes we want to design something and assign a meaning to it, and then figure out what we want to say about it. We try to put our own spin on it.''

Each piece in the Meanings Collection comes with a special artist card imprinted with the meaning behind the correlating jewelry design.

Introducing color into some jewelry pieces, Schiavone integrates hand-colored glass in the Silhouette Collection, offering up to 17 different colors to delight his customers’ senses. The abalone and mother-of-pearl accents are created using recycled shells and resin.

Sourcing Hot Artists
Although The Artist Jay began with only Schiavone designing and crafting his jewelry, after demand for his jewelry increased, he needed to find other talented artists to help handcraft his designs. In fact, demand increased so much, The Artist Jay ships out about 50,000 handmade pieces of jewelry annually.

''They are artisans in their own right,'' Schiavone said. ''Some of them were taught; we find really good, reliable people. A lot of them have been with me for years now.''

Schiavone thinks out of the box when sourcing his craftspeople. In his early days, he decided to drive up to the local firehouse and see what the firefighters were up to.

''I have a few firemen that craft jewelry for me. Firemen have a lot of down time, when they are sitting in the firehouse waiting for a fire. They've been wonderful,'' he said.

Schiavone says a key to success is to know when you need help to grow. ''When you get to our size, you can't do it all alone, you have to reach out.''

He also said that artists like him, who market to wholesalers, have to be willing to sell their items for less money to allow for retail mark-up. He added some artists are reluctant to do that, but in the industry it is important. He also suggested maintaining enough distance between stores and galleries to allow each of them exclusivity to sell his artisan-quality jewelry in their area.
Wire-Wrapped Pendants

The Artist Jay's jewelry can be found in retail stores and galleries from coast to coast and continues to grow. Their jewelry is a top seller at the gift shops at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., and can also be found at Sea World in Orlando, Fla.

Hanging Around and Selling Out
As part of the wholesale program offered to customers, The Artist Jay provides one free medium-sized handmade wire display tree along with a first-time order. Schiavone says his company has streamlined how the trees are made in-house, but that smaller trees use about 50 feet of wire to create, while larger, three-foot-high trees may need 300 feet of wire to construct.

Wire-Wrapped Rings The handmade display trees are a perfect way for sellers to present the unique jewelry line. First-time wholesale orders require purchasing $500 of jewelry, and ship with one display tree as well as a display screen.

''The reason I do a $500 opening order is I have found retailers need to have enough pieces on hand to appeal to people walking in the door,'' Schiavone said. ''It's like the last piece of pie theory. No one wants to take the last piece of pie, but if the pie is full, they will take a bigger piece.''

He deduced that when a retailer sells out a third or more pieces of his jewelry on display, it is time for them to reorder to keep sales from dropping. ''You need to keep that tree full,'' Schiavone emphasized. The Artist Jay offers a trade-out program so resellers can exchange items that don't sell quickly for something different. Most items have a retail price of between $30 and $50, and buyers can choose from either a supple aluminum or leather cord to string their pendants on.

Branching Out and Helping Others
The Artist Jay also believes in the beauty of community outreach, and shares his profits by donating one dollar from the sale of every piece of jewelry from the Inspirations Collection to Victory Junction. The camp, founded by NASCAR's Petty family, is located about 30 miles from Greensboro, N.C., and gives seriously and chronically-ill children opportunities to experience camp like other healthy children often do. The Artist Jay also gives pieces from the Inspirations Collection, such as crosses, to those campers who want them as a keepsake.

''Victory Junction brings in campers that would not be able to participate any other way,'' Schiavone explained. ''A lot of the families don't have much money because they spend their money on medicine and doctor's visits, and this is something that is near and dear to our hearts.''

Schiavone says with the introduction of a new jewelry design, the animal paw print, he hopes to establish a similar program in support of animal rescue charities.