This is reproduced here with permission of The Bead Shop, a great source for beads, classes and wonderful PDF handouts.
Top Tips on Making A Design Look Professional
or How to Ruin A Masterpiece
by Elena Adams
1. Develop an eye for detail
The number one thing to remember is that a designer considers every inch of a design with equal importance. Skipping over a section or thinking, "no one will notice" is the key to making your jewelry lose value. While there is certainly a good market for cheaply produced jewelry, if you are looking to make it in the jewelry world, an eye for detail is critical.
While it is very easy to get cheap, mass-produced beads these days, taking the time to look for real gemstones, quality cuts, and art-quality man-made materials makes a huge difference. Nearly every craft store in the world sells beads of some kind, and while a lot of these are great for kids jewelry and cheap, throw-away designs, they will often let down your entire design. Go to reputable vendors and first class beading stores to ensure you buy gemstones and other beads that will reflect the quality of your designs. If something isn't labeled, ask for information or walk away. If they don't know their product apart you risk buying something that will fade, look bad to someone in the know, or, god forbid, melt dye onto a customer's outfit!
Once you've bought a bag or strand of beads, search through and discard or set aside badly drilled ones and broken pieces. When buying glass beads, choose those made by artists or high end manufacturers. Art glass can be gorgeous and help set your work apart from designers using machine manufactured glass. The same goes for seed beads and crystal. Use reputable sources. While a lot of people can't tell the difference between a Swarovski crystal and a Czech knock-off, if you compare the two together, the difference is astounding. Higher shine, regular facets, and clean and polished drills, are all factors in making or breaking your work
3. Use good quality findings
Most of us started out using base metal, or cheap clasps and findings to save money. If you're at a level of selling your work, it's time to start investing in the good stuff. This doesn't have to mean using gold or platinum, but be sure your findings are sterling silver, gold-filled, or good vermeil with a thick, high karat coating. Lobster clasps and spring rings certainly have their place in many designs, but remember that your clasps should reflect the design of the entire piece.
Consider the weight of your design. Does the clasp look dwarfed against your necklace? Can you find a large toggle instead, that perhaps has a nice etching that compliments, but doesn't fight with your bracelet? Sterling silver and gold-filled wires, head pins, and crimp components are essential to ensuring the longevity of your work. Base metals and plated pieces will lose their color over time, and have a higher chance of breaking.
4. Never lie about the materials you use
Another designer or jeweler will know the difference. If a customer is interested enough to ask about the materials, he or she is bound to ask someone else about it later, or face an embarrassing situation, repeating what you have said and being corrected. Lying ruins your credibility. If you have trouble remembering all the stones and metals you use in your pieces, keep a log book with a photo of all your work to help you when asked. If a customer sees you taking the time to find out, they will be far more impressed. It gives you a real opportunity to interact with them and talk about why you chose particular components or focal beads. Don't go into too much detail though. As designers, we get excited about our work, but try to gauge how interested a customer is before you launch into different fusing techniques or why you chose grossular garnet over dark peridot. If you're selling your work at a boutique or somewhere that you can't talk to customers, leave a short "ingredients" list with the sales staff or make sure they know you can be contacted by customers with more questions.
While quality products are very important in making designer jewelry, the eye for detail also extends to assembly. Run your hands over a finished piece to look for sharp edges or snags; be sure to clip stringing wire as close as you can; close jump rings properly; be sure pendants and charms don't hang the wrong way or twist; and tuck wire wrapped ends neatly away. You design should be carried all the way to the ends of the jewelry, not just stop once you've finished the center. The same applies even if you just want an elaborate pendant on a chain. Repeat smaller gemstones closer to the clasp, or wire-wrap a drop from the end of the extender chain. If should look like it belongs to the rest of the design, and isn't just a last minute addition to get it finished.
6. Stay current with techniques
Be sure to keep up to date with jewelry products that will enhance the finished piece. Add crimp covers and wire guardians where appropriate. If you are selling your pieces to a jeweler or boutique they will recognize that your work is using the best jewelry "technologies" available.
7. Keep learning
Take a class occasionally or talk to bead store staff about threads and basic materials. Aside from keeping your techniques up to date, this can avoid you inadvertently using the wrong kind of thread or wire. Not all threads and stringing wires are created equal. What might be great for pearls, may break or snap with gemstones.
8. Stay on top of fashion
While you don't want to invest everything in making current jewelry that risks being passé in three months, it is a great idea to check out magazines and other designers to get a sense of what is selling, and to keep your look fresh. Beading magazines can be good for techniques and some new ideas, but top women's magazines will tell you what's hot outside the beading world. Subscribe to Elle, Vogue, or W Jewelry and get inspiration from colors, textures and general trends, rather than trying to copy someone else's jewelry.
You certainly don't want your jewelry to come out looking like a "mish mash" of techniques and styles. Just because you know how to hammer, doesn't mean you should hammer everything possible. Only use a technique if it will aid your design without fighting for attention. Look at all your jewelry together. Does it tell a coherent design story? While it is great to branch out to avoid stagnation, your collection should look like it all came from a single designer. There's nothing wrong with creating new collections with different themes, but make sure they still have at least something in common with your other work.
A great way to do this is to build a "jewelry signature". If you're into making chain maille, include a little section of chain in your stringing designs. If you love herringbone weave, add a single wrapped bead to every design at least once. A great place for your signature is the back of the necklace, hanging from your clasp or extender chain. For bolder jewelry, be creative about where you place it. Think of it like a "Where's Waldo" puzzle and sneak in your signature where it won't distract. Top brands all use a signature, whether you are meant to notice it or not. Brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior are obviously covered in signatures, but did you know Swarovski marks all its work too? Embedded in large crystals and carved designs, you'll always find their logo hidden away. While this is just a tip, and by no means necessary, it can help you move towards creating collections of jewelry instead of individual pieces, without sacrificing trends and experimentation.
Nothing ruins an artwork like bad presentation. If you are selling at fairs, or displaying in boutiques, be sure your display stands reflect the same quality as your jewelry. You don't have to invest a lot of money in this, but you want them to give off a certain air. Think about the way a fine jewelry store displays necklaces and earrings, and try to copy their tricks. Just dropping pieces on a table can diminish your work incredibly. The same goes for how you package it once it's sold. Buy cheap, but nice, gift boxes or bags, or wrap jewelry in clean tissue wrap so that your customers feel they are each taking a real treasure home. If you don't respect your work no one else will either.
11. Don't lose sight of what's important
Unless making jewelry is the sole source of your income, don't forget to step back occasionally. It's supposed to be fun! If you're not enjoying it, what's the point? We started designing because it's a great hobby, so if it's driving you mad, take a break, relax, and come back fresh.