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David Geller

How To Cut Out Shop Waste

Save money in your shop by ensuring that only what’s needed gets used.

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A JEWELER RECENTLY asked me, “Is there a system to physically control the metal used in the shop? We seem to be going through a lot of metal, and we want to be able to account for its usage better.”

At $1,700 per ounce for gold, shop waste can be a huge monetary problem. But it’s one you can solve with new structure and routines.

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First, let’s look at some examples of shop waste. Let’s say you have a 6mm wide ring and it needs to go up two sizes, but you only have a 4mm wide piece of sizing stock. You can roll it out to make it thinner and wider to be 6mm wide, like rolling out pizza dough. One size larger is only 2.5mm long. You’d roll out a bit more for two sizes, about 7 or 8mm in length. Cut off what you need and move on.

I visited a store where the jeweler did this, but instead of rolling out a few millimeters, he rolled out the whole five inches of 4mm sizing stock. Now it was not really usable for smaller ring widths (the majority of jobs). To top it off, this sat on top of his bench forever.

He had scrap and extra findings on his bench plus that long piece of sizing stock, and I weighed it all. Value? $5,000 on his bench wasted, and this was when gold was $600 per ounce.

Another wasteful thing I see often is ordering more findings than the jeweler needs for one job. For example, let’s say you are going to take an assortment of a customer’s old jewelry, make a ring and set the 10 diamonds in heads on the ring. Lots of soldering. So you think, “Let’s order 12, just in case I melt a few.”

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Later, the job is completed and you didn’t wind up needing the two extras, just 10. The two left over either sit scattered on top of the jeweler’s work bench or they are thrown back into the zip-lock bag and tossed in a findings box.

Have you ever been to a sale where merchandise is thrown into a bin and you have to rummage through the clutter to find a “deal”? It might be fun for a Saturday yard sale, but it you need it for a jewelry job, you’ll end up just ordering “that head” online with the rest of the day’s needs, leaving the extras in the zip-lock bag to never be touched again. For years!

For the first 10-plus years that I owned a store, I let the jewelers in my shop get their own gold, solder, sizing stock and findings from a findings cabinet. We kept $25,000 of findings in stock in the cabinet, very organized and they chose what they needed.

At one point, I had a young jeweler with just a few years under his belt, and he was embarrassed to ask for any help. When he finally quit, I cleaned out his bench. In a bench drawer were eight or 10 six-prong melted solitaire heads and five or six shanks, also melted. He couldn’t assemble them and didn’t ask for help, but he didn’t steal, either.

Starting then, I hired a shop foreman, and these were his job responsibilities:

1. Control the findings cabinet. He looked over every job before it was handed to a jeweler. He put the findings needed (no extras) into the job envelope. If he needed to order findings, he filled out a form and the office ordered them in and gave the parts and envelope back to the foreman to hand out to the jewelers.

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2. Keep a level of most used findings in the cabinet in fishing tackle boxes. Inside each cubby hole with the findings was a piece of paper notating the finding, type of metal, vendor, size, date received and our cost in code.

If a jeweler needed a finding for a reason, the foreman gave the jeweler the finding. In the example of the inexperienced jeweler, we would have noticed immediately and added training to resolve this issue (this is also how we found out my best jeweler wasn’t good enough to set princess cuts without chipping off the corners).

3. Be a liaison between the sales staff and jewelers. The foreman answered questions from the staff and looked over most incoming jobs before the customer left the store. He initialed the receipt and handed it back to the associate, who handed it to the customer.

4. Choose which jobs went to which jeweler. He looked over jobs before and after they were polished, then gave the finished work to the sales staff to call customers and tell them it was ready for pickup.

If we did order a few extra heads for a job, the zip-lock bag had how many we ordered, and any left over were put back in the envelope for the foreman or office (not the jeweler). These were either added into our organized cabinet or immediately returned to the vendor for credit.

Sizing stock, wire and solder are all opportunities for overuse and theft in a shop.

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Jewelers need stock on their bench for sizing and repair. We gave small boxes to them with our standard “box of gold.” Usually three inches of sizing stock, like:

  • 3x2mm
  • 4x2mm
  • 5x2mm
  • 12 inches of round wire, BS gauge 18, 20, 22
  • 1 dwts of solder, 14K yellow gold, 14K white gold, 18K yellow gold, 18K white gold, platinum, silver

When they got low, they came to us to replenish. That way, we could better see if one jeweler always needed more, and we could tell from the work if usage seemed to be “on track.”

There are other ways of handling this, and I spoke to one store that was very stingy with gold. If the jeweler needed to size a ring three sizes larger, the owner personally sawed off the right length and placed it in the job envelope in a zip-lock bag. I think this is overkill, but it worked for them.

I met a store owner who had all jewelers sweep their bench pans every night before they went home, top as well, and put all bench sweeps in a coffee can before they left for the day. She kept the coffee can in her possession.

David Geller is a 14th-generation bench jeweler who produces The Geller Blue Book To Jewelry Repair Pricing. David is the “go-to guy” for setting up QuickBooks for a jewelry store. Reach him at da[email protected].

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