What better way to connect with customers than to work hand-in-hand with them fostering artistry and creating a custom stackable design? As jewelers, I believe we’re natural mentors. And the most rewarding teachings are the opportunities to share our craft with others, guiding them to create as we do. Our trade rests upon forging emotionally significant adornments for others. We can take this one step further by helping our customers, cultivating creative expression which builds lasting relationships.
Our Stackable Sessions
One of the recent workshops we taught was at a show hosted by my former employer, Kalmbach Publishing Company, an organizer of the huge consumer show called the Bead&Button Show held in Milwaukee every June. This show brings together thousands of jewelry makers, bead lovers, and supply vendors from all over the world for a week-plus of learning and commerce. We were two of about 100 or so instructors who offered classes and workshops ranging from bead-weaving with needle and thread to making lampwork beads with borosilicate glass and powerful torches. There were 700 class choices in all! The courses we taught focused on learning how to fabricate and solder with sterling silver and gemstones. One class was extremely popular, with two sold-out day long sessions – the Stacking Ring Sampler class.
Our stackable sessions were based on our version of the popular classic rings that ladies (and some cool guys?) of all ages like to stack up and wear. We worked with attendees to create a simple band with a single faceted gemstone. Our class was designed to teach students how to make their own using rectangular or square wire (3x2mm or 2mm square) and ready-made tube settings. To teach remotely for a week, we packed up much of our home studio, including equipment, hand tools, and supplies, and set up a mini studio in a conference center meeting room.
The stackable sessions featured Stuller semi precious gemstones like Mozambique Garnet, Rainforest Green Topaz, and Peridot in 5mm and 3.5mm sizes, along with two hammer-textured spacers. The photo of the sample stack, shown above, generated a lot of attention in the class catalog (both print and online version) and through posts on our Facebook and Instagram accounts. The B&B Show promotes classes using its own mailing and marketing efforts, of course. We supplement that with our own Facebook posts using paid “boosted” Facebook advertising and email newsletters to pull in new students. Our studio, MTS Studio for short, has about 570 followers on Facebook, and this year we started reaching out to our growing email list with quarterly newsletters as well.
We designed two colorways that students could choose. Royalty, the hands-down favorite, featured London Blue and Swiss Blue Topaz with Honey Topaz. Another choice was the Jewel colorway with Amethyst, Garnet, and Peridot.
We keep in touch with our students via email during the month leading up to classes, allowing them to choose the colors they wanted to work with ahead of time. Then, we placed our big gemstone order with Stuller a few weeks before the show. We appreciate that we can offer calibrated stones because we (and our students) primarily set them in tube settings, as shown in our stacker set, and with that setting technique the fit is critical. Stuller also helps us by allowing us to request “ACAP” – as close as possible to the size ordered, so a Stuller employee actually measures each stone precisely and choosing only the closest match to send to us. What great customer service!
Once the gemstones arrived, it was quite delightful to open the white package and see all the beautiful colors inside. So I shared the fun on Instagram, of course. I was aware that Stuller has an active IG presence, so I tagged with #stuller, #stullerinc, and #howIStuller to help connect with the company and other jewelry makers who use Stuller products in their work.
Class is in Session
Students in these classes tend to be young (30–50) and female, although we had one young man in class who had been making jewelry a long time and made a beautiful set of stackers for his wife. Many attendees are repeat customers who come back year after year to take new classes with us or even join us in our home studio for private lessons. We had 17 students in two separate Stackable Sessions, and about 30 students total in our nonstop week of teaching during the show. Posting photos from the classroom on Facebook every day allowed fans who couldn’t be part of the show the opportunity to see the process unfold and keep in touch with us.
During the courses, each student received a detailed handout to guide them through the construction of the jewelry piece. This is especially helpful when they get home and want to make more rings. Check out our handout below, and feel free to use it as a guide when planning your stackable sessions.
Some of our students take classes just for fun and make jewelry on the side as a hobby. Others make and sell jewelry as their business (as we do). Collectively, most join in to learn new techniques, as opposed to learning how to produce a specific jewelry design. Students then use this knowledge in their own studios, incorporating their style and ideas into their next project. We’ve already seen some spin-offs as a result of our classes, tying students closer to us and the jewelry industry.
As a result of the success with our stackable sessions, we now offer a customizable stacker set as a listing in our Etsy store, allowing clients to personalize their ring to include birthstones for the children or grandchildren. We include a list we designed of Stuller gemstones to represent the 12 months – some are semi precious, some are simulated, and some are stand-ins for the real precious stone to keep the set affordable. You can see that listing here! In addition to our shop of jewelry on Etsy, we also run a separate tool and supply shop there. We produce several tools that we designed in response to needs we saw as we were teaching, and now we offer them here! In fact, one of the tools we offer is a set of punches for tube-setting – a technique we use to set most of our gemstones from Stuller in the stacker rings and our other jewelry.
We encourage all readers to hold their own stackable sessions, or other unique creative seminars, to share tricks of the trade and connect with their customers.
A Bit About Us
Michael has been working with Stuller since he was a student in the jewelry fabrication & repair program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in 2005. A knowledgeable instructor helped him make the first connection to Stuller as a supplier. He is now a professional studio jeweler, showing and selling his unusual, meticulously hand-fabricated creations at art shows and online. My background is in graphic design, marketing, and publishing, most recently as a book editor specializing in how-to books on making jewelry and metalwork. I picked up my jewelry-making training in a variety of ways over the years – technical school, fine arts institute classes, workshops, and by reading everything I could get my hands on in the early days before YouTube and videos. Now we are partners in Michael Thee Studio where we make, sell, and teach others how to create in metal.
Loved our story? Find our website here, add us on Facebook, and follow MTS Instagram here, along with my Instagram here.
And for more interactive ideas, check out Customer Events: Rocks on the Rocks.