The doors to the craft show have opened,and customers are beginning to make their way down the aisle. One stops at your booth to look at your PMC jewelry.”What is this?” she asks.
That question looms large for many in the PMC community. Do you answer “Fine Silver” or “Precious Metal Clay”? Both are technically correct, so the question is, which will help you make the sale?
Legally, any piece made exclusively from PMC can be stamped “.999 fine silver.” After firing, precious metal clay is pure silver, and requires no further explanation. (Federal law also requires that anything stamped with a fineness mark – fine silver, sterling, 24k gold, etc. – must also be stamped with are registered trademark. This law applies to any piece sold across state boundaries.) The marks maybe applied either before or after firing.
But while it is perfectly accurate and legal to describe PMC pieces simply as “fine silver,” many artists choose to market their pieces as PMC. “The whole thing about selling hand-crafted work is that people are buying the magic of the artist’s life and how the piece is made,” says PMC artist and certified PMC instructor Elaine Luther of Chicago. “To me, technique is always a selling point. Whatever technique I use, I explain to people what it is.”
Since she sells primarily through galleries, Elaine includes a hang tag with an explanation of what PMC is on one side,and an artist’s statement on the other on each piece. Other artists choose to keep the PMC aspect of their marketing more informal, labeling the pieces simply as”fine silver” and leaving the explanation of PMC to the sales patter.
“When you say ‘precious metal clay,’people think of clay in the traditional form,” says Diana Contine of Dakota Moon in New Hope, Pennsylvania. “So if I don’t have time to educate at the moment, or if it’s in a gallery or someplace I’m not there to tell people what it is, I’ll just put ‘fine silver’ down so [customers] understand that it is a precious metal.”
On occasions when she has a longer contact with customers, Diana uses the fact that her pieces are made of PMC as a sales tool. “I think people are fascinated by the fact that it’s called a clay, but it’s actually a metal. It’s like alchemy,” she says. “It’s like Merlin says, ‘I’m going to turn this clay into a piece of silver.’ It’s like magic.”
Educating the customer does take time, though, and runs the risk that the customer won’t understand the value of the piece.”People invariably don’t know what the heck I’m talking about until at least the second time [through the explanation],”says Celie Fago of Bethel, Vermont, who tailors the detail of her PMC explanation to the apparent interest of the customer.”I think it’s confusing primarily to hear it’s a clay/it’s a metal. It’s really thrilling when they make that connection in their minds. And once they see the stuff and get convinced, then they invariably get excited.”
The danger with that excitement is that PMC will be seen as a fad. “If all you have time for is the newness [of PMC], you have to be careful. You may be getting on a slippery slope that will require you to be new again next year,” says Studio PMC Technical Editor Tim McCreight.
To avoid that pitfall, artists must remember that the key selling point is the piece itself, not the materials it is made of, says Pam Lacey of Wilton, Connecticut, a PMC artist with a background in the corporate world as a product development specialist. “Fine silver appeals to people [because] I can say this is pure silver, and it’s more valuable than sterling, all words that people love,” she explains. “But if you have a really ugly piece of fine silver, and a beautiful piece of sterling, the sterling is going to sell.”
The same is true of PMC. “PMC just happens to be a way to get there,” Pam says.”If you have something gorgeous, and the person is attracted to [the piece] because it is gorgeous, and you tell them it’s made of PMC, that’s gravy. It’s the ribbon tied on the bag that they weren’t expecting.”
So should you or shouldn’t you sell your pieces as PMC? The answer depends on both you and your customers. When students ask her the question, Celie says she “usually probes them a little bit about their market, and that usually gives me a little time to observe their skills at explaining themselves, and how they view their market and even a little psychology like what kind of rapport they have with their clients.” If the student has the sales skills and the opportunity to educate their clientele, Celie encourages them to market their pieces as PMC. “I think it helps everybody, including those of us who love PMC, if they go into some detail about it,” she says.
But that may not be the case if the artist is several steps removed from his customers. “If you’re shipping things all over the country, and trying to decide whether in a tiny little space to put PMC or 999, I think the best answer is to stamp it 999, and then have a nice story card that explains it,” she says.
And if selling your pieces as “fine silver” works best for you, you can take that path without hesitation, as well. “It’s really about knowing your audience,” says Pam. “You have to know your customer, how to talk to them, and how to close that sale…. Where you’re marketing [your jewelry] and what you’re doing will determine whether you call it fine silver or PMC.”