Project Management for Jewelers

I came up with this system to solve some production and prioritizing problems at a small custom jewelry store. We used this system mainly for custom jobs, however it can be adapted for repair or stock production as well.

8 Minute Read

By Mary LinfordMore from this author

I came up with this system to solve some production and prioritizing problems at a small custom jewelry store. We used this system mainly for custom jobs, however it can be adapted for repair or stock production as well. The shop had 3-4 employees, depending on the time of year, as well as some out-of-house work (hand engraver, laser welder, etc). The way our store worked is certain employees would have their aspect of every job.

For instance, one person would carve a wax, one would polish it, and one would solder in heads or fabricate parts, and one would do stone setting. Therefore, a custom job would pass through many hands, and a small problem in planning could grow into a finger pointing fiasco. Also, prioritizing would be an issue, people would work on what interested or challenged them, and leave some jobs hiding in the back of their box. When a customer would call, often no one would know where the job was, and we would scramble to figure out what stage it was in. We usually gave a turnaround time of 4-6 weeks to a customer, but that was a little long and vague for what was our largest portion of income.

I no longer work at that store, having struck out on my own as a full time wax carver to the trade. However, I still use this system for my own organization. It is amazing how planning something out, and putting it on paper, leaves me to relax and know that if I just follow simple steps, the job will get done on time.


The first step in Project Management is planning. One person usually did this; the manager would be a good choice. Perhaps one could have a shop manager as opposed to a sales manager because the person doing this has to have a firm grasp on all aspects of producing a piece of jewelry. This needs to fit the particular type of work/shop environment. Every time a custom job was taken in, it was brought to me for Project Management. I looked over the order thoroughly, found any missing information such as size, width, # of stones etc. If a scale drawing was not made, I usually made one to find if it was realistic. The more complex the design, the more important this stage is. This is the time to get all the input from employees, boss, etc. This is also the time to hash out every conceivable problem or disagreements on how to carry out a job.


After the order is completely understood, the Diagramming takes place. I used an 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper cut in half lengthwise. It has the customer's name, phone #, metal, size, in date, and due date. Job # could go on there if desired, as well as price of job and deposit, if any. This sheet is now your Progress Sheet. Then, the job gets broken down into its steps.

Sample job #1 -

Jane Doughnut wants a platinum ring with her center stone, and you provide side stones. The ring will be carved in wax, sent out for
casting, and then stones will be set in your shop.

Sample job #2 -

John Applesauce wants a pendant for her wife. The design is one you have a mold for, but to fit a different center stone. You need to find the stone, show the customer, and then adapt the wax model to fit. The pendant will be cast in 18k. He also wants a 23″ chain to go with, so you will need to order one and shorten it.

Sample job #3 -

Alice Daydream wants a Stuller ring mounting with her Amethyst set in the center. Her stone came out of a family heirloom ring and needs repolishing. You need to send the stone out, while ordering the mounting, and then set the stone.

As you can see, each job has different steps, and will pass through multiple hands before it is completed. Even if you do everything yourself, it still could use a Project Management system.

The first step is to break down each job into every step you can think of. Either every time the job changes hands, or every time the job stops, such as customer approval or awaiting parts.

The next step is diagramming. Some Project Management systems use different shapes for different people, some use different colors. Some parts of a project can occur simultaneously and some can only be done in a certain order. See diagrams.

Note how boxes with steps are connected with a line. These show successive steps. Other boxes are not connected, showing that they can occur simultaneously.

One benefit of the Project Management system is that you are forced to think a job all the way through. You troubleshoot every aspect of the job, so that later down the road, you can't say, "oh, I thought that was supposed to be fabricated", or "oh yeah, I forgot to order that chain".

Calendar Planning

The next step in the system is Calendar Planning. This will allow  you to set a firm due date, and to know that you can keep the promise. Usually, when I would take in a job, I would tell the customer that I would get back to them with a firm due date after I completed the Project Management work.

The timetables you will use will be unique to you. You should have a good idea about how long certain things should take, for instance platinum casting 10 days, stone cutting 7 days, ordering parts 3 days, etc=85 Usually I would give each employee one week to complete their task. You will notice in the samples I have a range in the date. This window will vary depending on the job. It is helpful to have a calendar in front of you so you can work around weekends, holidays, and employee schedules. If you always order parts on a certain day, or you always cast on Wednesdays, then the Progress sheet should reflect this in your dates.

Important Note

I start the calendar process with a pencil!!! This allows you to make the changes necessary to arrive at your target due date. This is really where the beauty of the system comes into play. Say you promise that platinum job for 4 weeks. After you go through the planning stage, you realize that gives you less than one week to get the stones in, carve the wax, and get customer approval. The casting will take 10-14 days including shipping time, and then you have 1 week to polish and set the stones. This may be a tight schedule! It's best to think about these things at the outset than to run into it on week 3! You may choose to extend the deadline, or you may let the customer know that she will have a very small window to look at the wax. You might even set an appointment for the wax viewing to assure that the job stays on track.

The Calendar Planning portion also can give you an overview of an employee's schedule. If you color code, you can see at a glance who will be swamped in a particular week, or what problems may occur if someone is going to be out of town. Implementation of System

SO, you have the sheets filled out for your jobs, now what??? I found it most helpful to have these sheets out in the open where everyone could see them. We used the back of a door; at home I use a section of my office wall. You could use a 3 ring binder, but in my experience out of sight, out of mind. Every time a step gets completed, you mark it off, and the date it was done. If you check "the wall" daily, you can catch jobs falling behind, stay on top of "parts needed" and make sure you have enough casting metal for all your jobs. Employees can look for their color or shape, and know what they may have coming up. Prioritizing becomes about due  dates, not about desires. Once a job is completed, you take the sheet off of "the wall" and put it in a folder. For the bored manager, one could actually audit and gain information from these sheets. You could find out that it takes more like 16 days to get platinum castings back instead of the 10-14 you thought. Or that your average turnaround time is 3.5 weeks instead of 4-6. Or one employee is the root of slow job problems. All of this is valuable information to help future jobs move more smoothly.

Post-it notes should be sending me a cut for the next suggestion; I am addicted to the things. I would set up a series of post-its on the top of the job bag. It would stay with the job, and have a tear off dates with what needs to be done. So you would start from the due date and work backwards. Then, when each person would get the job, they would have their due date in front of them. You could also photocopy reduce the Progress sheet and attach it to the job envelope.

There are many different ways to implement the system, how you choose is up to you. The point is to make it work for you.


I hope this information was valuable to you. It is my goal to just share a system that worked for me. If it can work for you, great! Please note that any new system can encounter resistance. One of my employees still could not remember to cross things off as he did them, even after a year of the system. As the manager, I just kept on him. The owners of the store were a little hesitant at first, but now have kept the system going for 4 years after I left. They still tell me how good it is, and have raved about how they no longer stress about jobs lingering in the back of a box with no clue on the progress. Now when customers call, they just go over to the board, check the name and give an instant progress report. So find a way to make it work and keep at it. I came up with this system about 7 years ago, and still use it in my own business.

Mary Linford
Blue Star Wax Carving
PO Box 11692
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

By Mary Linford

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Mary Linford

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