Sterling Silver Chains – Buying & Decision Making

Sterling Silver Round Cable

Recently a lovely customer, whom we first met in Vancouver a couple of months back, came into our showroom.  She had bought different findings and sterling silver chains from us at our recent show and was delighted with the findings, but confessed that she wasn’t designing with some of the chains.  Surprised and concerned, I enquired as to why.  It is rare, for our customers to not jump right in and start designing immediately given how easy it is to create unique designs when you have unusual components. Her reason was that the chains were so beautiful, and since she had only bought 1 or 2 metres, she didn’t want to cut them because she might not have any left for designs.  So she hung onto them, and mainly “admired” their beauty. I found this extraordinary, but I understood what she meant. I stopped buying 1 or 2 metre segments of chain for the same reason; I used to jump right in and cut them up for my intended designs, however, I would inevitably find other possible designs for that same chain or component, but in order to use it I would have to take apart my original piece.  Why would I take them apart, because it’s often too costly for me to travel back to the supplier to obtain more or get it shipped.  So I stopped buying in such small quantities, and wanted to take a moment to share my purchase quantity decision making, which has been shaped through years of experience and lessons learned from past mistakes, with you.

There are many things to consider when buying sterling silver chains, or any chains for that matter: unit cost, estimated possible uses, conduciveness to either short or long designs, my total budget, where we are in the season sales cycle, and ease of reorder.

Unit Cost

This is pretty basic. If the sterling silver chain is inexpensive, I can afford to buy more. Chances are that shipping or travel costs to buy more later on will cost more than the chain itself, so I buy more just in case. If it is more expensive, then I defer the decision to other considerations.

Estimated Possible Uses

The more possible designs you can think of on the spot for the chain, the more you should buy.  However, as we all know, design ideas come to you after you’ve worked with bits of it and sometimes ideas evolve.  You will hear people say that they can create designs in their head and then go back to buy the component. This ability, if it really exists to the extent some give themselves credit for, is rare. Most designers, like me, are tactile. They need to handle the chain, and even link it up to different places.  There is no perfect estimate.  You don’t want to go overboard, but there are some guidelines:

  • If it is a staple like a sterling silver cable extension chain, you know you’ll use it up. Buy more.
  • If the sterling silver chain can obviously be used for many things, like the sterling silver beading chain, buy more.
  • If the sterling silver chain is more expensive, but you think you can cut it into sections for earrings, blend it with cheaper chain for something long, or works well as bracelet, like the hammered linkbuy more.

You should always estimate your possible uses and then multiply with some rules of thumb, which I’ll share later.

Short Chain or Long Chain

If the sterling silver chain looks like it would best be, or can be, used for a long necklace, I always buy more. One metre of chain will be just enough for one long necklace. There are some chains that are obvious candidates for long designs such as this long oval sterling silver chain. Others aren’t as obvious. If the chain selection is in the grey area, buy slightly more then you would otherwise.

Total Budget Considerations

I always have to think about this, though I don’t always follow the budget when I am at a show or if I find some very exciting things. However, if I’m tight on budget, I defer this to the following two considerations below.

Position in the Season Sales Cycle

If it is at the beginning, I use up my budget on variety, but keep in mind the number of samples and designs I will need to make.  Also, I have to see if I am willing to take reorders for my work, and the lead time. So, if you have sale reps or are sending samples to boutiques, you will have to see how many simultaneous sets you need at the beginning of the season. If the lead time is small, you have to take into consideration possible orders and accommodate for them.  At the beginning of the season, buy more to accommodate the above and also note what possible designs you can make left over chain into if your initial designs don’t fly off the shelves. If it’s at the end of the cycle and you are just filling in orders, buy less, keeping in mind how fast your delivery needs to be for your customers and from suppliers. If it is short for customers, but your supplier is far away or has a long lead time, you will have to buy more and hold stock.

Ease of Reorder

I always ask the supplier if they’re carrying certain components forward. If the answer is yes, I can buy less. If the answer is no, or it is a close-out item, I buy a lot more, or will buy everything. If the quantity is high, I’ll see if I can get a further discount if I buy everything. If you like something and it is being discontinued, you can shift your budget a little. The item can be used later. If it is being carried forward by the supplier, but they are far, hold more stock. Again, sometimes shipping is more costly than the merchandise.

Some Rules of Thumb

There are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Short necklaces are about 18″ (can make 2/m of chain), bracelets are about 7″, long necklaces that you can wrap 2x around the neck are at least 34″, if you want to wrap 3x you need a minimum of 44″
  • If you’re a small designer, remember you need to make and wear pieces yourself. Some customers don’t like to buy items worn by someone else, or you might become attached to it. Always buy enough to make, at the very least, 2 sets.
  • A good designer knows colour variations are a great way to increase sales. Ideal colour selection is 3 to 4 colours. This is usually the case for clothing designers.
  • I bought components for samples in 6’s when I was a smaller designer. This gives you 3 pairs of earrings or 2 complete necklace and earring sets. I graduated to 48’s when I started doing other colours. For single colour items, I buy 24 if the lead time is less than 3 weeks for delivery to my customers. For chains, I buy expensive samples in 5 metres, and inexpensive in 10 metres. If it is less than $5/m, it’s much cheaper just to do 25m spools.
  • For items that go to my sales representatives, I take the above and multiply each by 1.5.