Rachel Pfeffer on her jewelry business and how she got started.

So You Want to Be a Jewelry-Maker? Here’s How It’s Done.

So You Want to Be a Jewelry-Maker? Here’s How It’s Done.

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Feb. 16 2016 12:26 PM

How to Make It as a Jewelry-Maker 

Slate learns the tricks of the trade from second-generation jewelry-maker Rachel Pfeffer.

Rachel Pfeffer.
Rachel Pfeffer.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Time Bandit Photography.

We’re posting transcripts of Working, Slate’s podcast about what people do all day, exclusively for Slate Plus members. What follows is the transcript for Season 5, Episode 8.

In this episode of Working, Slate’s Rachel Gross talks to Rachel Pfeffer about the one-woman jewelry business, Rachel Pfeffer Designs, she runs online and from her new studio in Washington. Also a co-owner of the website Stitchtagram, Pfeffer is Instagram famous for her signature honeycomb design worn by none other than the real Queen B, and she’s working hard to keep from being a one-hit wonder. What does it take to make it as a jewelry-maker? The two Rachels talk business, design, process, and how to get started.

Plus, in a Slate Plus bonus segment, Pfeffer reflects on her decision to take up the family trade (she’s the fourth jewelry-maker in her family) and what it’s like to be schooled by your father.

Rachel E. Gross: Welcome to Working, Slate’s podcast about what people do all day. I’m Rachel Gross, a writer for Slate who covers science and food. Being a successful jewelry maker takes more than just a flare for welding and soldering. For today’s episode, we’re talking with jewelry maker, Rachel Pfeffer, who makes necklaces that go viral, and in a Slate Plus extra, Rachel talks about coming from a family of jewelry makers and how she and her father settle their design differences.

Gross: So, what’s your name and what do you do?

Rachel Pfeffer: My name is Rachel Pfeffer, and I’m a jewelry designer and a business owner.

Gross: Where are we?

Pfeffer: We’re on the Brooklyn Arts Walk in Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., which is near Catholic University by the Metro. We’re standing sort of in between the retail half of my studio and the making part of my studio—the studio part of my studio.

Gross: And are these designs you’ve already commissioned or ones that anyone can buy?

Pfeffer: These are all for sale. I kind of make things to order when they sell on my website, and then I also am constantly trying to keep up an inventory for the store.

Gross: Can you tell us a little bit about the earrings you’re wearing and how you made them?

Pfeffer: They are brass hamsas, which is a hand with an eye in it that’s supposed to ward off the evil eye.

Gross: In a lot of different cultures, right?

Pfeffer: Yeah. It’s also a Hamish, I think, but I know them as hamsas.

Gross: Cool.

Pfeffer: Yeah. So, those are new. And I’m also wearing another new piece that I have to photograph, which is a heart eye carved out of wax also with sort of a scratchy texture to it that I put on top of a gold-filled band and oxidized the heart to a black finish.

Gross: That’s great. That’s your ring?

Pfeffer: Yeah, it’s the ring I’m wearing.

Gross: What’s the first thing you do when you get in the door?

Pfeffer: I turn on all the lights. There are lots of light switches around, so I’ll hunt those down to illuminate the space. Then I’ll take out my computer, I’ll go online and see what orders I should start working on.

Gross: So, you're going on Etsy when you go on?

Pfeffer: I’ll go on Etsy to see my orders. I also sell on my own website, so I’ll have to go on that and see what I sold.

And then I kind of see what I have made already that I can pack up easily or what I have to put together, what I have to make completely from scratch, and then I slowly start compiling all the orders together.

Gross: All right. So, once you figure out what projects you have for the day, what’s your next step?

Pfeffer: I figure out what music I want to listen to. Once I figure that out and I have music going, I will go to the workbench and start soldering whatever needs to be soldered first. So, the day’s kind of comprised of either putting together orders that I have to make or making new things.

So, I kind of break up the day by making a new ring or using a new stone, figure out new designs. If I’m feeling great in my soldering skills, I’ll just kind of go for a long time. But I like to—I usually get distracted pretty easily, realize I have to email someone or remember I have to order some kind of jump ring or order some kind of chain, and then I go to the computer.

And then I have to get coffee, and then I get lunch, and then I sit for longer, and then I’ll go back and then I’ll finish.

Gross: So, it sounds like you have a workflow going where you’re checking your orders, you’re checking your emails and you are spending part of the day packaging after you finish your projects.

Pfeffer: Yeah, there’s a lot of packing, a lot of printing shipping labels, and matching up orders to the shipping labels. If I’m selling a lot of one thing, I usually just kind of make what I need for that day, but when I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll make extras anticipating that they’ll sell.

Gross: That’s very optimistic.

Pfeffer: Which usually they do, eventually, so I’m feeling good that I made a bunch of extra hearts with bikes yesterday, which are super shiny from the tumbler.

Gross: Yeah.

Pfeffer: That’s the sound of them going on the table.

Gross: So, you have five pendants that are silver bikes with gold hearts in the wheels.

Pfeffer: Yes.

Gross: And these are ones you’re going to sell?

Pfeffer: Yeah, so I’m having a shopping party the day before Valentine’s Day in the studio, so I’ll have to make sure everything is stocked here for customers. And then I’m also making sure I have enough for orders.

So, there’s constantly kind of two sides of my inventory brain churning. And also I constantly want to be adding designs to my website to keep it new and exciting. So, I’ll have to be putting together new things during all that.

And then I have to photograph the pieces, which is another big part.

Gross: Yeah, there’s a lot of sides to this because during the day you’re doing, like, the physical stuff. You’re soldering and making jewelry. You’re online taking orders. You’re packaging. Thinking of your website, keeping it updated, and then events like the party before Valentines—

Pfeffer: Yeah, so I need to figure out how to advertise it and do some more social media boosting. When I’m home I usually do most of my heavy duty photo editing and computer stuff in front of the television.

Gross: Is it daily that you’re spending doing photo editing, social media stuff besides making jewelry?

Pfeffer: Yeah. I’m constantly updating to Instagram and posting things on Facebook. I like taking pictures at specific times of the day in a certain windowsill in my house on a piece of watercolor paper because that makes good lighting.

So, usually in the morning when it’s cloudy it’s OK, and usually around, like, 5 when I go home. So, I’m kind of always rushing to get the light that’s good.

Gross: Trying to get the light.

Pfeffer: Mm-hmm, chasing the light.

Gross: So, you go home around 5?

Pfeffer: Usually, mm-hmm. My whole day kind of revolves around the mail lady when she comes.

I could walk to the post office, which is probably, like, a three-minute walk, maybe five-minute walk, but usually around 4:00—it varies is the problem— my mail lady will come, and I hear her cart on the walk, and I run outside with boxes.

So, now whenever I hear someone with a suitcase, I think it’s the mail person, my mail lady.

Gross: And do you kind of set your own schedule every day?

Pfeffer: Yeah, I help myself. I try to keep to a schedule by posting on Instagram or Twitter and be, like, I’ll be here for these hours today, and I’m kind of married to that.

Gross: So, you do, like, office hours kind of?

Pfeffer: Yeah, I try, and then I try to make it obvious that I’m open by appointment if people want to come in, but a lot of it just happens. I just try to be here as much as I can.

Gross: Do you get a lot of people coming in throughout the day?

Pfeffer: Yeah, there’s a good foot traffic. In the summer it’s busier, and the weekends it’s busier.

Gross: So, while you’re making your project, you might have a customer that comes that you talk to then?

Pfeffer: Mm-hmm. So, I’ll shut down my loud machines and soldering iron, solder torch and help them out.

Gross: How do you mostly make money?

Pfeffer: It’s split between my jewelry company and another company I run with my brother called Stitchtagram.

Gross: Can you explain Stitchtagram?

Pfeffer: My other company, Stitchtagram, which is customized photo sewn products like bags. We make several pouches and tote bags. All the pouches are made in D.C., the pillows are made in different places. No, either California, North Carolina—and we handle all the customer service still and all the web aspects of it.

Gross: Gotcha. So, what is it like? You make money on order-by-order basis I imagine. And, so, how do you get enough orders in a month that you know you’re going to be good?

Pfeffer: We just hope that people still come to the websites. It’s a lot of trying to get notice on blogs and on different websites.

Gross: And what do you do to promote yourself; how much time do you spend doing social media promotion?

Pfeffer: Always. I’m always seeing when I should Instagram something and taking pictures, I’m thinking, will this be good? Will people like this? Should I delete this? Did not enough people like this? But I started on Etsy in the beginning, in 2007, so I feel like that’s really helped me establish a presence there.

Gross: What’s the biggest expense for you monthly?

Pfeffer: Probably rent now. Which is a new addition.

Gross: Right. So, you moved into this space a few months ago?

Pfeffer: Yeah, in the end of the summer in August. And it’s great because I can have clients come in and sit down, and it’s more professional, legit than meeting them at the bar in the corner and talking about their wedding band designs, which is what I’ve been doing up until now.

So, I have, like, a desk and chairs, and I could offer them a cookie or something, but I haven’t yet, but I want to someday.

Gross: Did you have to make some calculations to see if it was worth it for you to pay that much rent every month?

Pfeffer: Yeah, I figured, I right away figured out what I would need to sell or what kind of increase I would have to have in my business to make it viable, yeah.

Gross: So, how much extra—how much more do you have to sell; did you have to raise your prices?

Pfeffer: I didn’t raise my prices. I kind of anticipated correctly that foot traffic alone would be enough to make the difference in rent that I’m paying.

Gross: Nice. So, you’re now making about the same.

Pfeffer: Yeah, and I haven’t noticed a—I’m not, you know, in trouble or anything, so that’s good.

Gross: Cool. Cool. So, how about starting this up; did you have to have a certain amount of, like, money up front? What were the challenges?

Pfeffer: Just getting well-known enough online, really, because I started right when Etsy got big or was in the beginning of Etsy, so that was lucky too, kind of anticipating what the trends were going to be and making something that I thought would be great. And I knew—whenever I made something that would go viral online, which was in the beginning, my goal—I love the feeling when I’m making something I know it’s going to be, like, a hit.

Gross: Have you had one recently?

Pfeffer: No. The honeycombs were pretty good. But those are one of my first designs, and they kind of always remain one of the most popular ones.

Gross: Yeah, so, the honeycomb design that’s, like, I see the honeycomb necklaces with a little golden bee on them? Can you tell us a little bit about that; it’s your signature, kind of?

Pfeffer: Yeah, and when I was working at the science museum and I had started dabbling more in jewelry, I would talk to my boss about it, and they were all very supportive, and she suggested I do a honeycomb design because there was a hive on the roof that people could go look at, and I was, like, yeah, that’s a good idea.

People like honey. So, I made a hexagonal design, and it’s been pretty much the same ever since that, which was in 2009. But people have such nice stories about honeycombs. Whenever I sell them at craft fairs, people are always—every single time, someone—most people have very strong connections in one way or another to honey.

Gross: And I hear that a certain queen bee might have worn your design once?

Pfeffer: Yes.

Gross: Instagram told me this.

Pfeffer: Instagram.

Gross: Tell me about that.

Pfeffer: Two summers ago I was sitting at home alone, and a customer in the Netherlands tagged me in an Instagram picture that Beyoncé had posted where she was wearing two honeycomb necklaces, and one resembled mine.

Gross: Did it just resemble a necklace made by you?

Pfeffer: I mean, it was the exact design of my necklace.

Gross: They became very popular after that.

Pfeffer: Yes, I sold a lot. It was really fun. It was very exciting to tell people, and still today, people see it and they’re, like, ooh, it’s the Beyoncé necklace, and when I’m searching online I see people, you know, linking to me when people are asking where that necklace is from.

Gross: It seems like definitely you’ve had a few moments of Internet fame.

Pfeffer: Mm-hmm, I am my business.

Gross: Can you show us your Instagram for your designs?

Pfeffer: So, I try to mix it up with personal pictures and lifestyle shots and process shots.

Gross: So, you do all the photography yourself?

Pfeffer: Yeah, or my friend Emily is working with me, I’ll have her take pictures so she has access to my account also.

Gross: You have quite a lot of followers, almost 1,000?

Pfeffer: Almost 1,000. So, yeah, it’s kind of a mix of, you know, what I’m doing, if I’m somewhere cool, but I probably oversaturate my feed with jewelry.

I post a lot, but as far as going viral is concerned, on Pinterest lots of times someone will pin something. That’s a good way to get pieces seen by a lot of people.

Gross: And I heard there was video of you on the internet singing about jewelry.

Pfeffer: I went through a phase where I figured every business I had required a music video and a song.

I had a lot of time on my hands when I was working from home. I couldn’t make this now if I had to. I was dancing and hammering, and now I somehow made a slideshow of jewelry smoothly going by, and I remember coming up with the song when I was in the shower one day thinking, well, this is what I’m going to do for this week. That’s when I learned how to use iMovie.

Gross: So, now you’ve got a storefront.

Pfeffer: Mm-hmm.

Gross: You’ve been expanding it sounds like, you’ve got your social media presence is pretty covered, so what’s next for you for this business?

Pfeffer: I would like to have more of a wholesale presence in the world.

Gross: What would that entail?

Pfeffer: Means that you have to have more—usually means that you have to a line sort of. So, something that is a cohesive collection, and I don’t really do that.

I’m more just make things that I think look cool. So, I’ll have lots of one-of-a-kind rings or pieces that don’t really go together, and that’s always a challenge for me is figuring out what kind of grouping of pieces would go well someplace.

Gross: Do you want to have a line or be featured in more boutiques and, like, stores around town?

Pfeffer: Yeah, or just not necessarily around town because now that I have this space I can tell people to come here, but I - it’s always fun having - I don't know.

It’s kind of like a thrill and a goal to have them in as many stores everywhere as possible.

Gross: Do you have, like, business goals? Like, are you, like, oh, we’re kind of stagnating this year. I’ve done a lot of bicycles; like, do you have hopes for next year?

Pfeffer: Yeah. I mean, not really. I don’t have, like, a concrete goal in mind other than selling as much as I can and making as much as I can. But at some point you have to kind of figure out when you want to go to the next level of having someone else manufacture your pieces or have help making the pieces.

Gross: So, do you have any advice that you give to burgeoning jewelry makers who aren’t sure that they can make it and haven’t looked at the financial side of things as much?

Pfeffer: I would say take some classes, not that I necessarily did that, but see what aspect of jewelry making you like the most and enjoy the most, and make that your niche sort of, and then just open a shop online because that’s an easy way of not—you know, you don’t have to invest that much to open an Etsy or to open a Big Cartel or a Squarespace Shop.

Gross: How does it feel to be in many different states and have your designs known by communities?

Pfeffer: It’s fun. And with Instagram now it’s extra fun because I just sold a bunch to a few—I got a few orders in recently, and I kind of check Instagram and see who’s tagging me, and I’ll see, you know, a store in Wyoming will mention my necklace and post a picture of it just advertising their Valentine’s Day products, and then it’s me there, which is fun.

And the best is seeing people in the wild wearing my pieces and they don’t know who I am. A few times I’ve seen someone at a party or at anywhere—in a coffee shop—and I freak out and say, I made your necklace, and then they say, what? I say, I made it. And then that’s all.

Gross: Can you take us through the life of one of your projects?

Pfeffer: Sure. So, today somebody ordered a ring with a heart-shaped turquoise cabochon. Cabochon is a stone that has been cut to be smooth and round on top with a flat bottom.

I have a few that I bought from a gem show, and I’m going through my tall chest of drawers which I have no idea where anything is in any of them. This is all I do also all day long—I open up every single drawer in this 12-drawer piece of furniture.

I know I had the stone somewhere. I also have to find a bezel, which I had made—which I made for the stone specifically, which is the little hole it sits in, basically.

Gross: What’s the bezel?

Pfeffer: So, a bezel is—opening up a tiny little baggie filled of little castings. So, this is something that I made specifically for these stones. It’s sort of a silver heart box type thing that the stone will go in.

OK. Ideally, the stone will fit in this hole. Cut off the spue, which I should have done before.

Gross: What’s a sprue?

Pfeffer: A sprue is the little nubbin that’s left over from a casting. File it away to smooth it out—the big file.

Gross: The giant nail file.

Pfeffer: Giant nail file, and my nails are all destroyed and cut up from that. And then for this ring, it’s on a heavy gold-filled band, so I take the wire, I find it in my pile of rubble, and then I’ll bend it to the size I need it to be around the mandrel, which is in the vice at the end of the workbench.

Gross: What is a mandrel?

Pfeffer: It is a cone-shaped pipe that has numbers all the way up.

Gross: Stands in for your finger?

Pfeffer: Yeah, so you can hammer against it and figure out what size pieces are and use it as a round surface.

Gross: Because I guess you wouldn’t want to hammer your finger.

Pfeffer: You don’t want to hammer the finger, yeah. Don’t want to do that. So, this is too thick. So, then I would cut the wire that I would need, hammer it into the circle, and then I would solder it. First I flux it, which is—

Gross: Can you describe that?

Pfeffer: It’s kind of a heat shield to prevent fire scale, which is a coating that a piece will get after you solder.

Gross: You’re going to light it on fire?

Pfeffer: So, I’ll light it on fire while I control—I light it on fire in a controlled way.

Gross: Have you ever lit your hair on fire?

Pfeffer: I’ve never lit my hair on fire. In the beginning when I started making jewelry I used a soldering iron before I knew anything about how to do anything, and I had one outlet strip in our apartment.

And I plugged it—I turned it on, and I forgot that my soldering iron was plugged in. All day long I kept smelling this, like, delicious fire, and I thought someone was barbequing outside or burning leaf piles in Boston, which doesn’t make any sense, and then finally I walked to the corner of the living room, and it was so hot, and the soldering iron was on inside of a workbench for hours and hours, and everything was singed.

Gross: Oh, my gosh.

Pfeffer: So, that was a close call. I’m very careful now about what I do with my fire. But, no, I haven’t had anything go up in flames. But I do have a tiny little fire extinguisher just in case. So, I’m going to turn on my fume sucker, which is loud.

Is it too loud? OK. It’s just a big box that takes out all the bad stuff that I won’t want to breathe, even though nothing is too bad to breathe anyway. And then I’ll put on my oxygen, and I’ll turn on my propane, and then I’ll take my torch, and I light it on my clicky thing.

Gross: Oh, you got a flame.

Pfeffer: Got a flame going. And I’ll hold—

Gross: This is serious.

Pfeffer: —the band and tweezers on top of the bezel that I need to solder. And now I’m heating all around it equally so nothing melts before anything else should melt.

Waiting to see the solder run in a nice smooth joint between the band and the bezel. Usually it’s a relaxing experience, but usually it’s not also. Things can go wrong pretty quickly, like now it’s not running like I want it to, so I’ll add a little more solder, but you don’t want to add too much solder, and, yeah, that’s good.

So, once it runs smoothly like that, wait for it to solidify, then I pick it up, still very hot. I’ll see if it’s centered, which it is, and then turn this off, dipped it in water to cool it off.

Gross: Ooh, that was a noise.

Pfeffer: A little squelch. And then I’ll put it in my citric acid to pickle it.

Gross: What do you mean to pickle it?

Pfeffer: So, you put it in the pickle to take off the fire scale and the flux, which you put on when you solder it.

Gross: So, it strips off the parts you don’t want.

Pfeffer: Yeah, and it just cleans it up.

So, then I’d leave it in that for a while. And then when I’m finished with it, I would rinse it off again, putting it in the water, cleaning it off with paper towel that’s anywhere. Then I would take it back to the mandrel and round it out, make sure that it is the right size it has to be.

So, I think that should be about a six. I’m hammering it with my tiny little hammer. It’s called peening when you give it a nice little dappled texture. So, this is the ball-peen of a hammer.

So, if I want it to be perfectly peened, I’d use the round side. And then once it’s the right size, I would take it over to the polishing box way over here in the other corner.

I put on that fan that sucks some dust in, hold my flex shaft tool and putting on a different polishing wheel that will take away some of the buildup.

And then put my hands inside the carwash strips. And then I use the flex shaft that is powered by a pedal on the floor.

Gross: Is this the sound of polishing?

Pfeffer: That’s the sound of polishing. And then for this particular ring, the bezel around the turquoise stone is blackened and the band is shiny gold, so I would put together a mixture of liver of sulfur and drop that into my sink and let it stew in there for a while until the bezel got good and black, and I’d bring it back here and polish off the band to be gold again.

Gross: So, you’re purposely blackening the part around the jewel?

Pfeffer: Yeah.

Gross: Using sulfur?

Pfeffer: Using something called liver of sulfur, which I don’t know a lot about other than it smells like eggs.

Gross: Is it kind of a rustic look that you’re going for?

Pfeffer: Yeah, I like—I’m always drawn to the black and gold combination. I can’t really not make jewelry that doesn’t have oxidized silver and gold in it anymore. After I polish it, I put all my pieces in this drum—small plastic drum full of stainless steel shot in different little shapes—and then I put some—I put some water in it, and I put some detergent in it, and then I would close it up.

But I think I need a new one because it usually leaks. And then I put it back on a little shelf underneath my polishing box because the core doesn’t fit anywhere else. Then I take out this plug, and then I put in this plug, and I turn the old power strip back on.

And then sometimes it doesn’t turn so I have to prop it up on another thing. And then I hope that it goes.

Gross: And this is also to polish it.

Pfeffer: This helps it get a nice, smooth finish. And then I let this go for however long I can stand hearing the noise. Usually this is when I go out and get lunch because it drives me crazy sometimes.

Gross: Yeah, it’s a little like nails on a chalkboard there.

Pfeffer: It just goes on for a long time, and I’ve grown to despise it. And then I take it out, I pour it through a strainer, just dumped it into the sink on top of the strainer.

And then I rinse it under the sink to clean off.

Gross: It’s like panning for gold.

Pfeffer: Yeah, and then I dig. And when there are really tiny pieces, I got to look harder, and I just hope that I don’t drop anything on the sink, which happens a lot.

And then the worst part is pouring it back in the plastic drum. And then I take it over back to the workbench in the middle of the studio. I take my turquoise, I fit it into the bezel in the top of the ring, and then I hammer it and use a bezel pusher, which is a little metal handle with a round metal T shape at the end.

And I would put in my bench pin, my ring clamp, and I close it, and then I go around pushing the bezel against the stone to hold it in.

By then the ring is all polished up and looking like it will look when it’s being worn by the recipient.

Gross: And then, ta-dah, ring?

Pfeffer: Ta-dah ring. And I put it in a box, and then I wrap it prettily with tape and my label. I put that box in another box wrapped in tissue, and I put the label on it. And then I chase down the mail lady. And that’s the story of the ring.

Gross: Each of your designs is handmade individually.

Pfeffer: Yeah, so I’ll either put it together totally from scratch or they’re castings and then I have to finish them by hand and I add things to them. So, nothing is completely finished when it enters the studio at all.

Gross: Is it ever finished?

Pfeffer: No.

Gross: Thanks for listening to this episode of Working. I’m Rachel Gross. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the podcast. You can email us at working@slate.com, and you can listen to all five seasons at slate.com/working. This episode was produced by Mickey Capper.

Our executive producer is Steve Lichtie, and the chief content officer of the Panoply Network is Andy Bowers. Thanks for subscribing to Slate Plus. Here’s an extra just for you: Rachel talking about what it’s like to come from a family of jewelry makers and how she and her father settle their design differences.

Gross: How did you get into jeweling?

Pfeffer: I grew up in my family’s jewelry store in Western Massachusetts in Greenfield. My dad’s a jeweler, and his brother is a jeweler, my uncle in Arizona and his son—so, my cousin—is also a jeweler. I never wanted to do it just because I was always around it.

Then I went to college and I majored in sculpture and creative writing and quickly realized I was not a sculptor, and I wouldn’t make money as a sculptor, and I got a job after college at the science museum in Boston for a year, which was really fun, but I started making jewelry during that time because I really hated waking up that early and going in on a daily basis.

So, I started doing that. And then I quit that job and started jewelry full time.

Gross: That’s awesome.

Pfeffer: Yeah.

Gross: So, it was a procrastination tool on the one hand.

Pfeffer: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Gross: And did you pick up most of your jewelry techniques from your dad and his brother?

Pfeffer: Yeah, I never went to school for it. I took a few workshops here and there, but mostly just teaching myself and having my dad correct me when I was doing everything wrong.

Gross: What were a few of the things that your dad taught you as a jeweler?

Pfeffer: He basically taught me everything how to make jewelry, but, you know, good soldering techniques and tips on finishing pieces, and he’s done it for 40 years, more than that, and he was self-taught also, so he has—we both have kind of unique ways of going about putting things together and not necessarily the ways that everybody else does it, but ways that work for both of us.

I kind of have a more rustic look to my pieces, which he may describe sometimes as unfinished, or if something’s sort of has like a brush finish or isn’t completely polished. And he’s usually right, I should—I need to spend a little more time on it to make it look more complete, but we argue over that sometimes.

Gross: Sounds pretty typical. My dad tells me I should keep my apartment cleaner, your dad tells you you need to do more polishing and soldering.

Pfeffer: If there’s a rough edge, he’ll tell me, like, it has a rough edge, and I’m, like, oh, thanks. Not that he’s here constantly touching all my jewelry, but, yeah, he’s always in my brain.

Gross: Are there a few aspects of jewelry making, like, specific examples where you think of him when you do it or he taught you that technique?

Pfeffer: Yeah, well, whenever I go home—whenever I visit and go home, I will sit with him and watch what he’s doing and pick up some techniques and tips just like different ways to finish prongs. He showed me a good trick with prongs this time.

Gross: What are prongs?

Pfeffer: Which are the little nubbins that hold stones in.

So, if you see a stone on a ring and see they’re kind of—it’s in a bezel, which is the smooth wall that’s holding it in or it’s in prongs, which are more fingers, he helps me with that technical stuff. Mostly just to finish it well and to make sure there aren’t anything—there’s nothing rough inside.

There’s nothing that would give anyone a problem, which is good advice for everything.