Professional Bench/Five Steps to Profit
A passion for design, manufacturing and entrepreneurship
Robert Bruce Bielka, a noted jewelry designer and JA® Certified Master Bench Jeweler, began his career like most at the bench in a trade shop, trained to perform a very narrow range of skills. For Bielka, that was a great starting place, but clearly not enough. His passion and vision was to become a world-class designer, a bench jeweler capable of performing all skills to the highest quality and a successful businessman. Bielka discovered his love for jewelry in 1971 and began an apprenticeship as a bench jeweler and jewelry designer. In 1975 he moved from Seattle, WA, to New York City to advance his studies and began to work as a bench jeweler at Cartier.
He later started his own company and won immediate recognition for the extraordinary quality of his design and workmanship. Soon he was selling his one-of-a-kind showpieces to many of the worlds leading jewelers, including Fred Leighton, Mikimoto, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston and Chaumet.
Bielkas jewels include clean, smooth, contemporary designs, movable teddy bears, realistic animals and many other motifs that are finished to perfection with enamel, pavé diamonds or a variety of other finishes. In addition, Bielka designs and manufactures jewelry on a special-order basis for retailers who need to fulfill specific requests by customers.
Heres how Bielka uses the five Ps of pricing, process, promotion, productivity and professionalism.
Bielka has a clear understanding of the overhead, labor and other costs related to operating his business. Prices for products and services are based on the amount of time and skill level required, taking into account any complexities, difficulties or the extraordinary value of a piece that may require Bielkas personal attention, plus accommodation for any additional risk exposure.
For his one-of-a-kind work, design time is priced at a discount if the design isnt approved and is fully accounted for in the final price after the customer approves the design and estimate. Bielka provides rough sketches and finished renderings, depending on the needs of the customer and the requirements of the job.
Bielkas manufacturing facility incorporates a sizable showroom, office for administration, storeroom, six-workstation shop, polishing room, laser-welding workstation and another shop area where Bielka performs his design, model making and one-of-a-kind jewelry manufacturing.
For years, Bielka anonymously designed jewelry for major manufacturers and retailers. He designed the Asprey Sunflowers, for example. But he soon realized anonymity wouldnt lead him where he wanted to go and that he needed his own identity. He started taking on work for which he received all the credit. The strategy proved to be on target and has led to his continuing success.
Bielkas designs and approach to making jewelry have been featured in publications such as Veranda, Departures, Town and Country, W, Architectural Digest and Jewelry Connoisseur. He directs all consumer inquiries to a retailer carrying his product line in the callers area.
He has participated in cooperative advertising programs with retailers such as Neiman Marcus, helping build consumer awareness of his designs. But his best customers, he notes, have been generated from referrals and word of mouth.
Bielka looks for and relies on technological advances in manufacturing to fulfill the manufacturing requirements of his pieces.
He uses the following advancements in equipment to enhance productivity and quality:
- Laser welder.
- Magnetic finisher.
- Vacuum assist wax injector.
- Lapidary equipment for his invisibly set designs.
Bielka first heard about bench jeweler certification by Jewelers of America from an online manufacturing chat channel. After researching the program, he felt so strongly in favor of it that he immediately enrolled and became the first jewelry designer to be certified at the master level. He felt his certification would help his clients and potential clients better understand his commitment to his trade and his ability to provide world-class design and quality workmanship.
Bielka continues to fulfill his dream providing his designs to the international market and enlarging his company in the process. In fact, hes talking with potential partners and investors who can help increase his exposure and ultimately grow his operation.
For information about JAs certification programs, call (800) 223-0673 or visit www.jewelers.org. Contact Bielka at (212) 980-6841.
By Mark B. Mann, Director of Trade Programs, Jewelers of America
Featuring designer and JA® Certified Master Bench Jeweler Robert Bruce Bielka, Bielka Inc., New York, NY
Photographs by Robert Bruce Bielka and Jewelers of America
© 2002 Jewelers of America