Nail Art

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The Gold Rush of the '90s

Gold nail jewelry is fast becoming a girl’s best friend.

<p>illustratioin/Dominique Blaskovich</p>

Before you start mining for gold nail jewelry sales, familiarize yourself with the differences between solid gold, gold-filled, and gold-plated, and know what to look for when selecting a manufacturer.

Move over diamonds. For today’s discriminating client, gold nail jewelry is fast becoming a girl’s best friend. No longer limited to rings, earrings, and necklaces, gold is a popular nail adornment for many clients. Whether you’re going to offer gold studs, charms, or dangles (to name a few), you need to know the “real” thing when you see it.

Basically, gold nail jewelry comes in several form: solid gold (14-karat), gold-plated, gold-filled, or gold vermeil. According to Marlene Sortino, president of Miami-based Snails Italian Jewelry, the terms gold-filled (14k gold –filled), gold-plated (22k and 14k gold-plated), and 14k gold vermeil refer to jewelry that is made of jeweler’s base metal and overlaid with a thin coating of gold or gold color. These jewelry pieces are not solid gold, says Sortino, although high-quality filled and plated pieces can have the weight and look of solid gold when they’re new.

Filled or plated jewelry will eventually change color or tarnish when repeteadly exposed to chemicals such as nail polish remover, says Sortino. Because filled and plated jewelry is made from non-precious metals, it’s usually inexpensive.

“Gold-plated nail charms will not last long because the gold plating eventually wears off,” says Harry Bianconi, vice president o marketing for Nail Art a la carte (Huntington Beach, Calif.). “Just picking up a pen off a desk causes wear and tear on a nail charm.”

Gold jewelry that is marked “14k” or “18k” is solid gold and has a very high monetary value because of its precious meat content, says Sortino. Gold does not tarnish or discolour, and very few chemicals have any effect on it, she continues. Solid gold jewelry costs significantly more that filled or plated jewelry, but it is expected to last a lifetime and retain constant beauty and value.

The karat (signified by the “k”) value of gold is a measure of its purity. The higher the number, the more pure the gold. For example, 18k gold is more pure than 14k. Pure gold (24k) nail jewelry is very rare because it is very soft and easily damaged. Impurities in 14k gold make it harder and more durable than pure gold, but also less expensive.


Just as earrings are available in pierced or clip-on styles, nail jewelry comes in post- or polish-secured styles so the client can choose what works best for her. Polish-secured nail jewlery is held on by dried nail polish. To apply this type of charm, brush on a top coat over the nail (natural or extensions) and let it dry just until it’s tacky. Then place the charm on the nail, wait until the top coat dries completely, and brush on a final coat of top coat to seal.

“If you don’t put enough top coat over the charm, you can lose it,” warns Bianconi. “A post-secured charm, on the other hand, is next to impossible to lose because it’s secured to the nail with two nail charm nuts.”

To apply a post charm, hand-drill a small hole through the free edge of the nail. The post is inserted in the hole and secured by two nuts on the bottom side of the free edge, leaving the charm on the nail tip.

There are special nail charm tools to drill the hole and secure the small nuts. Bianconi recommends them for nail artists and for clients who wear nail jewelry. “Clients can then easily remove charms at home as often as they like instead of waiting to get their nails done at the salon. By being able to change charms at home, clients will end up buying more of them in the long run,” says Bianconi.


No matter which style your client prefers to wear, nail charms are very easy to apply and are completely safe when worn on natural nails, acrylics, wraps, or any other nail extension, says Joyce Bogen, president of Joyart Jewelry Co, (Bellmore, N.Y.).

Nail jewelry comes in all shapes and sizes: charms, dangles, chain rings, studs, and more. Bianconi says the single cubic zirconia stud charm is a popular seller for his company because “it’s classy and will go with anything.”

Bogen’s leading seller is a traditional stud post charm, but she’s noticed increased interest in dangling charms.

For Sortino, the Snails dangle charm, which comes in sterling silver, gold-filed, 14k gold, and rainbow colors, is one of her most requested items.

Ed Caballero, owner of Spirit of Love Nail Jewelry (Upland, Calif.), has watched custom-engraved 14k gold and sterling silver nail tips grow and sterling silver nail tips grow in popularity. The tips are hand-engraved – usually with personal names or business names – and cover about the top half of the nail.

For the client looking for a one-of-a-kind charm, some manufacturers offer custom-designed nail jewelry. Sortino will customize any charm when a customer submits a picture or drawing. Bogen has had some unusual custom-designed nail jewelry requests from her clients.

“Someone wanted a hippo nail charm, because they had recently adopted a hippo at a zoo. They sent us a ceramic hippo to duplicate as a nail charm,” Bogen says. “We’ve also had to reproduce on a nail charm the face of a client’s award-winning shitzu from a photo.”

Bogen also has re-created the stylized “D” in the Detroit Tigers logo for a woman attending the baseball playoffs. And for a dental hygienist client, she made a gold tooth with a diamond cavity nail charm.


Says Milt Lax, co-owner of Jani/Sweet Lady Jane Nail Designs (Chatsworth, Calif.), “A salon needs to make sure that they are dealing with a reputable company – someone with a track record.”

Sortino says that salons interested in retailing nail jewelry should look for product quality as well as customer service. “Technicians need to make sure that when they are ordering 14k gold they are getting solid gold,” she says.

Bogen recommends doing price and quality comparisons between companies. She also stresses the importance of selecting a service-oriented company that also can support a salon’s retail efforts with such things as brochures and posters.

Don’t be drawn by the lowest price, says Bianconi. “You get what you pay for, so never automatically go with the lowest bidder. A salon should look for good customer service, a fair return policy, and money-back guarantees.”

When choosing a nail jewelry manufacturer, be sure to ask about guarantee and exchange policies. You don’t  want to be left high and dry with broken post or merchandise that doesn’t sell.

Most manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty on their posts and will replace them at no charge if they strip or break. And if an item is not a popular seller for whatever the reason, the majority of manufacturers will exchange an unused charm (not custom-designed) for other merchandise.

Find out how fast the turn-around is when ordering products. Just as your client counts on you to have what she wants, you have to count on your manufacturer. Most manufacturers will ship regular orders within 48 hours, although special orders usually take longer.


Now that you’re all set up and raring to go, you must price your service and products so as to create value and volume sales.

Most salons mark up nail jewelry 50%-100%, depending on the salon size, its location, and the wholesale cost of the charm, says Bogen, who suggests doubling your cost for the jewelry to determine the retail price. In addition to covering your shipping charges, a 100% markup gives you flexibility if you want to discount prices for holiday special and seasonal promotions, which os sometimes necessary to stimulate lagging sales.

Caballero also recommend a 100% markup. He notes that many slaons have had great success by regularly running nail jewelry at a sale price, 25% off, for example.

Lax says that the retail price is determined by the nail service price. “A high-end salon should definitely mark up 100%, whereas a discount salon may not be able to afford such a sizable markup,” he says.

Bianconi offers another viewpoint: “Salons should not mark up their nail jewelry more than 50%, which means an $11 charm to the salon becomes $16.50 to the client. Though most technicians want to mark up 100%, they won’t sell as many if they do. They are much better off building a repeat business at a lower price than a one-time sale at a higher price.”

Retailing gold nail jewelry can be a golden opportunity. It adds sparkle and shine to your client’s well-manicured nails.


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