An American goldsmith in London

For many years I have encouraged the goldsmiths who have come through
my shop (which is in the US) by telling them that they are learning
uniquely valuable skills. That continuous self education and
broadening of those skills not only makes them more valuable to me
but it builds their career for the future, wherever their life may
lead them. In fact, I tell them that I believe they could leave this
country and work in Europe without much trouble.

I then tell them that something I have often imagined doing is
traveling around the world by going somewhere, say London, getting a
job and then staying for a year or so to really get a feel for the
place, then move on, find another job in another interesting place
and stay there…and so on. I’m not sure that it will ever happen,
but it’s a nice dream.

Anyway, my question is are the skills of an talented American
goldsmith transferable to a shop in London for instance? Would the
goldsmith shop in London, Paris or Madrid value basically the same
skills a shop in the US would?


It makes no difference if you’re American French, Spanish, etc… If
you can speak the language and most importantly have the skills it
would be possible. There are cultural prejudices.

But, how difficult is it for a skilled goldsmith to find a job in
the US?

Hi Mark:

I’ve been an American in London. It’s not as similar as you’d think.

Just so you know where and when I was, I did a year in the extended
studies programme at what was then City of London Polytechnic (now
London Metropolitan Univ.). The actual school was Sir John Cass,
which is a gold and sliversmithing school that goes back to…1760?

or so I was given to understand. This was in 1991. That was a now
frightening number of years ago, so things may have changed, but I
suspect not as much as you’d think. I did this as a year-off while
working on my BFA in metals.

The brits are vastly more traditional than we yanks are, and they
specialize a lot more. American ‘metalsmiths’ tend to be generalists.
We do everything from making waxes to setting stones, to raising
vessels. We have to work that way because outside of a few big
cities, there aren’t the specialists to depend on. (Stone setters
yes, but outside NYC and LA, how many polishing houses do you know
of?) This means we’ve got a lot more arrows in our quiver, but
they’re not perhaps as sharp as those of a specialist who does
nothing but sharpen arrrowheads all day. The brits I studied with
were incredible technicians, but they tended to be very focused on
whatever their particular thing was. For example: I had to come up
with an integrated setting for a bunch of trilliant stones that went
into the legs of a goblet I was working on.

(The little red guys here: )

I asked my setting tutor if he thought the setting would work. He
said yes. So I asked him how he’d build the setting. His response:

“I dunno, ask one of the mounters. I just let the rocks in.” (This is
not to take away from Bob. He did some absolutely stunning work.

Pave like you’ve seldom seen. He just never had to actually make the

At the time, they were still using bow drills and mouth blowpipe
torches. Flex-shafts (“Pendant Drills”) were just starting to come
into use, and they were more like the electro-motor type, rather than
the Foredoms we use. They don’t (or didn’t) use them nearly as much
as we do. They were still doing all their settings by engraving the
seats, rather than burring them out. (gives a better seat, but takes
longer and more skill.) I strongly suspect they’re still using
blowpipes in most trade shops. (Have you ever even seen a mouth
blowpipe torch, let alone used one?) (FYI: their hoses are red for
gas, and [blue] for air/O2.) There were a lot of little things like
that that I kept stubbing my toes on: the specialist terms are very
different. You’d think we’d share our terms, but American jeweler’s
terms are more descended from French & German than they are from
English. (At the time the American jewelry trade was really getting
established, the Brits were a bit miffed with us, so there weren’t
vast numbers of jewelers immigrating from England. There were vast
numbers of them coming out of the continent. Thus a graver that we
call an Ongilette, they call a “spit stick”, and it’s a scorper, not
a graver. Gravers are just the diamond ones used for lettering.) You
can function over there, but it takes a while to get up to speed,
and wrap your head around how the trade works there. They actually
have a functioning Goldsmith’s guild, and it matters. So they pay a
lot more attention to it. They also have (had?) more of a cultural
tradition of supporting fine craftsmanship than we do in the States,
so their technical skills are very, very good. Designs tend to be
either very traditional, or totally avant-garde. Not much of a
middle ground that I’ve seen.

Brian Meek.

What an interesting question and kudos to you for encouraging
goldsmiths to live abroad and experience cross cultures to enrichen
their lives and global perspective. Whereas goldsmiths in the USA do
much of their work in 14K gold, many countries standards mandate
higher purity (e.g. 18K), but the techniques used to work the gold
would be mostly the same. It may not be politically correct to say
it, but many places in the world call for greater standards of skill
and craftsmanship than our mass-produced American culture. Here in
America, big box retailers flood the market with mass-produced,
boring same-old-stuff cranked out in Chinese factories while the
true artists (probably most of the people reading this thread) would
be perfectly comfortable working alongside and having a beer with
most any goldsmiths in the world. Gold is gold, wherever it may be
found. Talent is talent, wherever it may be found.

Paul Perkins
Orlando, Florida USA

But, how difficult is it for a skilled goldsmith to find a job in
the US? 

Yes - that is an interesting question! For example let’s take me. I
am skilled in the (i think you call it so) “old world techniques”
more than 25 years. Do you think, i would have a change to find a job
in the U.S. Where do i have go in the U.S.

But o.k., that wasn’t the original question. I believe that a good
man can go everywhere. The only thing you have to think of is, what
do you want do to? There are goldsmith who do it still in the “old
fashion way” and there are very modern too - they are using CAD/CAM
all the time. Of course there is a third group also using both



The detailed skills may not be the same in the US as in Europe but
I’m pretty sure that the basic skills are. I’m sure that if you did
move there and get a job you would have some things to learn, but
isn’t that quite the same as moving from job to job in the jewelry
industry in the US or Canada for that matter? The reason why I said
that you would have all of the basic skills is because I was looking
at moving to England to pursue a jewelry degree over there and based
on the types of programs that are offered here in Canada (I also
checked the US as well) everything seemed pretty much the same. It’s
probably the teaching of the and techniques that’s
different. Remember that London has a very different vibe than the
major cities in the US and Canada and you might find that some of
the freedoms that you take with your artistry that aren’t welcomed
here will be well received in Europe. London is an amazing center for
jewelry, it would be an amazing experience to get to work there in
our industry.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do.


Hello Mark,

This is an interesting question without a simple yes or no answer in
my opinion.

Beside the luck factor in finding a job, I believe that the answer
is that any highly skilled American jeweler could find employment in
London, Geneva, Paris, Rome or any other European capitals. In my
experience there has always been a demand for expertise.

If you go down to the next level in terms of aptitude, it become
harder even if you are talking about moving within the US from a
small town to a major city such as New york where the competition is

There are also slighly different needs in different European cities
in the high end market.

I have less experience with London, but Geneva and Paris might
require more specialized skills less commonly used in the US (cold
connections, knowlege of metal construction to receive enamel for
instance). The key is to find a workshop whose specialties match
your abilities. If you are a master in high end classic prong jewelry
there is a stong demand in Europe as well as in the US…

As an alien designer/jeweler/modelmaker I managed to find work in
New York and met some jewelers here whose qualifications would
certainly make them very desirable candidates as jewelers in Europe.

But, how difficult is it for a skilled goldsmith to find a job in
the US?

Good question. So how difficult is it? Excluding visas and work
permits and such stuff. Say someone like me, 54 years old who has a
reasonably broad set of skills, and the ability to work hard? I’ve
never worked for a boss so I always wondered what my take home salary
would be in the US.

Cheers, Hans.

Hey Mark, I’m not sure if this helps at all, but one of the things I
have always loved about jewellery is that it is universal. My idea
is that you can go anywhere in the world and make jewellery, give or
take a few cultural differences in style and technique.

I really doubt you would have any problems going from the US to
London, although I would suggest Birmingham as a better place to find
jewellery work.

Whilst London has Hatton Gardens with it’s diamonds, Birmingham has
the Jewellery Quarter which is an area filled with jewellers,
workshops, bullion dealers, gemstone dealers and tool shops. It is
also a hell of a lot cheaper to live in Birmingham than in London!

Good luck with your dream!

Hans, I think it would be a very personal individual experience. Our
field is not very standardized; I’m talking about individual jewelry
stores, not Zales, etc.

I can give you one ‘for example’ A stone setter who did only stone
setting got $100,000/annum. People will discuss their sex life; but
not their financials, has been my experience. Thus info is very


I do have to agree with Brian actually. We are more specialised, in
what we do, although I shouldn’t see this as a bad thing for an
American coming over. Maybe you could spend some time working for a
setter, or engraver and sharpen your arrowhead a little…Or just
improve your skills…In any case you will have a much wider
spectrum of possibilities in front of you. As for the blowpipe torch
(not a mouth blowpipe torch, I doubt anyone other than glassblowers
are using those anymore!) I’m afraid to say that The Birmingham
School Of Jewellery (supposedly world renown and incredibly good
I’ll have you know) neglected to replace theirs when they bought an
out-of-date laser welder and a micro-welder we were never encouraged
to use. Have you any idea how bloody difficult it is to solder jump
rings with those beasts?! I sincerely hope not. Although I guess a
good craftsman doesn’t blame their tools eh?

As for the lingo, I’ve found that most places have different names
for things anyway. Even simple tools. I doubt that would be as much
of a problem now though. If you’re unsure about something then you
can simply google it!

I can give you one 'for example' A stone setter who did only stone
setting got $100,000/annum. People will discuss their sex life;
but not their financials, has been my experience. Thus info is very

from what I’ve seen, that figure is rather higher than normal. The
good diamond and stone setters I know are more in the 50-60K range,
but of course this will vary by skill level, location, type of
business, and whether the setter is in business for him or herself,
rather than an employee. In one shop here in Seattle, the goldsmiths
earn between 20 and 23 an hour, while the sole diamond setter
currently gets 26an hour. That’s without counting benefits,
insurance, etc. Seattle may be a bit unusual for a city it’s size, or
so it seems, since I know a number of goldsmiths in other cities
earning more, in the mid 30s per hour, or more, but I also know a few
decently skilled smiths earning only 15 an hour. It varies a lot.


since I know a number of goldsmiths in other cities earning more 

One factor to consider when comparing salaries is the cost of living
in each place. A lower salary may actually provide a higher standard
of living in a place with much lower cost of living. For instance
where I live you can buy a 4,000 square foot house in the country
with acreage for under $500,000 easy. Huge house in town on the
Historic Register for under $300,000 – probably a lot under! So
your money would go much farther. Downtown stores are selling for
well under $100,000.

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

One factor to consider when comparing salaries is the cost of
living in each place. A lower salary may actually provide a higher
standard of living in a place with much lower cost of living. 

I am not sure how this subject got started, but I have read an
article in Bloomberg yesterday about exodus from London by financial
and software professionals. They have raised taxes again and looks
like everybody have had enough. So if someone consider moving, think

Leonid Surpin