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: http://tinyurl.com/nqw2ww )
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.