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Apprentice or Master

Hello All: I work at a very nice jewelry store in
Mercier,Yurman,Lagos,Orbis,JBS,Kabana, Miki Moto,etc. The store
has been

open in this town of 65,000 for a little over 4 years. I have
been the only jeweler for over 2 years. I graduated from Paris
Jr. college in 1984 and did jewelry on the side of other jobs
until 1994 when I went to work full time as a bench jeweler. I
have been very successful at custom work and repair and the work
load at the store has been growing leaps and bounds and although
my little work shop is not big enough for a second jeweler we are
going to expand soon. My question to the Forum is what do you
look for in an apprentice? What would you think a good starting
wage should be for a fresh grad. of a jewelry college and would
you hire a fresh grad.? Would you want to hire a jeweler that is
years better than yourself?

The up side of that would be that you wouldn’t have much, if any
training to do and you could learn a great deal. The down side
might be that he or she would wind up with your job.

Any and all comments would be greatly appreciated.

Michael Mathews Victoria,Texas USA
Search many orchid member and other jewelry related sites here

Now now, don’t fall prey to the age-old paranoia that kept many
good students out of the trade. (Just make’em sweep the floor for
5 years or so!!;))

Steve Klepinger

Hi Michael:

You might 1st farm some work out to some one who you might be
considering hiring to get a feel of there actual ability…

Should you need some immediate help we have about 4 hrs a week
we could devote to an outside acct. Dale Foster @Dale_Foster

Michael, My experience has been, that it is easier to train a
willing individual to do minor repairs and such, to alleviate the
work load and concentrate on the more profitable custom work. I
also have always had to spend much time working on design work
with customers, so this method keeps the flow gowing in the shop.
I would be happy to talk to you in depth, e-mail me at
@charmon. Good luck, Curtis

Michael Mathews;

Like you said, you just started out a little while ago, fresh
out of school. What were your requirements, your needs to feel
motivated to work, and to feel as part of the team? You should be
able to answer your own question.

This is the same way I had to answer this question for my

May the warm gentle winds of the Great Spirit bless your home
and all that enter.

G. Dancing Horse


I am wroking as a contractor with a local jeweler who is
interested in building up his stock and a reputation for unique
pieces (notice I did’nt say designer pieces.) It’s a
relationship which works very well for us both as I have complete
freedom to work when I wish and design most anything that I like.
He likes my work and it seems to sell well. The fact that I am
an independent makes me work harder and feel more self respect as
a jeweler. The info. I posted earlier was my experience looking
for employment as a jeweler through trade publications. Thanks
for your responce.

Steve Klepinger

Hi Michael,

If it were me, I’d hire the master. You can always learn
something new from anyone, but in a trade like jewelry where good
schools are few & far between (you went to one of the best ones)
there’s lots to be learned from a master. Think of yourself as an
’experienced apprentice’. Nobody can take away anything you learn
from him. So what if he gets your job, you were looking for a job
when you got that one. And besides, you picked his brain while
you both worked there, so now you’re probably better than him
(we hope). Based on your statements earlier in the post, I doubt
you’ll loose your job to a new person, even a master. It sounds
like there’s enough to keep you both busy. Look at a 2nd master
in the shop as an opportunity. Think of the ads (The only shop
with two Master Bench Jewelers in x miles!) the owner could run
for new custom work & repairs.

Good luck,



Rather than specifically looking for one or the other, why not
interview both? I think the important thing is to find a
conscientious worker whom you will work well with, whatever their
experience might be. You may find an apprentice with lots of
promise who can catch on quickly to the job requirements. Or
maybe an experienced jeweler that you can hand things to and not
ever have to worry if it’s being done right. But why not try
hiring the individual that you think will have what it takes to
work best in your situation and pay them according to their

Jill Alessandra Jewelry

Hi Michael,

In my shop I have found that the really experienced people make
the biggest difference in my quality of life. I don’t think you
should feel threatened because nobody knows everything, and it is
likely you would fill in each others gaps. You would have someone
to bounce ideas and techniques off of. I find that the better
people push me to be better myself, we all check each others
work. If you are involved in the hiring yourself you could
screen out anybody who does think they know everything, (a clear
sign that they don’t), and those who may be difficult to work
with. I always have people come in and bench test for a couple
days before I hire them , although they are on their best
behavior you can get a good idea as to if you will be able to
work with them , and if they are skilled or not. You should have
a good feeling as to whether or not your employer would ever dump
you for the new person, I think that is unlikely because skilled
people are so hard to find.

Inexperienced people are not all bad either. Their enthusiasm to
learn and help is a pleasure in itself. They are willing to
polish everything (big plus). They take all the routine work away
from you a free you up for more challenging work. As they
progress they become more and more valuable. But when you are
buried in difficult work all they can do is feel sorry for you.
And you will spend a good deal of time training and their fixing

The key with either is your personalities must mesh. You work so
closely that you have to get along, share the work, share the

Good Luck,
Mark P.

Hi Michael, From my experience, I would hire an apprentice. I
also graduated from Paris (1982). The first ten years or so we
hired a couple of “master jewelers”. I found that they had
trouble working for a younger person. They had some habits that
I was not overly fond of and when a quality question arrived
they did not like a younger man informing them they weren’t upto

I have since been hiring my own apprentices and training them to
do things my way. It has worked out great. I currently have
three apprentices all at varying stages of development. All
three have a well rounded education and i have had the
opportunity to determine their strengths and focus theim in a
certain area. Bob is a wonderful fabricator, brenda is great at
casting and ingot preperation, and Jim is under development. We
have a well balanced shop and a great working enviroment.

As far as what to look for in an apprentice??? I interview as
many as possible. You are lucky to be near a good school you can
have many good candidates to choose. I look for someone with
confidence, that seems easy to get along with, patience is very
important, and someone that will be a committed employee. One of
the most important traits for a goldsmith is the desire to get
the job done and stay late until it is done. I have been lucky
that I have three people that would walk through fire for me.

If there is any further I can help you with feel
free to contact me I would be glad to answer any questions you
may have. You can contact me at (541) 884-9033 days
(541)884-1923 evenings or

This is just one of the things that the STUDENT FORUM addresses.
We realized that finding and qualifying a potential apprentice
would be a very difficult task indeed! The STUDENT FORUM goes a
long way towards eliminating that problem. Want to know more?
Please email me.

Happy Trading,


Hey Michael Matthews- How’s it going? About your question,
consider this- I’ve seen your work, and nobody can take anything
away from you. I think that probally you will leave there when
you want to. That said, you are operating in a vaccume being by
yourself, and the only way to learn certain techniques in this
trade are by observation, unless you’ve got a lot af extra money
for the replacements that you are going to be paying for, or the
time you’re going to lose on the job. You should try to get
someone that can handle whatever comes along, and also maybe
you’ll pick up some knowledge from them, because there is always
a trick that you can learn, believe me. What would you rather do,
have your time for yourself, to do what you want to do, or spend
that time teaching- ask yourself that. It is not hard for a
decent store to support two jewelers, even with the 65,000 pop.,
especially if you’ve a reputation for nice work. But then, I
don’t give or take instruction well, myself. It’s different when
it’s your business as others here have discussed. Then you get on
that whole ‘I’m the boss’ thing- a different situation entirely.
I know that I personally have learned a lot in this trade by
being in with different jewelers, who all learned in different
settings. Any good jeweler has a certain area that they are best
at, and can always help you out if your maybe not so good at that
particular thing, like casting, setting, etc. Also, getting
someone who is experienced has one other big advantage… You
will never have to fix their mistakes (at least hopefully not):^)

I remember when I was aprrenticing, in 1995 I was making $5.00
p/hr but was learning from a master modelmaker who worked for
Jean Schlumberger. I learned how to make very clean wax models,
when I got a raise it was for .50 cents more. The jobs after
that brought me to $12-18 I do private work now so everything is
by the job which is more appealling to me.

Best of luck


Dear Michael, Your success at the bench trade in such a
relatively short time probably means you not only have the
obvious metal skills, but the great problem-solving abilities
that distinguishes the merely competent from the inspired
miracle-worker. If you go searching for an apprentice, look not
just for the ordinary bench competence, but for someone with the
creativity to apply widely gleaned knowledge to unusual problems.
Boy does that sound pompous, but seriously, think just how
ingenious people are in finding new and interesting ways to WRECK
the really nice jewelry you make for them…I’ve had stuff that
looked like the Slime Monster from Planet Ten had had a go at it
and things that were merely used as teething rings by several
generations of Orangutan, and ALL of it required
sideways-thinking trouble-shooting, not just knowing what to call
those funny pliers with the angled tips. How to tell if someone
has that creative streak? It’s tough, and you may end up with
someone from a different trade altogether who just thought it
might be neat to do this metal thing as a hobby. As for hiring a
mechanic above your own skill level: how much can you afford?
Good Luck!

Interesting viewpoints on both sides.

I have seen a few people mentioning what you can learn from a
master, but I have yet to see anyone discussing what you can
learn by teaching.

Sometimes, especially if you like teaching, the process of
sharing knowledge, and the feedback and questions you get from
the student can be a real eye-opener.

Just my biased opinion, of course. And in general (not
referring to this specific situation), whether you’ll get more
from one or the other depends on your own skills, preferences
and personality…

Do let us know what you decide, please!

Kat Tanaka

Dear Katherine,

like you, I too have been following this thread with some
interest. In Australia, we were the inheritors of the
English/European apprenticeship system. Forty three years years
ago, when I became an apprentice, you had to be 15 years old,
male, and preferably have a member of the family in the business.
Thank heavens those expectations are no longer necessary.

However, for all its faults, it was a surprisingly equitable
system. I was particularly fortunate to be apprenticed to a
company that was proud of its reputation and standards, and my
apprentice master was a highly skilled and responsible jeweller
and teacher.

Added to this training, my employers were legally required to
send me to Technical College for “off the job” general studies in
design and technique. This was an extremely valuable factor in
trade training. Not all apprentices were as fortunate as I. Many
were indentured into menial and repetitious tasks, and the "Tech"
gave all of us an equally valuable start as far as basic training
was concerned.

In those days this was free education based on the enlightened
notion that peoples’ taxes were for the three essential
foundations of a just society - education, health and welfare.

With the erosion of people-based skills in favour of machine and
computer-controlled alternatives, there has been a catastrophic
and ultimately destructive trend in skills training. It is not as
if the need for skilled jewellers is no longer there. One has
only to follow this thread and the other thread on trained staff
to see that the need for skilled jewellers is as great as it has
ever been. Art, music, the skill of our hands and the wit of our
minds, are the things that make us human.

This erosion of people-based skills has been hastened by the
rise and rise of economic rationalism. Corporations and
governments are more and more indistinguishable in their rapacity
and indifference to the things that make us human. It’s all “user
pays”… and pays …and pays.

In Australia, a wonderful tradition of equal and free education
is being destroyed by economic rationalists with their cant of
"user pays". I understand how the American system has developed
and I have the utmost admiration for the dedication and standards
of you idealists that I have virtually met on Orchid. However, it
is a sad indictment on the values of our contemporary social
order that it is increasingly difficult and increasingly
expensive to secure proper training in these valuable skills.

This thread and the other training and learning threads have
been wonderfully informative. After forty years as a working
jeweller, twenty years in my own business, and now as a full time
trade teacher teaching design and technique, I am increasingly
committed to this whole area of adult and skills training. To
this end, I am researching in this field and would appreciate any
feed back or personal experiences and opinions on this topic. It
may be less cluttering for Orchid to talk direct:

Sorry to take up so much space, Dr Hanuman, regards and welcome

Rex Steele Merten.

Hello All: Thanks to all who replied to my post. I found some
useful in your posts. The key to it all, I guess, is
finding someone with whom you can work comfortably and
productively. Kat Tanaka brings up a good point, you can learn a
lot from teaching and also you can get excited about jobs that
are run of the mill when teaching new eyes. I think that my boss
will probably hire an apprentice when we finally expand the shop.
Thanks again

Michael Mathews Victoria,Texas USA