How about taking on apprentices with no experience at all. What is
the first thing you teach them?
Let me tell how I run an apprenticeship.
I will work with someone who is generally interested in learning the
“art and mystery” of our craft. If they don’t see this as their
career, I am not interested. If they just want a job, I am not
interested. If it is just their hobby, no apprenticeship here.
Previous experience or metalsmithing classes do confirm an interest,
but talent and motivation are far more important.
Very simple, I hand the person a jeweler’s saw and a piece of metal
with a little drawing on it and have them saw it out. If they have
never done that before, I show them how. They have to start by
putting the blade in the saw. Then I watch them do it, but not too
closely because that can be intimidating. I am looking to see if they
can handle tools and have good enough eye-hand control. This is just
to screen out absolute klutzes. So far everyone I have tested has
Start part time:
I start them just a couple days a week working on some of the most
basic and repetitious tasks in the shop. In my shop that is injecting
waxes for casting, cleaning up and polishing castings. Sometimes I
might have them soldering findings right out of the gate. There is
nothing about filing or polishing that is going to make them more
ready for soldering. Part time I learn if they will actually show up
and be reliable. It does not take too long to figure out if this is
someone I want to keep around. If I like them and I have the work for
them, I offer them a full time gig.
Terms of employment:
My apprentices are paid an hourly wage, covered by worker’s comp and
all the other legally necessary things to keep it all kosher. Several
have come to me and offered to work for free, just to get the
experience. I am not going to do it that way. They start at a little
over minimum wage and get raises as they get more productive. I
explain to them that I will regularly teach them new skills, even if
it is something I don’t especially need them to do for me at the
present time. The deal is that in exchange for helping me by working
for low wages, they will get an education. Expect this to go on for
Some of the things we make give a lot of creative flexibility to the
craftsman putting them together. These are fun. I give the
apprentice credit as a “collaborator” whenever I get the opportunity.
I take my apprentices on field trips, just recently the MJSA Expo in
NYC. If they want to use the shop on their own time I encourage that.
In the third or fourth year I will pay for something like a class at
the New Approach Jeweler’s School or something similar. Ours is a
family run business with my wife working full time as the business
manager and my kids working along side the apprentices quite often.
Any new designs created by an apprentice on company time belongs to
the company, but we do give the apprentice credit as the author on
Facebook posts and in conversation in the sales room.
Several apprentices have been part-time art students at a local
college or have been hired just for the summer. These are more like
interns. The real apprentices, after they have been full time for
four years, I give them a certificate that says they have completed
an apprenticeship with me.
Sometimes they stay longer. Sometimes they move on. My main
assistant, Lyndsay, got her certificate a few years back. She still
works for me and just keeps getting better and better. It is hard to
remember not to call her an “apprentice” anymore because we called
her that for a long time. My newest apprentice is an art school
senior. Part time for the past three semesters, she will become full
time after graduation in May. Between them is Abram, who has been
working for me full time since he graduated from High School in 2012.
Is this a real apprenticeship?
Some countries have very formal apprenticeship schemes through their
government education or labor departments. Jewelers in the US don’t.
What I have described above is based on traditional apprenticeship.
It is really just a deal between me and the apprentice. There is no
official oversight that recognizes that I am a qualified master or
states how this should be done. But it is real enough for us. We make
real jewelry together. After a while my apprentices have the skill
and knowledge that they can make real jewelry by themselves. This
morning I told Lyndsay I was planning to write this post and asked
her if she had any input. She wants to say she learned more in the
first year of her apprenticeship than she had in four years of art
school. My wife put a ring Lyndsay made on our Facebook page today
and it got over 600 likes in the first 3 hours.
Judge for yourself how real this is.