I got my master bench jeweler certification in 1997. I was the 4th
jeweler in the US to complete the program and the first self
employed, independent goldsmith. The certification is done by
Jewelers of America (http://www.jewelers.org/). The best idea, I
would think, is to call JA and ask to speak to the person in charge
of the program. Mark Mann, who started the program, is no longer
with JA and I don’t know who the new person is. Still, they have
always been very helpful, I can’t imagine that changing.
Ask them if they know of any of the master jewelers who are looking
for help. Even if there are no jewelers looking for help, they may
be able to hook you up with someone who can answer more questions
for you or who are as close to you as they can be, being your in
Alaska and all. Most of the jewelers who take the exam, at least
this is the I got when I last checked, are jewelers who
are working in stores and not independent goldsmiths like me. So,
it may be that you could go and work in a store that is employing a
certified master jeweler. As an independent there are lots of
things I can’t afford to do for an employee that a store can, like
I grew up in the business. Most of what I learned came because I
have been at it so long, not because I “apprenticed.” I always
changed jobs when I had learned everything I could learn from the
place I was at, unless the employer provided continuing education
(which, unfortunately was extremely rare) and always chose my
workplaces very carefully, explaining my ambition and plan for the
future up front.
Working in upscale retail stores was one of the best places for me
to learn once I had become proficient in the repair end of the
business. You see a wide variety of work and usually the cheap,
grunt jobs are farmed out to shops that specialize in those things,
though stores have to have some jewelers who are lower paid who can
do such jobs “on the spot” when there is no time to send out work.
In one store I was at I worked with an Italian trained jeweler and
later an Irish trained jeweler. I also worked in a store that had
employed a German trained jeweler. I learned lots of things from
them just from sitting next to or across from them. I even learned
things just from seeing the tools other jeweler had left behind!
Many independent goldsmiths may specialize to the point that you
really can’t learn as wide a variety of techniques. At least that
would be the case if I brought an apprentice to my shop.
I would think most stores and employers would provide tools if you
are working on their things. But it is helpful to start collecting
tools early and often.
The qualifications I would look for include good listening,
excellent vision, eager, if not hungry to learn, good with your
hands and a head for mechanics and precision. Artistry is not
really a concern, I would want an apprentice to develop their own.
I would also like to see that an apprentice has a good idea of the
direction they want to go in, career-wise and style-wise. I don’t
want a blank slate to come in and simply learn my style and
techniques and take them as their own. I would love to help someone
discover all they can be, though. That is another major difference
between a store and an independent. A store wants people who can do
lots of different things, not really specializing in a few things.
If you have any other questions, just let me know.
JA Certified Master Bench Jeweler