A while back I read in the forum that someone wished to start an
apprenticeship program like they have in Europe and almost all of
the rest of the world.
I wanted to say I am all for that , if it would work. I really cant
see it working though. I say this from experience.
First, let me bore everyone with a quick bio on me. I’m 40, married,
2 fantastic daughters, and 4 years ago was disabled in a work
accident. Of courses the company came out ontop so funds are slim.
My wife makes just enough to exempt me from federal or state
vocational aid, and my disability payments (SSI) isnt always enough
to help pay the bills. Whats this have to do with the jewelry
trade. Everything. Its been a hobby of mine for years, although
havent really pursued it aggressively until 8 years ago. I am
currently enrolled in GIA Gemologist course, and have been trying
for that last 3 years to find someone that would tech me the trade
in an apprentice type setting.
At first I had some problems getting accepted, but after a while I
was getting some offers. Unfortunately, I found out after a little
while that I was not there to learn, I was there for free labor.
Everything from working on the building to running errands for the
store. Never really sat at a bench even though I would bring in all
my tools, bench and materials so not to cost the helpful jeweler a
dime. I do have to give them all credit as I did offer to pay what I
could, and they all declined the offer.
What I see as the biggest problem, even more than greed that makes
some jump at a cost free store slave, is that they are there to make
money, and no money is made spending time teaching someone the
trade. If that was the case there wouldn’t be as many want ads for
experienced jewelers. Like any good business, they want someone who
can hit the door ready to turn a profit.
One jeweler was absolutely fantastic and really meant well. When I
first started with him he had a complete 3 year course laid out with
books, videos, and lesson plan. That grand plan lasted all of 3 days
and it was off to the races… Or should I say confusion.
The big problem again was money Not that he doesn’t have any, he is
a very successful jeweler. He was always at his bench or at the
counter, as he should be, but never had much time for me. I was only
working at my bench , at the most, 3 hours in a 40 hour week. The
rest of the time I was either doing minor repairs to the store, or
running around for the owner. He couldn’t keep focused on what he
wanted me to learn. One week he would be a rush on customers wanting
stones set, so he would take me off whatever he just had me doing to
try to learn stone setting. And if I didn’t accomplish the task
within the time frame he would have, he got bent out of shape and
took it away. The next week it was watch repair, the next week was
clocks, then ring sizing, then customer work and so one. I never
learned anything except stress and even more confused than when I
first came there. I must admit I at least learned more than I had at
any of the others.
I am still on really good terms with everyone of the jewelers who
helped me out, and not one regrets taking me on. At least they have
never gave me any indication they do. I still talk and visit with
For the last year I have stuck myself in my basement at my bench and
practice, practice practice. I am getting much better, but still
dream of the day I can be in a structured learning environment.
I’m getting older, so time is not on my side. I have a family which
I would love to be a contributor to once again, as well as my next
biggest goal to actually becoming a bench jeweler, is getting off
Ok, now that Ive blah blahed everyone to sleep, I will get to the
punch line. In my experience, I dont see an in store apprentice
program working here in the states unless things can really change.
The store has to make money, and to do that most owners I know, also
work everyday in the store and shop. They all work more hours than
any employee does so they all want to spend any off time with family
and friends. Putting an apprentice in the shop area of a retail
store will only take the attention of other employees and or the
owners. This can only slow the work environment as well as extend
hours at work to make up for time spent with the apprentice.
I think a more structured school that actually teaches the trade.
Not all these 3 week to 8 month crash courses offered by most
current schools. And someone who is going to be a bench jeweler
really doesn’t need all the extra course many colleges and
universities require. Thinking of that, once you add up all the
required courses, and subtract those hours, you probably spend the
same , if not less time of actually learning the trade than at a
jewelry specific school. I know in Australia it can take up to
years before you can be a jeweler. 2-4 years in school, and 6 or
more years as an apprentice. This may seem long, but it makes
A plumber doesn’t just take a 6 week course and hit the street
alone. He apprentice his way up over at least a 4 year period. Same
with electricians, carpenters, and so on. Why should this trade be
any different. It surely encompasses more skills than most trades,
and much more precision skill as well.
But, its a " I want it all, and I want it now" world. So its do our
die. I guess that is why most of the successful jewelers today are
born into it. They apprentice from birth, but they dont seem to have
the patients or understanding of someone who has not had that
luxury. remember, these are my experiences and opinions only…
Ok, Rant over… Now you are all welcome to comment, bash, slam ,
abuse, insult ect… Enjoy!!
St. Louis Mo