Apprenticeships, is it still possible?

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
them often.

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
SSI disability.

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!!

Daniel Hamilton
St. Louis Mo

Daniel: Have you checked all the possibilities in your home town?
At some vocational schools, they have a jewelry fabrication program
as part of the welding department. Usually they call it "Art Metal"
but you learn a lot of the basic skills you need, soldering, forming,
stone setting. Or a junior college? I took fabrication classes at a
Community College (again a function of the welding department). The
equipment was not always the latest and greatest, but the instructors
were dedicated and the course work was intensive. I did two
semesters in this program and it was wonderful. They had a number of
scholarships available if you couldn’t pay. I know one person in our
class became the class assistant and was there early to set up
everthing, stayed late to clean up everything, and showed up a
couple of extra hours a week to sort tools, reorganize work benches,
etc… Maybe there is something like that available in your area. Or
check with the Gem and Jewelry Clubs in your area - they often have
short courses on various topics ranging from casting to bead
stringing to wire work. Everything helps, as the more skills you
develop the greater your arsenal for designing. You are then not
limited because you don’t know how to do something. But what you are
doing with your practice work is great and you will learn a lot from
trial and error. Good luck, you are on the right path.

    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

Hi Dan; I’m sorry to hear that you had that experience, and I hope
that you find, as I have, that even some of these bad experiences
have something in them for us to learn. But you wouldn’t believe how
many times I’ve offered students and coworkers the opportunity to
come over to my shop and sit down at the bench next to me wherein I
would be glad to take a couple hours aside and teach them whatever
they wanted to know about this skill. Everybody thought it was a
great offer, and nobody took me up on it. If I named some of the
students who took classes from me when I taught for a living, you
might recognize their names. But they paid for the education, so I
guess that makes the difference, right? Too bad you’re way over in
St. Louis, you could come by any evening and after my days work is
done, I could pass on some of my 30 years of experience and my 2
college art degrees. You’re ever out this way, you can look me up.
I’d wager there are some other Orchidians who feel the same way.
Good luck, you’ll get your opportunity some day or you’ll find out
what you need to know by one way or another, and some day I’ll get my
chance too.

David L. Huffman
David L. Huffman Studios, Inc.

Dear NatnDan, your experience filled me with sadness. Such unrequited
enthusiasm must have been very frustrating. In 2003 I’ll have been
an Australian jeweller for fifty years. I’ve taught jewellery
technique and jewellery design for the last nineteen both in the TAFE
(trade training) system and more recently advanced master classes
directly to the industry.

When I taught in the TAFE system, I was often disappointed by the
indifference of a minority of students to the riches that were being
handed so generously to them. This was only exceeded by the
indifference of the bureaucrats who controlled the system.
Unfortunately, the existence of a sound, tried and true training
system based on apprenticeships strengthened by college courses
doesn’t guarantee competent jewellers by itself.

Enthusiasm and some appreciation of valuable vocational skills is
also required along with the most important factor - time. Time to
develop skills, and time to learn that one never stops learning.

You’ve obviously got a good attitude. Keep on practising; maintain
cordial relations with the trade and its network of suppliers; do as
much private, one-on-one work with clients as you can. Nils
carborundum bastardorum! Kind regards, Rex Steele Merten

Dan, I think that since you are friends with the jewelers that you
previously worked with, first get the tapes that they had and study
them, there are many tapes available, second get a lesson on a one
to one basis, WHENEVER one of them is available even at these jewelers
home shops or your workshop, also my state has a program called N.J.
Workforce, somewhat related to the employment division of
unemployment ins.(but you don’t have to be on unemployment), all
that is required is that you be unemployed, age no problem, and
they give an employer a max. of $4000 to hire a person in a program
called OJT, (on the job training). Once you have applied to the
program, you can go around and offer prospective employers that
which gives you additional leverage, as opposed to
coming cold off the street(they like that). They also have the power
to give you a tuition waiver, usually in your county, to any college.
Or most states have an apprenticeship program division, where the
employer gets tax breaks, etc., to take someone into an
"apprenticeship program", where you work there in the day, and go to
school at night, in whatever dicipline. So you do the legwork, and
find manufacturers, or stores that are out there, and speak to the
human resources depts. or the owners, and they WILL hire you.
Unfortunately it’s a dog eat dog, anything goes world, but whatever
they make you do, learn, learn, learn, and production is the name
of the game in buisness, especially for an apprentice. Who is going
to do the menial duties, you or the top jeweler in the place? You
probably have a great deal of experience at many things in life,
being 40, kids, past employment, etc., but if you want to break into
a new field, you must do the exact same menial duties that a
youngster would have to do in that position, except that you CAN
bring your motivational skills, dicipline, and awareness of the world
with you. Of course, i don’t know what your disability is, but
whatever it is, the state will find a way to get you a job in your
desired field. Also think and plan other courses of action in the
jewelry field that might bring you in money, like craft shows, web
sites, freelance, etc. There is alot of room for many types of
jewelry out there; it doesn’t all have to be harry winston(high
end??), quality. There are many techniques that you could make use
of, many materials, finishes, styles, schticks, even childrens’
opinion on designs, the sky’s the limit. Practice makes perfect, but
you have to think. dp

  In 2003 I'll have been an Australian jeweller for fifty years.
I've taught jewellery technique and jewellery design for the last
nineteen both in the TAFE (trade training) system and more recently
advanced master classes directly to the industry. 

Hi Rex: How fortunate your students are to be able to avail
themselves of fifty years of experience. I won’t live long enough to
accumulate that many years of experience myself. I just wish everyday
that I had discovered this wonderful craft much sooner. Is there
anywhere your work can be seen? I would love to see a collection of
what you have made - I’m sure you have some beautiful pieces. Can
you share some with us? Thanks.


i had an offer from a jeweler last year to take on an apprenticeship
in a state far away from new york (where i’d never dare bother,
because of that ‘hey free labor’ sort of thing that gets so abused
here - i know interns who do the entire job of the person they’re
hired under)…

this particular jeweler that offered the apprenticeship lives in a
place where people pour in during the winter - the season his shop
does the most business and when he doesn’t have time to teach. so
he offered to do the apprenticeship during the ‘hot as heck’ summer
months instead. made sense. america doesn’t, unfortunately,
operate on the same time frame as europe and most americans wouldn’t
stand for apprenticing under someone for years, hehehe…

obviously, with a family traveling elsewhere for an apprenticeship
isn’t always an option, but assisting someone with a solid clientele
(not a frantic one) as well as a longstanding passion for the art,
and a style that appeals to you, is a good way to seek out a
learning situation.

i debated taking a two-year program at FIT here in new york, as
well, but then opted out when i not only did the math (FIT is
relatively cheap in comparison, if you’re an NY resident, but…)
but i took a look at all the ‘crap’ you had to sit through, too. i
have some pretty bad ADD - the only thing that keeps it at bay is
doing something - something that keeps my hands busy, hehehe…
sitting through lectures would KILL me. i can’t tell you how many
lecture classes i walked out of in college because i couldn’t sit
still through them.

as for me, i am excrutiatingly tired of new york, and need to leave
for a while - i am thinking of moving to one of those small
’sundance catalog’ towns and looking for an
assistance/apprenticeship with someone for a while. i don’t wanna
be pro, just want to learn more and make what i want.


Wow, I have to say thanks to everyone here who responded to my
apprentice query. I really have been getting a lot of good advice.
Its great to see that there is such a great support system here. I
have tried to respond to everyone I attempted to answer everyone the
best I could. Right now I’m not to clear headed as I am only a
couple months out of a major spinal surgery ( 4th one in 3 years)
and the pain medication is working overtime. ( on my pain and my
brain!) Once again, thanks to one and all in the Orchid family.

Daniel Hamilton20
St. Louis Mo

Dave, Wow, what great advice, I will be checking into it ASAP. I dont
mind starting at the bottom and doing the menial duties as long as I
am learning the trade as well. Especially if I am getting paid for
it as well. All my experiences so far were nonpaying so I guess I
looked upon it in a different light. Maybe not the best attitude,
but I guess I have gotten a little paranoid in my old age!

FYI , my disability is spinal and nerve damage, oh, and the obvious
mental ha Dan

Dear Dori, As the one who offered the apprenticeship mentioned I
must say you should have taken it. I worked up a solid curriculum and
am working with a new apprentice who is coming in January. If you
want to talk to her about the deal even as it unfolds while she is
here please feel free. I understand family obligations, that is what
fuels my ambitions. What do I get out of a ‘free’ apprenticeship
offering? Well, I really don’t expect the free labor to do me a bit
of good financially , it takes about a year to apprentice someone to
the point where they can make something with out so many questions it
becomes economically beneficial.The benefit I think I will get is
learning myself. And it has already done me good in that department.
I have had to research the reasons I do damn near everything in
order to teach it. I constantly ask myself why I do anything, is it
benefiting me? will it be something I should teach?Putting a
curriculum on paper was a fantastic learning experience for me. One
that I didn’t expect. I now expect to be surprised by the things I
will learn. I think the reason I offered to have a free
apprenticeship was to influence the craft. I thought that if I could
teach and have someone learn what I know and they became successful
in what ever they decided to do ,and I would hope it was to
metalsmith, it would become my success. The flip side of that was
that if they failed their failure would also become mine. So it was
for self promotion I offered my apprenticeship. In a cold calculating
view that is really it. I am crazy enough to think I have something
to offer and in that way hedge my bet that my apprentices will
succeed. I am vain enough to take on an apprentice. I have such a
passion for this craft/trade that I have been down many blind alleys
and while that is an experience which cannot be reproduced in a
teaching situation I hope to give my apprentice the ability to
objectively study any alley you come across and make an educated
decision. My offer still stands to you as well. Sam Patania, Tucson

OH, post script, I put my hallmark on anything I sell so to have an
intern do the entire job, god what a DREAM intern, and sell it as my
own goes against every artistic fiber in my being. All castings and
fabrications I sell if not done by me have a different hallmark on
them This hallmark shows that the design is mine or my family’s but,
the work is not done by one of us. I call this the Patania Collection
and it is designated by a large “C” around my regular mark. If I had
someone who could do my job ask for an apprenticeship I wouldn’t take
them on. They might do my job better than I and then how would I
feel??? ( with all my vanity) Sam Patania, Tucson

All, I have read each response to the “Apprenticeship” question.
What stands out to me is that in the USA there is not a program for
the “Arts” which addresses training and provides a business outlet
for products after the training is certified. To me the ideal
program would be one in which an apprentice learns in a structured
environment the technical aspects of their chosen art field. They
would be paid a salary and given benefits. After they have mastered
and been certified they should be then allowed to complete items and
enter into a different level of the apprenticeship. This step would
get the apprentice a feel for both producing product and marketing
that product. The final step would be the apprentice going out by
themselves and either marketing through the group of certified
artists or individually. I call this process the “full cycle”.

I look at businesses now that are very successful and I see the
owners believing that the way they came up is the way everyone should
come up. I disagree. There is a much kinder, gentler, and heart
felt way. It requires someone successful to accept less money for
themselves and give more back to make the system they were molded
under more humane. After all - How much money is enough? I would
rather be remembered as the one who has a larger group of successful,
tax paying people, making art with the aid of my training, than the
one remembered as the owner of successful business which accumulated
all the wealth in one pile. Providing another human being with the
knowledge, skill, and means of obtaining success and fulfillment is
what I strive to develop. Happy Holidays

Gerry Galarneau

I have two examples of current apprenticeship programs in the U.S.
One is a woodworker in Oak Park, Illinois, who advertises that he
offers a one year apprenticeship “no salary, no tuition.”

In the city of Chicago there is the famous Gallery 37 program
(, I believe, if not search on city of Chicago and follow
the link.) which started out as a small summer program in a vacant
block (block 37) downtown years ago and has grown and grown.

Gallery 37 is not an arts program, it’s a jobs program. City youth
go to the tents set up every summer at Block 37 at take classes with
working artists. The work the students, well, they’re not called
students, they’re called apprentices, the work the students make is
sold in the gallery to support the program. The students are often
commissioned to paint entire city buses or murals. The classes
include ceramics, lamp design, painting, woodworking, there is wide

The summer program is no longer the only one. No there are programs
in the schools during the year, after school. There is a special
program for the developmentally disabled.

And the program now has it’s own building where they have the World
Kitchen, part of the culinary arts education program. You can have
lunch there, take classes (for adults).

The advantage of this program is that it does pay the young people
(I don’t remember the wage but it’s attractive) so students who are
have to work can still participate. There is an application
process, to weed out any who just want money. Students learn job
skills and get an early introduction to the idea that yes, you can
make a living in the arts, and here’s how to be professional about

And, it’s easier for the city to get funding for, because it’s a
jobs program, not an arts program. They pay the teachers well too.

If you’re interested in encouraging your city to duplicate the
program, the city sells a how to binder for $75.00.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor

I have done two apprenticeships, both because I talked my way into
them. The second one, I learned so much I should have paid her.

One solution I think would help – is that if high school students
were aware of apprenticeship opportunities – they could work for
the low wages necessary while they are still living at home.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor

David et all - Just wanted to say how much these words warmed my
heart. It can be very intimidating to ask for guidance and
mentorship, and knowing there are those out there yearning to provide
it gives me a bit more courage to ask for it. In fact, if anyone
knows of a need for a true apprentice out here in San Francisco, I’d
jump at the chance to sit by their side.

Jessica, sitting by the fireplace in SF, “The Brepohl” in my lap.

I am also very saddened by the inability for someone who so
desperately wants to apprentice with a goldsmith/silversmith and
can’t find any resonable outlets. I live in Atlanta and have a
current apprentice. I have always opened my studio to anyone who
wants to learn by my side at any time they can come. I also have had
little turn out. It seems as though more people want to complain and
aren’t willing to give of their free time to learn from masters
willing to give.

Please feel free to call me if you have any questions you need
answered and I wish you lived closer.

Jennifer Friedman @Charles_Friedman

We have been training our own goldsmiths for a number of years with
mixed results. We have now on our second Japanese apprentise. This
is not a paid program we derive our benefit from work performed. We
have trained and paid apprentises over the years. Our former shop
supervisor was an apprentise for 4 years having no previous
experience. Our last paid apprentise relocated with her husband two
months into the program. Thats the problem. We live in a mobile
society and everyone expects good pay and benefits and you really
can’t enforce any sort of employment contract so its problematic for
most craft shops.


  I also have had little turn out.  It seems as though more people
want to complain and aren't willing to give of their free time to
learn from masters willing to give. 

Our local guild, the Chicago Metal Arts Guild is hoping to help
match these masters and apprentices, so if anyone in the Chicago
area would like to advertise either one, please contact me.
Listings are free to members, $5.00 for others and we’re putting
together the next newsletter now.

Also, many states have master/apprentice folk art grants, including
Illinois and MN. In Illinois it has to be a craft of your own
cultural heritage and of the other party. Both parties are paid by
the art council.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor