Great site. I’m enjoying browsing through all the wonderful
resources. I have a question regarding apprenticing. I am just
starting to explore the jewellery making field. I’m interested in
learning the craft, but there’s not art school with a focus on
metal/jewellery in my city. I have taken just one weekend workshop
with a German-trained master goldsmith. I will be taking another with
her. She said to me after that I do have a talent for it. I realize
that I can’t learn all the skills I need to learn to go anywhere with
this by taking weekend workshops. I’m wondering how apprenticeships
work. I offhandedly asked her, and she didn’t seem to know. She’s
never had an apprentice. She seemed to think that the apprentice would
pay her. I don’t think that’s right. Anyways, I’m wondering how I
should approach her, or someone else about becoming an apprentice,
possibly part-time so I can continue to earn money at my current
profession, writing. What if I “volunteer” to help her for free in
exchange for learning more about the craft? Would that be a
reasonable offer. I am told that some jeweller pay other to do basic
work, but at this point I’m not concerned about getting paid…I just
want to learn as much as I can without completely giving up my day
job. Anyways, I’m trying to figure out how to approach someone with
this idea. Or is it riduculous to even contemplate this when I have
no training?

If you can answer this…thanks a lot in advance!

Karen Twitchell

Hi Karen

 I'm wondering how apprenticeships work. 

I learned the trade through an apprenticeship program in CA through
a state sponsored program in 1971. I believe I was the last person to
benefit from this program. That program worked with state matching
funds. The employer paid me half of minimum wage and the state picked
up the other half. If my wife hadn’t been working, I couldn’t have
afforded to participate.

I mention the above because I learned something about
apprenticeships through it. I don’t know how much it will help you,
but I’m glad to share some of it.

I think I approached every single jewelry store and manufacturer on
the S.F. peninsula over a period of about 3 months. Finally, a
jewelry store manager called me back and gave me a lead. That lead
led to a position where I was to participate in the program mentioned
above. The apprenticeship was quite basic. I learned jewelry repair
and machine engraving. For four years, I basically sized and repaired
rings, soldered chains and charms, and engraved jewelry. The
experience was invaluable in getting me into a real apprenticeship
in a S.F. manufacturing trade shop. In other words, without some
fundamental training, it’s terribly difficult to find an

On that note, Riddle’s Jewelers in North Dakota (or is it South
Dakota?) offers (or used to offer) apprenticeships in their
manufacturing shop. What will you learn to do there? Basic soldering,
and probably some other skills including casting and finishing. Basic
grunt work, but invaluable in getting your foot in the door

This is basically how it works. Some shops need trainees to perform
simple and repetitive tasks. They are generally very low paying
positions and boring work, but you will learn some basic skills.
People who take on apprentices usually want to earn a profit from
them, otherwise it just doesn’t work. It takes a lot of time to train
someone, and that means lost income.

When I worked in a union trade shop as a journeyman jeweler in S.F.
(early 1970’s), there was a union rule that only one apprentice was
allowed per 7 bench workers. In the early 80’s the union all but
disappeared except in L.A. I believe. That was the last union shop I
worked at. I think it was in '82 that watchmakers and jewelers
struck, and that was the start of the end, or something like that…

Okay, the above was basically about repair, the way many trade shops
earn money. You, however, may want to learn jewelry making. That’s a
toughie, you may be basically on your own. Some universities offer
programs, but they co$t! I managed to learn real jewelry making
skills after years of practice at the bench, and I did most of it on
my own. I set up a bench at home, bought books, asked questions of
other jewelers and so on.

It takes a tremendous amount of determination and persistence to
learn this craft. There’s just so much to learn!

If you have an idea of exactly what kind of jewelry you’d like to
produce, there may be dramatic shortcuts in your education. If you
desire the kind of broad ranging skills that trade shop jewelers have
learned over years of work, then you will most likely have to go the
long road.

Maybe you can develop a relationship, and a friendship with the
German lady. I think you’ve got a good idea there. If she likes you,
she might just agree to something…

Jeffrey Everett

Hi, Karen, I don’t have the answers you’re looking for, just a
comment. One of my daughters “apprenticed” for me for a while, and
though there is no doubt in my mind that this could work out in the
long term, I invested a lot of time instructing her, and had her do
pretty simple work for me, but, truthfully, little of what she did
was of sufficient quality for me to actually use. With an official
apprentice, I could be pushier and more demanding, of course. But
the point is that the up-front investment in time and materials to
get an apprentice up to speed is huge, so the arrangement would have
to build in some way to make it mutually worth-while from the start.
For whatever that’s worth (every penny you paid for it!)


What city are you in? Are you in Canada? If so, go see Charles
Lewton Brain and take some classes.

If you have no training at all, then I don’t think you should expect
to find a job and get paid. If you have some training and you can
be of some use, and not make too many expensive mistakes that have
to be fixed, then you could expect minimum wage.

If you have no training, can’t find classes, then I think it would
be reasonable to pay someone for the privilege of working for them.
In my second apprenticeship, I worked for a very, very, very low
wage. However, I learned so much, advanced so far, that it would
have been worth it to pay the woman I worked for.

In anticipation of the question, how did I get my two
apprenticeships? I created both by talking my way into them.
Networking, asking. All the best jobs I’ve ever had didn’t exist
until I asked for them.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Studio 925; established 1992

What city are you in? We take on new help from time to time.


I was recently in Williamsburg and the silversmith shop there had an
appreentice that I talked with. I didn’t find out anything other
than that she was an apprentice so I can’t tell you more other than
she was in costume. This might get tiresome during summer. I mostly
asked such things as: Where did they get sandpaper, files, and
sawblades or did they have to make them?

Marilyn Smith

Yes, they made their own files by striking a flat piece of metal
with a chisel, which was then tempered by heating red hot and oil
quenching. The saw blades were then made with the file. The most
common things used for sandpaper were leather pieces with the grit
carried in some type of grease {probably bear} and they also used
sharkskin with ash from the stove for the final compound… Hope that
answers your curiosity. Ringman

Yes, they made their own files by striking a flat piece of metal
with a chisel, which was then tempered by heating red hot and oil

Have a look at my website at for a
description with photos of filemaking.

Best Wishes,
Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK