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Bench jeweler's working conditions

Hello everyone,

I am kind of conducting a survey of sorts for my own benefit.

If you are a bench jeweler who works for a store, what are your
working conditions like? I mean are you located in the back or
basement of the store, any windows around, cramped conditions,

Just curious.

Hi Laurie;

Retailers are notorious for sticking their bench jewelers in the
least usable space in the store. If you are working for a place that
doesn’t respect your need for a decent work space, look out, because
they no doubt won’t respect other needs you have such as a fair wage,
a life outside of work, etc., not to mention the tools you need to be
productive. I’ve seen it personally, again and again.

David L. Huffman

I have worked for my own store in the past…tried having a bench as
a feature of the store -rather like restaurants having observable
chefs but the amount of time spent explaining x or answering
questions about x, or general over-perfumed type hassles that it was
necessary to move to the back, but the money saved in having to hire
another front person was worth it when considering the
time/production lost extra dust and particle requirements, etc. that
are intrinsic to having a bench in front…it is simply not cost
effective, but on the other hand bench jewelers are usually in the
back room or on a non-sales floor of larger businesses that are both
manufacturing and retailing actually OSHA has laws that protect
jewelers working conditions, as well as other trade organizations
that ‘make recommendations’., but if you are in a non ventilated
space quit or demand a new locale period…cramped conditions are a
hazard, you should definitely have an alternate exit if you are in a
basement, and there are manufacturing site laws as well. If you want
to know more of this type of info feel free to contact me off orchid
and we can discuss your situation and some possible remedies,
entitlements, and compromises…


In response to the question about working conditions. I am at a mall
store and have a seperate jewelers room in the back. it is about
8x10 ft, no windows. It is actually pretty nice and better than some
areas I have worked in the past. I do have a good vacuum system on my
polisher and an exhaust fan at both my soldering and plating
stations. All in all its not too bad. Just curious- what will you do
with this


On the line of working conditions…is there some type of air
filtration that is portable and that I can bring in myself in a work
place that would protect me from the fumes? I am doubtful.


L - there are alot of greedy *#$% 'S out there in the jewelry biz
that dont care about anything except the money its up to you to make
your own desicion. if you are a craftsman and know what you are doing
dont let some retailerput you in a bad working situation if it is a
health & saftey issue GET OUT NOW!!! dont make the mistake of not
trying hard enough either if you arent at work within an hour after
you get out of bed and if you are not in bed within an hour after you
get home and if you arent tired all the time and if you have had more
than one day off inside of 12 weeks you are not trying hard enough


In a closet almost, no windows, but no rent. zale corp. Very dirty.



You could get one of those “Ionic Breeze” air filters from Sharper
Image…we have a client who smokes and uses one to keep the air in
her home clean, should work OK in a shop environment.


Thank you to all that have answered my post.

It was strictly for my own personal use and this is
basically why in a nut shell so to speak…

I work as a contractor for myself in a jewelry store, it started out
to be 4 days per week but business dropped so badly in February that
I am down to 2 days per week still now into May. I also do work for
private customers, re-string, and anything else that comes my way to
fill in for money, it has been a struggle to say the least but I
have only been doing this for 7 months and business will pick up,
hopefully…the working conditions in the store I work in now are so
so…in the back, closet like atmosphere, no ventilation system BUT
we are not closed in. There is picture window that is opened up to
the store so we can see the customers and vice versa, we can also
see day light and have some fun too…

Another family owned jewelry store with 9 locations in the North
East has approached meto work for them as a bench jeweler.( I
already did a full day bench test and talked with the Human
Resoruces Person). The work will be steady and busy, (this location
does the 9 stores repairs), total benefits etc…sounds great
right? It’s in a basement, no windows, 3 other bench jewelers (men),
who keep to themselves (I PODS). The jewelers have been there for
20, 15 and 4 years roughtly.

This is an environment that I am not use to. Bottom line is I do not
know if I can work in a place with no windows and very little
communication and fun. I did it 20 years ago and hated it. But if I
know there are little alternatives and this is really what the
conditions are like in most retail stores then so be it. The
benefits and steady work would be a great ease off my mind…)

I am very fortunate and am not whining here about my situation, just
curious about other working environments.


The conditions of your work space will differ greatly depending on
the employer.

In one production shop, my bench sat with full natural light and
excellent ventilation but the owner and another craftsman both had
hand guns in their benches in case of a robbery. When I found out
that my bench was in the cross fire, I quit.

Another company had me in a cramped backroom where the only
ventilation coming in was from over the dumpsters in the back alley
the building pea-yew & no natural light. But the people where great,
good pay, and I got to be as creative as I wanted, I stayed.

Physical conditions are one thing, working conditions involve a lot
of different factors.

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext.228

Just as any other job, your working conditions depend mostly on you.
If it’s dirty, clean it. Dark, paint it and put lights up. No
ventilation, put in a fan. Honestly, as an owner of a retail store
and a bench jeweler, I don’t have time to babysit the other jeweler
I work with. If something bothers either one of us, we speak up and
change it. If it can’t get changed-- adapt or move on. Jewelry
making is a dirty job. You can’t expect to sit on a hand woven
oriental rug, with Tiffany lamps and a plush (cushy?) workspace when
you you spend your day mixing investment, rubber wheeling, filing,
borax flying all over the place, etc. It’s up to you to make your
work space match your personality. If I didn’t have to listen for the
door bell when customers come, I’d wear an Ipod too… :slight_smile:

Stanley Bright

I know there will be differing opinions on this but I have to say
that I have often found a more isolating condition (working in
basements with no windows, or relatively closed in spaces) to be far
more conducive to high production rates than being out in the middle
of everything where there are a lot of distractions. Since I’ve
always been my own boss, I’ve always set up my own working spaces,
but I know that when I isolate myself more I get a lot more done. So
sometimes, while it might be nice to have beautiful vistas to look
at, and people walking by, I honestly don’t think it’s great for
working. And as far as being an employer is concerned, quite frankly,
if I’m paying you, I want you working, not staring out the window at
some hunk (or attractive woman) walking by.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

That production shop does not sound like it is right for you.
Conditions at stores vary quite a bit from store to store. i have
worked for wholesale manufacturers, small indepedents, artsy shops
and now a mid size chain store in a mall. My current position is
actually really good. The working conditions are not bad and the
staff is pretty fun to be around. As the sole bench person i sort of
run an independent business within a business- managing my own
findings, tools, stones etc and having the overall profitiability of
my shop operation monitered by which my income is set. There are
alot of bread and butter repair jobs but we also do quite a bit of
custom pieces as i carve wax and have places to send things to for
casting and cad design. So what i am saying is that you probably need
to check out each store to see what it is like and if it suits you.
If you (or anyone else out there) is interested in a possition at one
of our stores in the midwest USA-particularly DesMoines or Omaha- you
can contact my privately.

Good luck in your search.

Years ago I hired a master jeweller who told me that when he arrived
in New York from Argentina as a young man, he was bench tested at a
Platinum house, hired and given a spacious quiet bench next to a
large tropical fish tank. The jobs arrived in bags with very big and
important gems, a sketch and some diamonds. He could work on any job
that he wanted to and in any order that he choose. Nobody ever asked
him for a job, he could take as long as he wanted or even leave it
unfinished and start a new one if he felt like it. Diamonds and
metal were for the asking. When he felt a piece was finished he would
turn it in. The years that we worked together were special, he had a
fantastic sense of beauty, an exceptional hand, and a real short
temper when pressured. As with many of the great one, he is gone now,
thank you, Salvador.

Dennis Smith - thejewelmaker

Just as any other job, your working conditions depend mostly on

Easier said than done, my friend. If you are the new kid on the
block, it’s a little intimidating to start throwing your weight
around saying things like, “hey, let’s brighten up this place, how
about a nice shade of yellow and some lace curtains?”

Honestly, though, it really isn’t the worker’s job to provide a
decent work space, it’s the capitalist’s job. I once worked for a
place where, to help out my employer, I brought in my own tools. This
went on for a couple years. Finally, when he started buying tools for
an outside contractor he was using, I decided it was time for him to
buy tools for his own jeweler and took mine home. And while it’s nice
to have a cheerey paint job and sparkling windows, what we’re talking
about here, as I have drawn from other’s posts on this thread, is
enough space to work comfortably in, enough light so it isn’t like
working in a cave, and enough ventilation that you don’t have trouble
keeping your eyes open for lack of oxygen. And providing that is
definately the responsibility of the store owner. Sure, jewelry
making is a bit dirty, but it doesn’t have to be a health hazzard.

You said, “adapt or move on”. One day you’ll have a really good
jeweler working for you, and they’ll probably never tell you that the
reason they “moved on” was that you didn’t seem interested in
providing them a comfortable/productive work space and they figured
that was indicative of your general attitude towards employees, which
it might indeed be. Then the next jeweler you’ll get will be just
fine with the place, but he won’t be a bargain and you’ll wish he
would find a reason to leave. My advice, based on a few decades of
experience is, “employers in this business eventually end up with the
employees the deserve, and then they’re stuck with them”.

David L. Huffman

<edit - message split>

At our shop, we don’t have any windows but since it’s a garage there
is ventilation from the garage door. Even though it would be a
potential security risk, I’d prefer having a window somewhere since I
enjoy natural light. We have lights all over the shop and a running
sink so it is the little things that make me happy. I’m not a tall
person (5’6"), but my bench is a bit low. If I have cinder blocks I
would definitely ask my boss if I can install a lift kit. I might do
that anyway.

Thanks in advance,
Rene Howard

Since I started making jewelry I have worked under the following
conditions (somewhat in this order): in the back of a store with no
windows, in the living room of my apartment (with windows but no real
views), in a 5 car garage with no windows (but with a large garage
door that we opened in the summer), in a bedroom of my apartment (one
small window), in the back of a store with a window looking out to
the front of the store and concurrently with the store location: in a
room in my basement (with no windows), in another room in a basement
with two small windows (mostly looking at dirt) and, currently, in
the basement of my new store (with no windows). With the exception of
the first location, all of the other ones were my choice (since I’ve
always been my own boss).

As a bench jeweler I have always found that the less distractions I
have, the better I produce. While it was nice to be looking out at
the store all the time, it proved to be a constant distraction.
Distractions mean mistakes happen. For me it also meant the creative
juices never flowed. I’m sure everyone is different when it comes to
the creative end but for me less is more. But when I am an employer,
I really want my employees focusing on their work and not on
everything else going on. This is not to say that you should have an
unventilated, tiny crawl space to work in (although I’ve seen plenty
of jewelers who work under those conditions), but in my view, most
people will work better with less interruptions. I think it’s far
better to have a somewhat isolated condition to work in, and take 10
minute breaks every 1-2 hours (outside or wherever) than to be out in
the middle of a lot of commotion. As for those three guys mentioned
with their headphones on and hard at work in their own worlds, quite
frankly, they would make ideal employees. You’re not being paid to
talk. You’re being paid to work.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Hi David

“Capitalist” is a funny word. It depicts pictures of two big fat
guys wearing top hats and suits, smoking cigars, and laughing all the
way to the bank. Although I own my own store, which is a dream come
true culminating from a years of saving up for a down payment on a
business loan, luck, and being ready to take the plunge when the
opportunity arose, (oh and a blessing from my wife) I would hardly
consider myself a capitalist. There are lots and lots of more
profitable occupations than either being a bench jewelers, or a store
owner. Owning a roofing company or a chimney sweep comes to mind

I can understand what you’re saying about it not being the worker’s
job to paint the walls and put up lace curtains, but you know–
there’s that happy medium where the worker opens his mouth and says
"Hey lets change this. I think it would be better because of such and
such." instead of sitting under a flickering flourescent lamp in a
dirty basement with old green paint on the walls. The guy who sits at
the bench accross from me shakes his head at me lots of times. I
always want to listen to what he says. Sometimes I go along,
sometimes I dont. It’s never a money thing. It’s a “does it suit me
in my business” thing.

I bought disposable masks to wear during polishing-- which don’t get
worn. So I changed the way we do polishing. All at once now- not one
a t a time. Maybe then the mask wont be so hard to put on. I put in a
brand new $10K a/c system in the store, keep the temp at 68, buy
whatever tool we need, (we have lots), even throw in an occasional
instructional video, in other words I reinvest in ourselves and our
shop, and yet the attitude I get from people who work in my store is
that I’m the “Capitalist”. Short of presenting a a stack of cash on a
silver platter while wearing a tux, I really don’t know if I can do
anything to make things better or easier. That’s why I say it’s up to
you to set your own environment. If lace cutains would make some
people happy- do it. Yellow walls- do it. Just don’t expect the
Capitalist to take a detour from the cigar shop on the way to the
bank to stop by at Home Depot. Largely because we don’t know what
would make people happy and we’re tired of guessing. Besides, we’re
not on the way to the bank we are busy answering the phone which is
ringing off the hook, talking to suppliers, they want to get paid,
the landlord wants his cut, customers want their jewelry fixed
(properly I might add), ADT can’t get the call list right, taxes are
due, the insurance company wants some more paperwork, I can go on and
on but I’m sure every body catches the drift. As an owner, I really
don’t think I could do any more for my jeweler than I already do. Oh,
maybe draw him a parafin wax dip for his feet. :slight_smile: I guess what I’m
saying is that it’s up to the jeweler (or any other employee for that
matter) to create a work environment which is conducive for their
work and their well being. Not just the owner.

By the way, I am starting to look for a proficient bench jeweler in
the Balimore area who could take some of the heat off of me. Light
casting, stone setting, some custom work. Laser welding experience
would be a plus-

but I’m willing to train. Customer service skills a must. Contact me
off list if interested.

-Stanley Bright


I think it's far better to have a somewhat isolated condition to
work in, and take 10 minute breaks every 1-2 hours (outside or
wherever) than to be out in the middle of a lot of commotion. As
for those three guys mentioned with their headphones on and hard at
work in their own worlds, quite frankly, they would make ideal
employees. You're not being paid to talk. You're being paid to

There are times when I have felt that anything resembling a work
ethic has all but disappeared. Most folks just want to show up and
get paid for being there. I agree with your headphone views; the
fewer distractions, the better. With headphones, a worker can listen
to the music of their choice or simply white noise. I have a nice set
of wireless headphones, is always on, and I can burn
through ten hours like it was nothing. Love it!


Hi Stanley;

"Capitalist" is a funny word. It depicts pictures of two big fat
guys wearing top hats and suits, smoking cigars, and laughing all
the way to the bank. 

Don’t put too much into my use of that word. I call myself a
capitalist too. I’m also a laborer, and always will be. I like
working with my hands more than I like running a business. And like
you, I did the long hard climb from the sweatshops (real ones, raided
periodically by the INS and everything!), all the way to owning my
own business. Took 30 years too.

All I mean is this; the employee brings his or her talent, skills,
training, experience, work ethic, attitude, and spends his or her
life helping the business owner make money. That’s their part of the
deal. In return, the owner provides the work space, the tools, the
jobs to do, and then shares the income of the business in the form of
wages and benefits (if he can afford them). That’s the age old
labor/capital arraignment, and it’s a good one (with a few caveats).
And I’m only interested in a jeweler who wants to constantly improve
his or her skills. I think I should look at my contribution, the work
space, the tools, even the kinds of work, in the same way. Constantly
striving for improvement, and for one reason only. More money! Well,
actually, I do put a lot of credit towards the idea of job
satisfaction, although that can be elusive. And if I’ve got skilled
people, I want their feet nailed to the floor. Even to the point of
trying to distract them from the drudgery. So I try to cover all
bases. A little raise, a better chair, satellite radio in the shop, a
workshop or a class, a bonus for the hell of it, whatever works.

But I agree with your previous post. If they want lace curtains, cat
calendars, room deodorizers, I don’t much care, but they can do that
themselves. I wouldn’t have understood your point if you hadn’t
described a very enviable shop of your own. I never had anything like
that to work in in my 30 years of working retail. Just miserable,
dark, toxic little hot boxes and broken down tools. Air conditioning?
Fuggetaboudit. I thought you meant they ought to build their own
benches, or pour the concrete floor. Don’t laugh, I’ve had bosses who
thought that way (and drove Jaguars). I’ve got some great stories.
But most of my shop decor is just sensible stuff like good lighting,
solid flooring, ventilation, space enough to stay organized and not
bump into each other, no rats or roaches, no gunfire.

Since I work at the bench too, I have to work in the same space as
my jewelers, and I got tired of all the distractions of lousy spaces
and poor equipment. The work is struggle enough. There’s plenty of
room for improvement, but it’s just so much easier to do this work in
a proper work space, with proper tools, and that means income to me.
Sounds like you are describing my life to a “T”, the phone calls, the
taxes, “oh, and can we have this job back yesterday?”, etc. Best of
luck finding a new jeweler.

David L. Huffman