Bench Pay

All, I work under a system that is very similar to Mr Gellers.I
set my own pricing with the store manager.I supply the gold and
do my own buffing.I work on a split with the store on standard
repairs such as head and sets,sizings and retips, chain solders
ect.I do a 1/3,2/3 split I get one third they get two thirds.On a
sizing down we charge $18.I get $6 they get $12.I can do a sizing
down on average in 4 minutes start to finish that is including
polishing and recording the job. Sizing up is $21 I get seven and
three for each additional size.I average seven minutes on and up
size.I get my sweeps and scrap.I don,t have to pay rent,phone
heat security and I don,t have to be there 24/7. Except at
Christmas. I set my own hours.On customs and mounts I order we do
a fifty fifty split.I am making money and enjoying it.You do the
math if you work fast and efficiantly and develop a system that
works.I have hired people at hourly to help me but they did not
want to work fast and hard and that is what you have to do if I
hire any one in repair I will use a system similar to Gellers as
I believe you should get paid for what you do.In a perfect world
it would be great to have this noble idea that people will be
honest and perform with honor but left to their own resources the
lazy will be lazy and the industrious will create. I have had a
couple of stores in the past and the last store I was there 24/7
I payed security I payed rent phone heat trash and the land lord
kept raising my rent.I had to take care of the customers do the
book work and all the bench work myself. The situation Iam in now
is not ideal in my view but it works well for me and I can pay my
bills…I would love to get up in the morning and create whatever
I wanted to create and maybe I will able to do that someday
thanks to the situation I am in. Regards J Morley Coyote Ridge
Studio Where it is cold snowy and winter

I’ve been reading the dialogue about bench pay and per job pay.
A couple of thoughts.

Jewelry is seasonal work and your not going to get away from it.
Not every month has Christmas sales in it and March can be pretty
slow. Talented help may not want a three week unpaid vacation in
March and will vote with there feet to go to a shop that can
provide a full years work.

Time consuming jobs are time wasters, for a person doing job
work and may be shied away from leaving a hole in the service
offered by the shop. Saying the good jeweler can do any job and
make money on a equal job to job basis isn’t dealing in reality.

It sound like a lot of shops have forgotten how to shift gears
season to season. Doing short jobs prior to Christmas, longer jobs
in the intervening months, and in the slow months new models and
teaching learning jewelers more technique.

To nickel and dime a staff is a death knell and you will end up
with one with no depth and mediocre business.
Jim @Jim_Zimmerman1

I have been talking about this thread at my shop. I read the
article, How’s and whys…, and past it along to a couple of key
employees. Although it obviously works in some situations, I am
not sure it will in mine. I have a nine person shop that does
work for a number of jewelers on a wholesale basis. The better
bench people are making between 40k-50k annually, the less
experienced are making less with the bottom being about 18k
annually. So the compensation seems to coincide with the incomes
in the examples given already.

The two problems I see are these. First the shop always has a
few problematic jobs that we are not making enough money on, but
need an expert hand and much time to make them perfect. People
would be less willing to take these jobs on if they would lose
compensation because of it. Often these are jobs that one of the
other goldsmiths just got stuck on and a more experienced person
takes over and makes it right. It is an important customer
service to do this on an occasional job because it is our
consistently fine work that keeps us busy. Second we are working
at wholesale rather than retail. Instead of $24.00 to size up
one size we charge $12.00, I could not give $7.00 of that to
each smith without raising prices considerably. I know I could
adjust it accordingly and give them $4.00 for each, but I see
problems with that.

Mostly I see a change in the shops personality from one of a
team effort where all of the jobs are everyone’s responsibility,
and we help each other as needed without complaint. To one of
each member for himself, only wanting the money jobs, with
difficulty in working out splits when work is shared and
complaints that one smith is being favored over another by
getting the more profitable work.

I would like everyone to make more money, I just am not sure
this is the right path.


Jim, This is not about “nickel and diming a staff” Every good
company in America is looking for better ways to measure the
productivity of and reward in proportion to the employee’s
contribution. Is there something wrong with that? This is a
time of change in the jewelry business like never before. Gone
are the days when a retail jeweler can casually think that the
repair department is for creating goodwill and doesn’t need to
make a profit. IMO this is where the “nickel and dime” attitude
was and it caused years of underpaid jewelers and the serious
shortage of skilled jewelers we have today. Ironically, this
shortage has led to paying bench jewelers a lot more than we have
in the past. So, this is a time of opportunity if we pay closer
attention to the process and pricing of service work. You may
feel you are paid adequately because you are on salary or you or
may feel that you would not be paid enough on piecework, but the
point is trusting your feelings alone "isn’t dealing in reality"
either. How can you know what you should be paid if there is no
way to measure your productivity or contribution? As I wrote
David, I am very open to any idea that would allow me to attract
and reward quality minded bench jewelers, so that we can continue
to exceed the expectations of our customers. Toward that end, I
hope that you and others here, who are categorically against
piece work will contribute some alternative suggestions which
would improve the rewards and working conditions in our trade,
whilst still allowing the stores to make the profit they need to
to stay in business. John Caro

Putting jewelers on commission can have its benefits.

However, putting jewelers on commission has three problems for
many stores.

The first is it puts all the responsibility of increasing
productivity on the jeweler. Granted, there are those jewelers
who need this motivation to get work done in a reasonable amount
of time. However, there are many issues that influence
productivity that are beyond the control of the jeweler. These
include take-in procedures, shop design, job information
control, interruptions, lack of equipment, work conditions, etc.

The front-end of many stores are so disorganized that it is
impossible to run a productive shop. For management to put
their jeweler on commission in these circumstances is

In addition, many jewelers do not know how to be productive.
They are not taught in school how to schedule jobs and organize
work to be more productive. To put them on commission and make
it their problem without providing training is also

Before management puts any jeweler on commission, they need to
take a long hard look at these issues and make necessary
changes. You need a store with the front-end set up efficiently
before you can expect jewelers to function under a commission

The second problem is pricing. Many stores have their prices on
repairs set far too low. They loose money on repairs and
make-up for it through sales of new merchandise. Putting
jewelers on commissions in these circumstances is totally
irresponsible of management. If the price you charge is too low

  • then the commissions you pay would also be too low, and your
    jeweler would have no method to make-up for it as you do with
    sales. Before putting your jewelers on commission make certain
    your prices are correct for your store. Do Not Just Copy
    Someone Else’s Prices. Do the work and make certain your prices
    are right for your area. My computer program called “From Fee
    to Shining Fee” can help you set your prices. The third problem
    with jewelers on commission is it only motivates the jeweler to
    produce more work. However, most stores want more from their
    jewelers. In addition to quantity, they want quality, they want
    jobs finished on time (when promised), they want a team player,
    they want a jeweler to come to work on time, etc. A jeweler on
    commission will have the natural tendency to do the work that
    pays more and not do or procrastinate on the others.

What Gets Rewarded Gets Repeated

A problem arises when management says one thing but rewards
something else. For example: you can preach till you are blue
in the face about quality but if you reward only quantity then
speed is what you are going to get. For example: A jeweler may
hurry through 10 jobs performing mediocre work and receive only
one or two back because of not reaching standards. He can re-do
those two jobs in less time than it would take to slow down and
do all ten jobs right.

Or a jeweler sizes a ring, checks all the stones, and tightens
the loose ones, as you would hope he would do. However, if you
only reward speed then it would be faster for him (and more
profitable to him) to size the ring and turn it in. When you
check it and find loose stones and return it to him he tightens
them. He spends no more time sizing the ring or tightening the
stones. However he saves a lot of time by not checking the
stones on all the rings he sized.

If you want both (quantity and quality) you need to reward both.
If you try to gain both by rewarding one and punishing the
other when not received (making them do it over without pay) you
will not get the second item if they think the added reward out
weighs the punishment. You are only fooling yourself if you
think you will get something just because you ask for it, yet
reward something else (ask for quality but reward speed
regardless of quality). To run an efficient shop you must be
consistent with what you say you want, and what you reward.

Also just because work is up does not mean profits are. For
example, a jeweler may solder a crown and set a stone, but in
his haste he melts three crowns. The job may be done quickly
and the jeweler’s commissions are up, but profits are down. Or
it may be quicker to use too large a piece of gold stock to size
a ring up and then file down (a waste of inventory) then to roll
out the correct size gold stock. The work gets done quickly but
profits are down because of it.

Tying performance together with compensation is a good method of
motivation. Just be certain you know what performance is being

An incentive program such as paying commissions is not a one
size fits all. It may or may not work for you. Just like there
are different ways to re-tip a prong, set a stone, or size a
ring, there are different ways to run a shop and motivate a

Brad Simon

Dear Brad Simon, that was an excellent post! What’s this program
of yours “From Fee to Shining Fee”? It sounds like you might have
a market for it in Australia. Kind regards, Rex from Oz

John, nickels and dime is exactly what it about. Or to quote a
notable American (Ben

Franklin) “Pay close attention to the nickels and dimes and the
dollars will take care of themselves”. I think it has to do
exactly with how well a shop owner understands the economics of
his shop. How to set an hourly rate and base all charge
accordingly to that rate and set realistic goals of production
taking into account slack periods. There is nothing wrong
measuring productivity and it is always done in profitable shops
using there own standards not someone else’s numbers. What’s an

I would lay the shortage of talented jewelers at two alters; The
old guys protecting there jobs and the universities strange
notion that commercial jewelry is bourgeoisie (distasteful), thus
offering a ceramics class just using metal & stones. Thank god for
open forums and orchid.

Keeping staff profitable is hard and wages are going up. The
jewelry trade must also compete for talent with the other trades.
First year jeweler $7.50/hr can’t compete with first year auto
worker $20.00/hr unless the kid really, really loves the life of
an apprentice. I would say because of basic price of tools these
days and price of gold should make it hard to do a $2.00 chain
repair. Maybe not, I saw a $0.99 10kt floating hart the other
day. The small shop owner needs to make a living and pay the
overhead and the staff and the government and vendors plus keep
the wife happy. I don’t think things have changed all that much.

The answer to your question of how to measure productivity is,
does it = the hourly rate. Hourly rate = wages, overhead, profit
margin, and taxes. etc.etc.etc. Unless your in a two jeweler town
I wouldn’t pay to close attention to what the other guys doing
$/hr, your reputation is more important. The reputation of a shop
should allow it to have a better $/hr than a chain store that
gives away repairs. I find that service from such store is a lot
like ordering fast food the order is never complete or wrong, do
to to many levels in the chain of command.

Going back to piece work for new people on the bench would seem
to me risky in that hardly any will understand any of economics
that your wrestling with. They will be thinking in black and
white terms “Did I make enough to live on.” You’ll go through a
lot of then that way. Piece work is better suited for old hands
in my opinion… Jim Zimmerman @Jim_Zimmerman1

I agree with Brad that there must be some kind of hybrid
solution between piece work and hourly.

It seems a real shame that in an age of and knowledge
that so many bench folk and managers alike in the Jewelry
business continue to operate by the seat of their pants. Or they
have a two page price list by which they commit themselves to
some of the scariest jobs without even a thank you for trying so
hard. ( well it is in your price list isn’t it?) Jewelry Repair
and Custom work is complicated. This isn’t the kind of problem
that can be solved with a simple answer. What is needed is
perseverance in finding the causes of these jobs that go wildly
astray and eliminating them or the to quit doing these jobs for
so little money.

Are there any of my fellow bench jewelers/store owners that
would be interested in getting together in Tuscon to discuss and
contribute possible solutions, maybe search out some of the
exceptions that cause the problems.

John Caro

Hi, My solution to quotes in that I work by the Job is that I
keep a note book on the bench that I draw a picture of the job
and lay out of the diamonds. I’m mostly a setter and engrave. I
also note the metal, type of setting, size of stones, lay out
time ,stock no. and time to complete the job, totally. If get to
redo the same job I write that time down also because you’re
generally faster the next time around. Patterns start to emerge
after about fifteen jobs or so. Average setting times in specific
metals. This make estimates easier. I use the middle time or
slightly longer time for quotes so that I don’t upset the
customer on deadlines. If something goes wrong it can be
corrected in the quoted time. Jim Zimmerman

   Dear Brad Simon, that was an excellent post! What's this
program of yours "From Fee to Shining Fee"? It sounds like you
might have a market for it in Australia.

The “program” is called “From Fee to Shinning Fee” it consists
of a Training Manual and a Spreadsheet Template for Microsoft
Excel that will help you set prices in your shop based on your
cost. Completely customizable to fit the needs of your store.
Automatically changes prices with changes in Gold, Platinum, or
Labor Cost. It has over two hundred prices arranged in an easy
to use two-sheet format. In minutes you can print out a price
list based on your store’s along with various “what
if” scenarios. This two-sheet format can be printed on the
front and back of one sheet of paper making it extremely easy
for sales people to use at take-in. E-mail me for ordering
Brad Simon