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Breaking into the jewelry business

Hi everyone, I need the professional opinion of some experienced
jewelers. I love making jewelry, but I’ve only been doing it for a
short time. I would love to leave my current job and work full or
part time for one of the local jewelers in my area. What would be
the best way for someone like me who has a limited amount of
experience, to approach a potential employer? I have a strong
artistic background and I’ve spent the last 20 years in the
mechanical engineering field. What I lack in experience I make up
for in enthusiasm and a willingness to learn anything that is thrown
at me. I would even be willing to work for little or no salary for
the first few months, just to prove myself. What do you folks think?
Do I sound like someone worth taking a chance for? Any thoughts,
advice or opinions would be helpful. Thanks, Lisa


The best way to approach a potential employer is to go talk to them
and tell them your story. Jewelers are people too, and most want
employees who are as excited about jewelry as you are. Now, if you
expect to get anywhere, then you will want to make up some kind of
resume emphasizing your creativity and potential attributes.

Before you go, decide what you ultimately want to be doing with your
jewelry making ambition. Do you want to make your own designs? Do
you want to make custom pieces? Do you just want to repair jewelry?
By determining what you want to get out of a job long term you will
avoid wasting your time at a place where your desires don’t mesh
with the owner’s. A retailer will probably want to know this to
establish how dedicated you will be and how long your interest will
be maintained at their bench.

Then you have to find out what the retail jeweler will expect from
you. A retailer needs a dependable worker who can do what they need
to have done, when they need it done. One retailer may employ one
jeweler who is expected to do everything, while you have other
stores who will have jewelers who, more ore less, specialize. Some
will have jewelers who do easier work: sizing, chains, tightening
clasps, polishing, checking stone tightness and cleaning; another
jeweler who does intermediate work: light custom jobs, more
difficult repair; and may even have a very experienced jeweler who
is asked to do everything. Many stores have work that is jobbed out
to a trade shop or contract custom jeweler. There is nothing better
than working with other experienced bench jewelers!

If you are just looking to get in on the ground floor it may be
difficult. This is because there are many workers in the
marketplace who are extremely fast (sometimes, if not usually, at
the expense of quality), who work for very competitive wages and
require no training. It is very difficult for adult beginners to
compete in this scenario. So, I would never offer to work for
little or nothing, even for a short, predetermined period of time.
All this will do is show that you are willing to work for little or
nothing at all.

If you want to do more demanding jobs you will have to have more
skill and also be willing to do some grunt work because there is not
always more demanding work to do. Every beginner discovers that
there is a very short, intense period of time where you learn a lot.
As you progress, skills take longer to perfect, become more complex
and require more tools and equipment. Some jewelers stop learning
at this point. So a determined goldsmith can make a place for
themselves if they have the time, and sometimes personal capital to
invest in their trade. You may even want to try to learn some
aspect of goldsmithing that will provide an employer with an
advantage; casting, wax carving or rendering come to mind.

The question is, will you have a store in your area that will take
someone in at your level? You may have to be willing to do non
bench work like replacing batteries, sales and repair take-in. An
enthusiastic beginner may be offered a sales job if a bench position
isn’t available. The individual jeweler has to decide whether this
will lead to a bench position or is a dead end. It may offer a way
to stay in the industry and make a decent wage while honing bench
skills at home or during slow periods in the store.

I wouldn’t hesitate to see if there are any designers or craft
jewelers in your area who may need a bench worker. They are
typically more difficult to find but may be more willing to take in
people who need a little training, especially if there is any hope
that the potential worker will have some loyalty and willingness to
stay with them after training is over. When you speak to retailers
ask if they know of any designers or goldsmiths in your area who may
need a potential worker.

Of course in this economy it may be hard to find work in the field
anyway. But it won’t hurt to get your name out there to see what is

Good luck. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to email

Larry Seiger

Hi, breaking into the jewelry business can be tough (especially as an
adult) as wages are based on skill level. If a lot of time is spent
on training you may make far less than you could survive on. Of
course I am assuming that you are a novice.

If you have an area that you specialize in then all the better.
Jewelry making requires a high degree of expertise and knowledge,
especially repair and custom work. However your best bet is go talk
to a jeweler and show them what you can do and more important what
you can’t Ed Dawson

If you are looking for a creative workplace where you can be an
individual artist then I suspect that working for most retailers is
not the ideal place for you.

Most of us will have spent some time in a college or school learning
skills and developing our designing faculties. Some of us, the lucky
ones, will have these almost inbuilt into them and in little or no
time became competent - but I certainly have had a long struggle to
become skillful.

Retailers usually require fast, skilled workers who can repair and
create standard items. There’s little or no creativity involved and
it can be soul destroying for some.

Think long term. Go to college.

Tony Konrath
Gold and Stone

Lisa, All I can say is just do it. What is the worse thing that
could happen? What is the best thing that could happen?

I would die to have somebody like yourself walk into my studio and
be willing to work to learn the ropes.

Karen Christians
10 Walnut St.
Woburn, MA 01801
Fax: 781/937-3955
Accredited Jewelry Instruction

Lisa, Larry did an excellent job explaining what you will be up
against. I would like to reiterate one point. Do not offer to work
for free. A jeweler who is prepared to take on an apprentice knows
that salary is only a small amount of what it costs to train a
craftsperson. The cost of new tools for an apprentice will add up
but the real cost comes from the time spent training the new
student. Even with considerable artistic ability and some experience
the new employee has to be instructed on how things are done in any
particular workshop. I don’t expect any new jeweler to really start
earning their way for several months. But, to offer to work for free
sends the loud message that you don’t need a job.

Learning how to make jewelry is a long frustrating process. It
involves hours of doing preliminary work or other stages of
production. In my shop you will learn how to make jewelry but you
will not be given the chance to do your own thing. You have plenty
of time for that on your own . In short apprenticeships are very
often not a dream job, more like boot camp. So it is best for the
experienced jeweler to find someone who needs the income, someone
who can get by on that salary. Not someone who could easily leave
the position as soon as the honeymoon feeling wears off. Besides if
I wasn’t paying you I would have a hard time having you clean the
windows or make jump rings during down time.

My advise would be to capitalize on your artistic background. Put a
portfolio together and use that to get the jeweler interested. We
have all seen too many enthusiastic wannabees drop out before they
begin to payoff.

John Sholl
J.F.Sholl Fine Jewelry
PS If you are in the Denver area drop me a line. I’m Hiring.

Dear “breaking into the biz” ,I have offered before to take
apprentices and have one set up for early next year. I can take one
or two a year and have an intensive metalsmithing and business
practice course I am developing. I offer a 3 month apprenticeship for
your labor. Let me know if you or anyone else would be interested.
You can do a search on Yahoo for “Patania” and find out about me and
my family as far as qualifications. Sam Patania, Tucson

Lisa, You (and others with similar questions) might find the brochure
recently published by Jewelers of America to be helpful. It’s part
of their new career outreach initiative, and contains (among other
things) profiles of different career paths in jewelry, tips on career
changes, etc.

You can download it for free (or read it onlne if your eyesight is
MUCH better than mine) at:

Have fun!
Karen Goeller

Retailers usually require fast, skilled workers who can repair and
create standard items. There's little or no creativity involved and
it can be soul destroying for some.

For the most part, I agree with you Tony. And my background covers
both the retail trade and the art school route. But in defense of my
fellow tradesmen and tradeswomen, I must insist that there is much
creativity that is often required of the retailer’s bench jeweler.
The solutions, if only from a mechanical perspective, sometimes have
to be remarkably elegant. And a great craftsman will work hard to
make a beautiful design within constraints that would make an
academic throw up his or her hands. What is missing from the retail
product, in most cases, is “content”. Unless, of course, the
artist/craftsperson is able to exploit a “process aesthetic”. Let me
just say, yes, you describe the plight of the bench jeweler quite to
a “T” but I hope, (for my sake, at least) that there are exceptions.

David L. Huffman

What would be the best way for someone like me who has a limited
amount of experience, to approach a potential employer? 

Hi Lisa, If I were in your shoes I would take the 8 week Jewelry
Technician Program at New Approach School for Jewelers in Virginia
Beach. At this ‘Boot Camp for Bench Jewelers’ you will learn how to
competently solder, size rings, do general repairs, and set stones
among other skills. At the end of 8 weeks you will have very
marketable skills to go along with your enthusiastic can-do attitude.
This way you won’t need to offer to work for nothing and you will
have the confidence that only competence gives us. I teach Wax
Carving Workshops at New Approach- and helped them with this
curriculum. The demos are viewed - hugely magnified- so all
techniques are clear. I’ve had Blaine Lewis teach here, and have seen
the results of his excellent teaching. Here’s the link to the 8 week
program: Best of
luck in your new endeavor! -Kate Wolf

I guess I disagree with the seemingly “no-brain” view of repair
work. For me, personally, I LOVE repair work. Any and all kinds.
I think there it is an art to be able to size a ring correctly. To
make retips look as good as new, to repair a chain so you can hardly
find the break, but I think also that I am probably an exception to
the rule. I live to fix jewelry. I also like polishing. But I
have seen BAD polishers who can ruin a ring and good polishers that
can finish a job the jeweler started and make rings look new. Repair
is not for every body and definitely, you should create if you can.
My strength is not in designing, so I’ll leave it to you creative
ones…bring me your broken, mangled things so I can Fix them!!!

Another program to consider taking is the 8 week intensive course at
the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco. Visit their
website at for more or call
415-391-4179. You will be very satisfied with the professionalism of
the facility and staff, and the wonderful experience of studying at

Michael David Sturlin, jewelry artist @Michael_David_Sturl1

Michael Sturlin Studio, Scottsdale Arizona USA

    I guess I disagree with the seemingly "no-brain" view of
repair work. ...... but I think also that I am probably an
exception to the rule. 

I don’t think you’d be an exception Mary - at least not amongst the
good artisans! It takes love of the work and heaps of
experience-based knowledge and sometimes courage and a fair whack of
luck to consistently repair or restore peoples valued stuff well.
The rewards aren’t all monetary (many unusual repairs are loss-makers
if you listen to your bean-counter) but there is a special joy in
fixing the “unfixable” or seeing the light in the eyes of someone
whose treasured (but dollar-valueless) keepsake shines better than
when Grandma was given it new.

Al Heywood

Please note that I don’t think that repair is “no brain” stuff. It takes
a LOT of thinking in order to repair some pieces. It’s just that many
young people go into the trade hoping to create and find that there’s no
room for them to do anything other than repeat old, tired designs
because many (not all!) retail outlets will only sell these.

Tony Konrath
Gold and Stone

i rembered last night about some other schools! penland school of
crafts, haystack mountian school, arrowcraft school of crafts, john c
campbell…they all have 1 or 2 week classes in a huge variety of
topics. they are fun to attend, and chock full of info for a beginner
or a professional! check out as penland is my
favorite! i am getting ready to go there for 2 weeks to assist in a
stone setting and casting class.

joanna gollberg

i rembered last night about some other schools!  penland
school of crafts, haystack mountian school, arrowcraft school of

I think that you mean Arrowmont not Arrowcraft. This is the only one
on this list that I have attended and I can recommend it. Of course,
it depends on the instructor and the particular subject and you as
far as what you learn. The studio setup is excellent.

Marilyn Smith