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Certified Bench Jeweler


#1
What is a certified bench jeweller? 

Richard, here are two links that could tell you more. I don’t know
if its available outside US. It consists of hands on and written test
that are timed and monitored.

http://www.professionaljeweler.com/archives/articles/2001/aug01/0801pb2.html
http://www.professionaljeweler.com/archives/jastudy/jaletter.html

Thomas Blair CBJ*


*Jewelers of America Certified Bench Jeweler


#2

Pity that there is no “Certified Jewellery Course” up here in
Toronto,Canada. The only pre-requisite is if that person can do what
is asked of him/her, if failing that bye-bye…I have seen some
"butt-ugly" workmanship around this town. I sometimes wonder how in
blazes can those tradespersons pass themselves off as “journeymen”.

All I can do at my end is to instruct my students to examine each of
their new creations. If they like what they see, and appreciate
their quality, then in my eyes it is worthy of being a job well done.
There is little pride shown at many stages of trade work around here.
If I stepped on any ones toes, sorry for speaking the truth. But as
for a “Certified” course, it would weed out many of the less skilled
workers in our trade in no time flat…Gerry, diamond setter!


#3

Helloooooo Orchid, It was great to see all of you at the show! Well
here I go. This Gerry is the core of our dilemma as a trade, in that
without a good set of standards poor work can be passed off as
legitimate and the public at large accepts this level of workmanship
for a savings and the mindset becomes one of declining quality to
save a buck. Do you think that in Europe for example , where you
must meet a strict system in order to be licensed, stamp and sell
your work , that a big chain ( like our W.M.D. thread ) could shut
down the quality craftsman that have created a high standard of work
for the public to become accustomed to and then expect from that
trade? I doubt it, I could be wrong , but I doubt it would have the
effect it does here. A European system of apprenticeship and
education would be a great beginning to raising the standards of
our trade and the quality of our work and also help the new
tradespeople to learn well and possibly earn a respectable living GOD
FORBID (sorry) Why else could it be that a plumber for example ( I
love my plumber ) earns a far better wage then a jeweller or lets say
a licensed electrician ? whats the difference other then training and
a set of standards that the public comes to expect and the licensing
agencies enforce . Annnnyyhoo I guess you guyz get my drift. I will
put an Orchid on my bench. Make somthing beautiful Peace Karl


#4

With some of the pieces I have seen over my years in the trade, I
have to agree, at least mostly, with the concept of certification.
So far, I haven’t bothered, though I don’t think I would have much
trouble living up to those standards. Perhaps I should, but then
there are a lot of things in the category of ‘perhaps I should’.
Some particular horror stories from over the years: Cast silver
rings that were cut off the tree and thrown in a tumbler for
finishing. Customer was wearing them with the sprues still sticking
off the bottom of the shank. Didn’t have a clue. But she got a
’great deal’ on them off a TV shopping network of something.
Already thin shanks filed so thin there was nothing left when sized
(usually to something like a 13). Shanks filed razor thin on one
side, thick on the other. Sizing seams not even filed off, just
buffed over. Chain repairs where the solder glob doubled the weight
of the piece. Stones prong set without any real seat. Just drop
them in and bend the prong in the general direction. Great for
snagging sweaters and stuff. The list goes on and on and
on… Perhaps we should be working toward a
standards system like plumbers and electricians. Big questions on
who devises those standards, who tests them and how, etc., but the
concept should be considered before the hack job folks create any
more trouble for the skilled and responsible ones.

Jim
http://www.forrest-design.com


#5

Karl, Sorry to say it but I believe the American “Unionization” of
the trades has resulted in this unequal wage situation. My heavens,
a garbage collector (no offense intended…they perform a valuable
function) with little or no training or education makes more than a
bench jeweler who has undergone years of training and practice. The
problem is the jeweler’s trade is not unionized!! Plumbers are,
electricians are, trash collectors are, mechanics are…etc ad
nausium! I’m not advocating unionization but simply pointing out
that I belive that is ONE of the biggest problems with the trade.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2


#6

Maybe the reason plumbers, electricians, and garbage collectors are
paid better than jewellers is not that they are unionised, but that
they provide a necessary service.

What we do designing, making, selling and repairing is a luxury not
a necessity,

Although life is better with jewellery, no one will freeze or get
sick if they don’t have it. That is one of the appeals of it to me;
someone chooses to buy a piece of mine.

alison
http://www.alialexander.com.au


#7

Hi, Don,

I’m sorry, but I feel you are way oversimplifying the issue of wage
differences. The menial jobs you mention are well-paid largely
because otherwise no one would do them, especially trash collection.
It is totally without respect or prestige, smelly, filthy, strenuous,
and even dangerous (many garbage men are killed each year falling off
of moving trucks). Moreover, plumbing and garbage collection are far
more indispensible than what we do. If we all walked off the job
tomorrow, many of us would starve before anyone noticed. If you had a
broken wedding ring and a broken sewer, which would you fix first? If
you want garbage man’s wages, I’m betting there are always
openings… My husband and I (both self-employed, always) always joke
that if we were in it for the money, we’d be plumbers.

–No�l


#8

Hi There is currently a certificate program designed to measure your
abilities and convey them to customers and prospective employers.
The JA bench certificate program. it has five leaves and is from
what I’ve seen is fairly accurate a master certified jeweler can do
just about anything proficiently and in a reasonable amount of
time. I have thought about taking that test but funding and time
are my excuses. I’ve known a master certified jeweler and a senior
certified jeweler and the cert. seems to be accurate the selling
point of the program is you wouldn’t have to bench test someone when
hiring them.

Robert L. Martin
Goldsmith/Diamond Setter
since 1976
<>< john 3:16
yukhan@aol.com


#9

I’m not advocating unionization but simply pointing out that I
belive that is ONE of the biggest problems with the trade.

The union in the twin cities didn’t last. And from what I heard it
wasn’t much for helping the trade either. all they did was collect
dues.

Robert L. Martin
Goldsmith/Diamond Setter
since 1976
<>< john 3:16
yukhan@aol.com


#10

Hellooooo Orchid’ Did I say Garbage collectors??? I don’t remember
mentioning them but although I do understand the difference between
the nessesities and luxuries I am refering more to the skill level
required to perform what we do and how we should be compensated ,
respected and the security to survive the W.M.D. threats from mass
production . I still stand on the comparison between the States and
Europe. Peace Karl


#11

Hello Noel

I’m sorry, I have to agree with Don, unionization is largely
responsible, in my opinion, for the higher wages of the trades he
mentioned. Unionization is also responsible for our 40 hour work
week (where it still exists) and the end of child labor in this
country. That aside, certification is all well and good, but it will
do nothing to raise jeweler’s wages without licensing. Plumbers and
electricians have to be licensed as well as qualified for their work.
This limits competition from just any hack that wants to hang out a
shingle. Not so with jewelers.

    . . . The menial jobs you mention are well-paid largely because
otherwise no one would do them 

There are far more menial jobs paying rock bottom wages. Farm
workers have dangerous jobs too sometimes, but are low paid, and it’s
back breaking work (I know, I’ve done plenty of it). I’ve also
worked in non-union factories where the work was dangerous, hard, and
low paying. Plenty of people were lined up for those jobs too. And
who wants to be a housekeeper for a motel? Miserable work cleaning
toilets and changing linens, it’s boring and backbreaking too, and
very low paying, but there are always openings. Hotel workers were
once unionized, but that only survives in the big tourist areas. We
used to see a huge influx of seasonal hotel workers from Jamaica
during our tourist season.

    . . . Moreover, plumbing and garbage collection are far more
indispensible than what we do. 

It’s not always a matter of necessity. It’s often a case of supply
and demand. There’s demand for jewelers, and the supply of truly
capable and efficient ones is now low, hence jeweler’s wages are on
the rise. If you are a retailer and you don’t have access to a good
jeweler, you are going to be put out of business by the ones who do.
Ten years ago, I could only hope for $35-40,000 a year and benefits.
Now I can get $50-60,000, and I was at the top of my game 20 years
ago. Jeweler’s wages have been low, historically, mainly because of
the large immigrant work force that was and is employed by this
industry. It’s not essential to be proficient in English to work at
the bench, and often immigrants have the skills from jobs in their
native countries. But they are also easily exploited. When I worked
in the sweatshops of our industry, I was outnumbered by immigrants,
legal and illegal, 5 to 1, and when INS pulled up, dozens of men and
women were out the back door headed for the parking lot. Look at the
names on the old jewelry stores. They tell the history of the series
of nationalities brought in to work in this trade. The oldest are
the Jewish names, then Irish, then Italian, followed by Armenian,
followed by Middle Eastern and some Mexican, and now Ukrainian and
Russian. Why, if there are still immigrants to hire, is it getting
harder to find a good jeweler? The immigrants who are arriving now
don’t have the skills, they are coming from areas where fine jewelry
was never a big industry, and the jeweler’s role has changed. He has
to be an all around strategist on repair, design, and sales. And he
doesn’t have time to train anyone. The jewelry schools are turning
out graduates, but these students are years away from being able to
sustain a competitive repair and custom design component for today’s
retail. Frankly, I’d like to see the jewelers unionize, but it would
be a daunting task to undertake. It would have to start in the
manufacturing end, and that’s moving overseas (where you can still be
killed for trying something like that).

David L. Huffman


#12

Hello All: I have been a proud supporter of the Jewelers of America
certification program since it started. I have great hopes that more
jewelers will take the time and spend the money to get certified. It
did take me awhile to finish it because for the Master level it has 3
tasks that have a time limit of 12 hours each plus preliminary tasks.
Even though it didn’t take me 12 hours on each task you still must
schedule a person to watch you and stop doing your real job for some
time to get it done. I am the only jeweler in my store and so that
means turning some work away and not being able to size that new ring
right now. All and all it wasn’t that bad and not too many
disappointed customers. I will say that getting a Master
certification will increase you pay where you work and if it doesn’t
you will find that it opens many new doors. There are loads of stores
out there that want to have the best jeweler they can find and having
that peice of paper is a great way to prove your worth.

Michael R. Mathews Sr. Victoria,Texas USA
JACMBJ www.geocities.com/waxcarver


#13

Hi folks. Interesting conversation. To me though, joining a union is
kind of like paying somebody for your job. I believe you should be
able to get what you’re worth on your own merits. Also, as an
aspiring bench jeweler (who owns a blue collarish store which is
about 20 years old) I can see it from both sides. Bench jewelers
don’t want to speak with customers, or pay the bills, or worry about
the rent, etc but since their hands build the thing that the
customers pay for, they feel that they should earn $150,000 per year.
If the number in your mind is any different than that, it probably
is still high enough to represent a state of no worries. I know this
is how I feel.

Store owners, on the other hand, have to worry about all of the
behind the scenbes stuff, they cashed out every dime they had way
back when to start the business and now feel justified in making the
salary they do. I know I do.

The trouble, is that one can’t live without the other. I’ve yet to
see a successful one man or woman operation. You simply don’t have
time to do the work and make a friend with the customers, fix the
computer crash, pay the taxes, deal with the watchmaker (horror),
pull your own wire, etc. I KNOW that as soon as I start mixing the
investment for my casting, the phone rings 2 or 3 times. That’s just
the way it goes I guess. I do it for the gratification. It’s the
retail side of my business that pays the bills.

Also, I have spoken to a few jewelers about a position in my store.
They all want a salary, not piece work. What gives? I watched my
dad do piece work for years and make a decsent living.

-Stanley Bright


#14

Yes it is an interesting conversation. And I, too, can see 2 sides.
No, I don’t like to spend a lot of time at the counter. Simple
logistics and personality. I’m not a great ‘people person’, I am a
pretty decent bench man. I make my money at the bench, not talking.
Yes, I need the counter people. But when we get into the salary vs.
contract idea, I would prefer not to be paid salary unless you are
going to make it really worth my while. But I also want freedom if
you are not going to pay me a salary. I won’t compete with my host
store, but I do want the freedom to market my own line to augment my
income, or take in trade work, or something. If you want to pay me
by the piece, or keep me on contract, but not give me freedom to
augment my income, then you had better be able to draw enough work
to keep me as busy as I want/need to be.

Like everything else in life, there are 2 sides, usually both valid.
The owner of our store, for reasons I won’t bother getting into
here, does almost no advertising. He counts on word of mouth and the
established clientele. Not wise, for my money, but it is his store.
The down side for me is that we don’t get near as much repair
business as we likely could. My forays into trying to advertise my
repair services have brought in sales for him, but little for me, so
with very limited resources, I have set that theory aside.
Fortunately, he has no problem with my selling my wares elsewhere, or
taking some trade work, so long as the store work gets priority and I
don’t directly compete in our local market. Works fine in most ways.
Gets frustrating in others. At this point, while we still do
struggle, I prefer to keep it this way because I don’t feel I will
be offered a salary that can compete with what I make this way. I
also believe that if I am on a salary, I will be rightfully expected
not to pursue my outside work, especially on store time and premises.
I even recall in my first bench position after college that I was
required to pull my handmade silver pieces from several local shops
because I would be in competition with my employer. Now, I have a
hard time seeing the competition between my relatively crude silver
work and the wares of a high end guild store, but it wasn’t my call.

To more directly address this post, I understand an employers need
to not pay a bench person so high a wage, no matter how well
deserved, that he ends up being a drain on the store’s income. I
also understand a bench person’s need to make a living wage, and I
think we should be able to make an income that depends on our
experience and skills, just like any other trade. I have opinions on
unions that I won’t go into here, but we, just like everyone else,
need to make enough to be able to pay for those folks to fix our
pipes and wires and cars. I guess what I feel is that if you want
me on salary, locked into doing only your store’s work, then you also
must pay me well and provide me with enough work to make it
profitable for you, too. If you can’t, or won’t, do it that way,
then I need to be able to make some money elsewhere to support my
lifestyle and family. I am a jeweler by choice, so I prefer to make
my living that way, not having to augment with a part time job at
Walmart or Lowes. The last place I worked on salary, I was recruited
with a boatload of spectacular promises about salary and perks. What
I got was a pocketful of nothing. The recruiting was nothing more
than bald faced lies from a ‘pillar of the community’, highly
respected for his supposed integrity. With the public, he was OK,
but with his employees, completely different. Once I had relocated
my family 1100 miles and settled in, I found my salary 20% lower than
promised, my schedule much more restrictive than promised, etc,
etc… Neither side can expect to have it both ways. As a
bench man, I must choose between the security of a salaried position,
living up to or exceeding expectations, or I must take my own risks
as a contract worker along with the freedom it gives me. As a
potential employer, I must either expect to pay my help well or give
them freedom to make some extra.

OK, enough of a rant. Thanks folks.
Jim
http://www.forrest-design.com


#15

Excellent points, David. Your well-thought-out post clearly
underlines what I should have just said-- it just ain’t simple.
Thanks for taking the time to do a much better job of exploring the
economic and unionization issues.

–No�l


#16
Also, I have spoken to a few jewelers about a position in my
store. They all want a salary, not piece work.  What gives?  I
watched my dad do piece work for years and make a decsent living.

Hi Stanley, I’m guessing it is for security. Their personal bills
come in regularly (house payment/rent, utilities, etc.), and so they
want their paycheck to come in regularly as well.

Also, if they work at your place of business, there is a slippery
slope from freelance to employment. (There are regulatory laws in
place as to what constitutes freelance, and what must be considered
employment.) One thing for you to consider is that they must have
the option to be able to work for anyone they want to at any time.
You can’t tell them what to do, you can only contract them for work
to be finished at an agreed upon time. And they have to basically
be able to work at any time of day or night, at their option.

Perhaps they aren’t sure how much repair/alteration/design work your
business sees each month, and are afraid that there won’t be enough
to sustain them. Maybe you have to show them actual numbers if you
want them to agree to piece work?

I’m a freelance commercial sculptor, but I work out of my own
studio, and have many clients at the same time. Most people don’t
want to live the risk of freelance.

–Terri


#17

Hi Stanley; I’d like to cast a little different light on your
arguments, with all due respect . . .

        Interesting conversation.  To me though, joining a union is
kind of like paying somebody for your job.  I believe you should be
able to get what you're worth on your own merits. 

Actually, what you pay a union for (when it’s doing it’s intended
job, that is), is for their representing you in collective
bargaining. They are really best suited for dealing with employers
with large work forces. Large employers usually have, as their
resource, the ability to concentrate capital, usually through
investors. They can make an entire town dependant on their largess
or lack of it. Labor has only the ability, especially in low skilled
jobs, to bargain as a collective entity, thereby concentrating and
controlling their contribution to the supply side of the equation.
I’m not saying jewelers should unionize to beat up on small
retailers. I’m saying that with a union (assuming we could have one
that wasn’t just another way for organized crime to make inroads into
legitimate businesses), we could have some better standards for who
could call themselves a jeweler, and eventually create a little hedge
to keep exploited cheap labor from destroying the entire financial
viability of this industry. Imagine the competitive edge of a
product stamped “Union Made” over the schlock that’s flooding todays
market. Unions, of course, would have to demand high standards from
their members. And the dream, of course, would be to have other
nation’s labor free to organize for better wages and working
conditions. That’s what created the middle class in this country.
The work ethic, alone, wasn’t enough. (Pardon a little flag-waving,
but I think that middle class was what made America great, made it
want to export Democracy and our standard of living around the
globe). I too believe that you should be able to get what you’re
worth on your own merits, but this is not always possible. When and
where you are dealing with a bottom line mentality, you won’t be
compensated based on your merits, you will be compensated by whatever
is offered (or whatever you can effectively bargain for). In other
words, you’ll be paid whatever they can get away with paying you.

    . . . Bench jewelers . . .feel that they should earn $150,000
per year. If the number in your mind is any different than that, it
probably is still high enough to represent a state of no worries. 

I can’t tell from your text if that is hyperbole. I never met a
bench jeweler who felt he could realistically ask for that much.
More like one-third that amount, and the only ones I know who think
they can get that are real top-shelf-do-anything types who are also
the kind that protect the retailer’s relationship with the customer
as if it was their own. And they don’t ask for that kind of money
lightly. They’ve been looking around at what other guys and gals
like them have been getting. They’re not out to bust the bank. I
never pressured employers for wages because I didn’t want to seem
greedy to the other employees. I wanted to see us all rise, but I
knew I spent decades perfecting my skills, and I knew what that was
earning my boss. But realistically, if you have a family, a mortgage,
a car payment, are hoping to send a kid or two on to college, or
expect to pay for a wedding for a daughter or help your son with a
downpayment on his own home (yeah, you can reverse the gender on
these examples if you like), and dream of having something other than
a near skid-row existence when you are too old to work, how does 50
thou size up for that (considering 35 thou is the poverty level for a
family of 4)? OK, suppose your spouse has a job too. Marriage
penalty taxes, medical insurance co-pays, child care, extra travel
costs, will whittle that down quite a bit, besides the fact that
strangers will be raising your children. Doesn’t equate to “no
worries” in my book, but if you had no health problems and were a
good money manager, you’d do all right.

But, for me, 50 grand a year, in my opinion, would be a satisfying
wage, if it came with a few benifits. (But I’m not looking since
I’ve got commitments now, to employees, to accounts, and I need to be
proud of keeping my promises). I’ve never gotten paid that much
either, and dare I say, I will put my skill level on a par with
anyone on this forum. I’m not bragging or exagerating, I’m just
making an observation. If you don’t believe me, e-mail me off forum
and I’ll show you what I can do.

    Also, I have spoken to a few jewelers about a position in my
store. They all want a salary, not piece work.  What gives?  I
watched my dad do piece work for years and make a decsent living. 

Those were the good old days, I suppose. I haven’t heard the term
"piece work" used since I worked in the trade shops in Detroit. Fact
is, I don’t think that kind of work, as I knew it, exists any more.
At least not in a way that could make it worthwhile. When I knew
guys getting $1 a piece to 4-prong set stones, they had hundreds to
set. They could bang out $100 worth in a day, and take another 50
pieces with them to finish at home if they wanted. A lot of money in
1973. What a jeweler gets to work on these days is all over the map.
Every kind of job you can imagine. Some are easy money, some will
eat up your time for a pittance. And who is going to come up with a
scale for this piece work? Assuming all jewelers and all jobs are
equal, it’s easy, but that’s hardly the case in a retail
environment. Piece work is really mostly a pay system used in
manufacturing.

   It's the retail side of my business that pays the bills. 

I’m sure it seems that way, since adding up the margins is easy
math. But then there are all those less obvious contributions to the
bottom line that the bench jeweler provides. I work upstairs from
one of my accounts, renting the space from him. He has put a sign in
his front window “Bench Jeweler on the Premises”, although I don’t
work for him as an employee. He knows that gives him equal footing
with the store owner down the street who is also a bench man, and a
leg up on the guys who have to send work out. I solve a lot of
problems for him and his customers. I provide invaluable advice on
repairs and sales as well as give him excellent repairs and custom
work. Things run much more smoothly for him. No shipping and
insurance charges either. And if I were always able to be in his
showroom at a moments notice, I bet I’d see his sales figures go up
quite a bit, since I actually enjoy working with customers and know
jewelry (unlike the step-daughter with the pierced nose). His
reputation is greatly enhanced. So really, where does the “retail
side” of one’s business begin and end? The other day, I did, what for
me, was my regular good job of restoring a worn wedding set: 2 half
shanks, 30 re-tips, a good 3 point diamond to replace one missing,
and solder both together. Took around 1 hour. The customer, who had
expected to have to have the entire thing re-made, was so happy she
actually started to cry. I’m sure others have seen this happen. How
much would you pay for that? I did it for $65 plus tax. Easy
money. I’m not, by nature, a humble man, as some of you may have
guessed :-), but that time, I felt like I was paid 10 times what I
was worth. Such a little thing to do, just routine, really.

David L. Huffman

(jeweler, sales advisor, designer, procurer of difficult to locate
materials and better prices, expeditor of good customer relations,
etc., etc., . . .)


#18

Hi David You still haven’t sold me on unions althought I respect your
opinion… It does feel good to fix up somebody’s heirloom and make
them totally happy. That’s why I do bench work. It started with “Why
can’t you drop a little bit of solder on that lobster catch?” and
went from there. By the way- you may be happy with $65 for a repair
job which took you an hour, but I’m sure people like David Geller
would disagree with you. (No, I dont own his system - I price my own
stuff) But do a small calculation: Add up the stores overhead
including rent,insurance,payrol, electric, plumber, etc and divide it
by hours open to get a $$ per hour it costs to have the lights on.
(I know you rent your workspace, but I wonder if that rent is
proportionate to the space you’re using or are you getting “hooked
up” so the store can have a jeweler on the premise?) My store’s
number is roughly $36 per hour. Are you still happy with the $65
repair job? How long did it take to sell it and deliver it? What
I do in my store is have a published price list and have the
salespeople sell the repair jobs. Prong tips are $21 first, 12 each
additional. I find that they won’t discount my labor as quick as I
do.

Have a great day!
-Stanley Bright


#19

Hello All: I have been a proud supporter of the Jewelers of America
certification program since it started. I have great hopes that more
jewelers will take the time and spend the money to get certified. It
did take me awhile to finish it because for the Master level it has 3
tasks that have a time limit of 12 hours each plus preliminary tasks.
Even though it didn’t take me 12 hours on each task you still must
schedule a person to watch you and stop doing your real job for some
time to get it done. I am the only jeweler in my store and so that
means turning some work away and not being able to size that new ring
right now. All and all it wasn’t that bad and not too many
disappointed customers. I will say that getting a Master
certification will increase you pay where you work and if it doesn’t
you will find that it opens many new doors. There are loads of stores
out there that want to have the best jeweler they can find and having
that peice of paper is a great way to prove your worth. Michael R.
Mathews Sr. Victoria,Texas USA JACMBJ www.geocities.com/waxcarver


#20

I looked into the certification program when it was first introduced,
and have followed it sence then. I have two problems with it’s
system. First it requires no gemology training or knoledge! How many
problems have I avoided over the years with a good background in
gemology, from fracture filled diamonds intended for retipping or
sapphire/ saphire doublets also to retip, to what or who knows at
this point. My second problem is personal I neither carve wax nor
cast, at a professional level. My passing as a Master Jeweler that
included any testing of casting ability would make the system a joke!

Mark Chapman