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Choosing a Career

Hi All,

I did a fine art course at uni majoring in gold and silversmithing.
I went on to do an honours year in the same course. In the last six
months at uni I managed to get a foot in the door to the jewellery
industry with a part time job for a major Australian company as a
casting assistant. Twelve months later, having been finished uni for
some time and with a lot of empty promises about moving onto a full
time position unfulfilled I left the company and took a job with a
small manufacturing company. In my new job I was unofficially in
training - mainly polishing, some very basic benchwork, and
housekeeping. I was treated particularly badly at the new job and had
major concerns over the complete unwillingness of my boss to address
some major health and safety hazards and so I left the job two months
after starting it. (This company, as I found out, rarely has any new
staff stay as long as I did - it has a reputation in the industry for
treating its staff badly, under paying them, giving no notice of
termination of employment, and refusing to payout leave and super

This brings me to where I am now. I am in my third day of official
"unemployment" … after the way I have been treated by both
companies I have worked for, my confidence has been completely
crushed and looking back, I realise no one in either of these
companies ever believed in me. I believe I am a good artist-jeweller
going by the marks I got at uni, comments I’ve heard at exhibitions I
have participated in… and going by the fact that when I was in my
last job (with the small company) the manager saw my uni work as I
was showing it to another colleague and was so blown away that the
same day there was talk of offering me an apprenticeship.

I know that in both jobs my lack of speed was a major issue and
probably the reason that no one had any belief in my potential… and
thus the reason that I was never going to go anywhere in my first job
in particular. In both jobs, interestingly enough, my employers and
supervisors were happy with my high standard of work, thus they kept
me on staff even though I was well under their expected speed. I
still can’t understand why they couldn’t put two and two together to
see that no one works fast and to a high standard… its one or the
other. I was trained at uni to work to a high standard - I feel that
this is my reason for struggling with speed in the industry.

Anyway, that is the story of how I have come to be where I am today.
Today I am certain that there is no future in the jewellery industry
for me. I can see it leading only to struggle after struggle and
constant disappointment. My new plan is to get a regular full time
job and as I manage to save money to build up a studio on the
side… then, over time, to make and sell my own work aiming to
reduce my bread and butter work to a part time position… then,
maybe even, to eventually rely on my art-jewellery work for an
income. The question is though, what kind of job I should be
applying for. I think I could cope fairly comfortably with an
administrative position and I do have a fairly decent data entry
speed along with a little bit of temping experience in admin and data
entry. The thing is though, I would really like to get a job that is
still somehow related to jewellery, jewellers, tools, supplies
etc… I think it would help me to not get side-tracked in an
ulterior career if it was all somehow unified.

So, there are two questions I have for all of you.

  1. Can you suggest what sort of job I could look at getting into
    that keeps me in touch with jewellery? I am very willing to
    canvas… I just need some hints for who I should approach and how.

  2. Could you tell me your stories of the process you got through to
    be where you are today - whether that is in the industry or working
    as an artist jeweller? Most of all, I would like to hear if you’re
    happy where you are - why, or why not?

Tina D

Dear Tina,

You are simply experiencing the harsh realities which separate the
academic side of our trade and the business side. As a student, you
were paying for the infinate patience of your instructor out of your
own pocket, but the real world is an entirely different situation.

You stated “no one works fast and to a high standard”, but this is
absolutely false. If you lived in my area, I would gladly offer you
a job on one of my benches, as we pay 100% commission. I don’t care
how long it takes a person to perform a job, and yes I do expect them
to produce at a “high standard”. A sizing that we charge the
customer $22 will pay the bench person $5.22. Do it in 10 minutes,
or do it in an hour, it matters not to me, but if it fails our
quality standards, you will do the same job again with no pay. Do
five or more sizings an hour, and the pay is excellent. Do one an
hour and you will make slightly over minimum wage.

I would strongly urge you to take another job within our industry,
and treat it as another aspect of your education. If this is truly
what you want to do with the rest of your life, you need to stay with
this part of the program until you are proficient enough to earn a
living on your own.

Good luck,
Jon Michael Fuja


There are good employers out there and bad employers out there.
Sounds like you had two bad ones. Remember that when you interview
for a job, you are also interviewing them to be your employer. Part
of me feels that you should go ahead and try again. However…I
worked for a fairly good company and was happy for several years as a
bench jeweler, but after time I spent more time not at the bench but
running around helping the business move smoothly be it waiting on
customers, answering the phone, or sorting mail. In addition another
jeweler, the owner, insisted doing all of the stone setting himself
so my skills in that area (which I had enjoyed) withered up. In a
small company like that there was nowhere to advance. I’m now
unemployed and struggling myself to sort out what to do. I’ve looked
into buying a repair franchise, Fast-fix, which I’m leaning away
from. I’m looking into starting my own retail business. I’m looking
into having a studio at home and trying to sell through other
retailers. It is hard to figure out, they all have pros and cons and
different amounts of risk. I think one of these options will end up
truly making me happy once I get through the struggle of “just doing

So…now that I’ve rambled about myself…sorry. I think you should
try again for a good employer. If you can’t do that, you asked for
suggestions for a job. I don’t know, but I wonder if you couldn’t
get a job for a tool/supply/findings company (even if it is
answering the phone and placing orders) you will get to know some
people and maybe (hopefully) get some sort of employee discounts on
tools to slowly build up your own personal shop. Just a thought.


PS… this forum is a really good place to ask questions, they’ve
been great for me and I’m sure will help even more in the future.

Leslie Anne Wright Macy

Hello Tina,

I am so sorry to hear of your bad experiences in the jewelry
employment field. Unfortunately there are employers out there that
are less than desirable. Please keep your chin up…not all
employers will crush your confidence and dreams.

As a recruiter in the jewelry industry, I have been fortunate to
help many, many fine people with new bench positions all across the
country with employers that do care. I would be happy to visit with
you and do my best to be of any assistance possible in your job
search. Please feel free to email me or contact me direct at:

	Vic Davis & Associates
	Springfield, MO
	1-866-650-6400  (toll-free)

Thank you Tina, and I wish you the best.
Vic Davis

Hi Tina D

Don’t you dare give up hope

This should just make you even more determined to make your career
where your heart is!

Long ago in a land far away (ahem) 1970 I was at uni in fine arts
(sculpture being my preference), when I met European jewellery
instructor (Danish) was insisted I try his class - well darn -
there I was enjoying metalwork no end.

Went on to try finding job etc - worked for a while in trade shop,
however difference with shop foreman, so left.

I then met Austrian Goldsmith (custom work only) offered to work
free for a while so he could see work etc.

Ended up staying five years with him - when I started comment was
"You don’t know nothing" . We are now very good friends and looking
back I can see frm his point of view he was correct -

Finally started my own business (now 25 years ago) and now that I am
old and grey (chuckle), have gone back to small sculpture and
teaching which I really enjoy.

So as is well know sonmetimes the paths we take are somewhat
circular - but with tenacity etc you WILL get there

Kindest regards

Tina, I can understand your frustration, and your being anxious to
have a plan. Things will happen to you that you cannot forsee.
Everything happens for a reason. I made small sculpture in college,
and moved to jewelry- for 13 years I have had various jobs, none
worth mentioning, but I always had a goal. I had a baby, put her in
daycare for 4 months while I worked, drove home, slept and that’s
it. When my husband and I (luckily) got fired.- We took this as a
sign and we started our business. Now we have a retail showroom
with finished jewelry and beads and supplies , a repair and custom
workshop, and a silversmithing school. Best of all- My husband and
I share babysitting duties! See, it all worked out, and it will for
you too.

Cindy Leffler

Hi Tina,

I went through pretty much the same thing you are experiencing. I
was a fine art/jewelry/silversmithing major at a university. After
school I was able to find an apprentice model maker job for a
jewelry manufacturer. The company was friendly and reputable
enough, but after 2 years there and becoming the model maker of
choice for more important designs, I was still making barely more
that the apprentice wage I was hired at. Some jewelry company
owners are very reluctant to take money away from their new car
payments to give you a raise. I left that job for a designer
position that paid more but treated me worse and made many empty
promises. Then my soon-to-be husband got a job in New York City. I
decided to start my own home-based studio since I wanted to do
higher quality/more original designs, have children in the next few
years, and was afraid to be treated even worse by NYC jewelry

All in all, I would have to say the underappreciation at the jewelry
companies was worth it because of the model making skills and seeing
the workings of a production jewelry company (how to get a product
made, the marketing, etc.). It was a great experience and sometimes
I wish I did give it another go at being a designer for a better
company. The money is good once you have the experience. Same for
model making. I may go back to it when the kids are older.

Your best bet may be to look for an apprentice job in the area you
want to work in with a company that has a reputation for treating
its employees well. Even if you think your skills are above
apprentice level. Call them and give them your resume. Get your
foot in the door and collect valuable experience. After you have
racked up enough years you will be more in demand and be able to be
more selective about your position.

Another way to go would be to apprentice with a local jeweler. If
you think you may want to eventually own a jewelry store rather than
a jewelry company then you could try that. If you have any
questions feel free to contact me off list.


Tina D, As for your first question. I wouldn’t give up on working as
a jeweler completely. I am lucky enough to work at a store that
allows me, and the other 2 jewelers, to take our time and do the job
right. Yes, we do get a little pressure to rush a job every now and
then, but never to the point of sacrificing quality. I know that
this is not how many shops work, but I am sure that there are others
out there that would appreciate your attention to detail. But if
you can’t find a job as a jeweler that fits you, see about finding a
jewelers supply company to work for. I don’t know how you feel
about sales, but it is nice to talk to a sales rep who understands
the work that you do. Unfortunately, many sales reps selling to
jewelers have never picked up a torch or set a stone. With your
experience, I think that you could do very well in this field. Once
the jewelers that you deal with realize that you understand them,
you will be the one that they call when they need something. I know
that sales isn’t for everyone, including me, but it is much easier
when you are selling something that you enjoy and know about. These
companies might also have jobs for support techs. You would also be
able to get new equipment for your own studio at great prices.

As for how I got where I am. I got a BFA in painting and drawing.
I worked for 3 years as an artist for a t-shirt company. A decent
job, but low pay, no benefits, and very little room for creativity.
I then got a job at a dental lab, carving crowns, bridges, and
implants. A cool job with decent pay and benefits. I got to learn
casting and did my first original piece of jewelry while working
there. But little room for creativity, except when working with
implants, and a factory/trade shop atmosphere. I had to crank out X
number of crowns a day and invest them for casting. I probably
would have stayed there, but they let me go. They said my work was
great, but I was to slow. Sound familiar? I then ended up at the
t-shirt company again for 3 more years. Then I was lucky enough to
land a job as a jeweler apprentice. I have been here a year now and
love it. They were happy to have my attention to detail (slow)
work ethic. They sent me to a week long course to learn the basics.
Then they starting giving me jobs. When I came across something I
had trouble with, one of the other jewelers would walk me though it
or take over and show me how it was done. It has been a great way
to learn the job. I am still just doing the basics: sizings, chain
repair, and setting round stones in 3 or 4 prong settings, as well
as engraving and sandcarving. I hope to get into design down the
road, as I get more experience as a jeweler. I have just started to
design some simple pieces out of silver and semiprecious stones. My
wife should be happy. She will be able to start filling out her
jewelry box with custom pieces, as I experiment with creating them.
Good luck in what ever you do.


Thank you to everyone who has replied to me both on and off the
orchid list. I have been unable to check my email for a while and
the responses have been so numerous that I would be here for a very
long time if I were to respond to each individually.

I really appreciate the support of this group and especially in the
responces I got to my post. I have been left with plenty to think
about - some who agree with my plan, some who feel I should stay in
the industry… I appreciate the stories too, about how others got
into the industry or became self employed as a jeweller… it seems
to confirm what I have always suspected - there are many possible
paths to the same end… and chance can play a huge part in how the
journey goes.

I think I will continue to pursue my plan loosely but keep a look
out for other chances or opportunities that may come my way.

Thanks again,
Tina D