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Compensation, an opinion

I’d like to put a little spin on the conventional paradigm of the
bench jeweler and his/her compensation. I’ll start with an example:

Yesterday, I put $600 of my employer’s materials and 5.5 hours of
labor (I’ll use the figures people are bantering about, although I
don’t agree with them exactly), at $35/hr., for a total investment of
$792.50. The ring sold for $2500. This represents a margin (not to
be confused with profit) of 68.3% or $1707.50. If we had purchased
the mounting, supposing we could have found something the customer
liked, we would have paid at least $1200 for it. At $1200 cost, the
margin is only 52%, or $1300. That’s $507.50 more if we make it.
But that’s not really relevant, in fact, it’s part of the problem.
Now here’s the essential question; “What part of that margin itself,
whatever it is, is attributable to the skills the tradesperson brings
to the situation, and what part is credited to the situation itself,
which the retailer has built?” The typical retailer would say that
ALL the margin is to his credit, since he sees the part the jeweler
plays as a “cost of doing business” and that’s taken care of in his
wages and the attendant witholding, insurance, etc., the $35/hr. we
metioned. But who created the margin, and subsequent profit, if any?
What part, now, of the retail environment is the miraculous artistry
of the master goldsmith. His/her dependable excellence and charming
creativity? Don’t think the customer’s aren’t making their choices
with that in mind. If you think they aren’t, then the prospect of
online designer retail outlets ought to make you shiver. Most retail
jewelers today are just that, retailers. They buy and sell. They
buy labor and sell it too, or so they think. Used to be, the jeweler
was a “loss-leader” that was simply there because he provided a
service which the customer expected, like sizing rings, soldering
heads and setting stones, and the occaissional repair (used to be,
you got your gas pumped for free too). Under these circumstances, you
could say he really was just another cost of doing business, like
having a phone. Fifteen years ago, these guys got around $12/hr and
benifits to make a GM union member jealous. Now the
"designer/goldsmith" must be part salesman, part gemologist, part
appraisser, part purchaser, consumate artist and designer, master wax
carver/caster/moldmaker/stone setter/CAD-CAM draftsman, maybe gift
wrapper and collection agent. He/she’s expected to produce a product
to rival what manufacturers, with their specialized labor, high-tech
equipment, engineers and R&D budgets make. At 3% per year cost of
living, he’d now be making $18.60/hr and his benifits (insurance for
himself AND his family, paid lunch breaks (125 hours a year!) would
be worth around $6000+ a year. Yesterday’s jewe hour. But this new
breed is a completely different animal. He/she’s a master artisan.
Problem is, as I see it, the jeweler is participating in the same
backward paradigm. What is his/her investment in tuition, minimum
wage experience, cultivation of an image of credibility and
salesmanship which he/she brings to become part of the entire retail
environment? My solution? Either unionize for bargaining power or
become a competitor and help these merchandisers wake up or get out
of the way. I didn’t put my heart and soul into teaching jewelers,
instilling in them enough respect for our craft to spend their entire
lives mastering it, to see them go out and wallow in the backwaters
of wage slavery for the rest of their lives. I do expect them to
gladly pay their dues, like I did. But when they are worth it, I
want to see them compensated. And we’re not talking single malt
scotch at the country club with a smuggled Cohiba in hand either,
just not having to sweat that student loan from the GIA course work.
I will continue to fight to raise this bar as long as I have a breath

David L. Huffman, master craftsman and teacher.

David - Hear, hear! You state the case so clearly; it was brought
home to me especially when I had my plumber in to work on my
and paid him $56 per hour for his labor. There seems some stigma
attached to producing wearable art/beauty, over the application of a
similar skill set in repairing pipes. Until this changes we will
continue to go retrograde financially. Thank you for stating it so

Jim Small
Small Wonders