Compensation for jewelers

Hello All: I was wondering if it might not be to personal to take a
survey of the members of Orchid to see who amongst us is a full time
jeweler and who are hobbyists or part time jewelers? I really would
like to find out what full time jewelers are making. My employer is
not very keen on the idea of paying commission or piece work and wants
me to stay hourly. I get $50 extra for every custom job I do, but
that is usually only an extra 1 to 2 hundred a pay period. Do you
think that jewelers are under paid ?

When I started back into jewelry full time 7 years ago I started at
$8 an hour. I thought this was low but it’s all I could find in my
city. After 1 year I was making $9.50 an hour and was not going to get
more. I left there and started at my present employ at $12 an hour and
have gotten up to $16 an hour in 5 years. I think that a certified
Master jeweler should make $20-$30 an hour. In your opinion, am I
wrong? Is $16 a good wage?

I believe that Bench jewelers are a dying bread. I recently talked to
the administration at Paris jr. College and they are having graduating
classes of only 5 -10 people a semester and most of these people are
being sent to school by stores to learn and have a job waiting. When I
graduated from Paris there were 20 -30 a semester.

And what about the merits of a jeweler that continues education,
becomes certified, is artistic enough to do custom design, maintains
the shop equipment, gets along great with customers and work mates,
comes to work on time and is fast and efficient.

There are bench jewelers that learned the trade that are not
artistic. They can size a ring but can’t carve a wax or design. Don’t
get me wrong as I am not attacking the poor ring sizer or polisher, I
am just saying that a full service person is worth more. What do you

Michael R. Mathews Victoria, Texas USA
Yahoo | Mail, Weather, Search, Politics, News, Finance, Sports & Videos

Michael Matthews, I am not sure which question you want answered here
but if you are trying to find out if your pay is typical of the
industry, you left out some critical Do you get any
benefits with your $16/hour? Health insurance? Paid vacation? Paid
sick days? Paid educational expenses? All of these things raise your
actual pay. I can tell you that my bench worker gets $16/hour at the
moment with some benefits as well but he does have some problems with
creative work and he has language and reading issues, which have
effected his pay scale moderately. One of my close friends who works
at Shreve Crump and Low in Boston earns in the $20-25/hour range plus
benefits but he is working for a big firm and he is probably one of
the fastest jewelers, excluding myself of course (: , that I know.
As a whole I would say yes this is a generally undercompensated
industry at the bench and sales level, but quite frankly, while I
would love to pay my help more, I don’t know where I would come up
with the money from to do it. On the other hand if you can be
successful in your own shop you should be able to make a whole lot
more money, so maybe if you are creative, talented and a good
benchworker who is good with customers you should look into that

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140

Michael, I have twenty-seven years of experience in the jewelry
relaterd industry. Started as a self-employed stone cutter, joined
forces with a waxer, found a decent bench person and it has all
evolved to where I have been doing just reatil jewlry for the past
13-14 years, primarily custom work. Right NOW I farm out all repairs
to a trade shop, and also farm out all waxing (more about that later),
casting, finishing and setting. I have employed people at the bench in
the past. I agree that most bench jewelers are underpaid. Howver, the
expense of paying a bench jeweler is no different than the expense of
buying a piece for inventory. That cost must be marked up and needs
to generate PROFIT for the business. So, if a bench jeweler is being
paid $25 per hour, we will find the actual expense to be $25 plus
approximately 22-24% for taxes, social security, health care, etc.
Let’s just say the cost is now $30/hr tp the employer. Testing shows
that 25-30% MINIMUM of paid working time is spent in non-productive
ways: Looking for the darn tool, yapping, going to the bathroom,
getting ready to do something, cleaning up, break time, etc. So we
are up to $35-37/hr cost, minimum. In most Mom?Pop operations, the net
return is about 6-8% profit. I run a retail markup that averages 2.3%
on everything (some higher, some lower), my rent is below market, my
advertising costs are low and I net about 7.7%. That means, that if I
make $500,000 in sales, I’ll take home $38,500 BEFORE I pay personal
income tax, and I get NO vacation and pay for my health insurance on
top of it, AND pay 16% to social security. At $25/hr, you make $52,000
before taxes you get four weeks off and paid insurance and I pay half
your social security. Getting the drift? If you were smart, you would
negotiate with your employer to work on a commission basis, making
about 22-25% of the retail charge for the work you produce. So if I
charge $20 retail to size down a 2mm band, you get about $4.50. Think
you can’t make any money that way? That’s because you are inefficient
or underskilled, sorry. I know two bench workers who do very fine
work, get paid 22% commission, and each made over 50K last year, plus
benefits, plus paid vacation. Now, if you can produce 4-5 times the
money you make for your employer you can get some for yourself. All
expenses of the business MUST generate profit, that’s what it’s all
about, or there is no employer. I’d love to hear more converation on
this, but any realistic conversation needs to start with the
undersatnding that a business is an enterprise designed to generate
profit, not just provide jobs. We have found that by using 3D software
such as Rhino, we can communicate more efficiently with our customers
and have waxes made very quickly by CNC milling or Rapid Prototype
technologies. One of my waxers lamented “Man, I guess I’ll be out of
a job soon!” My other waxer said “Wow, I want to learn that…I can
make a ton more money doing waxes that way!” Well, they are both
right… You might want to read “Who Moved My Cheese”…

Wayne Emery, 70 hours a week

Wayne, Thank you for your post. So few employees understand what you
explained so well. Many starting out into business don’t understand
either until it is to late.

I wish there were more people like your “WOW” waxer.

I ran a paper tube products operation for 12 years. I found that the
employee had to generate 4 times his wage in product to be cost
effective. Later, as a partner and bench jeweler for a gallery, I
found that the same ratio worked it self out.

Thanks, Bill

Wayne Emery, 70 hours a week

Wayne, great response. By the way, I know the 70 hours a week is no
exaggeration. When I stated my store in 94, I was working near 100+
range. After three years, I turned my first profit, and not much at
that. By then, I was down to the 80 to 90 hour range. At the end of
the five year lease on the store, I could see that it was never going
to get much better than the 70 hours you quote, so I closed the
store. And I thought that the off shore cutters who were making
$0.50 a day had it bad. I bet they could sleep at night not worrying
about the business. What other business could you have so much fun
for so little money.


Micheal, The market sets not only the price of the piece but also the
wages of personel. I have seen many skilled and gifted artisans give
up the jewelry trades for other work,and I myself have supplemented my
income from time to time. Another problem is that even a certified
trades person is only classified as semi skilled labor by the
department of labor. Funny but even when I worked as an areo space
machinist I was still only classified as semi skilled and my average
tolerance on a part was .000005 inches. I hope you can achieve a
higher wage but you will probably have to find a way to pay yourself.
Rember as much as one third of your wages are hidden in unemployment,
disability, holiday,and payroll taxes your employer now pays. I find
ways to do because I love making things and seeing people smile. All
the best, David

Hi Michael;

I drew some fire the last time I started in on this topic, and I
hesitated to get it going again, but what the heck! Somebody’s got
to do the dirty work. I’m not a kid and I can take it.

You’re in Texas, an area not known for paying it’s jewelers real well
(OK you Texans, fire away, I didn’t say it, JCK did!). I’m in
Northwest Michigan, another area notorious for underpaying EVERYBODY!
(we like to say, "half the pay and a view of the Bay). If you’re
paid bi-weekly, you’re probably making more than I am, and I’m a 30
year veteran that does everything. Not bragging, just had lot’s of
experience and practice (and a BFA and MFA in metalsmithing doesn’t
hurt). If I want to go down state and live in the metropolitan area,
I can make another $15,000 a year. So, location has a lot to do with
it. You could be in Scottsdale AZ and maybe make twice as much, or
Boston or DC and make a lot too, but those places get expensive to
live in. On another note, you could be in Albany (or my own town) and
be lucky to get $35,000 a year. If you’re real good, and I suspect
you are, we’ve got some people here on Orchid who’ll do right by you.
My guess is, you’re probably working in a small retail store.
Here’s how they (and their accountants) see it. They make maybe
$750,000 a year in sales. Maybe you bring in $175,000 in custom work
and another $75,000 in repairs. Let’s say they’ve got 2 sales people
(and a manager, they job out the bookeeping or the manage does that
too). They pay the sales people $25,000 a year each. They can’t
imagine why you and the two sales people each brings in the same
amount of money but you need to be paid twice as much as they do.
Never mind that the sales people are making 50% margin on what they
do and you’re doing 65-75%. Never mind that you set every diamond
they sell and size every ring and they’d have to pay somebody to pack
and unpack it to send it out to a trade shop and all that’s not free
either. Why, that’s only another $50,000 that you’re worth (which is
a handy sum, by the way). These are “merchandisers” and they figure
hey, put in another watch line and make that much (if you can sell
about 10 a week all year round!). You may have noticed that the last tim ners were by people who's names matched the names of the business they worked for. In other words, these guys are independant. That's the face of the new breed, in my opinion. The merchandisers are fighting a losing battle. They're getting squeezed between the mall chain stores, the few big retailers (who kill them with discounts and heavy advertizing budgets), and the new kid on the block, the internet. Guys like you and me, we look and see that a non-union bricklayer in Hoboken is making $27 and hour, and we either transfer to a job in the dental lab or start a little business from an office doing "Custom by appointment only" and a couple trade accounts. Pretty soon, we're their most dangerouns competitor, because we can do the repairs better and faster, we can sell cheaper (little overhead), we've got "Something Different" and we can give them that "personal touch" which, if they could put a price on it, they'd see is THE most valuable aspect of their business (in light of what their big competitors can't provide). Wages in our trade don't go up much. When they do, it's because their jeweler finally got fed up and left, and they got desperate enough to pay a little more to replace him. My opinion on your situation, you should be getting about $48,000 and benifits even in a small store in a small town in Texas, especially after 5 years and especially with your credentials. So should I, since I've got major chops too. The next guy just might get that, either that or they'll learn the joys of dealing with a trade shop 500 miles away until they get lucky again. Meanwhile, get in touch with the folks at Christianson (, take a look at some of the positions they list, and see if you can get some leverage. You can check out too, but that's probably going to be more of the same-ol-same`ol. Good

Michael, For your survey, I’m a hobbyist. this has good points in that
the day job keeps body and soul together and the hobby is always new
and challenging. The down side is that skill level remains much lower
than average so that technical ability becomes a major issue in
completing projects. Further, without a daily workout middle aged
fingers forget how to do things.


Greetings, I am a low to moderatly skilled bench jeweler- good at gold
& silver work but not very skilled with stone setting, & I do simple
watch repairs. I manage a jewelry & watch repair kiosk at a Mall in
the Boston suburbs (one of the reasons I came back to New England was
to get training at the Worcester Center for Craft, the rest of the
stores are in FL or GA). The set up I work under is as an independant
contractor using the 1099 form (ie I pay my own taxes, SS ect.) I get
33% of all items I repair or sell in the store. Last year was the
first full year the store was open at this location & I did over 36K
(we had opened Dec 4th '99) this year I am on the track for
50K(working 80 hous/week though). All of the people who work for
Sudden Service are under that sort of pay setup. At our long
established stores most of the guys are working 40-50 hours/week &
doing 35-50K. My problem has been finding people in the Boston area
who are skilled that are confident enough in their abillity to work
under this setup. Even if I had another person working the kiosk with
me, experience has shown me that my income does not decrease much when
I go to 50 hours (this is the 4th store I have opened for the
company). The diffrence is made up of the people who don’t wait
around to be served when I am busy. Our rates to customes appear to
be in line with what everyone else is charging, with some items being
lower & most a little higher, the diffrence for the customer being in
the turn around time (1hour or less for most jobs). If some one had a
moderatly more extensive skill set than mine I could see them doing as
much as 75K working 40 hours/week in this location. I have been
running an ad for a bench jeweler in the suburban paper & had 4
responses: 1 jeweler who is thinking it over, & 3 guys I would have
to train, the ad has been running 3 weeks. Anyone here interested in
a full or part time job?

Jim Revells
Sudden Service #5
Natick Mall
(508) 647-9362

dear everybody, this is my take on being a bench jeweler. i graduated
from jewelery school two years ago. the first jeweler i worked for
withheld work because i was a female. he told me, “your a girl, you
can’t be a jeweler because you’re a girl.” this was on my first day -
he gave no indication of this attitude during the interview. since i
was on piece rate, the lack of work forced me to quit and move closer
to home base, illinois.

there, i was conned by three jewelers. the first one hired me, then
when i showed up to work (after physically moving to that city) he
told me he hadn’t hired me. the other two were setting up a trade shop
and hired me to work as a bench jeweler. the trade shop never
materialized, and once again i had to move.

fortunately (?) there was a job offer in a little tourist town in the
rockies. i worked there for about a year, and then they handed me a
very nasty non-compete agreement and told me to “sign it or else.” i
elsed. they had no reason to feel threatened by me, i was a very loyal
employee, often coming to work on days i was supposed to be off.

forget “compensation” i would have settled for respect. i never asked
for paid vacations, and i never asked for a raise. and i never made a
living wage. i haven’t had health insurance for years, and i’ve been
living on ramen noodles.

i refuse to work for another jeweler again. i will only do contract
work, and otherwise work for myself, because then i know what my boss
is up to. let’s put it like this; i could have taken every jeweler
i’ve worked for to court and won.

i don’t know if i was treated this way because i’m small, female and
shy, or if i just have a knack for picking bad employers.

here’s my input, maybe this helps answer some questions about the
decline of bench jewelers. if the help is treated like wage slaves,
the bench is going to be deserted.


I’ve been following your posts concerning compensation for jewelers
and, until now, have not responded. Vic Davis, who handles our
placement of jewelers and watchmakers, and I just spoke yesterday if
it might be helpful for us to share with you what we are seeing in
the marketplace as it relates to compensation.

What we can share with you is “real world” and not speculation. If
this would be helpful, let us know, and we will be more than happy to
share this with you.


Scott R. Christiansen
The Christiansen Group, Inc.

David’s opinion is well reasoned and has a lot to recomend it. I
wonder, is the $35 per hour the hourly wage or does it include other
forms of co mpensation such as medical, retirement and vacation.


Hello Scott: By all means, and we’re all ears, at least a couple of us
. .haha. There are always those who would rather that kind of
not be available to potential employees. I was told I’d
be fired for discussing wages (I can only imagine how the
unemployment people would react to that). I think it’s fine that
people advertise positions without specifying a wage. When I’ve gone
to interviews in that situation, when asked what I made at my last
job, I simply use the same bargaining stance and answer “I didn’t
think it was enough, and that’s why I’m here, by the way, what do you
think you could offer me?” But what I’ve noticed is that, whereas it
was infrequent that employers were advertising a wage, it almost
never happens any more. I’ve also noticed (and I’m not impugning a
reason here) that on your own site, the only jewelers jobs with wage
offers posted seem to be the ones I’ve been seeing there for a while,
and they’re lower that some I’ve seen there. I’ve not been under the
impression that there is a glut of jewelers on the market. Where I
work, I also noticed that, while the latest JCK is always sitting on
the lunchroom table, the November issue was strangely missing and
nobody seemed to know what became of it when I asked. . . hmmm.
not a reliable index in my opinion (and the union folks have agreed
with me on that), and I’ve heard that the MJSA salary report is more
accurate. What do you think?

David L. Huffman (2 more of my students have been hired in the last
month, so I’m somewhat reassured these days.)

Hi Susannah: I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with the trade.
I’ve had a few similar experiences myself, and I love to entertain
people with those stories, all true. (practice that art and you will
learn to laugh at that bitter past you have shared with us.) But I
hope I’m not painting all the retail jewelers with too broad of a
brush, and I hope I’m not helping everyone to bring up their worst
nightmare experiences to lay on all our good friends out there,
retailers, jeweler/shop-owners, employers in general and make them
feel like we think them pariahs. I have been astonished to hear of
some of the things some of these employers are offering their
workers. Where were you guys when I didn’t know any better and
naturally drawn to “the fox and the cat” types. (remember Pinochio?).
I’ve noticed, those who post on this forum are a bit different than
the ones whose entire contact with the trade is either at the big
trade shows or through a couple subscriptions to the trade rags.
There is no regulation on who can open a store and sell jewelry, so
there is bound to be a sampling of every ilk and kind of humanity,
from saints to savages. I’ve been in contact with a few employers
who post on Orchid, and they give me great hope that one day I will
firmly believe that their majority are not only basically good
people, they are truly good people. To all you honest, decent,
caring, generous employers out there, thank you on behalf of us
tradesmen. And Susannah, I hope you’ll stick around this forum and
meet a few of these good souls.

David L. Huffman

To all of you who have been miss treated by your former employers -
just remember that all employers are not out to take advantage. If
you are in a situation and you are not happy the best thing for you
and your employer, is to leave and go where you can be the best that
you can be and happy at the same time.

It all comes down to basically two different ways of looking at

  1. You work X amount amount of hrs as an employee and get paid for
    it , plus paid health insurance, paid vacation time and sick
    leave.Usually you are guaranteed a set amount of hrs that you will
    work. I You do not have to buy your tools, you do not have to pay for
    honest mistakes that happen. You do not have to worry about the day
    to day paperwork.

  2. You work for yourself and no longer get a guaranteed number of
    that you work, paid vacations, sick leave, health insurance. You
    instead get more Gross money , yet in order to get it you have to run
    a business in addition to being a jeweler. When a bill comes in , you
    pay it. When stones get broken you pay for them. When you make
    something and your customer does not pay you, you eat it. When you
    get audited , you deal with it. When business is slow you deal with
    it. When you have a slow pay account you have to chase it.You have to
    deal with marketing. The list goes on and on. Gross is not net and
    sales do not mean cash flow.

There is no wrong or right way. To each their own. Many people have
tried both ways to settle on the one that they prefer. Jobs differ
dramatically from place to place. Some are good and some are not. You
have to use evaluate your own situation on where you are at and what
is important to you before you take on a new job.

To suggest that employers keep all the money is ludicrous. It takes a
lot of money to run a successful shop, whether you are paying for it
or whether your employer is. Someone always pays.

Some people say that to be self employed is to get their freedom.
Most who are self employed beg to differ.

I subscribe to the saying “A watch can only work as well as the parts
that are in it”…

To the ones that are not happy I say change your life and make it
better. To the ones that are happy I say enjoy it.


Hi Richard: The $35/hr. we were discussing represents the cost of
keeping an employee at somewhere near $20/hr. Added to the wage are
matching unemployment insurance premiums, matching Social Security
contributions, medical insurance premiums, and workers compensation

David L. Huffman

Your story is a familiar one. I had similar trouble and I’m a male.
You must be talented otherwise they wouldn’t feel threatened. The
bench jewelers’ business has been male dominated forever but your
doing the right thing. I interviewed with every big company in my
area. Some turned me down due to lack of experience and I turned some
down. Ultimately, I finally started getting some accounts. It took
better than a year but it was worth it.

I’m just now starting to turn a little profit. Working for yourself
is definitely the way to go.

All, I live in the Phoenix, AZ area. One of the factors influencing
jewelers pay in the Phoenix area is the large number of Mexican
jewelers living in the area working in the shops and out of homes. I
do not know if the are legal or not. It does not matter. I do know
they work for a lot less per job and are often held totally
responsible for breakage of stones. I have heard the maximum pay in
this area is $30 per hour. The jeweler that makes that money works
for the top exclusive store in the area and often handles very
valuable stones and the manufacturing of very intricate jewelry. He
is versed in all techniques and applications of jewelry
manufacturing. On another note, many of the store owners I have talked
to say that the average time of employment of a bench person is three
years. After that point it gets too expensive to have them as they
expect pay raises, benefits, and vacations. These stores are general
jewelry repair and sales. Not custom stores.

Gerry Galarneau