[Digest Post] [Opinion] Prospective apprentices

    80% of the people here, especially with stores, will attest to
these statements; 

Well I must be in the 20% who own stores who don’t agree but I think
that you are making assumptions about way too many people on this
list. Working with metal and jewels brings its own pleasures and
satisfactions that I doubt can be matched in any other business,
whether you are on the production or the artistic end of it. I
can’t think of any other field where you can hold pieces in your hand
that you created, or played a part in creating, that can have so much
beauty AND value. I have held and admired everything from the most
amazingly bizarre $2 jaspers to $100,000 star sapphires in the palms
of my hand and been able to imagine the possibilities. Who but a
jeweler can have this opportunity on a regular basis? I suspect
that most, if not all, of the people on this list are jewelers
because they love it. I would also say that the reason this whole
list exists to begin with is because most everyone on it thinks that
this IS the most wonderful field of work they could be in. Daniel R.
Spirer, GG Spirer Somes Jewelers 1794 Massachusetts Ave Cambridge,
MA 02140 617-491-6000 spirersomes@earthlink.net www.spirersomes.com

 so  take your place on the bottom of the food chain, 

And just where in the food chain do you consider that you fit mate -
how high up is the slot for “patronising wanker” ?

Al Heywood

Dave, That is the world as you chose to see it. Not all will agree
with you.

I hope the questioner will take your reply with an Ocean of salt.

Hopefully those you have maligned will not see your reply.


Speaking as someone from the other end of the experience spectrum…

DP, I’m sorry you feel that way about commercial jewelry. Meanwhile,
I just started a job with a commercial jewelry factory here in
Hawaii, and I love it to pieces. I don’t think there’s a school out
there that could provide the same kind of education as a real working

Maybe the company I work for is unusual. I don’t think that the
jewelry that most of the factories around here produce can be
rightfully labeled junk-that-sells. The only ‘junk’ I see in stores
is the stuff that’s obviously hastily/cheaply made; as you mentioned,
probably imported. Maybe it’s Hawaii. I don’t know. I’m fresh out of
college and this is my first ‘apprenticeship-like’ real job in the
jewelry field. But, I do have to say…I don’t feel like my
creativity is being hampered by having to design around certain
constraints, or on themes, or whatever. If anything, trying to figure
out how to make a large/complex figural design look good, mostly 3D,
sturdy, and not weigh down the wearer as if I put a cannonball
around his/her neck can sometimes be a real creativity challenge! ;D
Not to mention the challenge in actually carving the design out of
wax without snapping off vital parts…

More and more, actually, I think that I’m really lucky to have found
work with an employer who puts emphasis on unique/unusual design, and
lets me be creative about the designs I come up with. Sure, it’s
commercialized, maybe a little touristy at times…can’t really call
it high art, or anything, but I think (especially with the
expensive materials and time-consuming labor of jewelry) part of the
main benefit about having commercial experience is that it really
pounds your skills into shape. It has to! So what if it’s not artsy
art? That’s what weekends are for. Meanwhile, during work
time…newbies can get better and better, so that when they turn
their eyes to doing the more arty, less conventional jewelry, they
have the knowledge and skill to back up their visions.

Wouldn’t you rather buy a piece that was light and comfortable to
wear, yet sturdy enough to not fall apart, and obviously constructed
with a skilled eye? I know I would. I know, basically, that I didn’t
have any knowledge about how to produce professional results when I
first started the job. My old wax models were ridiculously heavy! And
mold-cutting? Now I look back at my old molds and cringe. But I’m
still really bad at mold-cutting! The difference is, now I’ve been
taught what to look for when doing them…now it’s just the practice
that will improve it all.

I know I personally would never practice mold-making on my own, and
would never become good at it without that practice. And without the
experience of different wax types/tools and considering how to meet
price points, etc., I’d probably still be scared to try to push the
boundaries of what I think I can do in wax. But because my job (which
started out as designer/model-maker only) makes me wear many
different hats, it forces me to learn. Constantly. And, for a
beginner, I’m sure that’s much more important than whether corporate
American fat-cat business tactics are going to hamper your on-the-job
creativity. You can deal with those concerns later, after you know
you have the tricks and skills to make it on your own as an artistic
jeweler. ;D

– M. Osedo http://www.studiocute.com

         JCK Magazine just arrived.  In the magazine they have the
annual report of salaries in  the jewelry industry.  One glaring
conclusion can be drawn. Most of the wealth generated by the
jewelry industry is accumulated by the store owners or corporate
presidents. I see the Jewelry Industry through different eyes than
most of the current posts.  My eyes see it from the standpoint of
one of the low paid workers in this industry. "Love" is something
mouthed as the money is passed to the owners.  $2 Jas per's are
admired than thrown to the side as another stone with more profit
pot ential is promoted.  "Love'?  I see the greed. 

I once read a quote that said that if your not doing what you have a
pass ion for as a carrarr, then your doing the wrong thing. Am I going
to be rich from my passion? Probably not, but I look forward to each
day at work and the folks I meet … even the a#%holes that we all
deal with every so-often.

my 2 cents, Jerry. Honorably, Gerald A. LivingsFrom: “Bruce Raper” braper@LearnLink.Emory.Edu

For those who chimed in with some inspirational thoughts on the
comments made by DP regarding apprenticeships. I have been a
part-time apprentice while keeping my day-job, and working at night
and on weekends slowly building my workshop and inventory=97it takes a
while and all the spare change I can scrounge up to buy tools,
supplies, take classes and the occasional workshop. I haven’t made
much $ yet, but I love this practice, can’t live without it and have
the faith that someday I may see some monetary reward. But whether I
do make $ or not I have realized many benefits from my work=97such as
self-respect and the joy of exploring, creating, working and being
in a community of other smiths. I even love the mundane act of

While I believe DP makes some valid points about exploitation of
labor and the environment he seems to see the jewelry/metals from its
bad side. Everything has its bad side. One can either choose to focus
on this or get to work to make things better. I believe that work (it
sounds corny and old-fashioned) begins at home with my family, the
metals community where I live, and in my shop. Its always time to
get to my work, and to “sweep my side of the street”. While I can
work to not participate in expIoitive situations I HAVE get on with
the creative work in front of me. Life is too short. I can’t control
Exxon, DeBeers (spelling?) or the military-industrial complex.

Its weird, after a good day in the studio (any day in the studio is
good) the world looks bright and I am positive about people and
things because I live in the knowledge that I have done my part.
Hence I become a better partner, brother, and employee. Still, like
the other gentleman interested in this field, I can also use all the
encouragement I can get. Thanks again.

My advice/experience on apprenticeships is that the best tool you
can have is enthusiasm and willingness. Be up front about what you
want to accomplish and get a clear idea about what will be expected
of you. You’ll mostly have to take it one day at a time, and you can
always re-negotiate or move on if you’re not getting what you need.

Regards, Bruce

From: “Daniel R. Spirer” spirersomes@earthlink.net

Regarding the JCK article on salary survey. What is interesting to
note is that there is nowhere near as large a discrepancy in this
industry between the pay at the top of the ladder and the pay at the
bottom as in most industries. If you look simply at the medians for
an owner/president and for a benchworker you will note that the
owners are only getting 2 times the amount of the benchworker. If
you compare this to industries like the oil industry, or the
automobile industry where the people on top are often making 20 to 50
times what the people in the middle are making you will begin to see
that our industry is far more reasonable than most. As a matter of
fact the difference between the lowest paid and the highest paid is
not even 4 times. Ben and Jerry’s, one of the more progressive
industries in the country (at least until Ben and Jerry sold out)
set a formula that the owners (Ben and Jerry) could never earn more
than 10 times the amount of the lowest paid employee. That’s more
than 2.5 times the largest difference revealed in the article on
jewelry salaries.

Gerry, since you are not one of the lowest paid workers in the
industry, but are a self employed single person operation, why are
you griping about this anyway? And quite frankly, what you need to
do to right this “injustice” is to grow your business to the point
where you can hire employees and pay them in the way that you feel is
“just”. I doubt, however, that should you reach this point, you
will pay them the same amount that you pay yourself as a) they will
not have the experience you have, b) they will not have invested
their life savings into your company as you have c) they will not be
the ones who go home every night and worry about how they are going
to make the payroll for the next month and d) only occasionally are
they the true creative force behind the work you produce.

Daniel R. Spirer, GG Spirer Somes Jewelers 1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140 617-491-6000 spirersomes@earthlink.net

From: “Gerry” ggwcr@cox.net

All, Someone asked what are you doing to change your status?
Basically stop complaining and do something positive. That is my
goal. My goal is to start a new avenue on an old program. The
apprenticeship program in Europe has worked very well for many
years. In the USA this program would be very difficult to work
because we are of a different social structure. My goal is to form a
program by which a young apprentice can enter the program, receive
training, and earn pay during their training. After finishing the
program the person will be certified by the program on the tasks they
have mastered. At that time the apprentice should be able to step
out on their own. To help at this time I will establish a marketing
venue for certified members of the program. This will allow the
individual the freedom to grow and exercise risks that as a group
they would not be allowed to take. This program will have sections on
technical expertise, ethics, business, law, and personal relations.
It will take a while to put together, but I still have a few years
left. Anyone wishing to talk off-ORCHID about this endeavor, feel
free to email me.

Gerry Galarneau ggwcr@cox.net www.galarneausgems.com

From: “Richard Barbare” rbarbar@bellsouth.net

I am a 53 year old woman who went into the jewelry world 15 years
ago because of my all consuming pashion of it. I work in abooth in
the mall in a University town. The other day a younge man came up to
me and said he was doing a paper for class on careers and wanted to
do one on jewelers because he was thinking of becoming one. I asked
him if he was getting a degree. He said he was thinking about quiting
to pursue a bench jeweler job. As much as I love the jewelry business
I had to tell him with all sincerity, stay in school and get your
degree. You stand a much better chance of making a good living in
something else. Take some of the great jewelry classes offered in our
community, and do it as a fabulous hobby. Most businesses are too
small to offer you any kind of benifits. Of the 32 jewelry
businesses in town, only 3 carry workers comp in the event something
happens to you. Most are too small and don’t have to carry it and
can’t afford it for their one jeweler because its very costly. I
foolishly didn’t worry about until I witnessed a fellow worker bend
her thumb completly back on the polishing wheel. A severe injury that
will haunt her the rest of her life.What was this younge girls
recorse? NONE! The owner went out of business and opened under
another name. As heartless as that sounds, he’s a small operation
who can’t afford the reprocutions. Believe me when I tell you this is
not sour grapes. The reality is, I know many ,many jewelers and none
make a decent living. I think its only fair to tell a younge person
going into this that it’s incredably hard on your neck hands and
wrist and when you find yourself in need of care, there will be no
coverage for you. The workers comp office told me that less then 10%
of jewelry operations cover their employees. From a bench jewelers
point of view this is very scary. Go to work only for people who have
Workers Comp? My employer told me he had it. Not until this girl was
hurt did I learn the truth. No sour grapes here, just the sad truth.
I will always encourage people to learn this wonderful craft, but
not as a career. essage

From: Dreamgate9@aol.com


  "My eyes see it from the standpoint of one of the low paid
workers in this industry. "Love" is something mouthed as the money
is passed to the owners. " 

A lot of what you say is true…of any business or trade. I also see
this as one of the low paid workers, only I am the boss. I pay my
employees well, I work long hours to see that they get paid, while
sometimes I have to wait for my check. My accountant is in the same
situation. So is my plumber, and my attorney. I know a lot of
business owners who are working like this. They do it because they
love what they do.

I know a lot of others in this industry, having been a
designer/manufacturer for many years, who make lots of money yet are
not happy people. I could name some names and you would be shocked.
We always hear about these “celebrities” in the trade magazines
because, quite frankly, nobody wants to read about bench jewelers.
Our society also places a great emphasis on monetary wealth. A lot
of us feel that this is misplaced affection.

I may not be rich in dollars, but I’m happy. I love what I do. I
think you do, too. I’ve seen your work, and it shows.

Doug Zaruba

From: " David L. Huffman" dhuffman@odyssey.net

Many of you will remember some of my rants on this subject, and boy,
did I have fun stirring up the pot! I’ve been a bench jeweler for 27
years, and I’ve worked for a half dozen or so employers during that
time. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m independant now, running
my own company. I took a serious cut in pay (so far) because I felt
I needed more control over what I made, more involvement in the
growth of the business I was spending a good part of my life in, and
some creative challenges. I couldn’t go on expecting my employer to
read my mind and then suddenly shift his paradigm and adopt my
priorities. If he had been more responsive to where I wanted my
career to go, I would have been in big trouble, because it would
have been really hard to justify doing what I decided I really wanted
to do after all. I wanted to build something before I got too old
to change. And I think I can actually make more money in the long
run. Let’s hope it was a good gamble, or I’m screwed and I’ll end up
selling pencils on the street corner. Anyway, I know very well how
hard it is to change. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to
survive, and sometimes that’s an unhappy circumstance, but you’ve got
to grow, or the money is never going to be enough. Trust me on this
one. The money’s not going to be enough for you, or else you
wouldn’t be reading this, you’d be working on your Harvard MBA.
Artists don’t live by bread alone.

Of course the owners are making more money! That’s a big part of
the accomplishment of running a retail business. Some will pursue
that prize as avidly as you strive to create a perfect piece of
jewelry. It’s their measure of success, call it greed or
foolishness. And that’s only one kind of owner. There are other
kinds (like myself, I hope) who enjoy building something for a lot of
others more than they enjoy financial rewards. And some owners are a
little of both. Lots of employees are underpaid, but I can assure
you, I’ve seen plenty who weren’t worth whatever they were paid. On
the other hand, the pleasure of creating things of beauty is not
going to translate directly into dollars and cents. Here’s what I
think needs to be done by the person who needs to create, but doesn’t
want to live in a hovel, eat crumbs and drink cheap wine (or maybe
you do, it’s romantic for a while . . . I thought so when I did it!).
You’ve got to keep learning your craft and at the same time keep
learning the craft of living, that is, finding enough money, living
within your means, and taking care of your personal responsibilities.
Of course it’s not easy. Most people are failing at it in one way
or another all the time, and there have been times when I’ve failed
at it so miserably that certain official agencies where beginning to
take notice and make ready to take over my responsibilities for me.
Taking risks is not natural to us. Expecting others to solve our
problems for us, however, only feels easier. In the long run, you’ll
wish you’d spent less time complaining and more time planning a
change. But whatever you do, remember the people you’ve worked with
and worked for as people, not just the scenery of the workplace, and
you’ll always have good memories of them. Some day in some other
dimension perhaps, that’s all you’ll have left and that’s all you’ll
want if you’ve done it right. And by the way, dp, I’ve been exactly
where you are, and tomorrow I may visit that closet of the mind
again, albiet briefly. But it’s not real. It’s directly related to
the degree of isolation you’ve subjected yourself to. I speak from
experience, pal. Get out and mingle with your own kind. Orchid may
not be enough, you may need to take some classes, join a guild, go to
a SNAG conference. I’m on your side. You can’t be happy there and
it’s trying to tell you something. It’s saying “change is good . . .
you need change . . yeah. . . that’s the ticket, little changey-poo.
. .yeah . .”.

Good luck all.
David L. Huffman