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How others got started in jewelry making?


#1

Hello,

My name is Altana. I just found this website while I was searching
online and I’m really excited to get started with this forum. I have
some questions that I would like to ask everyone and if you have a
chance if you could get back with me I would greatly appreciate it.

I attended the University of Illinois at Chicago for 3 years and I
am currently looking for an alternative route for my education. I
studied art and design for 2 years and over the past year I made the
decision to continue my education focusing on jewelry design/making.
I’ve been making jewelry since I was 8 or 9 and I’m confident that I
would like to make a career out of my passion for jewelry. I’ve
never actually taken a class on metal or jewelry but i know i want
to work with metals. I currently work with wire, fabrics, and
beads/stones. So, I enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America
in Carlsbad, Ca. in their applied jewelry arts and graduate jeweler
programs. My decision to leave UIC was finalized rather abruptly. I
did however give myself time to think about my move to California
before uprooting from Chicago. I’m having second thoughts about
attending GIA because it is extremely expensive given my finacial
situation. I definitely want to take the metal fabrication, casting &
mold & wax classes, but am not looking forward to cad/cam and other
computer work which will occupy at least a 1/3 of my time there. I
really have no desire to work with computers. I never did at UIC
when i was designing except in my photography class. I work with my
hand and design with models. I feel like 30,000 is a lot of money to
spend on a school where their program is not completely what I would
like it to be for me. I have looked into jewelry and metalsmithing
classes at my local art guild and I will be taking a beginning
metalsmithing class for a few weeks before i move in March.

I’m curious as to how others got started in jewelry making,
metalsmithing, etc. How you learned to work in the trade, if you
went to schools and what schools would be right for someone who
wants only hands on experience, and what would you recommend to me
as a I am just starting my education. Where else can I find good
resources to help me in my pursuit of a career.

Thank you so much for your time and I appreciate any advice you can
give me.

Altana


#2

Altana

First of all. $30,000 is bit of a steep trip to take, I started to
work in a factory scene where I learned my apprenticeship in setting.
I was only 16 then, its a long road but you do learn as you go
along. If you like ‘hands-on’, take this route. You might need
eventually a mentor who will guide you along. You might have to pay
him/her some shekels to cover ‘their’ time with you, I would
definitely suggest this route for now…then afterwards take some
’hands on’ courses with some of the well known trade schools who are
plying their expertice in the States, I won’t suggest any over the
Web. But hit “Google”, but look for the “basics” for a start. You
should have a bench at home and practice, practice…:>)

I will send you a list of tools that you should look into and their
uses…

Gerry Lewy!


#3

Hi Altana,

Welcome to Orchid and welcome to the jewelry industry. You will enjoy
it the rest of your life. Go to this web site. It will help you with
lots of your educational questions. http://www.revereacademy.com
might be wrong but I have always thought that GIA was focusing on the
sales part of the industry and not the art and design/manufacturing.
Maybe they have changed there curriculum since I looked at them last.
I am a graduate from Diamond Council of America and GIA was always in
the same category (Diamond and Gem Certification). I also went to
Stewart International School for Jewelers

http://www.stewartsintlschool.com/cat/stewart.htm. This school gives
you the dirt on “how to” and “Hands On”. It is a good school.

Good luck in your transition to an exiting career with never ending
"Oh, My Goshes"! We will all be more than happy to help you.

Dean Gordon

GOLDesigner Ltd.
Gold casting svcs.
http://www.goldesigner.com
941-286-GOLD


#4

Here’s what I would do if I were you (and then I’ll go into more
general advice):

  • you’re so close to graduating from UIC, I would start my jewelry
    education during summer breaks (or maybe you could take a semester
    off) and finish the degree at UIC. It will come in handy, and it’s
    hard to go back to school once you’re out.

  • if you want gemological training, GIA is the way to go, but you
    don’t have to go out to California. They come to Chicago every fall.
    There is also (or used to be anyway) an option where you go there
    for 6 weeks, after first doing a couple of distance courses; you can
    also take the classes by taking live in person classes in Chicago and
    the rest via distance learning.

For the gemological training, GIA makes a difference. Having your GG
will open doors for you. For bench training, my impression is that no
body really cares where you went to school – if you’re trying to get
a bench job – the question is can you do the work.

  • I would spend a semester off and this summer going to other
    schools – take as many as you can afford. I suggest the Revere
    Academy. Maybe this summer you could go William Holldand School.

Another interesting thing to do is to go work study or studio
assistant at a place such as Arrowmont or Penland.

If I were in your shoes, I would take that 30K (well, part of it)
and create my own education for considerably less than that in both
money and time.

Do try to get your BA. You’re so close. It will open doors for
certain jobs.

What is your career goal? Self employed designer? Work in a factory?

And finally, before you leave Chicago, take classes at:

Lillstreet Art Center http://www.lillstreet.com

and join the Chicago Metal Arts Guild
http://www.chicagometalartsguild.org

Elaine

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay


#5

Altana,

May I suggest you look into Blaine Lewis’s New Approach School in
Virginia Beach, VA? I’ve sent employees there and have many, many
acomplished jeweler friends who have only the greatest praise for
the courses there. I have no affiliation with Blaine, just a fan.

Wayne


#6

Altana–

There are lots of ways to pursue a life as a jeweler–and altho I’ve
only heard good things about GIA, you have lots of options. Lots and
lots of schools have adult ed. classes–that’s how I started. They
are taught by instructors at all different levels.

There is Metalwerx in Waltham, Mass–which is a fabulous place to
learn–take classes and have the opportunity to work on your own, as
well–with a selection of instructors --many of whom are world
famous. And the atmosphere is great–very friendly and warm, but
serious about what they do. There also the Revere Academy in San
Francisco. I haven’t been there personally, but I know some of their
teachers–can’t be beat. Check out both websites–for a lot less than
$30,000 I’m sure you can find what you want–and learn in a wonderful
environment.

(My guess is that you will get a lot of responses/suggestions from
this forum as well.)

Good luck–and have fun.
Carolyn


#7

Well I am about to open the perverbial can of worms. I have know, am
friends with, hired, etc. plenty of people who have gone to various
different schools to learn jewelry making. Some of them are wonderful
jewelers and designers, some of them wasted a whole lot of money on
schooling to move on to something else. In my opion, before spending
the money on GIA, and moving out to California, start by taking some
workshops at your local guilds, and enroll at your local junior
collage in their jewelry making class. It will teach you the basics
as far as using the hand tools, soldering, waxing etc. Will cost you
a small fraction, and give you at least an idea of if this is what
you really want to do. Some of the best jewelers I have ever worked
with have come out of junior collages and gone on to be quite
sucsessfull with their own designs. I am surrounded by several
schools ( I am just outside San Francisco, and Oakland) and have been
disapointed in the skill level that some of the people who I have
interviewed, after they completed their schooling, had achiaved. For
thaat amount of money, well, the junior collages will teach you as
much for far less. So after taking a few classes, if this really is
what you want to do, approach it the old fashioned way, apprentice.
You will learn more, and get much better experiance actually working
in someones shop, than any school can teach you. Sorry, we are a
TRADE, and in every other trade ( construction, electrical,
ironworking) you actually work in the field while going to school.
Spend time as a apprentice, then a journeyman, then a master. You
don’t get to just pay a fee, take a year or two worth of classes,
then get a piece of paper that says your amaster, you need to sit at
a bench and do it. Okay, sorry, I will get off the soapbox. So there
is my two cents, I am sure plenty on this forum will disagree, but
hey good luck. So to answer the rest of the question, I got started
by remodeling ( I was in construction) the house the shop was in,
swept the floors, worked under people, then moved up to running the
buisness, and now I own it.

Eric


#8

Hi Altana -

I’m so glad you found Ganoksin and Orchid! The Orchid forum is the
BEST resource you could ever have.

Now, to your question. I am also just starting my serious training
in metalsmithing/jewelry. It so happens that I ALSO had decided that
GIA would be where I would get my education. However, like you, I
soon realized that the money involved with tuition, tools, supplies
and a large commitment of time in California was just not something I
could justify, so I put it on the back burner and felt sorry for
myself. I’m actually very glad I decided against it. Nothing against
GIA, understand, I’ve taken a few gemology classes from them and I’ve
loved them!

As far as I’m concerned, the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts is the
best jewelry school in the country (some may argue - just my opinion)
and is well thought of throughout the world. The founder, Alan
Revere, is a Master Goldsmith, who was trained by old European
masters. He VERY STRONGLY believes in teaching the "old school"
methods that have been used by jewelers throughout thousands of years
of history. You will NOT find a CAD CAM class with his name on it, I
assure you. I assumed that Revere would be even MORE costly than GIA.
I was wrong.

Tomorrow, I leave for San Francisco. I am enrolled in Revere’s
Graduate Jeweler Diploma Program. It is an INTENSE schedule of 3-5
day classes that will take me only three months to complete. This
program is quite a bit shorter than GIA’s. It’s also less than HALF
the price you quoted. I am staying an extra month to attend their
annual Master’s Symposium - where they invite masters in certain
advanced techniques to come give classes. The Master’s Symposium
Classes are between $500-$1,000 each and even with me being signed
up for FIVE of them (I couldn’t resist!), my check to Revere was
STILL only $15,000.00. So, if you didn’t stay for the Master’s
Symposium, it would be considerably less. I’ve bought an additional
$2,500.00 worth of required tools for the courses, but the supply
(gold, silver, platinum, etc…) kit fees are included in the $15K
figure.

Housing options (which they will send you) run between $500.00 per
month for the YMCA to $1,200.00 a month plus for full service hotels.
I am staying with a colleague for $700.00 per month.

As I had the fantastic opportunity to attend two
beginning metalsmithing classes at “Revere Academy East” before
committing to San Francisco. I live on the East Coast, so the North
Carolina location was much more convenient and it would give me an
opportunity to “test the waters,” so to speak. Revere packs up a
truckload of equipment and supplies, a few top-notch, genius
instructors (including Mr. Revere himself), grabs an Otto Frei Rep.
for the ride and sets up a week’s worth of beginning to advanced
classes. You get to pick two that you meet the prerequisites for. For
about $1,000.00, you get housing at a fantastic mountain resort, 20
meals and two amazing classes. How can you BEAT that??? I had an
absolute blast and will go again whenever they offer it. I believe
the next one will be offered in the fall of 2007.

Good luck on your quest! Sorry for the huge post. Can you tell I’m
PSYCHED??

Barb B.
Washington, DC (San Francisco bound!)
Jewelry Arts Student
Voracious Information Sponge
Lurker Extrordinaire


#9

Hi Altana,

There are some great schools in Illinois. Both U of I at
Champaign/Urbana and Southern Ill. at Carbondale have excellent
metals programs.

Then there is the metals program at Univ. of Wisc. at Madison or
Univ. of Wisc. at Milwaukee, both good - but Madison has the higher
art-speak emphasis.

I got my gemology education from GIA, but had no idea they were
charging so much for their jewelry design education.

CAD/CAM is the way things are going in the jewelry industry right
now and with the GIA credentials and the GIA job fair you would be
assured top placement and top pay. CAD/CAM is also how you can make
good money as a freelance designer to supplement your more Art
related projects. I got rhino 3-D training from NcNeal and Assoc.
while running my freelance firm to get more clients. I also got
state certified as a rapid proto-type technician from the University
of Washington, Metals department after completing my MFA/ metals in
2004. I guess it’s not how to get started in a jewelry education,
it’s never stopping!

You have to decide what you want to get from a jewelry related
career. Making, designing and selling jewelry are all business, big
or small the better you are at business the better your chances are
of keeping it together.

Do you want to run a business? Do you want to make art-jewelry and
sell at craft shows and Galleries?

Alot of very talented people that post on this web site do just
that. (If that is what you want to do, my advise is to get yourself a
loving spouse with a good paying regular job and health benefits,
this will help you make the mortage payments in the lean times.)

Nanz Aalund


#10

Hello Altana, While the G.I.A. is an important and wonderful
organization, every single professional jeweler I’ve ever known
(many,many) has apprenticed at the bench in a commercially oriented
shop. Sometimes a manufacturing facility or, even better, a trade
shop. I have apprenticed, worked and owned both and the trade shop
is the best but you will learn quickly in either. It is, I think,
better to get paid than it is to pay. If you are determined to go to
school, go to San Francisco to Alan Revere’s Academy. I’m in no way
associated with them, just a healthy respect.Please e-mail me if
there is any way I can help. God luck to you.

Tom Arnold


#11

Atlanta,

I think the best advice I have seen so far is going to junior
colleges to try a few basic jewelry courses. I’m from Chicago
originally and the Chicago area has great schools and museums.
Financilly that is the best start for your money. Once you do that I
would recommend Blaine Lewis new approach school. Old school learning
is great but he has a well rounded view of the entire jewelry
spectrum including cutting edge technology. Being a succesful jeweler
is not just about learning how to make metal objects with your hands
it is also about keeping abreast of the latest trends and tools in
your business, gathering and utilizing that information
to become succesful, assuming that is your goal. Another
consideration is where do you want to be in 5,10,15 years in your
field? There are many paths in the jewelry industry.
Design,manufacturing,restoration and repair,store owner, gallery
owner,stone dealer,bench jeweler. Also you may want to weigh out the
financial consideration. Do I want to design a line and travel 300
days out of the years to shows?How much will I make after costs? Is
my line dynamic enough to sell? Whole sale versus retail?Lastly, and
this is my opinion. It takes years to become a master at most things.
Figure out early on what direction you want to go, head in that
direction and hold on and in twenty years you may look up from your
bench and say to yourself, “Hey I’m prettyy good at this.”

Regards
J Morley/Goldsmith/Laser welding


#12

Dear Altana,

Look up Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology in Paris, Texas.
You’ll get a very solid grounding in the basics. Design and
creativity are not necessarily encouraged; the focus is narrow -
only the mainstream jewelry industry is given credence. However, by
the time you graduate, you’ll be able to take bare sheet and wire
and construct something fabulous - a custom box catch, or a basket
head with filigree. As long as you set everything with diamonds,
they’ll love you. :wink:

The only school that could give you a better start, I think, is the
Revere Academy.

Lapidary Journal and Tim McCreight’s books are your best friends
right now. I relied heavily on both resources in my early days, and
still reference them on a regular basis.

Good Luck!
Susannah


#13

Altana,

As you can see from the responses here, there is not one path to
take with this career choice, but many. Depends on where you want to
go. Designer? Artist? Business owner? Educator?

Let me offer an analogy: You say that you love music and want to be
a musician. The first question I’d ask is: “Do you play an
instrument?” If your answer is no, I’d suggest you pick one, take a
few lessons, and PRACTICE. You may decide to change instruments along
the way, or you may decide that the long hours of practice are not
the way you want to spend your life. You don’t need to go to the
Juliard School for this. A local teacher can be all you need.
Sometimes it’s a family member or friend that can get you started.

So, you’ve been playing for a while and you show some talent, and
you decide that you want to pursue this as a career. OK, what kind of
career do you envision? A Rock Star? Hip-Hop? Blues? Classical? I’ve
known a LOT of musicians. Some rock stars just started playing and
were so talented, and ambitious, that they formed a band, started
playing local gigs, and worked hard at promoting themselves. Some
took formal classes at a university. Some went to a university for
other reasons, started playing on campus, and the rest is history.
Some played in one band after another, perfecting their craft, until
their own “voice” emerged from the music. If you love Hip-Hop, then
you need to work on your dance choreography, your voice, and your
stage presence and timing. Jazz may require more formal and
introspective study. Blues will take you in another direction.
Classical may take you straight to the university.

After a while, you will just join a group and start playing gigs.
For free at first, then for a little more money. How much money you
will make depends on your talent, dedication, perseverance, and luck.
I know a lot of talented musicians who are working at a day job
(sometimes a good paying day job) so that they can play in a bar band
at night. I know of very talented musicians who only do work in the
studio, working with “STARS” on their recordings. They don’t like to
go on stage. And some just play for their friends and family, for the
sheer joy of it.

A career in jewelry is very similar. You can’t just go to school,
learn the techniques, and be successful. This is not an academic
pursuit. This is about learning a craft, like playing an instrument,
and will require the same dedication and devotion. You can start out
at a community college, but take some business classes, art history
and drawing classes, and some basic jewelry classes. You won’t be
burdened by a mountain of student loan debt, and can afford to buy
tools. You can even afford to work part-time for someone, either
helping in their store, working at a craft show, or doing the “grunt
work” in the shop. As you start to become proficient, you could THEN
decide to take classes at the Revere Academy, the New Approach
School, or any of the other schools that are offering workshops by
WORKING PROFESSIONALS. You will find good instructors, great
instructors, and poor instructors out there. If you have a little
background in jewelry making, you will easily see the difference. If
not, you will faithfully learn improper techniques and waste a lot of
time and money.

If, after working at the bench for a few years, you decide to pursue
an art career through one of the university programs, you will do
very well. If you take a fabrication workshop at Revere, you will do
very well. If you take stonesetting with Blaine Lewis, you will do
very well. Because you have already mastered your basic foundation
skills. If you truly love this stuff, they the long hours of bench
work and the years of training are not difficult, but fun. After 30
years in this profession, I still get that “WOW” moment when I finish
a nice design.

This week, I am retiring form my career as a goldsmith. I am packing
up my bench and tools, and leaving the business to my son. He has
become an outstanding craftsman and designer. It took him 10 years to
get to this level, and he had a lot of good teachers along the way. I
will probably still make jewelry, but now I will do it ONLY for the
joy of creating it. I am moving on to the NEXT LEVEL…

Hasta la Vista!

Doug

Douglas Zaruba
33 N. Market St.
Frederick, MD 21701


#14

I too believe the GIA is a great school but their focus is truly
gemology and that is where you should go if you want a gemological
background. If you want to be on the West Coast Alan Revere’s Academy
is the place to be. If you want a full, formal education on the East
Coast, however, you should go to the North Bennet Street School in
Boston. It has one of the best bench jeweler programs in the country.
All of my bench employees have come out of their program and are
always incredibly well trained and skilled in all aspects of metal
work. If you don’t want the full shebang than Metalwerx in
Massachusetts offers more abbreviated types of classes.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
@Daniel_R_Spirer
www.spirerjewelers.com


#15

I don’t know all that much specifically about GIA’s program, but what
I do know is that it is more of a sideline to the gemology courses -
that is, gemology is their forte. I would heartily agree with much of
what I have read here. As with many things in this life, a top of the
line diploma from a top of the line jewelry school and a dollar might
buy you a cup of coffee. I’m not saying that they have no value, by
any means. Every trade job I’ve ever applied for, though, was, "Where
ya from, where ya been? OK, there’s a bench here’s some tools and a
project - let’s see what you got. There is much to be learned in
schools - you could call school "Paying to be with old-timers."
However, most would be better served by starting smaller - my wife
Jo-Ann teaches an adult education class that costs $40/semester, and
there are many like it all over. If you quit your banking job and run
off to Revere, for example, your tuition will be largely wasted,
because much of it will go right over your head, or be too fast for
you. Jewelry is largely made by skill and talent, and knowledge, or
book learning, is far less important. If you do some things, make
some mistakes, figure out some stuff, and find what aspects of
jewelry particular attract you, and THEN go to Revere, you’ll be much
better off, IMHO


#16

Altana,

There are some other choices which I would highly recommend.

  1. Revere Academy. You will get the education you need in a small
    class room with personal service. They have a program there that
    might work for you. www.revereacademy.com

  2. New Approach School. Also an excellent program for those who want
    experience with metal and to leap forward with your designs.
    www.newapproachschool.com

  3. North Bennett Street School in Boston, MA They have a 15 month
    program designed to teach you all phases of becoming a bench jeweler.
    www.nbs.org

  4. Metalwerx Short intensive workshops designed to get you started.
    We offer a five day summer workshop in Beginning Jewelry.
    www.metalwerx.com

  5. Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Look up Ganoksin’s Industry Trade Index under Education. You should
find a large selection of schools listed there.

I attended Adult Education for four years and then applied to the
Massachusetts College of Art and graduated in 1997.

I think to be successful in this industry it requires 20 percent
talent and 80 percent hard work.

Good luck!

-k
Karen Christians
M E T A L W E R X
50 Guinan St.
Waltham, MA 02451
Ph. 781/891-3854 Fax 3857
http://www.metalwerx.com/
Jewelry/Metalarts School & Cooperative Studio


#17

Doug,

Congrats on your retirement and making jewelry for the sheer fun of
it!

I think everything comes full circle… A lot of us (myself
included) started off that way, then started a business and then
retire to make jewelry for the fun of it again. I’m not saying it’s
not fun, I wouldn’t do anything else- but Quickbooks is kicking my
butt right now, and I’m spending way too much time trying to figure
it out!!!

-Amery


#18

One of the questions that seems to be missing in this thread is:
what kind of jewelry are you planning to make? If you want to make
traditional gold jewelry with diamonds and colored stones, GIA or
Revere are good choices - although GIA is overpriced for what you
get, IMHO. But if you just want to get your feet wet and look at the
whole field - I’d suggest finding a good local metals program at a
community college. You can get the basics, and if the teacher is any
good, you can look at the range of stuff we call jewelry.

I took the GG course from GIA and it has served me well, even though
it’s a lot of money, it is thorough. But when I decided I wanted to
do more than play with stones, I took a setting class and a repair
class from GIA, which taught me some of what I needed. But the real
winner was finding a Penland educated instructor at the local
community college. He brought in many big names that taught specific
techniques. We learned fold forming, fusing, enameling, hydraulic
press techniques, and many other things. I think I was lucky to have
such an informed teacher, who also hooked us up with the local
metalsmithing organization. But what I found is not unusual, you
just have to look a bit harder than throwing money at the problem.

The other source for learning is from books - if you have had the
basic soldering, polishing stuff, get some good books and follow
their instructions. Alan Revere has a good one called Professional
Goldsmithing for the traditional stuff. My first one was Oppi
Untracht Metal Techniques for Craftmen and then his second one
Jewelry. My library has something like 75 jewelry books and is used
constantly for reference. Look at the books, and see if what it shows
is what you want to learn.

A young man in our area, Adam Neeley, started in the field making
silver jewelry with hand cut stones, about 7 years ago. He billed
himself as the youngest jeweler in Colorado. He has gone on to study
at a number of places, including a stint in Italy. It was definitely
a boot strap operation, but go an look at what he’s doing - it is
terrific. www.adamneeley.com - and he is just 21 now!

Judy Hoch


#19

Hello,

In answer to how some of us got started, would have to be, through
the trade Or as an apprentice. I continued to learn at the california
institute of Jewelry training and they prepared me for my first job
as a bench jeweler

Gabriel Manzo
Marketing / Jeweler
California Institute of Jewelry Training
www.jewelrytraining.com
@Gabriel


#20

Myself. I first gained an interest in the trade when in late High
School I did a week’s work experience at a jewellers. I then looked
for an apprenticeship. My first job interview was interesting. I was
up against quite a few hopefuls, all carrying their fancy design
degree and portfolios full of drawings.

I showed up with a shoe box containing 2 plastic kit models of
Formula 1 cars I had built and painted.

I got the job.

That job only lasted 3 months sadly, as the employer had a habit (I
later discovered through others that were keeping an eye on him) of
employing 1st year apprentices, and getting rid of them after 3
months (at which time he was supposed to put them through trade
school if he was keeping them on)

I then found a job where I was able to do my full apprenticeship.

By the way an apprenticeship here (Australia) consists of working
for, and learning from, a jeweller full time and going to trade
school one week every 3-4 weeks. The apprenticeship is for 4 years
total, 3 of those years have the trade school component.

Cheers,
Dale