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JA bench certification - worth it?

I am considering taking this test, but am daunted by the cost. I
want to get a full time bench jeweler job, so I assume it’s worth it,
since I have no professional experience on my resume. Since I will
have to borrow a lot of money to take it, I guess I just want to hear
the orchid members feelings about this test… is it a well-known and
respected measure of knowledge in the industry?

Thank you.
Jessica Scofield

Having any professional certificate is good, but, you will have to
take a bench test no matter what certificate or degree you have. If
you have the knowledge and ability to do the jobs they give you that
should be all you need. As a general bench jeweler you need to size
rings, retip prongs, set stones, etc etc, FAST and GOOD. If you can
do what I need you to do I don’t care if you finished High School or
not. But of course that is me, some people will only talk to you if
have a degree in something.

Bill Wismar

Jessica, I think that as an employer, if I have two people come in
to apply for a bench position and both have nice portfolios, both
have little experience, but one has at least the first level of JA
certification, that I would be more hopeful about the one with the
certification. That said, I would still bench test them both and try
to get feel for their work ethic and personalities. I always tell
new hires that 1/2 of the job is doing good work while the other 1/2
is getting along. If you do good work but don’t get along, you won’t
have a job. I do think that if you’re are working for people, rather
than working on your own, that the JA cert is a great way to get
your foot in the door and demonstrate that you’re self motivated and
serious about working on the bench as a career.


Jessica, et all!

The owner of any jewellery company will ask you just one simple
question… “Any experience?” Unfortunately no certified testing
institution will ever teach you this…EXPERIENCE!!!

I suggest that you spend a year or two learning anything you can.
Along with your ‘experience’ will be your final testing…then you
will have a greater chance of finding a position that is just suited
for you.

I’ve been through the system of setting for major jewellery
companies in Toronto…they don’t care about any certificates from
me…but they say only “let me see your setting ability.”

You all know what I’ve done now? I’ve made at least 12 rings in
silver BUT set with CZ’s using all of the common setting styles. That
alone paves the way of getting into the front door of any company!

Jessica and all, make a photographic portfolio as well and update it
as often as you can…On the back page insert your certificate!!!


is it a well-known and respected measure of knowledge in the

Well, no, Jessica. I’ll say that, as you say, you have no experience
on a resume, you might find it helpful in getting work. IOW, it’s
bettter than nothing. I don’t personally know anyone who has done it

  • I wouldn’t be impressed if they had. It’s pretty obscure, actually,
    but a store might take it as more. There simply is no shingle or
    paper that means anything in this business. I read art people’s
    listings of shows and things and what I say is, “Show me one, single
    photo.” It’s all in the work… All of the jewelry jobs I ever
    got were from knocking on the door and saying, “I’m a jeweler,
    looking for work…”

Just one POV. Take pictures, develop a portfolio. I made thousands
of pieces before I ever took a picture.

Thank you, Jaime, for your advice, but I am not looking for any more
training. I am just wondering whether it is worth the money to take
the JA bench certification test. I have already gone to many jewelry
programs: Studio Jeweler’s and The Fashion Institute of Technology
in New York, and the Revere School in San Francisco. I want a job as
a bench jeweler. I am skeptical about the impact having that
certificate on my resume would have, assuming I could pass the test.
For nearly $2,000, I need to know whether any jewelers or jewelry
store owners have heard of it, and whether or not it has a favorable

Jessica Scofield

ps thanks, Jaime, for looking at my website and noting my skills. And
it hasn’t been updated since it was made in 2007, so I have aqcuired
abilities since then that I haven’t been able to show on the website.
The need to update it is hampered by the same money issues as the
ones about taking this test.


I would join in with most of the others who say that certification is
not a big deal in this industry. Others have mentioned pounding the
streets with samples and/or photo portfolio showing your skills. That
will get you in the door for a bench test. Even at shops who are not
LOOKING for a bench jeweler, when someone comes along with good
skills and a good personality, many jewelers will go out of their way
to help get them placed into a good position. It’s a really small
circle, and jewelers are well connected and are often collaborative.
So, GO and talk to as many jewelery store owners as you can and see
what happens.

Good luck,

PS The others on Orchid that have given this advice are among the
most talented and skilled in the entire group. They are entirely

JA has scholarships and heck if ya work for me I’ll pay for it!

Chip Stone
Stonecraft Jewelers
Elko Nevada

I agree. Experience is everything. The reason I took the JA bench
test is I realized the all of a sudden my new employer did not have
a senior jeweler to administer a bench test. Many of the jobs I
applied for were paper. I required the paper. When you actually meet
an employer and they ask you to finish a job the preverbal rubber
meet s the road. In the old days when i went to apply for a job there
was an old man or woman who would watch me complete a fabrication
task and asses my skills. Unfortunately, It is now hard to meet a
person in my market with the skills to accurately assess a bench
jeweler. In short when you apply to an HR department the cert
matters. If you apply to an old schools shop what you can do matters.
Respectfully,these old folks are not swayed by a picture. They want
to see what you can do in 30 minutes. Expect to sit down and perform
some basic tasks. In the end, given the age of the american craft
movement and the the fallout of the local store. I would argue in
todays world the more paper you have the better of you are…
Seek education Seek certs… but lets not forget in the end this is
a craft based art. What you do matters. You need to have the skill
and the experience. If all you have is a piece of paper it is worth
what it is printed on. If all you have is experience it will be hard
to find s job in todays certification based market. Hope this helps.
The other Jamie

I agree with Bill here…I taught a lot of students at GIA for 10
years. The program is good but it boils down to your passion and a
good set of hands.

Most students don’t have that. I taught some good ones and I would
have hired them if I still had my shop. By in large, the majority
will not continue in this trade on the bench.

Quality first and the speed will come.

Hi Jessica,

You didn’t say what your skill level is, so it’s a little hard to
say how helpful certification would be. On one hand, if you have a JA
Bench Jeweler Certificate, it will tell a prospective employer that
you have at least the skills to pass that particular test. On the
other hand, you will almost certainly have to take a bench test
anyway, so the only real advantage would be helping you get a first
interview instead of risking having your resume hit the circular
file. In either case, the moment you sit down for that bench test,
the certificate will become all but meaningless.

As an employer, it is my opinion that certification doesn’t really
matter that much. Having one won’t get you a bench test by itself,
not having one doesn’t usually count against you a bit. Your photo
portfolio and your training /experience, your appearance, general
demeanor and work ethic are much more likely to get you a bench test,
and how you perform on the bench test is what will land you a job.
Everyone that has been in the business for some time has known people
that are certified but don’t deserve it, and others that aren’t
certified at all by anyone but can do absolute magic at the bench.

It certainly can’t hurt to have certification, but I think spending
your time and money improving your portfolio and bench skills will
eventually pay a much higher dividend.

This is all based on my personal (and anecdotal) experience with
circumstances in the US, it could be (and most likely is) very
different in other countries.

Good Luck Jessica!
Dave Phelps

Jessica- I admire the hard work folks at JA have done to design and
set up the certified bench testing and education programs. It’s a
good thing for the trade.

That said, in jewelry, the proof is in the pudding. In all the years
I’ve been in the trade I’ve never filled out a job application or
submitted a resume. I’d show the work I had done with some samples of
my work. Then they’d sit me down at a bench and give me a handful of
jobs to do. It becomes apparent within an hour if you can or cannot
do the work.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

For nearly $2,000, I need to know whether any jewelers or jewelry
store owners have heard of it, and whether or not it has a
favorable impression. 

Just my two cents… I’d not bother with the tests, if you’ve got
the skills they examine down. Instead, make up some sample pieces
that showcase your best work, and demonstrate those skills. While not
all employers will care about those tests, and more than a few won’t
know that they are, any shop owner or manager looking to hire a
goldsmith will be interested in seeing your actual work. combine each
piece with the data on how long it took, costs or needed
parts/materials, if not obvious, and the other things that potential
employer might find of interest in evaluating your pieces and your
skills. After all, you pass those tests by completeing pieces or
demonstrating skills. You can just as easily make up similar pieces
that demonstrate the same skills, and your potential employer,
whether or not they’ve heard about the JA tests, will be able to
judge your work for themselves.


Hi Jessica,

is it a well-known and respected measure of knowledge in the

The first level test is too expensive. Way too expensive. I’d love
to hear the rational for this price structure. My feeling is that
they’ve priced it high simply so that it will have a certain level of
exclusivity (i.e., few people will actually take the test), and that
somehow will add to it’s perceived value.

As to that value: I feel these certifications are a meaningless
metric, all of them. Look at how many people tout themselves as ‘JA
Certified Master Bench Jewelers’. The only thing tells me is that
they had the desire and resources to go through the certification
process. The title was that

important to them. It tells me nothing about their actual skill set.
The weak link is the proctor system. Pick someone you like, who
likes you, and ask them to sign off on your tests. That’s not how
it’s stated in the test materials, of course. But this proctor method
totally invalidates the

whole thing. Seriously, there are absolutely no controls on these
tests. Anyone can do the work for you, or you can do it using any
amount of time you like.

People may be impressed with the actual certificate: some employer’s
actually require it (“All our goldsmith’s are JA certified.”). And a
cert does indeed demonstrate drive and determination. But as things
are today the cert’s do not demonstrate skills at the bench. Don’t
get me wrong, the actual tests are great. You should go through them
in the allotted time to gauge your level of skill and weaknesses.
It’s the certificate I have a problem with.

So to finally answer your questions. Well-known? Yes. Respected?
Golly. I hope not.

Thanks everyone for your honest opinions. I am going to have to work
on taking pictures that show my stone setting, repair, and
fabrication skills. And then be brave and walk in to stores I’d like
to work for. Gerry, I really like what you said about having made 12
rings and then set them, to show that you can set stones. I could
spend the next 6 months working on something similar.

And I figure that if I don’t get anywhere with this approach, I can
always take the test later. At least now I know what to prioritize

And Mark, I like what you said about half the job being about being
able to get along with your co workers.


36 years ago when I sat down for the first day to study under my
Grandfather he said two things that have stuck with me ever since…

“Ye head isn’t only for growing hair” and “You can’t buy experience”


When JA first began the bench certification program I had high hopes
for it. It was designed by Mark Mann to be along the lins of the
European model of having aprrenticeship, journeyman, and master
levels that would have some universal levels of competence displayed.
I got into the program (after a 25 year carreer as a bench jeweler)
and was the first in my home state to be certified, Unfortunately,
after a few years JA seemed to loose interest in the program. They
fired Mark Mann and began devoting most of their time and money into
Washington lobbying. The program still exists but has lost most of
it’s strength. I still have my nicely framed certificate hanging in
our shop but as others have said, there is really no piece of paper
that means much in this industry. In finding employment, being able
to demonstrate the bench skills that you have is really what it is
all about.


I would argue in todays world the more paper you have the better
of you are....... 

Seek education Seek certs… but lets not forget in the end this
is a craft based art. What you do matters. You need to have the skill
and the experience.

The other Jamie puts out a good perspective - you can’t have too
much artillery behind you. I will say what I’ve said occassionally
here - if you want to find work in jewelry, don’t look to stores for
jobs, look to manufacturers. They are harder to find because they
aren’t as public, but that’s where the real jobs are, not just
sizing rings.

I’ll say that we are a “real” business, meaning we get mail and some
of that mail is resumes. Some of them list job experience as you’d
expect. We are mom & pop with a network of people around us - we
don’t have employees, BTW. Academics are the worst offenders but
they aren’t alone - page after page sometimes of every show, every
workshop, every class, and none of it means squat to me. Often there
will be a picture and often I’ll think, "That’s ALL you can do?!?!?
Quite often the ability is inversely proportional to the paper. So,
whether you actually make up a resume or not, whether you take the
tests or whatever, you need to really understand that the the proof
IS in the pudding (Aside, it’s actually "The proof of the pudding is
in the tasting — FWIW)

I’m one of those old guys, I’ll know everything important about you
in 15 minutes at the bench… And I might not even read the paper
much beyond your name. First thing I’ll do is look in your eyes and
decide if you are honest…

Like Charlie, I knew Mark Mann who did a superb job of trying to get
the bench jeweler the recognition we all deserve

He gave me an inside look into the program, level 1 is technician,
level 4 is a master jeweler. if you can pass level 4, you were an
awesome craftsman, superb and detail oriented in every way.

Most certificates I saw were given to folks already working in a
store, it added more credence to the jeweler and the store.

David Geller

Jo Haemer:

That is wonderful that in your career you have not had to fill out
an application or submit a resume. I envy you. I hope I can get my
foot in this business before it’s too late-- I turn 40 next year. I
figure I will be “entry-level” for a few years before I can even
think of myself as a professional jeweler. But until I get a job in
the business, I will not make real progress toward making a living
as a jeweler. I looked at your website and was amazed by your work.
Also, I see from the Orchid gallery of your work that you are based
in Portland Oregon. I live there too. I tried to email you from your
website but I kept getting a message that said something like
"default mail client not set up" and so I was hoping that you’d
email me. I would be interested in apprenticing to you or taking a
class from you. My email is jessicascofield at gmail dot com and my
out-dated website is

Peter Rowe:

Thanks for your advice about including how long it took to make each
piece, costs of materials and such in my portfolio. Along with my
mechanical drawings that I often make before starting a piece, it
will show that I understand what I’m doing on several different
levels. ANd you’re right, it makes sense to just follow some of the
sample test projects. I have the discipline to do them by myself. But
it didn’t occur to me to do some of the test on my own and then
photograph the pieces for my portfolio. Thank you.

Someone noted that I have not said what my skill level is. My skills
are good, but not at professional level. I regularly repair friends’
jewelry, and I’ve done several commissions over the years, and I have
made my own designs (, but I am not very
confident about walking in to a jewelry shop and asking for a job,
because I have no professional experience. I would say my skill level
is such that I could pass the second level of the test, which is
supposed to be about the equivalent of someone who has worked
professionally for two years. I can do these task/projects, but I am
slow, I doubt I really perform the same as someone who’s been at the
bench for two years straight, forty hours a week. Perhaps I will
have to keep my grocery store job part time and apprentice to someone
who lives in Portland Oregon part time before I can work
professionally. I don’t know what an employer’s expectations are
going to be of me, so I’m not sure I meet them. Yet.

I am really getting the picture from the majority of you that what
counts is what you can do when the prospective employer bench tests
you. I need to prove that I have the skills then, and through my
portfolio. I am setting a goal of getting the portfolio ready by
July or late August, and going around to shops in Portland by
September. The worst that can happen is that they’ll a tell me no,
get out of my store. But I would be thrilled just to be allowed to
have a bench test, so I can see what is expected of me, but I realize
the economy is not good, and it’s worse in Portland, so I may have
widen my circle beyond Portland…