Wow Don, you sure hit a sore spot with me on this one. Then again,
I’m probably the one you’ve heard complain loudest, too. Here is a
rundown of my current experience:
I am currently enrolled (at a local college) in an 8-week (one
3-hour class per week) “Jewelry Manufacturing” class. Basically, it
is an instructional course in the art of lost-wax casting. What
follows is a run-down of the first few weeks of “instruction”. Bear
in mind that each class has several “return students” who take this
class every semester because they don’t have their own casting
equipment and consider the $85US tuition to be cheaper than having a
professional do their casting.
The first night: The “lead instructor” showed the class how to make
3 tools by hammering two pieces of brass welding stock into having a
flat end, then gluing them, along with a tapestry needle into a
small, wooden dowel. A list of local jeweler’s tool suppliers was
provided for us to purchase any other tools we might need, as well
as other supplies. After that first night, this "lead instructor"
taught nothing else…his time is now spent with the torch, melting
and casting for the students. Yes, that’s right…FOR the students.
It seems that, if a student REALLY wants to do his/her own casting,
it may be allowed…but it is quite frowned upon for liability
The second week: Our “wax packages” were passed out. About $3US
worth of wax wire and sheet. Ring tubes are also available, but only
if we get to the point of needing it for a project. The second
"instructor" arrived an hour after class start and began showing us
how to make little dots with the wax wire onto sheet wax. Then, she
showed us how to make an “S” shape out of wire, tack it to the
sheet, and build it up by depositing more wax on it. Clever, eh?
(note deep sarcasm here). Fortunately for me, I’ve read volumes
about wax modeling and casting for a long time and have my first
piece ready to invest for the next week’s casting. All others in my
class are still clueless.
The third week: One “new student” has dropped out. The second
"instructor" arrived an hour after class again. By this time, I
begin to realize that SHE will be providing the basic instruction,
not the so-called “LEAD instructor”. My first piece is cast. It is a
bezel setting for a pietersite I’ve had plans for, just never got
around to fabricating. You can see it at
http://www.terrantreasures.com/images/pieter3a.jpg if you like. The
first week, I had asked her (the “instructor”) about shrinkage, and
was told that it wouldn’t be enough to worry about. Of course, the
piece did shrink too much and, after much filing of the setting and
some recutting of the stone, the piece is nearly finished.
The fourth week: Again, the “instructor” arrives an hour after class
start time. I ask her why she is robbing her students of 1/3 of our
tuition. She replies, and I quote, “They don’t pay me enough here to
leave my other job an hour early”. I am aghast! The other "new"
students within earshot can’t believe it, either. There was no
reasoning with this woman after that, as everything discussed after
was unreasonable. So, I cast my next piece and got to work finishing
it. Now, the writing is on the wall; this is more of a “We Love Our
Friends who Already Know Enough About Lost Wax Casting So That We
Can Get Down To Our Own Business While They Go About Theirs and Hope
We Don’t Have Any Of Those Annoying New Students Who Need To Be
Shown What To Do” Club, as opposed to a Jewelry Manufacturing class.
Meanwhile, I have cast my second piece and turned in my third to be
cast next week. The “instructor” decides to put us all on the
project of making an “initial ring”. One student asks “What if we
don’t want to make an initial ring”? The “instructor’s” reply: “This
is MY class, so you’ll make an initial ring…but you don’t HAVE to
cast it if you don’t want to”. She apologizes to me at the end of
class for “going off on me” when I asked why she couldn’t be on
time…she said she had a bad day.
The fifth week: By now, we are all resigned to the fact that we have
lost 1/3 of our money (or at least I have…nobody else, besides a
friend who rides with me to class seems to have a problem with
this). My friend casts her first piece, a triangular piece of sheet
wax with some little dots, the letter “S” and some pieces of wire
fused to it. Nobody else has cast a thing, except me…a 10K cap for
a nice boulder opal…
The sixth week: Two other students cast small pieces, I cast another
and filed away on my initial ring. I put on a good face in the
interest of fostering amity in the classroom. The “instructor” has
kept herself busy by giving each classmate individual tips on how to
"dress up" their initial rings.
The seventh week: I cast another piece in 14k this time, figuring on
getting as much done for my money as possible in the short time
left. A ring I carved in my spare time. It needs work before
display. One other “new student” casts a second piece. The
"instructor" continues giving tips on the initial rings (I guess she
finally found a way to keep us occupied with SOME form of
instruction). I left early for the Florida Gold Coast Gem and
Mineral Society’s monthly meeting (don’t forget our sale coming up
in December!!). I turn in my last piece to be cast next week,
another ring, this time in SS.
This Wednesday, the eighth week, is our last week of “instruction”.
The “return students” asked about the class party, but the “lead
instructor” says that the school doesn’t allow them anymore. Then,
he said “ah, have a party if you want to”. I’m fairly certain that
I’ll just want to cast my last piece, then leave.
People of Orchid and The World: With 20 years of military service
(no, I’m not comparing the military to civilian life here) I have
been taught by dozens of instructors. I also served a 4-year
special-duty tour AS an instructor for Air Traffic Control RADAR
Systems Technology. Some of the instructors of my acquaintance were
good, some were bad, and some were the finest I’ve ever known. We
even had one really awful civilian instructor during my tour who
maintained a class average of over 98 percent by giving the class
leader his lesson plan, which was clearly marked with the test
material. But, until I met this woman, I have never known one to
cheat a student out of their due because “they don’t pay me enough”.
People of South Florida: If you are considering taking the Jewelry
Manufacturing class at Nova, reconsider. Unless you already know
what you’re doing, and only need a (relatively) cheap way to cast
one piece a week (the class limits students to one per week), then
The other “instructional” experience I’ve had also happened down
here. A few years ago, a friend put me on to a young lady who would
teach me fabrication for $20US/hour (about a block or two from
where the rock and gem club meets, btw). The first day was okay,
with one other fellow there, as well. Things went well that day, and
I made a simple bezel setting. The next day was to be a one-on-one
session for $30/hour. She asked if I wouldn’t mind if her friend sat
in, because this girl already knew what she was doing and wouldn’t
bother us. Being the nice guy I am, I said “sure, I don’t mind”. The
rest of that day, I spent mostly listening to the "instructor"
talking to her girlfriend about this millionaire guy she had a date
with, who has a millionaire friend that her friend should date, as
well. Also, the advice the instructor had for the girl about
depletion gilding the bracelet she was working on while my 14k gold
bezel melted while I was trying to anneal it. Fortunately, it wasn’t
an institution that required the tuition up front, and I kept my
Now, for the positive side of things. I know there ARE legitimate
schools with conscientious instructors who really do care about what
they do. Most of them are quite well-known and many of them are
mentioned quite often in this forum. My reason for writing this
lengthy message is NOT to disparage teachers, instructors or
learning institutions of our trade, but if I can save one person the
disappointment that Nova has to offer, I feel I may have made a
Most of what I know about cabbing, faceting, fabrication, casting,
etc. comes from what I’ve read in books and magazines, and the kind
advice of older, more experienced people who have been doing it for
a long time. Many of them post often to Orchid, but many of them
I’ve met at small rock and gem shows, and even flea markets. Lately,
the bulk of what I’ve learned has been from The Orchid Forum and the
kind folks at my local gem club. So, in the face of my recent
"instruction", I would like to thank ALL of the wonderful people who
post their wonderful solutions and general knowledge here.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
James S. Duncan, G.G.