Just what is a Qualified jeweler?

The posting of a job offer here, along with my personal experiences,
and more recently, my apprenticeship, cause me to wonder, just what
exactly is the definition of a qualified jeweler? From personal
experiences, post here and on other jewelry related forums, and from
friends and acquaintances who work in the industry, I am feeling
that what I previously perceived as a qualified jeweler is completely
wrong. I get the impression a qualified jeweler is someone who can do
anything and everything needed to run a jewelry store, from washing
windows, opening the store and closing the store, waxes, invest,
cast, design, operating CNC programs, milling, computer programming
and web sights design, advertising, , sales, customer service,
gemology, inventory and ordering supplies, put out and pull jewelry
on the show room floor, run out to get lunch, scrub the floors and
bathroom, clean the trap, able to perform the most difficult stone
settings, repairs, and fabrications, all this flawlessly, in record
time, without questions, 12 or more hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week,
on a minimum salary, often without any benefits, and with total and
unwavering dedication and devotion to the owner. How close am I ?


Hello Dan;

I’ve been reading your numerous posts and I’ve come to a conclusion.
If this looks like it’s going to be a long and boring post, please
skip to the very last line with my blessing.

Let me assure you in advance of my advice that you have my complete
sympathy. I don’t think your recent employer handled the situation
well at all. That said, I believe you have the right to obsess about
it, but that you will need to put this under your belt and move on as
soon as possible. Don’t try and figure this out, you will not be
working with all the facts. It’s my opinion that this was a position
with no future for you in any case. Here’s my advice:

Get back on the horse. Get another position. Your previous employer
must know that he had culpability in this situation, but don’t try
and convince him. And by the way, I think you’ve already convinced
us. Tell him that you greatly appreciate his attempts at fitting you
in, and that you regret that the situation didn’t work out, but would
he be so kind as to write a brief letter of recommendation, albeit
one that doesn’t go into excess detail, so that you can go on
perusing your interest in becoming a jeweler. I can’t believe he
could do anything less, given the circumstances.

The rest of my posting here is not so much for you, Daniel, as it is
for those prospective employers who might read this.

In my business, my apprentices have been paid a fair wage from day
one, even when they didn’t know anything about the job. I lost money
for months training them. This was what I expected. For months after
that, I broke even. Again, expected. Now I make a little money from
their work, but who knows what it costs me to take time out to train
them. Whatever they can do is more that I don’t have to do myself.
They are continually in training. I have over 35 years of experience
to impart to them. That is apprenticeship. Sometimes they want to do
things their way and I let them. If it doesn’t present too great a
risk, and it works out, they can do it that way from there on. If it
fails, I try to help them gain the insights they can get from the
experience. They make mistakes and so do I. I believe it’s as
challenging for them to get along with me as it is for me to get
along with them.

But here’s the bottom line. I continually return to the conclusion
that I am grateful for my workers. And I must take complete
responsibility for everything my business is and isn’t.

It takes great patience to have any employee. But a good employer
always sees the benefit that an employee brings to his business, and
understands that people are not perfect, and they are individuals
with their own personalities. That said, if someone isn’t working
out, you owe it to them and to yourself to tactfully terminate the
relationship. And the best way to minimize the damage is to do it

It is the employer’s responsibility to change, believe it or not. He
has to adapt to what his employees need in terms of supervision. It’s
not the other way around. Sound radical? Let me tell you now that the
success of my business is built on the knowledge I gained from the
failings of all the businesses I worked for. I may be radical, but I
don’t think so. Everyone on my team must be at ease with the aspects
of the work I can control, in order to offset all the given elements
that are naturally difficult about the job. I find that if I am
confident in my people, they will be confident in themselves, and
more able to meet the demands of this profession.

I don’t think I am that rare as an employer. You can count on
getting bounced around, used and abused and confused before you find
a good position, but you can find one. And you will never find the
perfect job. You are not just learning about jewelry here. If there
is only one lesson I can impart to you it is this, and I am convinced
it is life’s most important rule:

We learn from failure, and failure alone.

David L. Huffman

I became a “qualified” jeweller by completing a 4 year
apprenticeship, which consisted of both full time bench work and
regular schooling. I was lucky, in that my employer tackled most jobs
and techniques, but others in my “class” only performed a few
techniques. For example, one worked at a casting company so only
ever really cleaned castings. The schooling helped expose her to
other techniques and methods and tasks, but she didn’t get the
regular practice that I and others did.

At the end of our apprenticeships, we were both considered
"qualified", but skill levels were greatly varied.


all this flawlessly, in record time, without questions, 12 or more
hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week, on a minimum salary, often without
any benefits, and with total and unwavering dedication and devotion
to the owner. How close am I ? 

Come on. The owner of the store is not even expected to do as much
as you have posted. Your job (as an apprentice or employee), when
asked, “can you do this?” is to say either, “yes, I can do that or
no, I can’t do that…but I am willing to learn”. It is not your job
to say "why do you want me to do that, I think we should do it this
way"With small business, or any business for that matter, it is about
the bottom line. It has to be about the bottom line. You have to find
a way to look at your experience with your apprenticeship and glean
some kind of learning from it all. What did you learn? I don’t know
what happened because I wasn’t there.You have said that there was
some kind of incident. I’m afraid you are the only one on the forum
who can give yourself good advice on what happened. Like I said a
couple days ago, bad things happen to good and talented people
sometimes…and I’m not being flippant or condescending (at least I’m
not trying to be), but you gotta come around. Look at what happened
to you and try to figure it out (for a couple days) and then the only
thing you should be saying to yourself is “ok, what do I do now?”
Stop worrying about the past and get out there. You worked hard to
get that apprenticeship, do not let one bad experience taint that.
Get back on the horse, dude.

Good Luck

You forgot to mention do the books and accounting Daniel it
sounds like your apprenticeship was with the wrong person. I’ve
always felt that an apprentice was someone who had no real working
knowledge but lots of desire to learn a trade. And it sounds like you
have had background. Can you size a ring? retip? Maybe you should be
looking for a job not an apprenticeship! I have a weird theory its my
own… If someone wants to be my apprentice they work for me do what
I tell them and they get training. Period. I might buy lunch… It is
a short term thing maybe 6 months and 2 days a week. These people
have little or no bench experience to begin with. If I teach classes
they get to make what they want within the parameters of the
techniques they are learning. They pay for most materials and pay me
$20.00 hr. Only 2 hrs a week. and then for however long they need.
They always have home work… sawing, filing, and sanding. Whether
its apprentice or student its always one on one. I tried to teach a
married couple once… As far as what the definition of a “Qaulified
Jeweler” or better yet a “Master Jeweler” That is a matter of
opinion. Probably because the term Jeweler covers such a large range
of knowledge. Few could master all the skills and and be
competent at everything. I was told by my first shop foreman. A good
jeweler knows when to stop. Stop pushing a prong, stop polishing,
stop fiddiling, and stop typing

Candy (A Qaulified jeweler)

Hello Dan,

what a great post! do all that quickly, quietly, and with a smile on
your rouge covered face and don’t wear those old jeans to work! Get
back to work, the customer is waiting. Have a great day.


Daniel you forgot:

willing to disassociate him or her self from the majority of social
occasions with friends and family for a period extending from
sometime in November til some time in January of the following year
without complaint or meaningful restitution.

My two cents.
Frank Goss


Dan, you got it!! If you had the shoe-shine part down, you’d be
ready for the world. I opened my business in 1983, but I’ll describe
the shop I was in before that for you all. This was a major supplier
to Zales, and our work was often spotted in DeBeer’s ads. There were
(union shop) 6 jewelers usually, 2-3 diamond setters, 3 polishers
and 2 in the casting room, plus a foreman, plus the office. The
jewelers were used according to their skills - there was the model
maker and special order man. I backed him up with special order when
he was booked, and did some repair - I also backed up the diamond
setters with retipping and strapping and such. Our business, though,
was production of diamond jewelry in gold and platinum. We each had a
steel 3x5 file card box for our work. Every night, they got locked
up. The foreman would just stop by and put a “job-bag” - manila
envelope - marked with all the pertinent info - metal, size if
necess., customer, etc. Most of the time, each bag would contain 25
rings, sometimes less. Often we would have 5 or six bags of 25 rings
each, which were raw castings. So, we filed the castings, rounded,
sized, straightened, and cratexed in the corners. We also stamped
them, often with the customer’s stamp. Also we would prep any
settings. Then they went to “polish for assembly”, where the settings
and the top of the rings were pre-polished. Then they came back and
we would solder everything, and then they went to “polish for
setting”, and then to the setters, and then to final. It sounds
pretty simple, really, and it is, really. But then they went to
inspection. Every piece had to pass inspection under 10x, all over.
Every shank had to be straight, even, and perfect. Every setting and
every diamond had to be 100% straight, square and plumb. Every thing
had to be squeaky clean in terms of solder, contours, filing -
everything. And that was everyday work. Then the foreman would stop
by and say he had this job, and it would be some thing that keeps you
awake nights, but it was your job, and instructive. I got the job of
assembling this one ring that took a whole day each to polish to set
to jeweler to polish to set to jeweler to polish… But it was
gorgeous and when I see it in magazine I say, “I made that”… We
were literally a team, no different than a football team, which is
why the big houses just shut down for vacation - they can’t produce
with 1/2 of a team, so everybody goes at once.



I agree with your post and do much the same when training someone,
however, after training quite a few people and allowing them to try
doing a job their way, I have resorted to telling an employee that I
appreciate creativity, however with this process I want it done my
way, that the results need to be the same results I get, and that the
way I do it is the way to get the same results. Funny things is when
I let people try their own way, they usually ended up doing it the
way I showed them, and after a while, I just needed the results to be
what I needed without the learning curve and the time wasted by a new
employee, as the way they did a process needed to be consistant so
any employee could pick up from where one person stopped and
continue. Different methods of doing a job ended up with one person
having to reorganize and that was a waste of time. I once had a guy
who had worked for another jeweler and thought his previous knowledge
was superior to what I was trying to teach him. I asked him to set a
small faceted stone in a tiny four prong earring, showed him how to
do it with a small file, took about 2 minutes.

He wanted to use a setting burr. I knew what was going to happen,
but I gave him the part, he came back having destroyed the setting, I
gave him another one, he destroyed the second part, I gave him
another and he destroyed the third part. He was determined to do it
his way regardless of the results he was getting. Ended up doing it
myself, and he never had the opportunity to learn more about setting
or setting another faceted stone. Found out what he was good at, and
left it at that, any attempt to train met with resistance. This
particular person worked well with women, but was stubborn,
obstinate, confrontational, argumentative (on a daily basis) and
unappreciative of the opportunity he was given by me as I was the
one who hired him, to assist me.

My process with employees is to give them several chances to do
something and if they have a lack of appitude (or common sense) I
move them over to another task and find out what they are good at and
limit what I have them do to what they are good at. I also cross
train employees to be able to cover for each other where they can.
Keeps things more interesting for my employees and if someone is out
sick, the job gets done. This covers my need for production,
assembly, and retail sales. I have really low turn over of employees.
I hire women, train them, they tell me what to do, I do it and
everything works out well.

P.S. I always have a two week trial period with a new employee for
both of us to see if it is going to work. After two weeks we review
needs and expectations.

And have you heard about the jeweler who hired someone for retail
sales, and found out after a few days that this person was going to
need constant help, as she had not mentioned…she was color blind.
Happened to me.

Richard Hart

It takes years to become experienced in any single craft, My setter
tells me that it was about 6 years of professional setting before he
felt that he had reached his level, and now 20 years later his is
still learning. A polisher that I knew, told me that it took him 2
years to become competent at split lapping watch cases. Even if you
are sitting next to a true master, it is going to take years to learn
a craft well, and you had better be in a good house, one that has
high standards, a lot of quality work and the wiliness to spend years
developing new craftsmen.

I’m not sure what the problem is here. No jewellery firms, or no
craftsmen. Maybe both.

Dennis Smith

I was told by my first shop foreman. A good jeweler knows when to
stop. Stop pushing a prong, stop polishing, stop fiddiling, and
stop typing 

Or, as one of my foreman said, “You judge a jeweler by how well he
fixes him mistakes.”

Well Dan, you can’t be a qualified jeweller. You can still see the
humour in it.

As far as I am concerned, a jeweller is the one who makes the
jewells. He or she must have accomplished a lot of skills to be able
complete pieces on their own. Otherwise the person is a 'wax
or a CNC operator, but not a jeweller. As far as keeping the shop
running I spend at least half my time doing extra stuff that doesn’t
pay, and except for the fact I do a full week behind the bench I’d
say I am vearing into something else that isn’t just jewellery


I was told by my first shop foreman. A good jeweler knows when to
stop. Stop pushing a prong, stop polishing, stop fiddiling, and
stop typing 

I can totally relate to that. There use to be a time when I didnt
know when to stop. Id polished or files or sanded so much to make it
just a little better that it totally ruined ! You know, I have to
push it to the edge, I crank it all the way to 11. Re: Spinal tap

I like what you wrote though, and also that you tell it how it is,
upfront, with no false pretenses, or promises. I like when people are
honest about things. It makes life so much easier to deal with, and,
you dont have to try to remember lies and worry about getting caught
in one.


We learn from failure, and failure alone.

David, and everyone else here. I promise, this is the last I will
write about this. I am back on the horse, and I Raring to go. Just
the other day the kids and I watched a movie, that made me much more
comfortable with what just happen, and what you wrote David, is
exactly it. It’s a kids movie by Jim Henson’s company called , 5
children and IT.

In brief, kids find a thing called a Sand Fairy living on an ocean
beach, inside their uncles house. He gives them wishes, but the
wishes always go wrong. He then tells them. The wishes always go
horribly wrong, because the real treasure is in the lesson you learn
from it. I saw that part and thought to myself… Yeah, I get it.
Then again, I also remember the old saying, be careful what you wish
for, you might just get it!! * Lol *


I bad jeweler is a jeweler that makes mistakes and cant fix it, and
a good jeweler is a jeweler that make mistakes and fixes them.sorry
about the simplicity


Hello Orchidland,

David L. Huffman really said it well… except that I think he really
IS the exception. It is the rare employer whose attitude says, “It is
the employer’s responsibility to change, believe it or not. He has to
adapt to what his employees need in terms of supervision. It’s not
the other way around.”

Most respectfully,
Judy in Kansas

Yes Dan…and Winston Churchill was proported to have said, “The
key to success is going from failure to failure without loosing your

Cheers from Don in SOFL

Hi Richard;

...however with this process I want it done my way, that the
results need to be the same results I get 

I can appreciate your reasoning for that. It makes sense the way you
explain it, and if you explain it that way to your workers, I
wouldn’t think it would be a problem for them. And I sometimes find
myself hoping my employees will prefer to go back to my way of doing
something after trying their own route. And it sometimes happens that
way. They don’t actually often try straying from how I’ve taught
them. But I have ulterior motives for this strategy. I actually want
to encourage them occasionally question my authority. This way, they
eventually get the idea that I’m not pig-headed about things and when
I’m right there’s usually good reasoning and experience behind it.
And I’m careful to only risk this when, in the even of failure, the
consequences aren’t expensive. But there’s yet another strategy for
me. It trains me to become more at ease with letting go. It’s rumored
I’m a control freak :-). Makes for a good jeweler, up to a point, but
it’s hard on one’s personal life.

By the way, I completely agree with the idea of cross training
people. I do that for the reasons you list, but I have another one I
think is the one that’s most important to me. I want my workers to
understand how everyone’s work effects everyone else’s. Someone who
knows stone setting is more likely to carve a “setter-friendly” wax.
A bench jeweler who polishes know how to pre-finish an article so
that the polisher can do a good job. A caster who finishes castings
will know the difference between a good casting and a bad one, etc.

Finally, I think the whole idea of a trial period should become a
standard in our trade. It’s not fair to hire somebody, get their
hopes up and let them pull up roots and everything, only to boost
them out the door a month later because they couldn’t do what you’d
hoped or they’d told you they could.

David L. Huffman


I think Richard’s approach to employees doing it his way has a large
amount to do with the differences in the product you are producing. I
believe Richard does a lot of his own designs at a retail level. You
work a trade shop doing work for other retailers. I go with Richard
in terms of making the stuff come out the same way, because I don’t
want my employees changing my designs because they want to approach
the production in a different manner. When someone sees my pieces on
someone else I want them to immediately recognize them as being mine.
This doesn’t however preclude me from 1) letting the employees
occasionally stumble their way into what I want (I’m actually known a
bit for taking the “just go figure it out” approach–quite
successfully I might add) and 2) occasionally allowing them to
produce their own work for sale in my shop. If, on the other hand, it
is simply a repair job coming in, my employees can take whatever
approach they think is best. Since I personally have always taken non
traditional approaches to my jewelry making (I could make most of you
cringe at the thought of how I sometimes do things) I have always
been open to different approaches. But when it comes to having my own
product look the way I want it to, it’s my way or the highway.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

I would like to say Kudos to David Huffman and all the Jewelers out
there (my boss included) who treat their employees with dignity,
hopeing to pass on an art and a trade. Not to recieve free labor and
errand boys/girls for a season.