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Master goldsmith qualifications

I have been trying to find more on what it takes to
become a master silversmith or goldsmith. I haven’t heard this term
used in a long time. Yet I assume many of the extraordinary smiths I
know are masters. Who does the certification? Has this term fallen
into disuse? Has this been a thread in the past?


Hi Betsy,

i am a goldsmith with master diploma in Germany. I don’t know, what
the term “master” connote out of my country. Here the term master (in
German “Meister”) is protected by law. That means, nobody is allowed
to use it, as long he or she hasn’t past the appropriate examinations

When I did it in 1996, it took me about twelve years to achieve this
title (in German: “Goldschmiedemeister”). Today it is possible to do
in a considerably shorter time.

My skills cover everything to manufacture each piece of jewelry or
silver/gold-(churchly)tableware you can imagine by hand only and/or
with CAD/CAM from molten alloy to the finished piece including all
necessary steps between. Further I am allowed to take apprentices and
to be self-employed.

If you like to see some of my jewelry work, visit (German).

HTH, Mario.

Hi Betsy,

That’s a very interesting question.

The term Master is usually bestowed upon a member of an
organisation, or granted after a course of study.

Does Master mean a hill of beans(?)… yes, if it’s recognised. If
it’s not recognised then examples of work are needed to support the

Usually if someone says “I’m a Master X”, and I don’t know the
organisation that granted them the title, then the title really
means nothing to me. When someone says “I’ve been working in X for X
amount of years”. This is more meaningful to me.

Regards Charles A.

I will describe Russian system of classifications. Since it based on
German school, it should not be far from what is practiced in
Western Europe.

Concept of master tradesman have originated in the beginning of 18th
century. It meant someone completed 7 years of training and passed
prescribed examination. After that, one acquired right to take
apprentices and to stamp his name on wares, therefore becoming a

After 1917, more structure was introduced. The path to master was
split in 7 categories. After completing 6 months of mandatory
apprenticeship, an apprentice has an opportunity to take a test. If
test is passed, the apprentice becomes category 1 goldsmith. If
apprentice fails, than one continues as apprentice until test is
passed. To move to higher category a corresponding test has to be
passed. Categories cannot be skipped, but there is no mandatory time
lapse between the tests. So theoretically, one can take seven test
one after another and become a master in a very short time.
Practically, I have never heard it happened. The difference between
categories is complexity and precision.

Leonid Surpin


I am sure this will open up the can of worms everyone will jump on.
Back in the day, when there was an apprenticeship program or you
learned from “papered” masters, (one’s who had the documentation) we
could consider graduates from these people trained in the proper
techniques in the jewelry craft. I believe MJSA put together a
program headed by Mark Mann at the time to take bench persons through
several media fields to be given a title of journeyman or master. The
projects presented were straight out of the GIA JMA program which he
helped produce when he worked there. He is now back there as global
director of JMA…Global?..Anyway,…The European apprenticeship
program used to be 5 years? and now is 2 or 3 i think…I am sure I
will be corrected. Jurgen Maertz of the Platinum Guild Int. can
attest to this. First of all, neither of these programs attests to
perfection by a student or any goldsmith. You must think of it this
way…If a goldsmith can carve wax, cast, finish, fabricate and set
stones in any manner whatsoever, with an attention to detail, design,
durability, and sale ability, he/she may be considered a master…but
in no way does this make them perfect. I have been a jeweler for 35
years and taught and managed others at GIA who are very talented
craftsmen, but are they perfect, no, are they talented, yes. Do I
consider them masters, some. Quite frankly, there is good, better and
best…it is your job to figure that out for your own use.

Russ Hyder
The Jewelry CAD Institute.

Jewelers of America has a qualification they call Certified Master
Bench Jeweler (CMBJ). In order to qualify, one must qualify for
their other levels, which include basic repairs like chain soldering,
on up through retipping and other such tasks. The CMBJ test consists
of fabricating a three stone ring (an oval CZ center and two tapered
baguettes if memory serves), fabricating a double gallery pendant,
both jobs in platinum, making a silver box with a domed and hinged
top with a bead set X with CZz overlaid on the top, and carve a wax.
These tasks are all timed and must be performed in front of a

The cost of the test is around $1000, or at least that’s what it was
a few years ago when I toyed with the idea of taking it. But when you
include the cost of a proctor for three or more days, the cost of the
test itself and the time lost doing work that actually pays
something, I decided it wasn’t worth the time and money. My portfolio
says much more about my qualifications than any piece of paper ever
will to the people that would pay me to do my stuff.

Unless you are looking to increase the value of your resume in the
pursuit of a high-paying full time job, I don’t think you really need
certification. I know people that are CMBJs that don’t deserve the
title if you look at their day to day work and many, many more that
aren’t certified at all by anyone that are true master craftsmen.
Pretty much everybody else in the business can say the same, so the
CMBJ title doesn’t really mean that much to people that know about
such things. The most you can hope to get from having it is a better
shot at getting an interview and bench test for a top level position.
Once you’re in the door though, that piece of paper is worth the
paper it’s written on, not much more. They’ll want to see you do your
stuff, and the job will depend on what you do, not what your
certification says.

As to how to become a master metalsmith, there ain’t no secret
handshake or anything, it’s just time at the bench. By the time you
go through a mile or two of wire and a few hundred carats of melee,
you’ll probably be there. Practice, practice practice.

Dave Phelps

Who does the certification? 

The problem for Americans is that “master goldsmith” is a powerful
term when it comes to marketing & reputation as well as self-esteem.
It is certainly part of our cultural imagination even, if a formal
and legal certification is not part of our training system in the US.

I seriously doubt if there are any legal consequences for
self-declaration in the US. I have heard of several jewelers who were
described as “master craftsmen” or some other “master” handle in
their advertising, who would have a difficult time defending it if
anyone was challenging the claim. Their competitors can mock them but
I have never heard of anyone legally challenging that kind of claim
as a fraud.

I have a MFA “masters degree” from SIU Carbondale, but that is
seriously different from what the European masters status implies. If
you are very good, your customers and friends will call you a master
and you probably deserve it. If you call yourself a master and you
are only “so-so” you will come off as a phoney.

Stephen Walker

Andover, NY

Dave, I couldn’t agree with you more on this subject…there is
talent and then there is better talent. The proof is how you perform
on the bench and results…

Russ Hyder

Mario said…

If you like to see some of my jewelry work, visit (German). 

Really beautiful and outstanding work Mario! Looking at it really
brightened my day! I was an apprentice to a German trained Master
here in the US, and I can see some of his technique and execution in
your work. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about the
work, but when viewing it it is somehow recognizable of the fine
work of a German Master rather than simply the fine work of a


Betsy, Here in the UK we have a trade authority called The Worshipful
Company of Goldsmiths, they have been in business regulating our
craft since 1327, for their history see; I was officially indentured
at a ceremony held in The Goldsmith’s Hall, as an apprentice
goldsmith and I served an apprenticeship that was timed to end on my
21st birthday, in my case as I started at the age of 15 my
apprenticeship ran nearly six years. When I completed my
apprenticeship I was given my Freedom at another ceremony at The
Goldsmith’s Hall, this changed me from being an apprentice goldsmith
to being a journeyman goldsmith. After a couple of years as a
journeyman I was asked to train my own first indentured apprentice.
This made me a Master Goldsmith, nothing to do with my quality of
work, it just means that I was considered good enough to train an
apprentice. My first apprentice started at the age of 17 so his
apprenticeship term was for four years. The wording on our apprentice
papers always refer to the teacher of an apprentice as their master,
hence the term master goldsmith or silversmith as used here in the
UK.Peace and good health to all

James Miller FIPG


I saw your website and I am awestruck by your work. I’d love a
chance to visit Germany for a week just for a chance to sweep your
floors :slight_smile:



I have been trying to find more on what it takes to
become a master silversmith or goldsmith. 

I would not call my myself a master except when lying to clients. I
am pretty good at the jewellery and lying ends

A master has a good command of almost most procedures. All of them.
School learned or books or other. Best is to nail your ass into a
bench chair for a long time.

Second skill is recognising that something is above your skills. No
reason to quit but you are on thin ice.

Most important skill is saying NO way.

Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

Really beautiful and outstanding work Mario! Looking at it really
brightened my day ... 

Mark, you are too kind! Thank you.

just for a chance to sweep your floors :) 

I am sorry, no chance! I do this by myself every evening :wink:

Season’s Greetings and best wishes for the New Year!

Betsy, Look a “Jewelers of America’s Certification” Programs, these
are recognized by the industry! If I can offer “any help” i will do-so

Stephen Wyrick, GG, CMBJ, Experiences-To-Share

I am a CMBJ and continue to learn every day. To achieve this level
has taken years of work and practice. I sought out the people to
study with that could give me the knowledge I needed. Traditionally,
an apprentice would work under a Master for many years to achieve the
knowledge, which was a well guarded secret that was passed down from
generation to generation. One of my mentors, Jean Stark - the Goddess
of Granulation, taught me what a Master was… . that Masters must
teach. By teaching, I am exposed to questions that I would never
think of. Students continue to challenge me to explore and
experiment. I spent many years seeking the Masters of various
techniques such as Chasing & Repousse, Granulation, silversmithing,
metalsmithing, stone setting, etc., then hundreds of hours at the
bench to hone the skills. One of the reasons Vasken Tanielian and I
have joined forces to create JSI is to give a well rounded foundation
to start with that is not necessarily for becoming a repair jeweler
(if you have the skills to make it, you can fix it attitude) but to
design and fabricate jewelry using not only age old techniques but
also to use the latest technology such as laser welding and CAD.

Ronda Coryell
Jewelry Studies Intl
Austin, TX

Most important skill is saying NO way. while this is an important
skill i have always prepared my self for the consequences of failure
then made the attempt. for it is better to fail at attempting
something great than to succeed at doing something mediocre or a a
winner is less afraid of losing than a loser is afraid of winning -


Traditionally, an apprentice would work under a Master for many
years to achieve the knowledge, which was a well guarded secret
that was passed down from generation to generation.  

I wouldn’t argue with Rhonda’s posting as she’s got it figured out.
I would say that goldsmithing things are not really “well guarded
secrets” so much as things that are learned by absorption. You can
read all the books you want, but you won’t learn how to set a
diamond from any of them - not ~really~ learn. And this is one of
those silly threads in a way, and I’ve been reluctant to post at
all. But it’s a lazy Christmas day for a few hours.

Why do you want to be “A Master” so much? Why is the title such a
big deal and why go out and “Get Qualified”? This is an American
point of view- certainly the Europeans have laid out their system,
which actually means something. Here in America, as others have
pointed out, it’s usually a way of saying, "I am better than you."
Calling oneself those things, that is. And yes the CMBJ doesn’t mean
much but it means something, as at least it’s sanctioned and
supervised. It’s like here on Orchid - there are some who like to
say, “Yes, but I’m an ~artist~”. In jewelry that’s like being a cow
in a herd of cows proclaiming that you’re a cow. Jewelry is
populated with artists, it’s a magnet for them, join the club.

Really what I’m getting to is - Be careful what you wish for. There
was a time when my work - my technical side - approached Cartier. I
started getting work from those sorts of accounts and realized that
it just wasn’t any fun at all. They wanted this really anal level of
perfection, and a sort of sterility that I just don’t care for. One
of my strengths is that I AM an artist in the sense that my work has
personality. That’s why people come to me. That high level work
demands that the hand of the maker is hidden. And I’ve known a few
really master goldsmiths who couldn’t design their way out of a paper
bag, but they could make ANYTHING to levels of skill most people
can’t imagine. I’m at a place where my design skils are reasonable
and my technical skills are reasonable and the two mesh with each
other. For me, that’s a good place to be and I’m happy here.

In Europe - enter the system, earn your chops, become a Master
Goldsmith. In America, don’t worry so much about titles, earn your
chops, people will hold you in high esteem if and when ever they
feel like it. Move on…It’s all about the work, you see.

Traditionally, an apprentice would work under a Master for many
years to achieve the knowledge, which was a well guarded secret
that was passed down from generation to generation. 

I have always felt like goldsmithing, like carpentry or any other
work done by hand, it is comprised of a handful of basic skills and
techniques. Then there are a thousand tricks that you learn by doing
or by working with others. It’s the tricks that speed things up and
begin to separate the quality of your work from that of others. I
don’t think there is any advantage to keeping the tricks secret. Even
when you show others the how it’s done, they are never able to do it
exactly how you do it because they aren’t you. They have a different
set of experiences, training, body geometry and motivation than you
do. In my mind there is no reason to waste energy guarding secrets.


Even when you show others the how it's done, they are never able to
do it exactly how you do it because they aren't you. 

We have stumbled on important topic of how to teach goldsmithing
skills and what are the best avenues of transmitting the knowledge,
where motor skills are big part of becoming a master.

I actually looked into the subject with some depth. What prompted my
interest is that the two best apprentices, out of all I trained, had
no jewellery experience at all. One was a carpenter, and another was
a helicopter mechanic. They were different in respect that they spend
disproportionately large time simply watching, instead of doing. I
guessed at a time, it was because everything was so new to them that
they needed time to absorb the environment. However, later on I came
on the subject of “mirror neurons”. Actually, it is the very subject
that prompted me to start making my Advanced Fabrication DVDs. The
short summary of what mirror neurons are - follows. For more details
just google “mirror neurons”

We have neurons ( we can call them motor neurons ) which fire
(become active) when we perform some movements. There is another
group of neurons which fire simultaneously with motor neurons. What
was discovered is that these neurons also fire when we observe the
same movement done by others. Therefore they were named mirror
neurons. Since mirror neurons are connected to motor neurons, we can
( and do ) learn movements by watching others performing the same

That explains my experience quite well. The question remains what
role books play. Books are important at later stages of the
development when base of motor skills has been established. In the
beginning, books can even be harmful, if a reader visualizes
techniques incorrectly. The same goes for attending courses, where
student does not have the opportunity to observe the techniques,
correctly performed by instructors. It is also important to be able
to see it more than once. I wonder how many schools allow student to
film instructors, so they can view technique as often as necessary.
The process of learning is enhanced by combining viewing with music.

Music is processed by the limbic region, amygdala in particular.
Amygdala sends signals to hypothalamus, which controls release of
hormones ( via endocrine system ) to put human body in a state
corresponding to musical stimuli. MIT have a lot of research about
it. They discovered that for academic studies, Mozart is the best.
For motor skills acquisition, I find Beethoven, Chopin, and List far
more congenial.

Leonid Surpin

In Europe - enter the system, earn your chops, become a Master
Goldsmith. In America, don't worry so much about titles, earn your
chops, people will hold you in high esteem if and when ever they
feel like it. Move on......It's all about the work, you see. 

I agree with most everything you say, BUT the term “Master
Craftsman” is part of our cultural vocabulary. Lacking any legal or
social consequences for using the term as anything but a matter of
opinion, people will continue to use it as they always have. Even if
in America only a few of us actually have a legitimate apostolic
succession that we might use that title in an officially accredited
way, there are many people who will call any very good craftsman a
"master". To us it is not a granted degree or a guild rank, but in
our culture simply means “highly skilled”.

Stephen Walker

Andover, NY