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Oh "master", what art thou!?

Hello all,

Re: “master jeweler”, “master goldsmith”, “master silversmith”, you
get the idea. What exactly does the master refer to? What does an
individual do to earn this title? I’m assuming there’s some kind of
benchmark that one eventually achieves (pro-actively? passively?) to
be considered a master.

Thank you as always from an obviously still "green"
silversmith/lapidarist happily climbing the learning curve. :slight_smile:
Carol Carter-Wientjes

Hello Carol:

A Master would be someone (“of great and exemplary skill”) who knows
a great deal about a discipline and is also capable of performing the
tasks of that discipline. ("A worker qualified to teach apprentices
and carry on the craft independently ")

    What does an individual do to earn this title? 

Well, that’s a good question. There are many jewelers and jewelry
store owners claiming Master. On our “Hold message” on the telephone
at work my boss was saying that I was a Master jeweler years before I
ever earned that title from Jewelers Of America. Many jewelers out
there are Masters but have never taken any tests to certify that.
J.A. started a program a few years back
that was met with mixed response. To date only some 150 Master Bench
Jewelers have passed the testing. Jewelry is really way too diverse
to say that only someone who knows everything is a master. You can be
a master caster and not know a thing about enameling. You could be a
master fabricator and be a very poor waxcarver. The J.A. test tries
to pick the important things about being a Master Bench Jeweler and
grades you on how well they are done and how quickly they are
completed. There are some who could complete these tasks well but are
very slow. If you are making a living doing repair you need to be
fast but that is not to say that you could not be a master even if it
takes you 3 times as long to do a task. In our trade Master is in the
eye of the beholder.

Mike Mathews Victoria,Texas

Hi Carol;

We’ve got one of those, working at a nearby mall. He is a hack, and
the man who taught him is a hack. He gets the title by simply hanging
a sign out that says, “Master Jeweler”. On the other hand, there is
the JA certification program, which, although not universally
accepted, does in fact have some rigorous testing to qualify a
"Certified Master Bench Jeweler". With all due respects to our CMBJ’s
here, the stuff in the test is pretty much along the lines of what
I’ve been expected to do on a daily basis for the last 20 years, and
under much tighter time constraints. The silver box project seems a
litte far afield for a goldsmith. (I’m guessing that Alan Revere has
something to do with that, maybe just inspired it’s inclusion,
perhaps he can explain). I’ve also known at least one CMBJ who one
of my stone dealers referred to as “a plumber”. So, you may see
consistency with regards to the technical accomplishment of CMBA’s,
but there is nothing in the testing to examine their abilities with
regards to design or overall aesthetic judgement. CMBA status
confers recognition of technical knowlege and high competency with
regards to standard jewelry techniques. I hold an Master of Fine
Arts degree in metalsmithing, but that wouldn’t necessarily qualify
me as a goldsmith of any rank. 30+ years at the bench finished my
education. However, I’ve seen work by many metalsmiths with primarily
only acadaemic training who do work that would be a challenge for
most bench people to duplicate, even if they could match the
creativity involved. Personally, I think the testing is a place to
start, but there was a time when a “Master” gained that status based
on a body of work and a qualifying “masterwork” submission, this
being judged by other established masters in the local guild. How
about some input from the U.K. here? How does it work on the other
side of the pond?

David L. Huffman

I would assume that it means that that individual has “Mastered
their craft”, hence the title? Not sure what term of learning is
involved to receive such a grand title. Over to someone of greater
knowledge in the Orchid family.

Dublin, Ireland

Master is just the short form for “Master of Arts” or “Master of
Fine Arts”. I got my MA degree after I spent 7 full years at the
Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich Germany. Compared to the
"american way" of finishing everything in the shortest time
possible, the “old” European way of learning everything related to a
field from scratch up to master level, it seems very long. Another
way of getting a “Master” degree would be to work as an apprentice
for 4 years and after that go to the Masterschool for another 3
years. This way is the more practice oriented arts and crafts
approach whereas the first way I described is more the Fine Art

Edith Schneider Jewelry
P.O.Box 52001
Palo Alto, CA 94303
(650) 813 9755


Anyone can, and does use the title!

It’s an old term from the English guild system. You’d go through an
apprenticeship, then on to being a journeyman after you had
satisfied the guild as to your competence. This is the UK is the exam
known as “City & Guilds.” I did mine in 1985! They were tough!

Eventually you got to be a master. Master goldsmith did not imply
any special ability - only that you had reached a certain level
within the guild, had an established “shop” and that you were in good
standing with the community. Usually it meant that you had married
your own master’s daughter and that he had died or retired and you
had taken over his workshop.

Tony Konrath

To be a “master” one needs 4 years as a silver/goldsmith, a
graduation test (svenneprove) , and after that two more years
working with jewellry, and 4 months of accounting, knowledge of
pricing, business-skills and marketing. Then a new test, and you`re
a master, and allowed to carry the three sledgehammer sybol on
your door and papers.

That means that you can practical knowledge, routines, theory and
have all skills (except from being a nice person to your customers)
to run a jewellers shop or workshop.

This also makes a person very responsible and proud of what he`s


    To be a "master" one needs 4 years as a silver/goldsmith 

Hmm, I always thought it took 20 to 30 years to achieve master
status. I once heard a person in their early 20’s introduce
themselves as a master jeweler. With great effort, I managed not to
gasp audibly and fall to the floor.

It seems to me, that outside of the JA program, that master is an
honorific bestowed by others, and that one should not be so bold as
to call oneself master.

…okay, okay, there are exceptions, if you’ve been at it 20 years
and you can do everything. But, I notice the folks that I consider
masters don’t feel the need to go around calling themselves as such.


Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Studio 925; established 1992

    To be a "master" one needs 4 years as a silver/goldsmith 
    Hmm, I always thought it took 20 to 30 years to achieve master 

I’ve met several people over the years who really were master
goldsmiths in their 20’s- just great hand eye co-ordination and
skills- the rest of us have some of the range, but not all of it, at
that age. One jeweler in Cambridge MA in the 70’s comes to mind-
made his own alloys and matching solders, was a skilled engraver and
designer, a painter as well; not, however, a great business person.

Elaine: You are right. After 4 years apprenticeship you are
considered a journeyman. A master means just that. A master of the
trade. I have never heard of anyone with 4 years of experience who
can master all aspects of the bench. Maybe one or two, if he/she
spends most of their time at that task, but all? I don’t think so.

33 years at the bench and still learing.

One jeweler in Cambridge MA in the 70's comes to mind- made his own
alloys and matching solders, was a skilled engraver and designer, a
painter as well; not, however, a great business person. 


I have know several talented artists with that problem, my self
included; seems Artists and Artisans do have a right brain thing
going on; where as they/we need both sides functioning together to
not only put forth our designs and craftsmanship but the business
thing as well.

Kenneth Ferrell

I knew of two fantastic jewellers here in Toronto, before they left
for their homeland of Italy.

…I saw a Half-million dollar pendant, ring, brooch, necklace
combination …all of these parts could be made to hold a singular
Marquise or the surrounding cluster of stones…it came with a wooden
showcase…a book of instructions on how to assemble each of its many
intricate parts. Now these two fellows father and son, were masters
in their own field of creativity…:>) Masters?..hardly, Saints and
Angels, more like it at their work !!!

I, on many an occasion saw the father Gioncarlo Durante and son
George, melt a bar of gold and hammer it out on a ring mandrel and
make this mass of gold into a thick wedding band…! Masters? what
say you?..they left this country out of pity, for they could not put
their crafts to work, imagine these two fellows doing simple
repairs?? them, it seemed an insult…gerry!

Dear Gerry,

what a sad story! This can happen to idealistic skilled workers who
transfer into a foreign and unknown environment. Often they are
unable to find their niche in the new environment because they get
sidetracked into believing the only way to survive is to compete
with all the other rats in the rat race. Some are taken advantage of
by unscrupulous traders; they are lied to when they seek to
establish a price structure for their work. Their beautiful work is
often denigrated on the grounds that “no one will pay for that
attention to detail” to make them work cheaper. Unfortunately there
are people out there who prey on the idealism of others - especially
when they are tradespeople or craftspeople in the strange land of
profit above all else. Been there, suffered that!

Kind regards,
Rex Steele Merten
Sydney, Australia