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Questions and Views from a Newbie


#1

Hi,

First, I wanted to say thanks to everybody who responded to my
questions on Getting Started, and Color Blindness and seeing color
change in Metal. Thanks!!

Second, I see a lot of different job titles for people involved in
the jewelry arts. A lot of the bench-jewelers seem unhappy with the
job, while a lot the self employed craft-jewelers seem a lot more
content. Why don’t more people switch to doing the art show, gallery
type jewelry? Forgive me if I am getting the titles wrong, but it
can be very confusing for a newbie to understand which job is which.
My goal is to eventually sell one of a kind items at Galleries, Craft
shows, and Art shows. What would I be called: Art-Jeweler,
craftsman, or something else?

Third, I see people refer to low, mid, and high end art jewelry.
What price ranges are we actually referring to? Is low-end $50 or
less?

Fourth, one poster recently wrote that I should stick to jewelry as
a hobby and stay in my well-paying job. If he is that unhappy, maybe
he should investigate another line of work as well. All I know is
that the 5-8 hours I can squeeze in at my bench per week is what
keeps me sane. I am probably equally unhappy programming computers
as he is working on jewelry. Yeah, I make a high salary, but my
specialty restricts me to living in the largest (read most expensive)
cities in the U.S. In California alone I am pretty much restricted
to the San Francisco area, Sacramento, or Los Angeles. Programming
involves many 2 a.m. phone calls and late hours trying to fix
problems before the rest of America wakes up and wants to check their
account balances. I think everybody has one interest or special
talent that they can be happy making into a livelihood. Parents,
teachers, and students would do better off trying to determine what
that is instead of chasing the almighty dollar.

Just my two cents worth after 20 “successful” years in the computer
business. I am not trying to offend anyone, and I apologize in
advance if I have done so.

Eric


#2
A lot of the bench-jewelers seem unhappy with the job, while a lot
the self employed craft-jewelers seem a lot more content.  Why
don't more people switch to doing the art show, gallery type
jewelry? 

Eric, As a jeweler who has been in the brain draining bench jeweler
job and who also has been trying to break into the “art show,
gallery type jewelry” set, I can tell you why more people don’t do
it…It’s damn hard! There is a lot of competition in the arts,
smart competition, experienced competition, better connected
competition who all seem to have deeper pockets than next.

And always there more people wanting to get into the arts. To get
into this field one needs to have capital for inventory, money to
pay the bills in the time between producing your inventory and
selling it, an ability and/or time to market yourself (or pay someone
to do it for you), an ability to do your own accounting (or pay
someone to do it for you), the ability to survive the emotional
rigors of putting your soul into your work and having it rejected,
rightly or not, and an immense amount of patience. Oh, and being
able to make killer jewelry that is unique enough to get you into
shows and at a price point that will get you into galleries so that
actual people will spen d money on your work is no walk in the park.
A steady economy where there is no threat of war or terrorism so
people will feel good about buying somethin g as trivial as art is
helpful, too. The bottom line is, if it were so easy you would see
more jewelers getting into it—but, it ain’t.

You have to love it. It has to be in your bones and a part of your
life. I t may well be your hobby, but are you ready to make it your
life as well? Personally, I am willing to put up with it and enjoy
the chess-like qualitie s of the business. And there are a lot of
benefits too. I don’t want to deny or belittle that, obviously if
there weren’t benefits no one would want to get into it, and I
wouldn’t be in it now. But, you don’t seem to need convincing of the
benefits, so we move on.

    Forgive me if I am getting the titles wrong, but it can be
very confusing for a newbie to understand which job is which. My
goal is to eventually sell one of a kind items at Galleries, Craft
shows, and Art shows.  What would I be called: Art-Jeweler,
craftsman, or something else? 

A guy who comes to your house and fixes your roof is a carpenter.
The guy who installs the windows in an office building is a
carpenter, the guy who goes on TV and shows you how to build your
own barn or rocking chair is a carpenter. Even though the carpenters
are not exclusively using wood, they are using the tools and
techniques of a carpenter and so that is what they are called.
Similarly, if you make things using the techniques and tools of a
goldsmith, you are a goldsmith, whether or not you sell your own
work, or who you sell it to, or whether you use silver or brass or
gemstones in your designs. Whatever else you call yourself is a
matter of whether or not it communicates to others a better idea of
who you are. But never forget that you are a goldsmith. That is my
opinion. Viva! the goldsmith!

Beware of what you wish for, you just might get it. Good luck

Larry


#3

Hi, Eric, and welcome to “our” world. As to what to call
yourself-- did you see the recent thread on the subject? The
consensus seems to be that there isn’t a consensus, and that people
go with whetever they’re comfortable with. Much the same is true for
"low"end, etc. I’ve heard people refer to pieces in the
multiple-hundreds as low end-- if you work all in gold and plat, and
fine gems. Clearly, under $50 is low end in just about anybody’s
book.

I am puzzled and curious about how working with computers restrict
where you can live. I thought that computer work is largely a
"cottage industry" these days, and that a great deal of it is done
literally on the other side of the world. Maybe calls for more
"outside the box" thinking, to find the path that allows you to make
the transition. The reason people don’t necessarily switch over all
the way is no secret-- it’s damned hard to earn a living at the arts,
though I know a tenor who is thriving. Good luck!

–Noel


#4

Eric, in Brazil we often call people that work with jewelry
"jewelers", we don=B4t have the specific translatios for goldsmith or
silversmith; Some of us who work with unique designs and work with
metal as an artistic expression, like to call themselves “jewel
authors”, that is, someone who designs and makes their pieces. And,
finally, there are the “jewel designers”, that is someone like Paloma
Picasso, who creates the designs but doesn=B4t make them - and often
don=B4t even know how they are made.

regards, Priscilla


#5

I have to respond to this one for some reason.

Eric, titles are like advertising, they are often made up as we go
along. Many have no relationship to actual skills. I was told by one
Dutch goldsmith, “You can’t call yourself a goldsmith until you can
raise a 24” vessel from plate." I admit I can’t do that and still
call myself a goldsmith.

As far as enjoying one’s job, that is a couple of books and a
government grant if you have enough research to reference. For me,
no matter how passionate I am about the medium, some days it is just
’work’. No artfull satisfaction, no creative energy expended, just a
trade of dollars for minutes. I do love the processes and practices
of design to creation. But not all my work resides there. Sitting,
winding wire around mandrels and making hundreds of hoop earrings for
hours isn’t particularly creative. Repairing pendants that can’t stay
out from under car tires, wedding rings that came back from the
emergency room one week after the wedding that were removed with
visegrips and diagonal cutters, re-repairing the same chain for the
5th. time that is simply worn thru every link, and the list goes on.
Don’t get me wrong, it has been an incredible learning experience
with some of that stuff, but it is just work now. Especially when
the bench is littered with those projects and only one custom piece
of any quality. Time to make a change? I did that. Closed the
storefront and stopped taking in certain projects. It helped alot.
But self employment is often feast or famine. And raising a family,
putting kids through college, paying for emergency apendectomies
without adequate insurance are unavoidable facets of living in
America. Sometimes you simply have to take in more work to cover the
expenses. And the trade work I get are the projects the in house
goldsmiths don’t want. When that is coupled to the fact that the
storefronts are making more from my labor than I do, it is a short
buggy ride to Bitterville.

I couldn’t agree more with you about finding something you are
passionate about for a career. But we tend not to find value in
abundance, more often we find it in scarcity. Precious stones are a
perfect example As a hobby, we are always wanting more, as a job we
usually have more than we would like. The balance is there, just
tough to achieve.

Thanks for witnessing my vent, Norman Kimes


#6
        For me, no matter how passionate I am about the medium,
some days it is just 'work'.  No artful satisfaction, no creative
energy expended, just a trade of dollars for minutes.  Repairing
pendants that can't stay out from under car tires, wedding rings
that came back from the emergency room one week after the wedding
that were removed with visegrips and diagonal cutters . it is just
work now. . When that is coupled to the fact that the storefronts
are making more from my labor than I do, it is a short buggy ride
to Bitterville. " 

Norman, I’m sorry but I just cannot agree with you. To be able to
take fresh untouched metal and to create something with your hands
expressing your own inspiration is a great gift. But to be able to
sit at the bench with a family heirloom that was found in the
driveway - ran over by a car, and restore that broken metal to its
original grander, to be able to understand the makers inspiration
behind creating this treasured piece and to re-create it, to be able
to determine how a piece was made and rebuild it in a way that is
undetectable - is a gift beyond measure. To have a young person come
to you who was traumatized by a trip to the emergency room just one
week after their wedding then experiencing the additional burden of
having their wedding ring - the symbol of their love and affection,
destroyed in the process, and you have the ability to not only
restore that ring to its original beauty but to also remove that
extra burden from this young couple is an experience that few ever
enjoy in their jobs and an ability that should be cherished by its
owner. Many jewelers have become jaded in their thinking that some
pieces of jewelry are not worth fixing, but remember that that piece
of jewelry is a precious possession to its owner. If it were not
valuable to them, they would not have brought it to you to be
repaired in the first place. I have been on the bench for over 27
years and during that time I have designed and made many pieces of
jewelry and have won over a dozen design awards including one
International Contest. However, I am still fascinated by the by the
art of repairing jewelry and have found my creative problem solving
abilities stretched much further repairing some jewelry than trying
to make it in the first place. As a trade shop jeweler I set my
prices based on what I think is fair and more than covers my time,
experience, knowledge, and talent. If my retail accounts want to
mark it up 2.5 times or 3 times so be it. I’ve been around retail
stores long enough to know that often a sales person will spend more
time taking in a ring sizing than I will ever spend doing the work.
Then they have to call the customer after I finished the work to have
them come pick it up. Often they need to call two or three times to
reach them, all time they have to account for. Then they have to
spend more time with the customer to deliver it back to them. I also
have the satisfaction knowing that they are paying rent in an
expensive retail area, while my rent is among the lowest in town.
They have other expenses as a retailer that I don’t have to pay, such
as all the advertising expense to get the customer into their store
in the first place, and if they don’t attract the customer they do
not get paid for my work. Whereas I have other accounts and always
have a steady flow of work. Invariably, if one account is down
another one is up to make up for it. In addition, they have to keep
the store open during their announced business hours, where I have
flexibility in my time. If I want to take the afternoon off to go
see my son’s ball game and work later that evening, I’m able to do it
(I always carry my cell phone so that my accounts can reach me).
They don’t know if I’m at the bench working, driving around town on
errands, or taking a quite walk through the woods. The problem is
not with the industry, but with your attitude towards it. Change your
attitude and you will see that repairing jewelry is a fascinating
creative occupation that few jobs come even close to, or keep your
attitude the same and you will continue to live in Bitterville. The
choice is yours. Brad Simon, CMBJ


#7

Brad: You have a wonderful perspective on your work/avocation and I
laud you for that. It’s nice to see the caring attitude. I’m sure
you are most successful in your work, not to mention I’m quite sure
you are a very happy person. Would that all of us would view things
in this wonderful light. Thanks for reminding us of the privileges we
have with our abilities. Have a happy holiday season.

Kay


#8

Brad, Your response to Norman was excellent right on the money!
Norman seems upset that the retailer is “getting more money” Well,
he’s wrong The average jeweler in the US nets between 6 and 9% from
his rea til operation All the reasons you mentioned, plus employess
at $10-12 an hour, cost of showcases and fixtures, utilities,
insurance, advertising, including heavy Yellow page costs and the
giant cost of inventory that needs to be carried All this means is
that if we charge the customer $ 30 to size a ring up, we get to
actually take home THREE whole dollars! Tha t is the real profit! and
we, or at least I, spend upwards of 80 hours per week at my job of
course, we all choose our poison I do it because I love people and I
love the business, and those who don’t should seek other endeavors

Wayne


#9

Brad. Thank you for your post. I have to agree with you completely.

I have always treated repair work as my tech school and my companion
jewelers as instructors. The instruction goes both ways as it can in
a class room with a good professor. It can be the people and their
stories as well as the creativity that is the frosting to what can
be a very bland cake at times.

I remember well the happiness of one lady after I had had one of
those QVC weeks. The ring was as flat as one could get! The stone
popped out. She had backed over it with the car. It was her
husband’s. She was bringing it in to be cleaned when it fell out of
her purse. The conversation started with her saying,“This is my
husband’s ring. I backed over it with the car.” In my astonishment
at its flatness, I could only ask,“He wasn’t still in it when this
happened was He”? It took a moment but the laughter broke her loop
of distress. She got the ring back that evening. We both got a funny
story. The store got several new customers because of her.

It ain’t the work or the money. It is the people and the creativity.
I have spent a lot of time thinking I ought to be a brain surgeon.
It would be so much easier a job. But not near as much fun! The
people I have met have always made the grunt work bearable.

Bill


#10

A friend of mine once told me that you don’t change jobs because
you’re tired of the st that comes with it. All jobs come with st.
You change jobs becuase you’re ready to deal with different s**t.

I love my job. I love the people I get to interact with, I love the
creativity of writing, I love the endless challenges to my skills.
But there are days I hate my job. When I’m staring at five pages of
indecipherable technical jargon that the editor is expecting me to
turn into a lively, insightful article – in the next six hours. When
I’m making a second round of phone calls because the first half dozen
yielded not even a “sorry… too busy” return call. When I get a call
three days after an article I wrote makes it into print, with someone
on the other end of the line demanding to know why they weren’t
included. (See “unreturned phone calls” above.)

Yep, there are days when I wonder why I didn’t listen to my mother
and become a lawyer. But most days I wouldn’t trade this job for any
amount of money, fame, or prestige. My financial advisor once asked
me at what age I’d like to retire. “Retire?” I asked him. “Why would
I want to do that?” As long as there are still great people like you
willing to share your stories with me, and magazines to publish them,
I expect I’ll be putting words to … umm… computer screen.

If you’re lucky, you feel the same way about what you do. That
doesn’t mean you feel that way every day and every hour – no job is
perfect. (Heck, my other job is full-time mother. I wouldn’t trade
that, either, but there are days when I wouldn’t mind an extended
vacation :slight_smile: Reality sometimes dims the enthusiasm, but it’s a
necessary part of the whole. (Those indecipherable five pages of
technical jargon are what keep the checks coming.) And it could be
worse. I might have actually studied law first. The trick for me is
to stay focused on the fact that tomorrow, or the day after, or at
least next week, I’ll get to do the stuff I really love. The glass
is always half full.

May all of you experience at least a moment of the joy in your work
Brad describes, amid the inevitable chaos and stress of this holiday
season.

Suzanne

Suzanne Wade
writer/editor
Suzanne@rswade.net
http://www.rswade.net
Phone: (508) 339-7366
Fax: (928) 563-8255


#11

Brad & Norman, I have seen both your viewpoints from many different
bench jewelers. The main difference between Brad and Norman is that
Brad is a private contractor working out of his own shop and Norman
worked for the “man” in a retail shop. I have seen the frustration
in people like Norman many times and I felt the same frustration both
when working for the “man” and when running my own retail shop. I
chose the way that Brad is operating to give myself time to regain my
financial stability and set up a new approach to operating a public
business. I do not for a minute buy into the costs of operating a
jewelry store business as being justification for the high prices
they charge. Yes, some jewelry stores are eaten up by their
overhead, but successful stores are raking in cash in such large
quantities that it is obscene. All this cash is concentrated in the
owners of the store. Very few others receive adequate compensation
to make a living, provide health protection, and a future for their
children. I am looking for a new way which will provide for the
workers as well as the management. Right now working for myself I am
making about three times as much as I ever made working for the
"man". Just like Brad I am in my own shop, control my customers,
control my hours, control my expenses, and best of - control my
production.

Gerry Galarneau
@Gerry
Christmas Sale at
www.galarneausgems.com


#12

Suzanne, I’ve been watching this thread but haven’t jumped in. I
would like to say a few words however.

I worked for the federal govt (US that is) for nearly 40 years. I
can remember the first ‘paper’ I ever wrote way back in the late 50’s
on a project I felt very strongly about. At the time I was in the
service and, fortunately, a young Lt. stepped in and helped me
research and write the paper. I must say, what he taught me and the
way he taught me sustained me all the way through a successful career
and on into retirement. It was an apprentiship in a way and better
than I could have learned in college…used his input through that
too!

In my later career years, beacuse of this early training, I loved
what I did even when I ‘lost a battle’. After all, whats a few
battles if you win the war? After retiring, I further developed my
love of the jewelry arts and began writing again. Had a number of
articles published and have a number more almost ready. Furthermore,
the influence of that Lt. and his interest and help in what I was
doing further encouraged me to help others. Now I teach at a local
art school and a gem and mineral society…give demonstations and
lectures all over the place. Strange how a short interlude with one
person can be such a continuing influence throughout life. Remember
it only takes one to teach many…and, who knows…that one may well
be the influence of a lifetime for a number of future great artists.
Enjoy what you do folks, enjoy your life…it is really a very short
time afterall…geologically speaking!!

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut1


#13

Excuse me guys, I think I must have spilled some vitriol on the
keyboard! I agree totally with Brad Simon, for all his stated
reasons and more. Repairing has probably been the greatest teacher
for me. I was able to learn from people long dead, who had greater
skill than I. I have had projects that wrenched my heart they were
so touching. ( Once I had a commission to build a ring for an 18th
birthday for a youg woman who had been dead for 5 years; and her
mother wanted a special symbol for closure with this tragedy. Where
else could I have been invloved with such a gesture?)

I am familiar with both ends of trade work. I owned and operated a
retail outlet for 10 years. The decision to close it and make the
transition from retail wasn’t easily reached. The deciding factor
was an argument with a 14 year old daughter’s comment, “What
difference does it make what I do, you are never home anyway!” The
lease ran out and we closed and made every event she was involved in.
( But I left the cell phone home.) It was the best business
decision I made.

I will try to be clear,I love this job! I love the flexibility of
schedule. And, contrary to the tone of my posting, it has never been
about the money. Discouraging anyone from this field was not my
intention. Clearly I didn’t express myself well. My point was that
what is ecstasy and passion during those minutes and hours stolen
from Eric’s work-a-day world, can become “work” when faced daily with
all the additional responsibilities of a “job”. I hope he finds a way
to structure his life to accomodate his wishes.

Brad, your criticism is well earned. I am guilty of harboring a bad
attitude at times and take that trip to “Bitterville”. But, I do not
care to live there and try not to stay long At times, and last week
was one, I have too much uninteresting repetitive work. Your
approach is wonderful I am not sure how you do it. I will try to
benefit from your perspective.

Norman Kimes…in his inarticulate way