Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Reasons for Getting into the Jewelry Trade

Greetings I have a subject that should make for good reading and might
help any new potential jewelers lurking out there. We have seen and
heard descriptions of many work areas/benches, how about now lets
tell the stories of our beginnings. What got us hooked, when and why
did we get started creating jewelry. How long have we been at it and
how did we make it to success? I’ll be the test animal. When I was a
kid my older brother brought my a small collection of minerals. They
fascinated me so much with the shapes and sparkles I was immediately
hooked into collecting. Since my parents did not agree with my desire
to venture into quarries and mine tunnels (we have no fears or common
sense when we were young)I had to do my collecting along lake shores
(Lake Erie mostly). That is how I became interested in agates. When
we moved to California I was in seventh heaven as the deserts were
large and you had millions of rocks to pick from that were easily
seen on the surface. I accumulated quite a collection of agates,
jaspers and obsidian. I had a growing pile in the backyard. As I got
older I expanded my collecting to Oregon and Nevada. My pile got
bigger. One day I looked at my mountain of rock and contemplated what
I was going to do with all them rocks. (moving day was at hand) I
didn’t want to give any of them up so I decided to buy some equipment
and learn how to cut them up into smaller stones. Well this is pretty
much a repeat of the first part of my story. I slowed down on
collecting but found out that by cutting cabs out of the bigger
rocks really didn’t help my storage problem, just changed the shape.
I came up with a solution, make bola ties, cuff links and tie tacks.
I gave these as presents for Christmas, Birthdays, Anniversaries,
Saint Patricks Day, Valentines Day, Fourth of July, etc. get the
picture. After awhile it got pretty boring. In the meantime I had
subscribed to various magazines and saw jewelry pieces I only dreamed
of being able to make. I had a friend who owned a lapidary shop in
Redondo Beach , California and she gave me hope. She helped me buy a
few tools and I made a ‘steam caster’ from the plans in one of the
magazines. I think I spent a whole ten dollars for the pieces to make
the steam caster (really high tech stuff). That is how I got started
making silver jewelry. Ivy, of Ivy’s Lapidary, Jewelry and Gifts in
Redondo Beach also taught me how something small could grow into a
dream. I am not a professional jeweler as most of you are but I have
the desire and the passion just the same. I have more tools now and
have even played with gold. I sell my work to my coworkers mainly to
support my hobby. When I first started making jewelry I stayed with
it for about seven years on this go round I have been playing for
about eight years. Ivy’s lesson was simple, she purchased a preform
stone for about 25 cents, finished it and set it in a 35 cent setting
for a total cost of 60 cents. She put it up for sale in her shop and
in a little over 13 months that 60 cents had grown into her dream
African Safari. My only regret is that I did not pursue an education
in art and jewelry when I was younger and subsequently a career in
the jewelry trade. Instead I took the easier and ‘safer’ route and
went into manufacturing as I was always taught that art was not a
safe profession if indeed it was a profession at all. Now before you
all get hot about the last statement, this is not my belief but in
the days of my upbringing especially in my location artists were
beatniks and then hippies etc. (1950s thru 1960s Ohio) Well that is my
story,now what is yours.

Tom Timms
Arizona USA

Well, success and I keep missing one another… But I’ve been
making jewelry for about 30 years, or about 3/4 of my life. Started
out as a childhood hobby, gluing purchased tumbled stones onto cheap
findings. Someone gave me a rock tumbler, which my father promptly
took over. From that tumbler, dad went on to learn how to cut cabs
and started doing craft shows selling belt buckles and bolo ties. I
somehow fell into beadwork (I’m not sure, but it probably got started
during my hippie-wanna-be days in the ‘60s). My beaded jewelry
remained a hobby until I got married. Somewhere along the line I
started collecting parrot charms, a side effect of my bird-breeding
hobby/business. The parrot charms cried out to be embellished with
colorful beads to match the parrots’ colors.

We acquired a greyhound, and I started collecting greyhound charms
to go with the dog. Again, those charms were often accompanied by
pretty beads. Other greyhound owners kept wanting to buy my personal
jewelry. I began buying extra charms from a woman I met at one of
dad’s craft fairs who did casting in silver. I started selling the
charms as a fundraiser for the adoption group where I got my dog.
Eventually the organizers of that group and I had a falling out, and
I was left with a bunch of silver charms. I was invited by friends to
sell them at another greyhound adoption group’s annual picnic in
another state. I did so, and made just enough money to pay my
expenses for the trip. It was enough to hook me.

I filed for business papers the next week, and my hobby became a
business. Part-time, barely making ends meet, but still “real”. That
would have been enough, but then last year the woman who had been
doing my casting suddenly retired, and offered to sell me all her
casting shop equipment at a great price. Within 5 years my hobby
became a business and I’m now casting silver, something I never
dreamed I’d ever be doing. I’m sure not getting rich doing this, but
it’s an incredible amount of fun. I do most of my in-person selling
at dog shows and the like. I get to meet neat people and lots of
great animals, and I also get to work at home and play with cool
stuff! And I’m constantly learning how to do new things. Maybe
someday I’ll be good enough at all the various skills of jewelry
creation to really be able to call myself a jeweler.

–Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Jewelry

hmm,…let’s see…I was VERY poor once, and was hanging out on
Telegraph and made friends with various vendors there. I apprenticed
to Michael Thomas there for a while, doing mostly simple piece work
(spiral wire rings, hair clips, a LOT of filing things round and
such), then I hitch hiked to Tucson, was a couple of days late for
the Gem show, but stayed there for a couple of months, learning from
another wire wrapper there, then went back to Berkeley and got my
vending license there, and started selling stuff, since I was dirt
poor, it didn’t matter much, when I didn’t make a whole lot of money
at first. but, as my technique and my designs got better (trying not
to ever step on other wire wrappers toes, of course), and after a
while it got easier to make an actual living :-). I do remember my
very first hair clip I made. I put it on my friends table, since I
didn’t have a stand yet of my own. (this wasn’t Michael Thomas, but
another wire forging friend of mine). And he bitched and moaned about
all the things I had done wrong with it, and five minutes later it


My earliest recollection was using tweezers to pretend to “fix” and
old millefiore glass earring. I was very young, 5-6 years old.
Who knew I would be doing this, repairing jewelry for a job. I am
in Heaven at my bench. I got two books out of the library and began
pounding out brass wire on my dad’s garage floor. I dreamed of
doing Ann Arbor art fair and now I have done the show for 27 years
after my first humble show in of all places, a bowling alley!!!
Amazing to me! I have taken every workshop I can afford and Gia
classes. i love this biz.

Hi All; OK, I can’t resist telling my story, in brief, I hope.

My parents met at Cranbrook Academy of Art where they were both grad
students, my father a ceramics major and my mother a painter. As a
child, art and craft were taken for granted as accessible to all the
family. I don’t consider myself greatly talented. Art is just
something I’ve always been around and done, so I’ve always had a
little lead on my peers. When I was recognized as precocious by my
teachers, I was made self-conscious so I avoided drawing attention
to my abilities and didn’t study art in school. I went to Wayne
State University, having failed to figure out how to get into
University of Michigan to study architecture, and settled on a
general major in humanities. I imagined being a writer, till a guy
with a bent pipe and leather patches on his elbows declared I didn’t
to have the “right stuff” (a Tom Wolf fan, of course, and I
preferred Vonegut). I swamped myself trying to get the required
courses out of the way too quickly and my grades started dropping.
I was at risk of losing my student deferment, which meant I could be
drafted and sent to Viet Nam during the worst period of the war in
the early 70’s. I knew I could get the grades up by taking a couple
art courses so I did. The instructors recognized my abilities and I
got lots of encouragement. . . and better grades. Meanwhile, I was
working part time as a demonstrating blacksmith, having apprenticed
on weekends at the shop in Greenfield Village. My father had gotten
me the job as he was the potter there, and later he switched to
glassblowing, studied under Dominic Labina (considered the father of
the Modern American Glass Movement). As a hobby to get beer money,
I was tinkering around making big cuff bracelets out of pewter. I
used two pieces of kiln shelving, coated with plaster wash, and
draped a piece of rope in a “U” shaped loop and clamped it between
the slabs of shelving. I melted the pewter on the kitchen stove in
a tin can and poured it into the loop to make sheet, which I
hammered out on a piece of railroad iron with an old auto body
repairman’s hammer. I cut the sheet with old tin snips and formed
it over various scrap metal pieces I could use as stakes. I sold
these bracelets to local rock musicians. I also made little pewter
boxes, with chased designs, which I did with a soldering iron and
tools made from nails. This was in 1971. Mind you, at this time, I
was still not interested in being an art major, I was just bringing
my grades up. One day I was in the basement of the Community Arts
Building putting away my drawing materials in my locker when I heard
the unmistakable ring of someone working iron on an anvil. I peeked
in a door and saw the most beautiful young woman wearing a leather
apron standing over the anvil beating out steel. She was a vision.
I had to find out more. Why was there a blacksmith’s forge in the
basement of the art building, (and could I possibly speak to that
wonderful girl)? I inquired of the professor of the "metalsmithing"
class, Phillip Fike. I don’t know why, but I felt I was speaking
with a kindred spirit. I have always since considered him my
mentor. When I saw the metalsmithing graduate exhibit I was blown
away by the most exotic art objects I had ever laid eyes on.
Everyone was pushing me to working at the forge, and I did, but I
also learned everything I could about working the non-ferrous
metals, so that I too could make those fabulous objects. I finished
an undergraduate degree in metals. After that, I taught, poorly, I
must admit, a metalsmithing class at a community college in Chatham,
Ontario Canada for a few years, then got a job with the old Armenian
trade jewelers. It was like starting over. I spent the next 10
years at various benches working with a number of jewelers till I
decided to go back to graduate school. I got into Southern Illinois
University’s metalsmithing program and after 3 years received the
Masters degree, working in both blacksmithing and jewelry. Now I’m
back at a bench, where I’ve been for the last 7 years, and I’ve set
up a trade shop business on the side. I don’t get much time to work
at blacksmithing, but I still have the setup and keep in touch with
a lot of other smiths. I wish I could say that I love my work, but
I’ve had to work so hard for so long. One day I will find a way to
pass on my knowledge to others and I will love it once again. I
don’t know what ever became of the beautiful lady blacksmith.

David L. Huffman

Several years ago, following the deaths of may parents, I was
cleaning out their house when I found some old school papers of mine
that they had saved. Among them was a large project I had done as a
child, on I reflected that although life had taken me far
from that early interest, it ultimately brought me back there.

Many years later, doing something completely different, I found
myself looking for specific pieces of jewelry that I could envision,
but couldn’t find anywhere. Finally I realized that I knew what they
looked like- all I had to do was learn how to make them!

I was living in Washington D.C. at the time and was a member of the
Smithsonian. That wonderful institution has a large educational arm
for these lucky enough to live there, so I signed up for some jewelry
making classes.

That was 25 years ago, and I’ve been making jewelry ever since. And
I haven’t run out of ideas yet.

Janet Kofoed

This was a good question and I’ve enjoyed reading the responses. I
would say I’m a self taught compulsive maker who makes enough money
and a little more to feed my making habit. I can’t sit still for
over a few minutes without trying to solve some little problem I
create. I don’t mean i go around causing problems, my brain is just
always posing questions that I want to answer using my hands to
manipulate small objects. At quite a young age I became nearsighted
and so my near vision was very good and I was fascinated in
examining tiny things. Jewelry was the most fascinating thing to
examine because I couldn’t fathom how it was made and I was in awe
of it’s precious and permanent quality. Learning new things is
exciting and there will never be an end to all I want to learn. The
element of risk is a real rush and even the melt downs and disasters
feed the idea of wanting to try the impossible. I’m thinking that
many jewelers are nearsighted problem solving risk takers. That
sounds like a new species of bird. But this hobby/profession isn’t
"cheap". Sorry, I couldn’t resist.:slight_smile: Annette

Hello Orchidland, Just like a crow, my eye has always been drawn to
shining, sparkling objects. Love shiny metals and lovely colored
stones. Genetics or environment? I’ve always been able to
understand mechanical things and am good with my hands. My dad
(didn’t know I was a girl?) expected me to figure out how to
make/repair things. Add that to an artistic ability, and jewelry
seems a natural.

For the first time a jewelry course was offered my senior year in

HS, but there was a schedule conflict. The instructor, agreed to
let me take it during the only hour I had available, as a self-study
project - he’d get me started and answer questions, but otherwise,
he was busy. That was COOL! No one else to compete with for use of
equipment. I could really work, and probably turned out a record
number of pieces. I was a polishin’ fool. Next I took a course in
college, which wasn’t nearly as much fun since there were so many
students, and I had to share studio equipment.

Graduated, taught school, began a family.  After the kids got older

and my time was not so obligated, I met a wonderful metalsmith in
TX, James Cook, who was also an accomplished lapidary. He allowed
me to watch him work, encouraged me to try some things, taught me to
work in gold and to set stones, and generally served as a mentor. I
was accumulating some serious tools, and of course, found that more
were needed. Soooo, as a way to both pay for and justify more
tools, I began to make and sell jewelry, plus repair silver pieces
that the jewelry stores don’t want to mess with. Still have a day
job - benefits, you know.

I do some shows and have a couple showcases out there, plus make

custom pieces specializing in artifacts with personal value. Got to
justify that new Bench Mate! There you have it. 35+ years at the
torch, and having more fun all the time. Judy in Kansas

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
Biological and Agricultural Engineering
237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936

I was getting married and my girls brother’s wife’s mother was a
jeweler. I watched as she made our rings and that was it, I had to
learn how to do this! I did evening classes and managed to put
together a small workshop. At the time I was a teacher. Then, after
we separated and I’d found the love of my life (a guy this time - 25
years together this September) I retrained as a psychotherapist. The
three year course was all “head” and my hands used to itch, so with
the encouragement of my partner and tutors I took another course at
the same time from a different college in fine metalwork, diamond
mounting etc. I also took the FGA course and was made a Fellow.

I ran the two careers side by side for a while, had exhibitions in
London and elsewhere and got “collected” - but promotions within my
agency and opening a private therapeutic practice in London led on to
a lot of journalism and travel, mostly because I was the first openly
gay couples and sex therapist in the UK. I had to choose which road
to run. I let the “hands” side of my work run down, concentrated on
"head" and made only for friends - one off pieces for people who knew
of me (usually fellow therapists.) I finally gave up my practice to
move to Key West in Florida two years ago. I relocated most of my
equipment and started working again.

This was interrupted a year ago by a nasty bout of pancreatic
cancer, Whipple’s procedure and then to top it all a perforated
stomach ulcer. Here I am though! I shall have my first full scale
exhibition in fifteen years in December.

During that nasty time, when I was so thin that I felt I was going
to snap in two, when all I could do was make my way with patient
slowness to my bench and sit there too exhausted to work, that I
discovered Ganoksin. I got support here, encouragement to carry on.
The individuals who helped know who they are and they are going to
have to accept my thanks again.

Tony Konrath
Gold and Stone

I would say that I didn’t find Jewelry instead Jewelry found me. With
the help and encouragement of my wife and a career changing M.S.
episode I discovered deep rooted abilities. My wife is also a jeweler
as well and trained in the Philippines. Where she started with raw
metals, alloying, rolling, to the finished piece because there isn’t
a Rio or the like in the small area.

As for me I am self taught and as I was teaching myself how to draw I
discovered that I can carve as well, a happy accident :D. I also
developed a wicked tool making fetish. I love making my tools and
when ever possible I can I will as I make the tool for the job,
thanks to all for the magnetic pin tumbler, I will be making one

I am so fortunate, the love of my life is as passionate as I am
being in the trade. Being apart of the tradition and sharing with
others. Not knowing any better I had no fear in showing my work. I
figured if in the course of making a piece I melt something it’s an
"Art" piece. Also if I mess up “SO WHAT!” as long I am working

Within in a year and a half my work caught the eyes of some jewelry
designers, that I do bench work for in my studio. Pressure, practice
from them, and encouragement from my wife lead to my positive

Whew! if you are reading this line at this point thank you for
reading the entirely long message :smiley:

Guy… “Life, what a beautiful design”