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Semantics of jewellery benches


Hello Richard, an Australian perspective - and a modestly proposed
theory - might be comparatively interesting. The traditional
jewellery trade in Australia has been mightily influenced by English
and European preferences for the cut out bench with leather bazel
skin or combined tray catch-all. Consequently, to this day the
majority of trade workshops where hand-made jewellery is the main
product are thus equipped, albeit with modern accessories and

Interestingly, there has been a trend away from apprenticeship trade
training (low wages, too hard, etc) which has coincidentally occured
at the same time that university fine arts departments have been
expanding their offerings into jewellery majors. Very few of the fine
arts jewellery lecturers have had any serious trade and bench
experience, so naturally they have put great emphasis on theory and
research to the detriment of sound practical technique. There is
often an overtly expressed contempt for hands-on technique. As a
tutor in tertiary education I have heard some academics actually
telling their students that technique is a dead end, and inculcating
a snobbish attitude towards “trade”. One of my students was
denigrated by another lecturer for the crime of “constructivitis” -
a marxist conceit for wanting to make things with his own hands.

These people favour the straight tabletop bench over the traditional
cut out. I would suggest that this is a carefully considered semantic
ploy to signify the Difference between trade-town and gown. I propose
this theory - and it is only a theory - as a jeweller who began his
apprenticeship 50 years ago and for the last 20 years has had the
privilege of maintaining both a professional jewellery practice and
teaching at a master class level across a wide range of both trade
and tertiary institutions.

Like you, Richard, I find it far more amenable to work at a proper
jeweller’s bench. Tradition has deep roots for good reason. Kind
regards, Rex Steele Merten.