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So, ya wanna be a jeweler?

I was looking over some old posts on my blog, doing housekeeping
stuff and I read this one. I thought it might be helpful to some
Orchid members, so I’m posting it here as well.

So, ya wanna be a jeweler from Elaine Luther’s blog

Every now and then, I find myself giving advice to a young person
looking to enter the field. I thought I’d share some of that advice

The first question I have to ask is, what kind of jeweler do you
want to be? Fine jewelry or the kind-that-does-crafts-shows?

What kind of training do you have so far? I would ask next. Can you

How much can you spend on your education?

Do you want a college degree also?

Let’s take our imaginary friend, we’ll say she’s about to graduate
from high school and intends to go the State U.

Oh, if only we’d gotten to her sooner. So much wasted time! She
could have been learning all through high school! She could have
worked at a jewelry store, or at least a bead store. She could have
started distance education with GIA.

Okay, onward we go. So she wants to go to State U., her parents
insist she get a college education. Does State U. have any jewelry
classes? No?

Well, she should take some business classes, and some art classes. I
know, it’s hard for non-majors to get into art classes. She should
double major in art, or minor in art. (Why not just major in art? Her
parents won’t let her, they’re not paying all that money just so she
can get paint on all her clothes.)

Too bad she can’t transfer to a school where she could take metals
classes, but she can’t. Okay, so summers I’m sending her to “art
camp” at Arrowmont, the John C. Campbell Folk School and the like
(see links in the previous post).

All through college I want her to take GIA classes.

But guiding all these education choices is that first question.
jewelry industry or crafts community?

Of course, if you’re not sure, just do the fine jewelry career
preparation, and you’ll be ready for anything.

Okay, back to our imaginary friend. She’s graduated from college with
four summers worth of fabulous workshops, travel, and gemolgical
training. Now it’s time for “grad school.” Sure, she could get an
MFA, but unless she wants to teach full time, I want her to go to
trade school now.

Why trade school? It’s a more efficient use of time, and more
practical training. And it will help her get a bench job, if that’s
what she wants, much more than an MFA or BFA will.

Choose a school based on their reputation, whether they have a
diploma program, and location. I know not everyone can move to go to
a school. If you can do. Otherwise, choose the best one that you can
commute to.

Okay, go get a job. Want to see a million opinions on the subject of
training and career prep? Search the Orchid archives at Ganoksin.

© Elaine Luther 2007 All Rights Reserved

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Oh, to be young and just starting again… well, maybe not.

Elaine, I love your career outline. I would add that your protege
should get a part-time job in an established trade shop while she
attends school. She’ll get a real education as to what really goes on
behind the scenes in the jewelry biz. Most shops I know of and have
been a part of always need someone to be a gopher, to take in work,
order stuff, keep the metal and findings inventory up to speed,
deliver jobs, keep the ultrasonic full and the like. She will see all
kinds of jewelry, from silver craft style pieces to really exotic,
rare and high-dollar pieces, and all different levels of quality, of
both materials and craftsmanship. She will meet many different kinds
of people, with many different skills and outlooks on jewelry. She
will also be exposed to all of the different facets of the industry.
She’ll probably even be able to start drawing and bending a little
wire during the slow times or when someone’s on vacation and there’s
an open bench.

What I love about our industry is it’s multi-level nature. There are
so many different things to learn and so many disciplines, any one of
which can provide a lifetime of study and practice to become truly
knowledgeable and proficient. She may find after a short stint that
what she really wants to do is learn gemology. Or she may discover a
real talent for stone cutting or setting. Computer design or hand
carving wax might really turn her on. She could see a superb example
of engraving and decide that she wants to spend her life learning and
perfecting that ancient skill. She might even find that she wants to
know all there is to know about the history of jewelry from the first
shell and bone necklaces to the origins of the Crown Jewels. Or she
may find that making her own jewelry designs from scratch and
interacting with people all around the country is what will bring
her the most joy. There is a good living to be made in any of these
fields. The only way she can find out what is within her soul is to
immerse herself within the trade.

I would tell her to become a trade-shop groupie.

You’ve got to warn her though, once it gets under her skin, there’s
no turning back!

Gee whiz, I love this business!

Oh, to be young and just starting again... well, maybe not. 

Ah, but an equally interesting question, at least for me personally,
is what would your collective counsel be to someone who is
contemplating changing from an existing career into one in the
jewelry field? After all, such a person may have already acquired
many of the trappings of the so-called American Dream including the
mortgage. I’m sure that at least some of you didn’t know what you
wanted to be when you grew up (I still don’t) and didn’t come to
jewelry as a first career choice. Why did you make the change and how
did you make the transition?



I’ve been lurking this list for a long time and am continually
impressed by the body of knowledge and the willingness of members to
offer assistance to both veterans and newbies. Your posting is great
for a young person just starting out…I wish I’d had just one
little clue about what I wanted to be back then…but I’m way past
that point now. Do you have any good advice for a 40-something with a
high-pressure, full-time job who’s just starting out in this field?
(The one thing I do know is that I want to be the craft-fair, some
wholesale, maybe a small shop someday, but always hands bruised,
burned, cut and dirty -type of jeweler).


No, not really. But after 30 years and a zillion tools it’s probably
too late to change my mind. :wink:

Doc (runnin’ on coffee…)

Okay another 40 something carreer changer here…I have the luxury of
seasonal income with my day job. What are some reccomended training
track for someone who has 3 months a year to travel and train… And
for the sake of others… what are some others 2 to 3 week workshop
opportunities for exposure and skill building…understanding this is
a transition not a plunge.

Do you have any good advice for a 40-something with a
high-pressure, full-time job who's just starting out in this field? 

Start slowly, build your customer base before quitting your day job.
Build up a lot of savings first, lower your living expenses as much
as possible.

Do as many shows as you can handle while your working, even if it’s
just one a year.

Read up on everything business related in this field, including
everything by Bruce Baker, get the Design for Survival course from
Thomas Mann, read Luann Udell’s blog religiously.

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Okay another 40 something carreer changer here...I have the luxury
of seasonal income with my day job. What are some reccomended
training track for someone who has 3 months a year to travel and

Well, obviously, go to Revere Academy for three months.

Those who can’t do that will take longer to train and should take
long term classes at their local art center, university or community
college. And take week long vacations to take classes at Revere and/
or New Approach School.

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Well, speaking as a senior in high school with an intention of going
into jewelry, I would like to start of by saying thank you for
posting this and thank you to all the members of Orchid for being so
willing to share your insights and experiences. It looks like I’ve at
least been doing something right, as I have been taking classes since
I was twelve years old and I am almost definite that this is what I
want to be doing for the rest of my life. I’m lucky I found it so
early, as it has allowed me time to really think out certain things
and do my research. I most definitely want a college degree, mainly
because I want the full “college experience” but also because my
parents have been pushing me towards college since I was young and I
don’t want to let them down. So, next fall I will be attending Tyler
School of Art at Temple University. I plan to double major at Temple
and earn a BFA in Metals/Jewelry and a BA in Japanese.

I’m not exactly sure what kind of jeweler I want to be. I do like
the idea of building up my technical skills to the point that if I
decide to go into industry, I will be able to, but if I decide to go
the crafts route, it will only help me. So I will most likely end up
in some kind of technical school after college. I am a kind of
perfectionist in my work, so I think that I would be well suited to
industry work, but at the same time I like to be able to create my
own designs and make my own decisions about everything. I have also
thought about potentially opening up a store in the distant future,
but I don’t know how realistic that would be.

And now, I have a few questions for all of you: What would be the
best use of my time this summer between high school and college?
Should I seek out a job at a jewelry store or take classes at some
place like Arrowmont? If I want to look for a job, what kind of
position would be best and how would I go about finding one? I’ve
been realizing lately that I’m getting closer and closer to where I
will have to go out into the real world and the whole idea of finding
a job is becoming a reality, but I’m really clueless. Help?

Thank you all again for being so willing to help those of us who are
new to this. Orchid is truly a wonderful resource and I’m glad I
found it.


What would be the best use of my time this summer between high
school and college? Should I seek out a job at a jewelry store or
take classes at some place like Arrowmont? If I want to look for a
job, what kind of position would be best and how would I go about
finding one? 

Congrats for getting such an early start!

Don’t bother getting a job since you’ll just have to leave when you
go to college, wait and get a job in your college town.

Let’s see? You have one summer? And you already have some metals
classes? Hmm.

If you want to have fun, go to Arrowmont, etc., but sign up right
away, and sign up for work study, it’s fun! So have fun, learn some
cool techniques.

And do at least one week of trade school somewhere. Repair or

It’s hard to pick because you do have so much time.

Gotta run, I’ll give it more thought.

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Hi Tina,

I know this isn’t going to be the most appropriate of answers, but
it’s something to think about. Consider taking some time between
school and college to travel. Visit designers, jewelers, other
schools of art. Create your own designs. Take some time off in that
few months to relax and re-focus your energies.

I suggest this for many reasons. First, most students going on to
college in other countries take time off to explore the world a bit
before work, some after college. It’s good experience in the world.
Second, college is a completely different way of learning and having
that break will allow you an easier adjustment. Third, students who
have traveled (not even extensively) or ‘rested’ before college are
more ‘fresh’ and eager and able to adjust to college life (racking my
brain to locate that study). Forth…it’s just a suggestion, and if
you find it doesn’t fit, then ignore it. :slight_smile: I usually tell everyone
this because they don’t know it’s an option, and some of us (myself
along with others) have discovered that not resting can create
’burn-out’. I loved school and never wanted to take a break. And it
isn’t just burn out. If you take a break or not, with the current
stressors on students, far too many end up burned out emotionally or
sick with low-grade chronic health issues.

Either way, I’m excited for you! Starting out in the world with a
pretty clear idea of what you want to do…that’s more than most kids
have. I look forward to hearing more from you as your schooling


Hello Tina,

And now, I have a few questions for all of you: What would be the
best use of my time this summer between high school and college?

You sound like an intelligent and thoughtful young lady. Temple is
lucky to have you in their student body!

Although taking a summer job in a jewelry store is a good idea, the
2.5 months you’ll have before leaving for college may make you a less
desirable hire. However, what about working as a booth assistant for
someone selling jewelry at shows?? You’ll learn a lot about the
basics of selling hand crafted jewelry and pick up some experience as
well. You could also take some classes on the off weeks. Although you
might not make much money, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Can I plant an idea in that smart head of yours? Plan to take a
couple basic business courses. Learn about bookkeeping and marketing.
Both are areas that will help you in what ever career you choose.

Best wishes,
Judy in Kansas