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Starting a career at the bench


#1

I am looking for advice on what additional training I should seek
out (and where I should get it) in order to get my jewelry career
moving.

To give you a little bit of back story, I have a BFA in jewelry and
metal. After I graduated, I split my time between raising my newborn
daughter, and working in my home studio to fabricate and sell my
jewelry online and at local craft shows. This has not worked well
for me. Self-employed artists must wear too many hats, most of which
don’t fit me well. It has been just under three years now, and I am
ready to get a “regular” job using my bench skills and passion for
metalwork.

Unfortunately, I don’t yet have the full skillset of a professional
Bench Jeweler. I have little experience with gold, none with
platinum, and my stone setting skills are limited. I took one class
in repair and although I performed well, there was not enough time
for me to feel extremely confident. Most of my education was geared
toward fabrication.

I’ve looked at a number of jewelry school websites, but it is hard
to know whether or not choosing a few classes a la carte to fill the
gaps in my technical repertoire will get me any closer to finding a
job. Certainly, enrolling in a $10,000 program that promises a
certificate is out of reach, in terms of both finances and time
(however much I might love to do so). In any case, I have no way of
knowing which certificates hold any weight.

I could really use some advice. How can I make the transition from
"serious hobbyist" to qualified professional? Are there any entry
level jobs for me as I am? I have so many questions, I could
probably fill pages but that is the crux of it so I will stop here.

Thank you for your time!
Dreama Johnson


#2

Dreama- Since you have a BFA and good design background it’s time to
take the next step. The very best training you can get is to just go
to work as a grunt in a busy trade shop. Really and truly.

Your life will suck for at least a year while you get up to speed.
You will work on different things every day. Some good, some bad. You
will get paid money, though not much above min wage. They will
probably start you as a polisher and floor sweeper. It will take you
5 years to learn the basics. Another 5 to master them.

That in my humble opinion is the best broad education you can get as
a jeweler.

Tim and I do teach. We charge good money to do it. However, on the
job training really teaches you to think fast and exercise your
problem solving skills. “Hmmm. A hollow bracelet with a broken hinge
and I have less than one hour to do it and make it perfect.” I can
teach any one to solder. But to be able to be facile and to think
through the whole project and anticipating any pitfalls along the way
is so very important.

These skill translate into superior custom work. When you have the
skills in place you can let your imagination go wild and make stuff
that no one else can. And… when custom biz goes south you can
always make your rent doing repair.

Oh, and certificates don’t mean squat in the commercial jewelry
world. I’ve never filled out an application. I just sat down at the
bench provided and did the jobs they gave me. It becomes apparent in
less than 10 minutes if you are suited for the job. The real proof is
in the pudding.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer
timothywgreen.com


#3
I could really use some advice. How can I make the transition from
"serious hobbyist" to qualified professional? Are there any entry
level jobs for me as I am? 

As someone who interviewed number of candidates for position of
goldsmith, I can tell you to leave all your certificates and diplomas
at home. Start interview with showing what you can do. Let you work
speak instead of papers.

If you heed this advice, than the path becomes obvious. Identify the
company you want to work for, and be able to live up to their
expectations.

You do not need to know everything, or even a lot, to get a job. You
need to be able to do even the most mundane things with
uncompromising quality. This is the most sought for trait of
character in a goldsmith. If you have that, most of the companies
worthy of mentioning would be willing to invest time in you and
teach you what you do not know. The purpose of the interview is not
to find out what you know, but if you can be trained.

If you can solder a piece of wire to polished surface, without
flooding the wire and leaving traces of solder on the surface,- it
is far more valuable to your prospective employee, than long list of
diplomas and certificates on your resume.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#4

Some years back I applied for a setting position at a local jewellery
shop. The owner wanted a resume! He knew me for some two years prior,
but he still wanted a resume… I’m still thinking about it today.
Paper Certificates are only wallpaper, resumes are only used as
garbage liners! The proof as Jo Haemer just wrote, your skill is
testing at the bench. “Show me if you can Gypsy Princess Diamonds.
And while you’re at it Pre-Cut some bead setting using genuine
emeralds”. “If you can manage this, you’re hired”.

When I started my apprenticeship I spent many years in a jewellery
factory and learned everything possible. But after 14 years I went on
my own and haven’t looked back. Learning jewellery from the
ground-up, can be a “road of hard knocks”.

Diamond setting and as well as jewellery fabrication is a “skill in
planning ahead”. No one can teach you this, but after some years you
will one day say,“this difficult project is not so hard!”

Experience after many years will be stored in the recesses of your
mind. Remember one thing,“schools cannot teach you experience”.
Jewellery is basically problem-solving at a moments notice!.. BTW, I
apprenticed for 9 years

…Gerry!


#5
Your life will suck for at least a year while you get up to speed. 

Actually, your life will suck from that point on. Jewellery carrer
can be very pleasant, or it can be such, that trip to hell will feel
like a vacation.

Goldsmithing is a noble art, and it should be practiced as such.
Production shops have as much to do with goldsmithing, as buffet in
3rd rate motel with 3 Michelin star restaurant. My advice, if you
cannot secure position with decent jewellery house, do not do it at
all. Or you will be miserable all your life.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#6
Actually, your life will suck from that point on. Jewellery carrer
can be very pleasant, or it can be such, that trip to hell will
feel like a vacation. 

My advice… opt for pleasant, life’s too short to think your life
sucks, and honestly it could be worse… glass half full :wink:

Goldsmithing is a noble art, and it should be practiced as such.
Production shops have as much to do with goldsmithing, as buffet
in 3rd rate motel with 3 Michelin star restaurant. My advice, if
you cannot secure position with decent jewellery house, do not do
it at all. Or you will be miserable all your life. 

Any art can be considered noble, or more rightly any profession that
the individual has spent time to learn can be considered noble, but
when it comes down to it, when you make something or provide a
service on a daily basis… it’s a trade.

Telling people to “not bother” if they can’t secure a position is
really bad advice in these economic times.

An apprenticeship in “any” jewellery establishment is worth the
effort, you can learn something everywhere, don’t throw in the towel.

If worse comes to worse, you can always work for yourself. It’s a
hard road, but it can have a lot of advantages… it is really hard
though.

Just don’t give up, continue to make jewellery don’t stop.

Regards Charles A.


#7
Actually, your life will suck from that point on. Jewellery carrer
can be very pleasant, or it can be such, that trip to hell will
feel like a vacation. 

Ah now Leonid. I started out working in some pretty busy production
and repair places. I learned to work with out wasted steps, to
organize my bench, and to problem solve. During those years I kept a
studio and made my own stuff.

When I didn’t have a studio I had a boss who would let me come in on
weekends or stay late and make my own designs. That was Kim
Klementis. A great guy in my book. He would encourage us to do our
own work in the shop.

He said, “I’d rather have you guys come in here and work on your
side projects. That way I know you’re not sneaking around and hiding
your side work from me.” He encouraged us to learn new stuff and to
experiment on our own.

I haven’t had a “real” job since 1990.

I am most certainly not miserable.

I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Folks pay me good money
to do something I’d do for free.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

I mean it about the fun part too.

Jo Haemer
timothywgreen.com


#8

I’m supposed to be retired, not in my lifetime…:slight_smile: I’m having too
much fun creating distinctively interesting pieces of jewellery aimed
for the “Casino and gambling” crowd.

Never in my 52+ years of diamond setting have I never enjoyed my
bench work as now,why? I am gathering all of my problem solving
techniques from years past, and using them now! No one can teach you
how to design, it comes from your heart and your soul. No one can
learn this at a school, it all comes from within.

All the schooling does is give you the “tools”. Your experience is a
culmination of many years of bench work.

One of those days in the future you’re gonna say “damn, this is just
what I’ve been trying to do…creating jewellery on my own!” Now you
can, you’ve learned to use skills with your hands!

Whoever this series of writing is aimed for, learn everything that
you can. Keep learning till your mind is overloaded, then learn more
from everyone.

Take as many courses as you can, but the desire must be there.
Jewellery designing is not a chore, nor work. Neither is jewellery
fabrication, or even repairing. They are all a “gift”! Be proud of
your “calling”.

As Confucious once said…“Person who loves their work, never works a
day in their life!”…

Gerry Lewy!


#9

My thanks to everyone participating in this discussion. It is a great
relief to know that I will not be expected to know everything right
up front. Starting at the bottom, putting in my time at the less
desirable position, this bothers me not at all. I love to be
challenged, but I am not too proud tosweep a floor.

A comment Leonid made (quoted below) has raised another question for
me, though:

My advice, if you cannot secure position with decent jewellery
house, do not do it at all. Or you will be miserable all your life.

I am an outsider… I do not have friends or family or contact of
any kind within the industry. I don’t even buy jewelry in stores, so
really I know nothing about them. I only know that unless I can get
a job that builds upon my skills, it is not likely I will have the
time or the money to spend at my bench. So how do I tell a “decent
jewellery house” from a production hell?

I live about an hour north of Atlanta. There do not seem to be a
great many choices out here.

Thanks again for this dialogue! It is enormously helpful.

-Dreama Johnson


#10
Actually, your life will suck from that point on. Jewellery carrer
can be very pleasant, or it can be such, that trip to hell will
feel like a vacation. 

It all depends on your interpretation of what being a steward of the
industry is. I happen to be in love with being an artist, a writer, a
painter, a sculptor, and feel extremely blessed to have been born
with multiple talents. Sharing these talents is a privilige. Many of
the lessons, tips, and tricks that I’ve learned were from people who
were much older and more experienced than I am. The fellow
bench-workers who were closer to my age or younger were mostly
guarded and secretive due to shop competition and making impressions
on the boss. I’d search for a mentor or two. Read as many books as
you can, and if you’re interested perhaps start with an article about
Saint Eligius who is the patron saint of goldsmiths and metalsmiths.
Practice is always the best path to perfecting your craft. Teaching
is deeply rewarding for me, and if you teach a newbie you will always
learn more about your own talents. My students taught me many things
about the industry in terms of what the morality of our industry
should be.

Yes, it’s hard at times to be a good jeweler, but isn’t that why we
call it “work”?

Margie Mersk
ymmwaxmodels.com


#11

Gerry Lewy is so right. The joy comes from learning new things. There
is always more to learn which is what makes it all so exciting.
Making jewelry is a joy, and the more one learns the more joyful it
becomes.

Alma


#12

Hello Jo,

Just wanted to say that I appreciate your real-world positive
thoughts. Kim Klementis sounds like a generous and wise man. BTW, the
work shown on your website is lovely and displays your superb talent,
technique, and design.

Judy in Kansas, where the hummers are “sucking” it up in preparation
for the migration south. Amazing little creatures.


#13

I echo Charles’ notes. Don’t stop doing something you love to do.
Work is work - you will learn something new every day if you are
open to it. In these economic times, a job can’t be turned down and
while, say, making chain seems slightly repetitive after a few days
at it, making jewelry of any kind is still a very noble pursuit. Keep
making it and keep making interesting jewelry for unique people. I’m
going to be away for September and most of October, learning what I
can in new places and getting inspiration for new designs. I’ll look
forward to going through all the Orchid posts when I get back. I
learn from most everything and everyone. Have a wonderful Labour Day

  • work is anything that requires effort – put lots of effort into
    your labours and you will be rewarded!

#14
So how do I tell a "decent jewellery house" from a production
hell? 

When you go on the interview, you must interview them more
rigorously than they interview you. If it is a plantation shop, they
will get offended and you won’t get hired. But remember famous words
by Lee Lacocca " the best deals in life are the ones you never made".

Ask to see the shop. Is it clean? Do people work wearing headphones?
Are their hands clean? To summarize - does the shop look
professional ?

Goldsmithing is not about speed. It is about thinking, planning, and
thinking again. Anybody who would tell you different, does not know
what he/she is talking about. I know that most shops would find this
unacceptable, so what. Do you really want to work for them anyway?
When you starting out, you most valuable commodity is time. Working
for the wrong place is a waste of time.

Your first priority is to learn and that means to work slowly,
without any shortcuts. It is not possible in production shop.
Shortcuts is all that they do. Learning shortcuts without having real
skills, would impair your development as goldsmith.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#15

I will start a new thread shortly, but wanted to let everyone know
that I am searching for another goldsmith to join our team. If
anyone is or knows someone with experience and passion who may be
interested in working in a fine independent custom shop in the
Chicago area, please pass it along.

Christopher Duquet Fine Jewelry Design
ChristopherDuquet.com


#16
Ask to see the shop. Is it clean? Do people work wearing
headphones? Are their hands clean? To summarize - does the shop
look professional ?... Goldsmithing is not about speed. It is
about thinking, planning, and thinking again. Anybody who would
tell you different, does not know what he/sheis talking
about..Your first priority is to learn and that >means to work
slowly, without any shortcuts. It is not possible in production
shop. Shortcuts is all that they do.... 

For goodness sake, nothing like embracing a little goldsmith
snobbery! What some might describe as production shops can easily be
very busy, productive shops where people wear headphones (so they can
listen to what they like), don’t wash their hands every 5 minutes,
wear t-shirts and jeans, yet do some of the finest work you will ever
see. Big, busy, productive, happy shops who do awesome work are often
great places to learn your craft and make a career.

Having the pressure of bountiful work doesn’t mean poor quality any
more than having unlimited time equals fine craftsmanship. There are
real advantages to working under the pressure of time, chief among
them that you learn not to repeat time wasting mistakes. Plus you
hopefully will learn how to complete your work so it is both of the
highest quality and your labor costs are such that you can make an
adequate profit.

What really is important is that you are not left to train yourself.
look for a situation where continual training by mentors is part of
the shop culture. Knowing for sure what the personality of the shop
is before you take the job is nearly impossible. After 6 months or a
year you’ll know if you like the place, if not learn what you can
and move on.

Mark


#17

Ya know, for once Leonid, you make a looot of sense! Unfortunately,
there are probably few shops like that in the US today. Most are do
it faster, bigger and cheaper than everyone else. Years ago, I
remember being in a shop and there was an old jeweler there doing
repairs. He was wearing a white shirt and a tie, nice slacks, clean
hands and a headvisor! I said to myself, how could he be doing
anything worthwhile. A few minutes watching him showed me his true
professionalism. The man was a wizard.

I only wish I could keep my shop like that! Cheers, Don


#18
I only wish I could keep my shop like that! 

Occupational health and safety would have had a field day with that
guy, no matter how good he was.

A loose tie (other than a bow tie) is a serious no-no when it comes
to powered tools, hand tools included.

Would have liked to have seen him work though.

Regards Charles A.


#19
For goodness sake, nothing like embracing a little goldsmith
snobbery! What some might describe as production shops can easily
be very busy, productive shops where people wear headphones (so
they can listen to what they like), don't wash their hands every 5
minutes, wear t-shirts and jeans, yet do some of the finest work
you will ever see. 

Some call it snobbery, and others call it professionalism.

Keeping hands clean is important for several reasons. First, at least
in my practice, clients like to visit from time to time, and been
able to shake hands without grossing them out, is important.

But even if shop is never gets visited, keeping hands clean is one of
the most important tools in gold preservation. There has been
discussion on differences between goldsmith and metalsmith working
with other than precious alloys. Goldsmith must know how to start
project with one ounce and end up with the same ounce. Metal
preservation techniques are unique to goldsmithing. If one works in
copper, there are no such concerns. So, the shop which does not care
for this, simply charges clients for excessive losses, or on it’s way
to insolvency.

Headphones are a problem because it indicative that person does not
want to be there, so he/she wears headphones to block the outside
world.

T-shirts and jeans, - means that there are no communication between
clients and the ones who actually making jewellery. That makes it
highly unlikely that a work of some caliber is done there. Would you
ever hire a lawyer or an accountant wearing t-short and jeans?

I had an interview once with an jewellery house of some reputation.
The shop was on Madison avenue, which is a high rent area. Everything
was fine until I asked to see the shop and was given a tour. Shop had
2 large windows, all completely blocked with used emery paper rolls.
The foreman proudly proclaimed that pile hadn’t been touched for
years. They were so busy that they simply had no time to deal with
it. For him it represented the highest achievement ever. I thanked
them for the time and left.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#20
I am an outsider... I do not have friends or family or contact of
any kind within the industry. I don't even buy jewelry in stores,
so really I know nothing about them. I only know that unless I can
get a job that builds upon my skills, it is not likely I will have
the time or the money to spend at my bench. 

Try to join local art groups, and find any local jewelers groups or
guilds. This isn’t such a large community, and locally, most people
know each other. Take as many classes (especially weeklong or
weekend workshops if you can to get a saturation of process), and you
will begin to build up a little network of jeweler friends. My
experience has been that people who are looking for help will most
likely ask other jewelers if they know of someone, and you may be
able to get a foot in the door that way. Wear your stuff all of the
time, and take some time to go around to local galleries and
jewelers, both to look at what others are doing, but to start to
introduce yourself around. If you have a local upplier, buy whatever
you can from them (rather than Stuller or Rio), and get to know them
personally. They are often a clearing house for buy/sell used tools,
or can recommend someone who can perform work you need but don’t do.

Sometimes, you have to do this creative thing for the love of doing
it. Your ability to make a living at it will depend on your
dedication to learning, and the constant practice of it. Set your
goals and standards and try to work to them. Even working for some
production repair company will give you an education, even if it may
be to strengthen your resolve to do things differently. The job
climate is tough right now, and the high price of metals has alot of
customers putting off having even basic repairs done. Your ability
to persist, do clean professional work and connect to the community
is the only road here, or do it just for fun.

Melissa Veres, engraver
melissaveres.com