Terrified Jeweler

Hi…sounds like anxiety to me. You might need to try some type of
relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. If
that doesn’t work you might need to speak with your doctor who might
prescribe some form of anti-anxiety medication to get you over this
’fear of failure’ which most people experience when starting
something new like a job or new career path.

Good luck!

Dear Fraidy;

Fraid I can’t help you much. :-0 No, actually, you’ll get over most
of it in another 20 years. Actually, here’s what happens, and I’m not
joking now.

You will have failures, some embarrassing, some expensive. It goes
with the territory. You will get better and better at two things. 1.
Getting away with what you couldn’t pull off before… and… 2.
Knowing when you should pass on something. All the while, you will
occasionally not get away with what you were certain you could do,
and often wish you’d passed on something you stepped right into. Once
in a while, you’ll get lucky and pull off something that, for every
reason, you shouldn’t have been able to do in a million years.

But, you will have to learn to tolerate a certain degree of misery,
because, unbeknownst to you, you continue to raise the bar on
yourself. You do, however, have something that many of us veterans
didn’t have in our days of learning. You have this forum. And Orchid
has raised my knowledge of this trade immeasurably at a point in my
life where I thought I knew it all. Best of luck, I think you’ll do
fine. It’s better to be cautious than foolhardy.

David L. Huffman


I can’t say anything about your specific experience but, as someone
who has been trained in a variety of stress management modalities, I
do have a couple of recommendations.

What is happening is very common–essentially a phobic response that
builds on itself, undermining your self-confidence, and often your
skill. What you can do ASAP is simply practice breathing, slowly and
deeply, in through your nose, and out through your pursed lips. You
also need to break through the chatter in your head–a simple way is
by repeating a calming phrase (my personal favorite is a quote from
John Brown: “If we live, we free the slaves. And if we die, we
die”–obviously an acquired taste, but it does put things in
perspective). And, if it gets intense, distract yourself (e.g. by
counting the number of tools on your bench) until you’ve calmed down

However, the best form of self-help I’ve found for phobic
responses–and just about anything, actually–is Emotional Freedom
Techniques (EFT). http://www.emofree.com/

It looks weird, it sounds weird, and it works. I suggest ordering
the basic, beginning DVD set–if only to watch the amazingly
successful work they did with phobic Vietnam Vets who were inpatients
at the VA Hospital in LA–and the “Borrowing Benefits” set, which
will enable you to get some relief without having to learn anything
about the technique.

Or, you can look in the practitioner listings on the site. Many
people will do phone work–although, unless you work with a “Master
Practitioner,” there’s no quality control. I don’t consider myself
experienced enough to work with clients over the phone, unless I’ve
already worked with them in person. I have, however, had success with
phobias, including an intense case of arachnophobia that essentially
disappeared in two sessions.

(Please, no flaming from our resident skeptics. Thank you.)

Good luck!
Lisa Orlando
Albion, CA, US

Dear Fraidy,

What a fantastic array of answers to this problem of panic, which
affects many more people than you realise. Some people are just good
at hiding it, or they react in other ways like getting abusive.

You probably won’t be able to try all the suggestions, but you don’t
need to - just find one that works for you. The deep breathing one
is the easiest because you can do it at any time that you become
aware of your overwhelming fears. I would add some detail to this.
Try counting in and counting out with each deep breath. - ie
1,2,3,4,in, 1,2,3,4,out. The counting forces you to slow down. Think
of the breath as going in one the right side and out on the left
side, and then vice versa. Do this at least six times in a row. Once
isn’t usually enough to really calm your mind. Another thing to try
is to do a really deep breath, concentrating on filling all the lobes
of your lungs. First the basal area of the diaphragm, then the middle
chest, and then the upper lobes right near your shoulders. On the
outbreath, reverse this order.

One thing that I have found helpful is aromatherapy with a calming
combination of essential oils, but it is really just the slow
breathing enhanced by the oils which works.

Jewellery-making is a very intense activity where you are
concentrating on a very small area, and perhaps holding your file or
saw very tightly. You need to do regular countering exercises, like
getting up from your bench regularly and doing a few rounds of the
shop or even a few quick stretches. One jeweller I know is a rock
climber in his spare time. In her rather terse reply, Lisa said that
she couldn’t help you because she wasn’t you, but she let slip in her
last lines that she enjoys horse-riding!

Good luck - you are already well on the way to getting over your
phobias by asking the question in the first place!

Elizabeth Gordon-Mills


For the first 3 days of Basic Training…I threw up…anywhere and
everywhere. I had TI’s following my flight absolutely screaming
"who’s responsible for this???". I was horrified. I cried every
day. I made it through though and nowadays, I can call on that
experience and say to myself “if I made it through that, i can do

Another poster said, practice a lot of setting with glass until you
get really, really good. This is a great way to boost confidence.
Every small victory produces a well of strength that can be drawn
from later, a new-found confidence.

Sometimes, I find myself paralyzed, in a way. I have to break things
down into smaller steps. If I can do step one, I can focus on step 2
end so on. If I try to focus on all steps at one time, I freeze right
up. Try to slow things up and break it down into manageable steps.
Like, "first, I’m going to get really good at this…then I’m going
to practice this…then so on

Good Luck

“There are only two kinds of stone setters in the world. Those who
break some stones, and those who lie a lot.” I wrote and posted this
on the wall in my shop over 30 years ago - now it’s on my classroom

It’s not a nice experience at the very moment that it happens, but
it IS a learning experience, and it is perfectly normal. Hopefully,
each time it happens, you will remember which of the 4,001 variables
caused it to happen - and will not repeat whichever one it was!

Could be as simple as bad judgment - there are some stones that are
simply disasters waiting for some sucker to say he or she can do
it… After all these years, I simply say - why try to set a doubtful
stone? There are plenty of sound stones that are more likely

Talk about it with your employer BEFORE it happens. Hopefully, the
employer has experience and some sort of policy regarding breakage in

Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA

Dear Fraidy Cat,

I have to agree with Dennis Loss and I regularly use Bach’s Rescue
Remedy. I never expected anyone else on this forum to recommend it
though. I carry a small bottle of the stuff in my purse and have
another on my bench. If I have to hammer set an emerald in a thick
cast bezel or any other difficult job, I will put 4 drops under my
tongue, and then slowly, methodically being the project.

I also rely on it if I am nerves about making a presentation or if I
have to confront unpleasant situations whatever they maybe. It maybe
quackery but it does provide a sense of calm for me.

On another note: putting yourself in this type of uncomfortable
situation is the sure path to personal growth. Feeling stupid and
incompetent is humbling but a sure sign you’re learning.

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext.228

Hi Belinda,

Sounds like you need a little confidence-building… assurance that
you know what you’re doing. You have knowledge and some expertise,
but you might want to consider taking a 3-4 day class in an
important area that you’re especially “frightened” of, to gain the
confidence you need. It’s amazing how much you can learn in a good
hands-on class… as well as that assurance in many cases that you
have been doing things well. Then you’ll be able to relax more, and
work more effectively, and maybe even enjoy it at times! What a
thought! If you decide to go that route, the archives have lots of
recommendations… my vote goes to the New Approach School in
Virginia Beach ; )

Good luck,
Cindy Crounse
Refined Designs Original Fine Jewelry


I know you have had many responses to your questions but I decided
to provide one more word of encouragement.

Many years ago, when I had about as many years smithing as you, I
took in a job to reprong a beautiful star sapphire with 17 diamond
around it. A simple job…normally, but as I put the torch to the
metal the ring practically collapsed. I had never experienced such a
catastrophic situation but I knew it must have been the solder used
when the ring was made. It took nearly 12 more hours to take
everything apart, clean it all up and reassemble the ring to its
original condition. Wow, did I ever learn a lot from that experience.

Stay with it, take that deep breath everyone is urging you to take,
do your research, be very cautious, practice new techniques before
you use them on other peoples stuff…but don’t give up!

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

Hi Berlinda,

You seem to be at that stage in your career where you have the
necessary skills, but lack experience in applying those skills. The
feeling can be terrifying when on your own, but after you have
worked through it, hang on to the feeling because it is easy to lose
and very valuable! Pushing yourself into new territory is a good

In my experience, when I…

Don’t know the answer:

There is no shame in not knowing the answer. Be honest and say I
don’t know and will try to find out, or direct the customer to
someone who does know. The customer will be pleased to be well
directed, the person I referred the customer to will be flattered. As
a consequence I will be looking for that answer myself and will find
it sooner or later.

Am afraid of breaking something special:

Take my time and study the piece or part carefully. Do each step in
a way that is safe to perform and leads to a good final result. By
each step I mean the smallest task: a single observation, a single
measurement, a single cut. Do each step to my satisfaction before
moving to the next. If I continue after an unsatisfactory step I will
compound the problem and will have to go back further with increased
risk to correct it. Do not take risks for the sake of expediency or
because the customer wants ‘cheap’; do it my way and always be on the
lookout for a better way.

Can’t do the repair:

There is no “Can’t do the repair”, there is however “After careful
analysis I believe I face an unacceptable risk if I undertake to do
this repair”. If I discuss my careful analysis with anyone, quite
often I find a way to overcome a problem and change my mind. If the
little voice inside is saying, "I really don’t like the look of this"
I take heed and must be extra thorough. I have learned the subtle and
often crude tactics that customers use to make me to ignore my little
voice. One of the best tactics is urgency; I remind myself that I
have not caused the urgency, which is not my problem; my problem is
to be thorough and honest. Another is calling me the ‘expert’; I
remind myself that this is not flattery, I do not have to do anything
to shore up their interpretation of ‘expert’; I must simply be
thorough and honest. I never ever say “This can’t be done” because
when the customer does find someone to do it, my reputation suffers
the most.

I think you are experienced when you have performed the myriad of
little steps and their variations often enough to zip through them
without too much concern, to skip many of them and find short-cuts
until it looks like magic. When complacency sets in and mistakes
happen, look for that feeling of terror you once had, try to preserve

All the best,

In my experience of teaching, usually one on one as in training an
employee in some jewelry technique, if I am teaching a female, and
there is a possibility of something being ruined, I tell her that in
my experience women are more paranoid about making a mistake. I give
her permission to make mistakes, and tell her it is part of the
learning experience. Usually this is in reference to manufacturing,
not working on a customer’s piece. I explain that men are more
willing to take chances and damage or break things. Women seem to be
more concerned about doing things perfect. This approach seems to
help relieve the pressure and allows the person to relax.

Richard Hart

I had never experienced such a catastrophic situation but I knew it
must have been the solder used when the ring was made. 

Reminds me of a similar experience I had about 25 years ago. A
customer brought in a ring that was an initial. The initial was made
up of a row of small four prong set diamonds. Stupidly, I assumed it
had been cast, went in to repoint something and the whole damn thing
collapsed, as each of the settings had been soldered together with
low melting solder. Took me a month to reassemble it and put it back
together (looking better than when it came in, I might add). It was a
great learning expensive (painful, but great). The customer still
wears the ring today and it’s in great condition. The best thing I
learned out of it, though, was that I never wanted to use low melting
solders on my own work, and I haven’t since.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Orchidians, Kudos to All of you.

What a wonderfully sensitive batch of responses. Once again, you
have shown why this list is beyond compare.

What a warm fuzzy place to express fears, as well as outside the box
directions. All without fear of shaming oneself.

You go Guys and Gals, you are The Best.

I know you feel the love and empathy.


I sympathize with you 110% here. I too, am a prime candidate for a
crybaby award. Im just starting a long sought after apprenticeship
at a great place, with really talented and great people. But even
after years of doing jewelry as a hobby, and more recently pursued it
as a career since becoming disabled, that last couple years I only
worked at my bench occasionally, and then only in silver. I just
focused mostly on my GIA GG studies, hoping that might get me in the
door. But I was so depressed with the lack of ability to find a place
to teach me, and learning on ones own has the drawbacks of no real
feedback. You can read all the books and watch all the videos known
to man kind, and you might think your doing a good job, but you’ll
never really know because no trained eye is around evaluate it. I’ve
recently discovered some of what I thought was proper, is wrong, and
have to un-learn, then re-learn. Not as easy as just learning the
right way first.

So Im basically trying just to get back up to speed on my bench
skills. But not having all the correct materials, solders, and such,
I have to get my own for the apprenticeship, makes it a slow process.
Ive been trying to make everything with just extra easy silver
solder, which is very hard, but I’ve have managed so far. And trying
to get my piercing, layouts, set ups and so on up to what my mentors
would consider an acceptable level. So when walking into the
apprenticeship my confidence was fairly stable. But after starting
there, its gone down hill greatly, and that makes it harder to do the
work, but I still do it. On top of that, one person at the shop, who
otherwise is one of the best people you ever want to be around, is
always reminding me of my mistakes, and even making what he calls
"jokes" about how Dan will be able to screw it up. Dan, being me. Or
when anything at all happens, the first person that he seems to call
out for is, Me! But once seeing it wasn’t me, he still has to lecture
me on what not to do, and tell me to make sure I don’t do it. All
started from one mistake I made, that was decided to have been made
do to miscommunication. I filed some mill grain off that didn’t cast
well, so only a few were barely visible, and this person told me to
leave enough on to mill grain. I was never told these few sporadic
bumps in the casting were mill grain, and I was never shown what the
finished piece should look like either. I was basically going in
blind on slim orders. But I get to hear about it everyday for almost
2 months now. I can tell you its not really a confidence booster to
be told things like that constantly.

Im not sure if this is something intentional, or accidental, but it
sure doesn’t help. I think Ive lost 10 pounds in the last month just
from stress. Oh, and now he is telling me it will be years before he
thinks I will be ready to learn stone setting. That’s a real ego
booster too. I keep thinking Im screwing up due to it, and worry I
will lose my apprenticeship. And sometimes, on days when my spine
pain is really bad, the extra pain medication doesn’t help. So I have
to work harder to counter the drowsiness and brain fog. I know, I’m
probably making way to much out of this, and I know from many years
of previous employment that every work place has people like this,
but its very stressful at this time in my life. There is so much at
stake here.

I understand and think you are totally justified in your terror.
With so much at stake, and when you never know just what is the one
thing that will have them telling you to get out the door, its scary
as scary can be. I wish I had something enlighten to tell you, I
really don’t. I can suggest trying to do what I do right now. I know
no matter how hard I try, I cant just ignore the negative “jokes”,
but I try not to dwell on them, and I try harder to prove myself.
Sometime unsuccessfully though, and hence, more ridicule. Oops,
sorry, I mean “jokes”. I don’t have near the stress you do of
expensive stones, most of my stuff is with my own tools and material.
But I slow down, take my time, and do the best I can, pushing myself
a little more each time. And even then, no matter who good or bad it
looks, but then that just gets me the “jokes” about having to charge
$600 a piece because of the time it took me to make it. I don’t see
it ending, so I need to deal with it the best I can, and work to get
the most out of this apprenticeship I can, while I can.

If I was in your situation though, I would ask your boss about
sending things you don’t feel confident with out to someone else to
do it. At least until you feel you can do them yourself. But I think
these kinds of stresses and feelings of terror at just part of the
working world for most people. In the end, you can try what I do,
just grit your teeth and keep singing the words from that famous
movie, finding Nemo. " Just keep swimming, swimming swimming, just
keep swimming.

Oh, I also like the Sinatra, Rubber tree song in times like theses
as well. Just something to keep you from dwelling on the negative, so
you can make it through another day.

When I worked for retail stores I was terrified, too. In the
beginning, I had the good fortune to work in a shop with two other
jewelers whose skills complemented mine. Although, my competence
increased considerably, my fears did not abate.

I was best at custom design, wax models, and casting. I also did
repairs and I was always busy. There was never ever enough time or
enough training to become good at everything. When I became
responsible for all the shop work, I found a tradesman in Concord CA
whom I have relied upon for 25 years. His fabrication and stone
setting are much better than mine and his skills stay fresh from
frequent use.

There is an unspoken expectation, as jewelers we can do everything,
and it is hard not to accept the challenge. It took negotiating with
my bosses. But, acknowledging my limitations allowed me to better
handle the (two) stores’ repairs - and manage my own nerves, as well.

Jon Abbott