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The trade of Goldsmithing is changing fast


#1

I am a goldsmith in the UK and have worked in the trade for a total
of 49 years so far. I have been following the thread “Can a cast
piece match handmade” with interest, this thread has spread into
CAD/CAM posts.

Well no one can argue that there is a demand for machines that can
replicate the skills of a craftsman and over here in the UK, many
goldsmith and jeweller manufacturing companies have invested in
modern technology, or have given their business to others who have
the machines. Also with the increase in the cost of living, many
companies have moved their manufacturing workshops out of the UK to
Asia.The result here in the UK is the closure of many well
established manufacturing goldsmiths and jewellers. When I started my
career I worked in the centre of London at a company called Padgett
and Braham, a company that employed over 90 staff, a mixture of
goldsmiths,silversmiths andflutemakers.When I first started, I was
one of12 apprentices throughout the company. This company gradually
lost business over the years and finally shut down a few years ago. I
also worked at another of the most noted UK company of Goldsmiths
called McCabe McCarty, in it’s prime we had a total of 18 staff
including five apprentices. We were rated as some of the finest
goldsmiths in London in the 1980s. This company also shut down a few
years ago. My own business, started in 1985 was strong up until the
year 2000, but has dwindled ever since. As I am nearing total
retirement I am not worried, but I do see that there are very few
apprenticeship oppertunities within my trade available these days.

One final oppinion of mine, about casting versus handmade. Casting
is great for some jobs, but useless for others. If there is a time
factor and a single jobthen handmade wins in most cases. For
mutiples of the same itemthen casting or CAD/CAM is the way to go.

I must stop ranting now as I have some heavyweight hand sawpiercing
to get on with.

Peace and good health to all
James Miller FIPG


#2

James- Yes, sometime my sweetie Tim and I feel like dinosaurs in
these changing times of CAD CAM and lasers. However folks with skills
like yours will always be in demand for discerning collectors.

Just like manufactured diamonds. Every few years someone will polish
the technology for making diamonds and folks say “Oh the value of
diamonds will be lost forever.” Not so. There will always be a
desire, even if amongst only a few, for the “real thing”. There will
be far fewer “old school” goldsmiths who will have to be very good
indeed to keep a client base of serious collectors. But they will do
just fine.

James your skills are so exceptional I cannot imagine anyone letting
you retire.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer


#3
There will be far fewer "old school" goldsmiths who will have to be
very good indeed to keep a client base of serious collectors 

I think tech will kill the mediocre. I think tech either does what
previously couldn’t be done, or it does it cheaper.

The first one, well that’s pretty hard to compete with…directly.
The second I don’t think we should even try. Unless we adopt the tech
ourselves in either case we will have problems. The other thing is
its hard to beat somebody at their own game if one is new to that
game.

So while yes you have to keep up with the rat race, maybe there’s a
way to make your own run, ya know? Latch onto tech where it suits
what you do. Retain tradition where it suits you. Always sell the
romance.


#4
Well no one can argue that there is a demand for machines that can
replicate the skills of a craftsman and over here in the UK, many
goldsmith and jeweller manufacturing companies have invested in
modern technology, 

Alas, alas, James, but it’s the truth nonetheless. I have a bit of
an essay, I guess - just a POV, not to start any arguments…

History will prove me right or wrong, but I’d suggest that the
golden age of goldsmithing is behind us now. (CNC people might say
it’s just beginning, which is OK, too). Why say that? Because there
was a perfect storm around the turn of the last century.

You had goldsmiths who had to rely on their own skills in ways we
really can’t understand - bow drills, blow pipes or bellows’, glass
bulbs filled with water to focus light on the bench - many, many
things that were primitive by today’s standards, but workers made
extraordinary work just the same.

Then came the storm: electricity and the electric light bulb (patent
1880), pressurized gases and truckloads full of cash.

For Faberge it was the Tsar, for Cartier it was the democratization
of India, and for Tiffany it was the “robber barons” - Rockefeller,
DuPont, Mellon, Carnegie, et al. All of that provided the fuel for
an age of excess and extravagance that hasn’t been matched since,
and put those jewelers and others (Garrard, Van Cleef…) on the
map.

Now, a Cartier salesman tells me that they just don’t make mystery
clocks anymore because they’re just too expensive - also that they
are hugely computerized, like many. I hear the British people are
nervous about the Queen’s budget - want to take away her train and
things… It’s just not like it was anymore. I’m not suggesting
that craftsmanship is dying - I know around a hundred goldsmiths,
many I’d call better than myself. And another factor is that gold is
$1225, platinum is simply obscene, and DeBeers has taken too good of
care for the industry - opulent diamond pieces are behind us more
and more or fewer and fewer, at least. $750,000 for asingle stone
that’s not THAT big…

But just as James talked about in his world, I too have lost much
work to the computer people. And there are plenty who can and will
buy jewelry and stones in the 6-7-8 figure range, and will continue
to. But the world is a different place even since I first sat at a
bench. I’ve explored the options of getting into it myself (and I
farm it out now and then), but I just don’t care for it much, as a
profession…


#5

It is not the trade of goldsmithing which is changing fast, it is the
industry of jewelry making. Goldsmithing is still pretty much the
same as it ever was.

Lamentably, there may be fewer individuals practicing goldsmithing
and fewer who are earning a living by it, and this is why several of
us are more and more devoted to teaching and passing on the
traditional approach and the fundamental techniques.

I am confirdent that there will be a resurgence of interest in finely
executed hand made work in precious metal jewelry. I am entirly
hopeful it will come about while I’m still able to take an active
part at the bench.

MDS
Michael David Sturlin
http://michaelsturlinstudio.ganoksin.com/blogs/


#6
Every few years someone will polish the technology for making
diamonds and folks say "Oh the value of diamonds will be lost
forever." Not so. There will always be a desire, even if amongst
only a few, for the "real thing". 

Isn’t the price of diamonds kept artificially high, by a cartel?

Personally I like rubies, you’ll excuse my ignorance here, but can
you tell the difference between a real rubie, and a synthetic one?

Regards Charles


#7
Isn't the price of diamonds kept artificially high, by a cartel? 

Not really, De Beers only controls about 40% of the trade now. There
are several other players that enjoy the high return on their
labors. There is no incentive to cut each others throat by engaging
in a price war. Since there is a limited supply they charge what the
market will bear.

Personally I like rubies, you'll excuse my ignorance here, but can
you tell the difference between a real rubie, and a synthetic one? 

This is the job of a gemologist and certainly on many of the
synthetic products you can fairly easily identify them. I am not a
gemologist but I can make a fairly accurate guess with a microscope.
But usually the give away is that the man made stones are too perfect
and too inexpensive.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#8

As both a new amateur trying to get my hand at metalsmithing and a
potentila buyer of small pieces (primarily for my wife), I would
always value more the craft than the standardize model.

Even before I get the “bug” we bought a few rings which were unique,
from people we talked to. And we always scan for artists and craft
people when wetravel around; it just happens that I find many people
in similar mindsets.

It is true that it is easier and faster to go to a “big” store and
buy some thing less original, often cheaper. But never as
satisfactory as a customer…

Dominick Grillas.


#9
I am confirdent that there will be a resurgence of interest in
finely executed hand made work in precious metal jewelry. I am
entirly hopeful it will come about while I'm still able to take an
active part at the bench. 

Agree 100%.

Goldsmithing trade has recorded history of 5000 years, and it
basically remains unchanged.

There are very good reasons for this. People are not interested in
machine made perfection. People want pieces, which are handmade.

There is a mid-eastern saying -

“when herd turns around, the crippled lam becomes a leader”

That is what we have now. Industry has turned, and crippled lam is in
the lead. And like any crippled lams, in order to maintain the
leadership, the lam has to convince the others, that it is better to
walk on three legs, rather then use all four. You see, the only way
crippled lam can stay in the lead, if others adapt to her pace.

As History teaches us, this is not going to last. It never did!

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#10

The thread takes us into quite philosophical territory. Goldsmithing
isn’t the first trade to experience this change, but it’s ours, so
it seems more significant.It is in the nature of all human endeavour
for this to happen. From the point of view of productivity, new
technology renders older methods obselete, and rightly so - we
wouldn’t all want to have to weave our own clothes; we’re happy to
buy them, mass-produced, from a shop. But that doesn’t mean there
are no weavers. As much as we might talk about a golden age of
goldsmithing, don’t forget that whichever golden age you choose,
there was a lack of safety equipment, endemic industrial diseases
from fumes and vibration, and large, low-paid workforces who treated
the work like a soul-less production line. We’re in a much better
situation now - we’re passionate jewellers, not miserable
technicians (well, maybe that isn’t always true in Birmingham…)If
anything, I think we’re returning to form - the modern workshop is
often a “micro-factory” with small numbers of staff, which takes us
back to the pre-industrial era, only now we have machine tools to
speed up some processesWhen rapid prototyping achieves it’s
potential, the wax mill owners will be using antiquated machinery,
and eventually people will be building rings atom by atom, and the
rapid prototypers will go the way of the dinosaurs. But there will
always be someone working down a dingy alley, paying a low rent to
run a goldsmithing workshop.

We might not be the biggest industry in the world, and we might not
be the first place people go to spend money, but we’ll always be
there, just as we have always been here.One thing I definately have
noticed is that all of the time-saving techniques that lower quality
are a boon for the bench jeweller - the amount of work we get fixing
badly made rings is fantastic. For us, if not for the customer.


#11
Goldsmithing trade has recorded history of 5000 years, and it
basically remains unchanged. 

Imagine Orchid without Leonid’s constant humor… ;}

We're in a much better situation now - we're passionate jewellers,
not miserable technicians (well, maybe that isn't always true in
Birmingham. 

Well said, Jamie. It’s important to think like a jeweler, I think.
Which is to say a business person, not just a bench-grunt. Yes, at
the bench there are fundamental things that aren’t going away
anytime soon. In the bigger picture, everything has changed to a
greater or lesser degree, as James said when he started this thread.
Especially for younger people, it’s important to adapt or at least
work in the 21st century, if you want to be competitive. I for one am
nearer to retirement than I am to 3d graphics school.

Machine tools, electricity, vulcanized rubber, induction casting,
lasers, plasma, even the Bessemer Converter (1855) brought cheap,
high-quality steel to everyone, not just jewelers. Pressurized gas,
especially oxygen, brought platinum within reach. I don’t care much
for CNC, being an old timer, but I do see that it is a new era in
jewelry and even more so in design.

I personally don’t care a lot for the designs, either, but that’s
just my taste. There are many things the computer can do that humans
just can’t, and there are many more that computers can do better.
James Miller is very familiar with engine turning and rose cutting -
yes, an engraver could do that work in some way, but it’s the machine
precison that MAKES it work. CNC excels at the same sort of work,
IMO. And it’s in it’s infancy… Yep, it’s a new day…