Thoughts on the future of my trade

Dear orchideans,

I read the digest daily, taking an interest in most subjects written
about. I am not a part of the CD/CAM revolution, and I do not want to
be! I am proud of my history as a goldsmith where I have made many
beautiful artifacts using the knowledge in my brain and the skills of
my own hands. I want to remain an artist craftsman, and not become a
machine operator. I am sure the results from the innovations of the
CAD/CAM manufacturing techniques, will eventually kill the trade of
hand goldsmithing as I know it. In the past ten years over here in
the UK, many of our major gold and silversmithing companies have
ceased trading. There are less and less craftsmen teaching
apprentices the trade. I am a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of
Goldsmiths and they send me an annual report on the trade, I was
checking some back issues and I see that in a report sent to me,
twenty two years ago, there were twenty six apprentices who had
completed their apprenticeships as goldsmiths or silversmiths, and as
so were granted the Freedom of the Goldsmiths Company. In this
year’s report from the Goldsmiths there were only two apprentices
completing their apprenticeships listed. I searched through my
archives to find the report relating to the year when I finished my
apprenticeship, which was 1967. Would you believe that there were
seventy six apprentices listed that year, and bear in mind this was
only in London.

I am getting to the end of my career now as I am sixty this week,
and I just hope that perhaps somewhere in the world there will be
people who continue making precious metalwork by hand, keeping the
old traditions alive. We must never get to a situation where the
skills of the past are not passed on and get to a situation that
people think that machine made objects and jewellery are the only

Good wishes to all from an unusually hot UK,

James Miller, Master Goldsmith, Fellow of the Institute of
Professional Goldsmiths, Freeman of the Worshipful Company of
Goldsmiths and a Freeman of the City of London and sometimes full of
hot air, sorry for ranting folks !!!

Amen brother!

CAD CAM this and CAD CAM that, most peope running these machines
don’t have a clue how to make real jewelry. Creating something with
the help of a computer doesn’t make you a goldsmith. Not even close!
If you don’t know how to cast it, set the stones(without breaking!),
and finish the piece nice you would still have a piece of junk.


Hi Mr. Miller:

My hope is that there is someone (more than one someone?) who is
currently enjoying the benefit of your teaching. It would be a shame
to lose the many years of experience that you have in creating
beautiful art.

I am currently studying the techniques of granulation and filigree.
I don’t think the fact that I am employing the use of modern
equipment will detract from the outcome. The respect for the ancient
techniques is still there. It’s just the methodology that changes
over time.

Possibly, there will be many who will want that which produced by
CAD/CAM and similar modern doo-dads. However, nothing can replace
the fascination that comes with seeing someone produce by hand. Sure,
there may be fewer traditional craftsmen in the future, but the fewer
may likely be held in a much higher regard.

Best wished for a happy retirement for you. Hopefully, it is not too

Best Regards,
Kim Starbard

James, good post. I would say that being able to do things by hand is
probably a bit of a necessity because then you would know how to
better design pieces. Plus, working with ones hands always adds to
the item you are creating. That being said I do think there is a
place for CAD/CAM creation of molds or wax models for creation of
jewelry. I don’t think all items made need or should be created from
scratch by hand. Especially if the item is being designed for mass
production in a jewelry line or something. I see the hand wrought
items being more ‘art’ jewelry, with unique aspects, etc. I know you
can do this with CAD/CAM it’s just a matter of personal preference
really. I do think that knowing how to do things by hand is
important. The problem is, education isn’t free even though it should
be. Education in jewelry arts, or anything for that matter should be
available to everyone, and obtainable by everyone without regard to
costs, etc. I’m not sure when education because a business but it
certainly is a problem is my opinion.



First off Happy Birthday. May you have many more. I too am concerned
about all the fuss over Cad/Cam. It kind of reminds me of the 1800’s
and the machine age. This of course led up to the period know as the
Arts & Crafts movement which was an out cry against mass made shoddy

As for there being no need for master craftsmen such as yourself in
the future, I highly doubt that will happen. There will always be
people that want something that is rare and handmade. I have seen
your work and there will always be a demand for this type of quality.

Enjoy your birthday

Greg DeMark

I agree that it is a shame, that in some ways that the industry is
changing. But, being one who has embraced CAD, I don’t think that
master jewelers and CAD techniques are or should be diametircally
opposed to each other. I also don’t think that CAD is killing the

I have a gentleman who works with me, who was apprecticed in
Birmingham in the late 60’s. He is indespensible to our operation. We
do all of our work with CNC mills, but it is Ken who brings the
pieces to life with his knowledge, masterful finishing and hand
engraving. He has even learned to do really high quality enameling
over the past year.

The problem as I see it, is that the industry and educational
institutions are not working hard enough to encourage people to go
into the trade now. I am going to be needing to hire several highly
qualified bench masters in the next year and I have no idea where to
find them. I have tried talking to ‘art jewelers’ I know and they
have no interest at sitting at a bench and doing work other than
their own. Even, if they are barely surviving. But that is the
American way now, everyone wants to be their own boss, which is
admirable in its own way.

I would love to see the profession presented as a viable trade, in
the press and in the junior colleges here in the States but it isn’t.
Perhaps this is something that you Master Goldsmiths should take on
as a project to save the institution; because there is definately a
need for your knowledge and expertise out here in the industry. Happy
Birthday and good luck,


Hi James.

We must never get to a situation where the skills of the past are
not passed on 

That said, how about a tutorial on that hummingbird that you and
your workshop made.? Just a written sequence would be great! Or any
one of the great things on your web for that matter

Hans Meevis

Beautiful post! I have a great respect for traditional goldsmithing
and metalsmithing in general – after all, it has been practiced by
everyone from the Greeks to the Egyptians.

However, there is one thing that is missing from your post – the
consumer! The consumer has changed and is no longer as willing to
pay for handcrafted items! Many cannot even tell if an item is
handcrafted and a number of them that will pay large sums for an
item of jewelry would rather look at the name than how it is made
when factoring in price. Case in point, I went to a caster in my
town to ask about the cost of casting something. She let it slip
that most of the large jewelers cast their products overseas to keep
costs down.

It is a shame and a pity, but people want to pay less for everything,
including jewelry. Part of it is simply that the cost of living in
general is high and people are looking to economize where they can. I
can’t fault them for this. This does, however, pose a dilemma for
people who are just starting out in the business. Is it good business
sense to spend hours making something whose labour no one will pay
for, or, when the cost of labour is amortized out is barely above the
minimum wage? I have conducted informal price surveys and the amount
of money that people believe they should pay for a handstrung strand
of pearls or for sterling silver earrings is shockingly low. I guess
it is a compromise between doing something that I love but
realistically understanding that the item I am providing is not a
necessity that people need to survive and changing my business
practices to fit that reality and having a job that provides a
necessity such as, say, becoming an undertaker or mortician, and not
enjoying my work.

Dear James,

Congratulations on your accomplishments…you have achieved a
liftime of bountiful creation and you must have some skills that are
epic. On the other hand, all of us are every day becoming more and
more obsolete and out of synch. We live now in that Orwellian world
in which our lives are no longer individual and self directed. We
are basically consumer units which exist for the convenience of the
major global corporations. Our governments exist primarily for the
benefit of the economic engines that direct the government. That
primitive and very simplistic agrarian democracy thing is a relic of
the past. Contemporary democracy is a social engineering device that
is dependent on dominance of agglomerations of corporations which
manipulate government to suit its’ needs. Voters are merely robots
who respond to the cajoling and manipulation of the social
engineers…sociologists, psychologists, politicians, lobbyists,
lawyers, marketers, clergy, et. al. All of this terribly pessimistic
ranting is not alarmistic…merely, realistic. Change will occur
regardless and nothing is sacred nor static.

The beautiful things that you have created are a legacy, but the
future MAY not need them and, therefore, our ilk might not survive. I
would prefer to think that man may yet live up to his potential and
address the real problems of our age…environmental degradation,
governmental corruption, over-population, predatory commercialism,
educational systems that don’t work, enlightenment that is free of
superstition and a body politic that realizes that we are all in it
together and that we all have to pull together to make it happen. It
just CAN’T work when only a few can benefit ! Most will have to
benefit if we are to survive ! The rich survive on the backs of the
poor and if the poor don’t survive, the rich will also not survive !

Ron Mills, Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca.

sorry for ranting folks !!!

Don’t be sorry for ranting James. You deserve to rant!!! Your career
sounds like a very successful one and you appear to have enjoyed
what you do and have done. I’ve only been at it for 35 years and
mostly as a ‘casual’ jeweler at that. By that I mean it was not my
primary means of income…but it has always been my passion just the
same. I certainly respect, and even admire, someone like you who has
had a successful career in something they love.

Might I suggest James, that you use your retirement years to find
some promising artists and teach them your old tricks? I have been
doing that for the past 5 years now and have found it a truely
rewarding thing to do.

Enjoy the rest of your time as an artist, James, by all means give
us a rant now and then!

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2

Ah James,

Cad Cam is just the latest innovation in our little world. Some of us
will always be happily stuck in the past while the others move into
the future. I am old enough to remember when people resented and
refused to use answering machines. Now we would think someone quite
annoying if they didn’t have one. I speak as a fellow neo-Luddite. I
will always make jewelry from sheet and wire. Each piece lovingly
crafted, each piece with its own little personality, but gee am I
happy that I can order sizes, weights, gauges and thicknesses,
rather than pounding it all out from an ingot…lol…

Doesn’t mean that those who have moved past us don’t put the same
kind of thought into the process, its just a different way of seeing
and executing. Although I may not always participate, I am always up
for any new technology! So here’s to the new…and here’s to the
old! There is room for both!!


Lisa, (I think I am alone, but I love the heat! Fewer clothes, and I
am not cold…always a great thing!) Topanga, CA USA

Good response. I love new technologies as well, but prefer to think
of most of them as simply easier ways to execute old style
craftsmanship. In this specific case, I like CAD for its ability to
let me show my customers what I have in mind. A wonderful thing for
the ‘drawing challenged’. I also like it for its ability to save one
rendering while experimenting quickly with alternative ideas. I
never had the patience to go through multiple sketches (other than
quick doodles that mean something only to me), erasing, redrawing,
etc… So far, though, I have resisted the idea of the CAM
half of the equation. Once I have the idea, I still carve waxes by
hand, or fabricate from sheet and wire. I have seen, though, that the
CAM can be used to create pieces that might not be possible without
it, or it can help keep costs within reason.

I like the hot weather, too, although the humidity in western NC has
been a bit hard to take lately. And less clothes is better.


I commend Mr. Miller on his eloquent commentary and congratulate him
on his 60th birthday next week. The work he has produced represents
what a true goldsmith can do and should inspire all of us who work
with files and hammers to endeavor to further our skills and develop
our proficiency at the bench.

I have the following contribution on this same topic which Tina
Snyder was kind enough to include in AJM Magazine (now the MJSA
Journal) in the April 2006 issue. This was submitted in response to
her query about the goldsmith’s bench 50 years from now. I think it
is resonant with the sentiments of many of our colleagues.

Perspectives on The Jeweler’s Shop in 50 Years
Michael David Sturlin

I hold a firm expectation that much of our present (and ancient)
technology will still be an integral part of the year 2056
jeweler's studio. Our traditional steel tools will still be in
use, and there will continue to be a need for hammers and
punches, bezel and swage blocks, rolling mills, draw plates,
files, gravers, chisels, and jewelers' saws. Many of these
accoutrements have been around for thousands of years, and I
think another 50 won't make them obsolete. 

It will still be necessary to drill holes in metal and cut seats
for stones with burs, so we'll probably still be using the
flex-shaft, albeit a more modern version with enhanced features;
however, this tool will provide the same basic function that it
does today. 

Most important, the key to productivity in the year 2056
jeweler's studio will still be the jeweler - the skilled artisan
who works with tools in hand and does not surrender the entirety
of the process to mechanization and computerization. A handmade
item of jewelry will be just as relevant then as it is now,
perhaps to a smaller audience, but I am confident that not all
adornments will be automated and manufactured. There will still
be an appreciation for the craft-the art-of unique, handmade

Michael David Sturlin

Dear Mr. Miller,

I only wish that when I started on my path in metalsmithing that I
had known there were apprenticeships like the ones offered by the
Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London.

In the United States things are much worse off with no real
apprenticeship system to which interested individuals can apply. At
best, students hungry for knowledge can take workshops, go to
university or be self-taught through books and magazines.

Universities offer broad training in general skills but the emphasis
is most often on being an “artist” first and a good craftsman
second. Students are pushed to create conceptual work without the
technical metalsmithing skills to clearly communicate those concepts
in this medium. Working at the craft, which leads to true artistry,
is despised in “Fine Art” university programs.

Some universities are shortsighted enough to cut funding or close
their metals programs altogether. Some universities are now only
training metals students in CAD/CAM so they can only produce virtual
work. Alternatively, trade schools in the U.S. produce excellent
jewelry technicians who unfortunately are often lacking in an
aesthetic education. (IMHO)

I have worked with CAD/CAM processes and fined them to be another
tool in the craftsmen’s tool box. They are not a solution or an ends
in themselves as many claim, but are just another tool to learn how to
be applied creatively. I also worry that the trade of the hand-made
precious object and jewel is losing ground in this world where
everything is machine-made faster and as cheaply as possible.
Especially the kind of the hand-made precious objects and jewels you
are able to produce. But as in all things the pendulum will swing back
to an admiration of the finely crafted item over the mass-produced.

Perhaps if the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London advertised
it apprenticeships as a job training opportunity through Orchid or
other jewelry websites those numbers would start to increase.

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


I’m with you - after 22 years as a software developer, I wouldn’t
think of even looking at jewelry design software. I started my
jewelry business to get away from software and computers in general.
The Internet is my one concession. You can have the rest.

As for heat - yeah, bring it on ! It was 95 degrees the other day
here in PA. I can’t wait until our August trip to our place in Myrtle
Beach. I’ll head out for Brookgreen Gardens - 90 degrees and 95%
humidity. Oh, yes !

Brian Corll
Vassar Jewelers

First I must say that there are very few whose work I respect as
much as I respect Mr. Miller’s; his work inspires my awe and
amazement. I must also say that my perception of him is that he
represents a generosity of spirit. He is gracious; well spoken and
kind. I have based my perception on personal correspondence outside
the Orchid distribution list and his messages within Orchid. In my
humble opinion, I think it is archaic for society to view "Goldsmith"
as a trade. I believe it reflects a class system long outdated.
Simply put: Mr. Miller is not a tradesman; he is an artist.

Society, irrespective of its economic driving forces, will never
lose the artists. If one reviews history, it is common to see artists
supported by the few rather than the masses. The masses are the white
noise and what society is now; is what it has always been: driven by
greed; inspired by the need to impress; powered by separation and
conflict based on economics, religion, politics or race. Humankind
has not evolved but the artists’ works that survive the centuries
reach into our core and make us speechless with their aesthetic
perfection; be it sculpture, paint, music or personal adornment.
Yet, all that beauty is often created in an environment not conducive
to it but created and treasured in spite of it. Such is the case now
as we strive to find the few appreciative ones in the midst of the
masses… such is the case now as we strive to find the few artists
in the midst of the masses… Society is filled with the white noise
of the masses and we would be making a huge mistake to use that white
noise for artistic direction.

Finally, while many parameters of society are set because of human
nature, the pendulum does swing back and forth on many levels. The
number of apprenticeships may increase again. Will they increase to
the point they once were? Perhaps not, because they are not the
method from which one gains employment or a path out of a
social-economic class. One has to assume that apprenticeships were at
their height in the 1700-1800s. So, we need to view the
apprenticeship scenario from a slightly different perspective. Many
times we have discussed which schools provide the best training.
Perhaps what we should be discussing is: why don’t these schools
require apprenticeships? Perhaps we can not rely on a school to think
outside its own need for revenue. So, the question becomes: who
ultimately assumes responsibility for passing those skills down to
the next generation? Is it the artist? Is it the apprentice? Or, is
it a combination of both?


Post Script/Semi-Rant: There was a comment about people needing the
"name" and not caring how it was made. I think this is too broad a
statement. There are companies that have been around since the
1800’s and while they may be catering to the masses by expanding
their products to absurd levels; I still value the products upon
which the company was founded. A certain trench coat is still a
classic; a certain type of luggage almost indestructible; a certain
scarf timeless and collectable at the same time… will I wear their
shoes, underwear or jewelry? No but, I sure love their classics. The
bottom line is that one must assume responsibility for ascertaining
quality and spending one’s money accordingly.


I don’t think you need to worry about the machines taking over. I
think a lot of people are fed up with machine-made look-alikes and
stuff from China. (I looked at a dozen or more different pairs of
pliers the other night until I found one that said ‘Made in USA’.
Bought it.) We’re still sitting here crafting things with our own
hands. Go to any sizeable craftshow here in the US and there is an
overflow of booths showing handicrafts of all sorts.

I come from a long line of Pennsylvania Dutch blacksmiths, and I
guess metalworking is in my blood. The machines don’t interest me
anymore than they would have interested my great-grandfather (I have
a picture of him at his anvil in 1890.)

We have ships, planes and cars, but we still sell lots of canoes,
kayaks, and bicycles, not to mention walking shoes !

A rambling collection of thoughts for you.

Brian Corll
Vassar Jewelers


Your response (I’ve included it below), literally made me laugh out
loud! But you do have a point. James, I’d like a tutorial on the
piercings that you did for the Forget Me Not Egg!

But seriously, all joshing aside, James, the work that you do is
truly special and is in no danger of dying out because of the
clientele that you are serving. In my case, I am certainly not making
jewelry, at least at this stage in my career, that will be sold in
Asprey. I have to bear the relative income inelasticity of my target
market in mind when making my jewelry.

Many, if not most of the items in your gallery are for a very elite
group of people who can afford to pay an items that someone has
clearly spent many, many hours on. For jewelers who are serving a
different clientele, CAD does serve a purpose – for both the
clientele and the jeweler.

Dear Annabel, I can’t help but point out the irony of your
sentimental thoughts about crafting and accomplishment. You laud the
fact that a person has made a name for himself and YOU dread the
thought of becoming known ! No, I am not playing games with
you…I am simply pointing out that what was, is not what is, and
there is absolutely no basis for thinking that because what was,
should or could be. We just can’t cling to the past, because the
economic engine adheres to fickle human demand. In the last decade I
have observed a swing from appreciation of handmade objects to a
DEMAND that things be perfect and identifiable as things that have
been guided by mechanistic computer controlled perfection. I don’t
know where this is going…it could be that people will sense that
infinitely repeatable items will be perceived as cold, soul-less
objects or it could also be that people will revert to appreciation
for things that are infinitely variable,when made spontaneously and
individually. BUT, it could be also that people will no longer
adhere to the ancient custom of hanging baubles off their bods. After
all, we are not walking Christmas trees ! Accordingly, jewelry is
generally considered to be a somewhat female practice which is
primarily directed at other females. ( Males do NOT lust after
females with better jewelry…they lust after what it is hung on and
they especially lust after the bod that is stripped clean of
jewelry…how is that for irony ? ) I don’t think we need to go
any further with this logic…it is TOO logical ( And too graphic )
Plodding on…

Ron MIlls, Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca.

Mr. Miller,

Take heart kind sir.

I understand your cynicism and disappointment and the only thing I
can say that may really help is…the only constant is change. By
that I mean that my understanding of life is as a circle where all
things that begin come back around to the beginning, and then go
forward again to the end and back again.

Many of the replies to your post that have proceeded mine are
correct, at least in part. The consumer has been co-opted in our
times, and that does make it a little more difficult for the
beginning purist craftsperson, but CAD/CAM is to our generation as
the rolling mill was to our predecessors, just another new-fangles
invention that may catch on or may not, in part or in whole.

I make custom jewelry, mainly by hand for over 30 years now, but
when my laser welder is paid off I will probably buy into CAD/CAM.
Then something else, if I live that long. I guess I’m a sucker for a
learning curve.

Just another aspect of this…the crux of my business strategy is
that right now, there really isn’t a good craftsman on every corner
and as the world culture gets more impersonal and complicated the
human spirit will even more crave objects that help that spirit to
connect with others deeply…just happens to be my product!

It is naive to think, as one poster implied, that people or culture
will outgrow or evolve past that basic human need. I studied
anthropology in school, still do in my reading, and every known
culture has expressed that need to my knowledge. Correctly, not every
piece of jewelry need be handcrafted, in fact some designs really
deserve to be reproduced, but I’m pretty sure that there will always
be some demand for the finely crafted, handmade piece, for the unique
aspect if nothing else.

Meantime, connect with some learning institution, get to know some
kids and help them to understand you and your ways. They will laugh
at you, but you can laugh back and you both benefit. I speak from
experience on this.

Best regards to all…I’m leaving tomorrow for a mountaineering trip
with my son and will not be able to enjoy reading more responses to
this thread for a short week. Be interesting to see the additional

Gary Dawson
Quality & Integrity…Always!