Trade salary standards

Hi folks

I was surprised to see a posting yesterday about a job in the San
Francisco Bay Area…the potential employer basically wanted a
highly skilled all around goldsmith…someone who could do
EVERYTHING, for $32,000 a year. I live in the Bay Area, and I know
from personal experience how hard it is to get by on that pay around
here. This is one of the most expensive places in the world to live,
right after London and Tokyo. Someone qualifying for this position
would have to have years of training and/or experience, and would
then be having to pay well over half of their take-home pay on rent.
After working for other jewelers for 15 years I finally started my
own business, which is potentially more lucrative but also has the
potential for financial disaster. I just find it disheartening that
we serious benchfolk are often paid so poorly. I will keep doing what
I do, because I love it and have spent my entire adult life learning
this skill, but I am curious about standard salaries for bench
workers around the country…does it vary as much as the cost of
living does? I do some teaching, and my students often ask me “How
much should I expect to get paid as a bench worker? Is it possible to
make a living doing this?” I wish I could be more encouraging to
them, but honestly I have to say “I don’t know, but not very
much…it is not an easy way to make a living.”. Is this information
a closely guarded secret, or would people be willing to share what
they know about this subject? I don’t mean to start a long series of
rants here, but I guess that some folks will have a lot to say about


I finally started my own business, which is potentially more
lucrative but also has the potential for financial disaster 

Yeah, ain’t it a hoot!

JCK from time to time publishes their poll results regarding
salaries. I was always amazed at how low they really are.

The way to make money for a bench person is not soldering jump rings
for someone else. Its having a high level of skill AND be able to
sell merchandise along with it. Which is probably what you do in your
biz. There’s a reason so many of us are self employed…as you say,
its opportunity.

Catherine, I too was surprised by that figure. Perhaps in some small
town that might be a living wage, but doesn’t come close in the SF
bay area. I lived in the SF area for more than 20 years. And the
skills that are required seem unrealistic for that salary.

I’ve never worked for anyone in this field; I’ve always been self
employed so I have no financial info to share. In general people seem
loath to share financial info. Sexual experiences, family problems,
yes; financial info, no.

Perhaps since postings can be anonymous some figures might be
provided. But then if anonymous, perhaps fanciful.

In any case, you raise an interesting question.


hello Catherine…

glad you aren’t applying for that job!.. If anyone out there is
considering it, I have always found the best approach to getting
what you need is much like grant writing. One states on their
proposal exactly what the grantor will get for their money. . In the
case of Jewelry making, and a very skilled bench jeweler at that,
after researching the potential employer, you have to sit down first
and figure out your costs of doing the company’s bidding, added to
your rate per hour (that is what you would charge if you were at
home/ in your own studio ), and then add another 15% for having to
keep someone elses schedule… or simply the cost of working out of
your own space. If the company does not offer benefits to speak of
within 30 days, I would urge you to join CERF, ( actually I’d urge
you all to do so anyway!!!), and consider assembling at least ten
other artisans and creating a small design group- that enables you to
purchase your own insurance(s) at a group rate as a group( in some
states you may have to shuck out a collective 350. 00 for a 501 © 3
status as a not-for-profit organization, then proceed with the
group’s creation). The cost of having to take out your own insurance
to travel the bay area bridge, traffic, etc. is a worthy outlay and
can be leveraged in negotiations - if you have a specific figure to
put in front of the potential employer- that would sound something
like" since you offer no benefits until x date(if at all) I will have
to pay x out-of-pocket to be able to work out of my studio. When I
add that to the 32, 000. 00 you advertised as salary my requirements
are closer to 38, 000. 00 before any other costs are figured into our

I find it almost unilaterally true that bench jewelers/jobbers never
value themselves high enough, nor point out to the potential
employer the profit margin that, without your skills at his/her
bench, would either be diminished or compromised. Ultimately you are
instilling a sense of the return on his/her investment in your
ability to show up as scheduled, apply a vast amount of knowledge and
experience that doesn’t just happen in off the street, and that the
cost of living in your area dictates that the figure the employer is
offering do not adeqquately compensate you for using those acquired
skills to both keep his operation profitable and increase the
capacity of that business in [whatever your specialization is]. So
doing a bit of research on that businesses profitability before you
walk in is essential to sounding both professional as a jeweler and a
savvy business person as well- two very valuable skills to any
employer that is clearly in need of either expansion, or short bench
people… use those points to your advantage.

Another point that could be made here is for the unionization of
bench jewelers… In many establishments often the sales people, that
may or may not have some training, make higher salaries thatn the
bench jewlers doing the work, custom designing, and essentially
carrying businesses that do not outsource their repair and design
jobbing ( or simply and strictly order ready made mountings and
findings and having a setter at the bench). It has been an ongoing
discussion in the trade for some time… perhaps it is time for bench
jewelers to seriously consider the pros and cons of organizing and
then act on what is collectively decided upon.

In fact I would be quite interested in yes or no answers regarding
bench jewelers -at this moment in time- position on unionization as
a viable option or not…

R. E. Rourke

Hi Everyone,

I was a little curious about the job Catherine noted as well. I am
currently working on assignments in the lower Midwest where the
client is looking for a good stable repair and setting jeweler with
apprx. five years bench experience, and they are willing to pay +/-
$40,000 per year to start plus benefits. Other positions for more
experienced and skilled jewelers I see are well into the high-$40’s
to high-$50’s, with some even creeping into the $60K+ range. Working
in this field every day as a recruiter, I still feel even these
salaries are low compared to what an accomplished and experienced
jeweler brings to the table for a jewelry store. Is there any one
besides ownership/management more “key” to the day-to-day operation
of a retail jewelry store than a competent jeweler??? I don’t believe
so! That’s my two cents.

Vic Davis

Vic Davis & Associates, Inc.
866-650-6400 (toll-free)

Hi All;

I have to pipe in here. When I read the first post offering the
position in S.F., I immediately read between the lines. Wages on the
west coast have stagnated, even dropped, and have topped out at
around $20/hr. for years now. This was due to a large influx of Asian
immigrants available for work at lower wages. I’m not going to open
the can of worms on immigration, “illegal”, undocumented, or
whatever. But notice, if you will, the names of jewelry stores.
Generation after generation of immigrants, mostly coming into the
country through normal channels, have been exploited by our industry.
But the last few waves of nationalities haven’t been able to break
out on their own. Not too many Mexican or Asian store names, some
Puerto Rican’s in the casting and finishing subs, but the Irish, the
Italians, Armenians, have all left their names on the storefronts.

But back to the post for the job offer. When the poster mentions
"enameling" as a requisite skill, I started to get it. It’s my guess
that the owner is a “designer” jeweler, probably not doing what
typical jewelry stores have done in the past, maybe not highly
trained or experienced, and certainly not an industry insider or they
wouldn’t have been fishing for someone who’d settle for such a low
wage. And I don’t think someone with those kinds of skills is going
to be shopping for a job, especially here on Orchid (no offense to
the forum). Most of us with a complete skill set would know of at
least a couple people who would hire us right away, and probably for
close to double what was being offered in the post. I think we’re
looking at a novice employer who probably can’t pay any more than
that anyway. They will need to lower their standards until they are
established enough to pay for the real thing.

David L. Huffman

In order to survive in todays economy you have to make at least $40.
dollars per hour. Being a contract Jeweler is the only way to
survive. I work for several stores and can pull in almost 6 figures.
You can not raise a family on a Jewelers salary.


There’s been a lot of varying responses to this thread - I’m hoping
that the shop filled the position, for one thing. A lot of responses
here have been from “Art” jewelers and those who do shows and
galleries. I’d like to give a perspective on how the art world works,
though. I think many readers are a little starry-eyed. Mainly what I
want to point out is that David Webb doesn’t make jewelry - neither
Mr. Van Cleef nor Mr. Arpels make jewelry, nor do Mr. Tiffany or Mr.
Cartier. Not only that, but towards the end of his life Salvador Dali
became a lithograph designer and lithograph signer, and that’s all. I
personally did artwork for a very famous artist - signed it as his
and everything. I mentioned ILM, too - George Lucas does not do
computer graphics at all. No, something like 90% or even more of the
art in the world is made by nameless, faceless people working in
shops, factories and studios. That handpainted porcelain you might
love was done in a factory with row upon row of porcelain painters
working away. Now, I suspect that a great many Orchid people will
say, “I’d never do that, I do MY thing, I make it all myself.” and
etc., and that’s just fine. It is a fact and statistic that likely 1%
of you/us will become known enough to be the next David Webb or
Yurman. Most of the millions (literally) of artists in the world are
happy and content just doing the work, and a very great many of them
don’t want to be on their own. If you work at Boucheron, you have the
opportunity to work on million dollar pieces that likely you could
never finance, own or sell without the Boucheron name behind it. And
many people find that the ideal situation - playing with other
people’s stuff at their expense and liablility, for wages. Even more
than that, in such a shop there are designers, model makers, setters,
polishers, and there are people who just sit there all day putting
chain links together, who have that skill but no more. I’ve known
jewelers who’ve worked for 20 years who could file, assemble and
solder to exacting standards but nothing more than that. Just
production workers. And that goes into the entire world of art. I
knew an excellent painter once - not a great artist, just an
excellent painter. He had worked in China before doing the “No oil
painting more than $69.99” thing - a painting an hour, basically, in
a huge painting factory. He talked about buying paint-by-numbers kits
at overrun sales, throwing away everything but the composition and
painting it freehand, just using the outline for a guide, and selling
those… The point being that yes, there are great, famous artists,
very creative people doing cutting edge work, gaining fame and
fortune in the process, and great for those people. But don’t think
that the people behind the scenes making Pixar’s latest, or doing
Yurman’s production, or the crystal or porcelain or clothing or rugs
or whatever in your house mean any less. Because that could be you.