Trade shop vs. retail shop

Can anyone here give me their thoughts on working in a business to business tradeshop vs. a retail store. (aside from the hours) Pros and Con’s. Also can you give me your opinion on some of the larger trade shops you may have experience working with over the years. I want to see if the one that’s recruiting me shows up and if people think they are good or bad. It’s a large one. Thank you in advance for you advice. Rob

1 Like

First of all, Welcome to Ganoksin! You’ve found the perfect place to be for all of your Jewellery-related questions, techniques and a great bunch of Jewellers and Jewellery Artists!

I was a Bench Jeweller for over (25+) years and worked for several different Jewellery Stores (Privately Owned, no Chain Stores), Jewellery Stores that did Trade Work (Trade Work for Privately Owned Stores and Chain Stores) and a Trade Shop (Trade Work for Privately Owned Stores, Chain Stores and Manufacturers), I also had my own small business for about (1-1/2) years where I did Trade Work for (4-7) Jewellery Stores in East Tennesse and North Georgia.

Anyway, probably (20 or so) years ago or so, I worked for almost (3) months in a large Trade Shop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it was 3-stories tall and they had their Offices and a Refinery on the 1st Floor and the Trade Shops were on the 2nd and 3rd Floors. I don’t believe that it’s still in business, as I know that the owners retired maybe (10) years after I was there, but I could be wrong… This particular Trade Shop was like most of the Trade Shops that I have been acquainted with, in that when you first started, they would give you a handful of different jobs (Repairs, Ring Sizings, Fabrication, Mounting Stones, Polishing, etc.) and watch how you did each one of them and at the end of the day, they would have a pretty good idea as to what you’re best at. This might go on for a few days to a week and after that, whatever they determined that you were best at, that was pretty much all that you did at the Trade Shop… I ended up being one of the lucky ones, because they never really decided what I was “best at” and they just kept giving me jobs to do start to finish, there were only (3 or 4) other Jewellers there, out of around (30-40), that were allowed to do everything. There were Jewellers who only worked on Chains, who did Ring Sizings, who Tipped Prongs, who Mounted Stones, who Cleaned Up Castings, who did Fabrication Work, who Polished (I will say this, the Polishers at this Shop were truly amazing, the very best that I have ever seen), etc. - day in and day out, they did more or less the same thing, all day long…

Like I said, I was one of the lucky ones, as I don’t believe that I would have lasted more than a week or two, instead of almost (3) months, just doing the same thing over and over and over again, all day long, every work day. That being said, I met several of the other Jewellers who had been doing just that for (5, 10 and 15+) years and they seemed to be happy doing it, so who knows?

Now, to the reasons why I quit after almost (3) months of working there: At this point in my Jewellery career, I had been an Apprentice for about (2) years, a Bench Jeweller for another (3+) years and then the Lead Jeweller at our Store for a few more years after that, as the Master Jeweller who trained me quit (our boss, my Uncle wasn’t an easy man to work for), so I was very used to doing things “my way”, the way that I was trained. When I first started working at the Trade Shop, they pretty much let me do my jobs the way that I had always been doing them, so I was perfectly fine doing the work, but then after I had been there for (2) weeks, they started telling me How To Do each job that I was given, one job at a time - I had always worked on several jobs at the same time, that way I rarely had any down time, as I always had a job going. The problem was, that the way they wanted me to do each job, took (2-3) times longer than the way that I was doing it and they still turned out exactly the same - I proved this to them by doing similar jobs both their way and then my way, but they still insisted that I do it how they wanted, so I did. They also had me Count Out each little piece of Solder that I used for each job and keep Precise Notes on Solder usage, Techniques used, any Difficulties (ie: Stones Falling Out, Broken Prongs, etc.) and Start to Finish Time for each job, Noting any Time Gaps due to Rush Jobs, etc… I ended up spending almost as much time taking Notes, as I did doing each job! My Productivity went down considerably, but they seemed happy with how I was progressing, yet I was absolutely miserable. After a month had gone by, I went and talked with my Supervisor and the Owners about how I was handling everything and they told me that they understood my frustration and that they were happy with my work and that I would eventually get used to how they did things. So I went back to my Bench and I tried to “get used to it”. Unfortunately, I didn’t get used to it and after another (2) weeks, I had my fill and turned in my (2) weeks notice and went back to being a Bench Jeweller for another Jewellery Store.

I guess what I’m trying to tell you about Trade Shops is: Make sure that you know exactly what you will be required to do at the Shop and if you will be required to do just one thing all day long or if you will be working in an Assembly Line style or if you will be given jobs to do start to finish (or at least up to Polishing, as most Trade Shops have Polishers)… Once you know what will be required of you, then you can decide if that is something that you can work with, some Jewellers are perfectly fine doing the same thing over and over again, some, like me, are not and are much better off not even trying to “get used to it”… Have you been a Jeweller long enough to be set in your ways or are you still learning and evolving and willing to adapt to new ways of doing things?

Hopefully, Trade Shops have evolved since I worked at one all those years ago, but I have met other Jewellers who have worked at Trade Shops since then and they told me that not much has changed as far as the way they do things, well other than the Tools and Technology are much better now!

Working for a Jewellery Store (Privately Owned Stores) on the other hand, will typically give you the widest variety of different types of jobs to do and even more so if you find a Store that does Casting, Manufacturing and Trade Work, unless the Store’s Owners don’t want to deal with certain types of work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing sometimes… :wink: Chain Stores are a bit different, as most of them use Trade Shops to do their work, but there are some Chain Stores that have their own In-House Jewellers, though those Jewellers usually have many years of experience in the Trade…

Anyway, I hope that I haven’t scared you off of Trade Shops, I just wanted to tell you my experiences with the one that I worked at, which at least for the ones that I’ve been acquainted with, is fairly typical for them and how they do things. That being said, it wasn’t all bad, I did get to work on some rare and very high end pieces while I was there (we did work for one of High End Chattanooga Jewellers) and I Mounted some truly lovely pieces too, which in all the years that I’ve been a Jeweller, I’ve only come across similar pieces on a few other occasions…

Sorry that this reply is so long, but I hope that this helps to answer your questions in some way… Good Luck!


Jonathan, it was incredibly kind of you to put that much thought into your reply and I truly value the input based on your experience. This is clearly a valuable resourse for people starting out in the field which is often held behind the curtain until you find somone like yourself who is willing to share their experiences. Thank you very much and have a great weekend.


If you are new to the jewelry biz I would recommend that you start in a trade shop. Your first year will suck. Traditionally newbies are expected to sweep the floors, fetch coffee, and do polishing. After you are trusted to not fk st up they should have you start working at the bench. Every repair and sizing job under the sun will hit your bench. It’s up to you to figure out how to deal with them.
However you will learn more in one year than most people can learn in years in school setting. There will be a steady stream of jobs that hit your bench and you will be left to get them done.
Working in retail is another thing. There will be frequent interruptions by sales people telling you that you have to drop what you are doing to do a rush job that “Has to be done now!” One of the great three lies in retail stores is “My customer is leaving town. They need it now.” Sometimes you will be called out on the sales floor to discuss repairs or sizings with the customers. My personal motto is “I can be nice to people or I can get s**t done. Pick one.”

1 Like

I appreciate the candor Jo. Thank you.