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[TradeTalk] a Part-Time Goldsmith

Hi all. Now that we’re gearing up for the holiday season, I’m
facing a bit of a challenge keeping up with mounting demand. I
was thinking of trying to hire a jewelry design student (from,
say, Rhode Island School of Design) as a part-time goldsmith.

I’m apprehensive due to the student’s level of experience. Also,
I’m usure what to offer wage-wise. Has anyone had experience
(good or bad) with this type of situation? Any advice would be

Shari VanderWerf

I had a RISD student working for me a couple of years ago. She
worked out just fine. Currently I have a part time assistant who
went through the Mass Art Dartmouth program. This past summer my
assistant was a third year metalsmithing student from Dublin,
Ireland. I gave her a 10% raise within a month of hiring her.
None of them had what I would call practical training in jewelry
making- no gold soldering, repair skills, but all three had done
some waxing, casting, raising, fabrication and such, mostly in
non-precious metals and silver.

Richard D. Hamilton
Fabricated 14k, 18k, and platinum Jewelry
wax carving, modelmaking, jewelry photography

How easily did the students’ skills translate to working with
gold? Did you challenge them, or keep them doing tasks with
which they felt comfortable? And on the point of salary… How
was that issue worked out? Did they come to you with
expectations, or did you have a set number in mind when you made
an offer? I’m thinking $15-$20/hr. Am I way off track?

Thanks for any help you can provide!

Shari VanderWerf
Vanguard Studio

Shari; What I need help with is finishing gold castings for my
wholesale line. You are off track as far as the money, I start
people at $10 an hour. If they work accurately and fast, I either
pay them more or they get to do certain pieces as piecework,
which allows them to make more. I do try to keep pushing their
limits, let them do fabrication and develop other skills besides
finishing. I spend my time working with clients, making the
custom pieces, setting stones in pieces and doing repairs that
come my way. I share the studio with 3 other jewelers, my current
part time helper, a student that I mentor, and the occasional
visiting jeweler.

Rick Hamilton

Hi, People who are students and have no practical experience
other than school usually are paid very little. They are doing
only the most basic work, simple soldering, sizing and polishing.
And even at that you must check every job, and worry alot.
Someone said that thier wage should be $15.00 to $20.00 per hour,
thats too much I think. I have always started such people at
$7.00 per hour or so. They are glad to get the experience and you
are losing money for 6 months anyway with them.

Mark P.

Mark, I think that you are mistaken about all students. The
students out of The Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology come
out with Level 1 JA Bench certification and some can pass Level
II JA Bench certification. The students learn how to to do
"simple" things like Pave, bright cut, bead setting, casting, wax
carving, fabrication, channel setting, and of course repair and
ring sizing! Every project is cast, cleaned up and assembled by
the students prior to any stone setting. Yes most lack the
experience of a retail store and are probably a little slower
than someone doing it for 5-10 years. If your paying $7 per hour,
your probably getting what you pay for…!

Yikes, now don’t get upset, of course I would pay such a student
more. I always pay people based on ability and I am very
fortunate to have some very able people. I was thinking of your
average student who has not had the good fortune of being trained
in such a program as you describe. Most of the students I have
met have come through systems that are light years from the one
you describe. At $7.00 per hour I am getting what I am paying
for, a person filled with enthusiasm, desire and potential but
without any real training. All I want to do is make them great
goldsmiths, that will benefit both of us. The people in my shop
are like family to me and I would never take advantage of any of
them, financially or otherwise.

Mark P