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Wake up and Smell the Coffee

Hello all,

I am writing the list to ask for some input.

Since the fall of 2006, I have been teaching at the University of
Washington Metals program. We are just now finishing the work for
this years Bachelor of Fine Arts exhibition, in which we have 9
students showing work. If any of you are in the Seattle area, please
feel free to come to the opening at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, in
the Art building on Tuesday, April 17 from 4-6 pm.

But that is not why I am posting. We still have the bulk of this
quarter remaining and one of our classes is Professional Practices.
In this class we offer on Graduate Programs, resumes,
artists’ statements and opportunities in the field and related

I am presenting a lecture titled "Wake up and Smell the Coffee"
which is a tongue and cheek approach to the realities that the trade
has to offer, aside from making a living as a one of a kind
metalsmith or teaching.

I wonder if those Orchid members who work at or run jewelry stores,
goldsmith studios or trade shops would be kind enough to help me
establish some rough idea of what a career at the bench can offer.

This would include;

Opportunities available: IE: polisher, repair jeweler,
fabricator/goldsmith, holloware repair, setter, etc.

Payscales: Beginning pay (polisher, repair, etc.)

Benefits offered

Job requirements: Experience, skills, etc.

Thanks in advance for your help and candor. It’s for a good cause.

Andy Cooperman

I do hope you will get the real world answers you seek. Also, doesn’t
someone publish an annual report on jewelry salaries? Is it MJSA?

I would check with all the associations, with GIA Career Day, with
Vic, the industry head hunter guy.

Also the bureau of labor statistics, though that is so averaged it
is not as helpful.

If I were teaching this class I would want to present to the
students the different career paths possible: sales, repair/bench
work, factory, independent store owner, road show remounts,
department store work, appraisals, craft show curcuit, etc.

If there is time, meeting a real life person from some of these
different paths would be terrific. Chicago Metal Arts Guild held a
panel discussion with folks from three different kinds of studios
(all making a living selling though) and it was terrifically

There was a short slide show on each person’s work, by the
moderator, and the moderator, herself a self employed
person-making-a-living-doing-shows, asked most of the questions,
then audience members could ask questions.

So valuable for students to see and meet real people doing what they
want to do. “Oh, so it’s really possible.”


Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Dear Andy

Thank God you embrace “reality” with your students.

i was lucky enough to have a watchmaker and Jeweler for an uncle, my
dad was a welder and the grandfathers were iron workers. I ended up
in a university metals program and wondered what exactly were the
students being prepared for…well roundedness I guess. I am not
gods gift to metalsmithing, I still know 60 year old metalsmiths who
will tell you that they have not figured it all out. Here I am 20
years latter, after doing over 200 of those high end craft shows, I
teach, have done the gallery thing, the custom shop thing, and the
scratch your head and wonder if your making any money thing. i think
that for myself and all others in the family of metalsmiths it’s like
walking a labyrinth where getting lost is all in the name of

as to your questions:

pay scale…I think that most students can expect $10-15 an hour to
start at the bottom, polishing, cleaning castings, simple repairs
etc. most of the job shops and jewelry stores will give a new
employee a bench test to see what they know how to do. most will
want to train you to do it there way. if you can get $15-25 an hour
working for a store or job shop, you are doing pretty good. most of
these places do it as piece work. if you are good at one particular
thing, like setting or repair, you can do well for yourself working
your specialty groove. One thing to keep in mind is that no one
needs a 20 something know it all who is too good to polish or do a
repair, a new employee is there for at least a year just to prove
ones self. The “new guy” may be the subject of a 'trial by fire’
situation, very entertaining for the older metalsmiths. I would love
to see a post on job shop piratical jokes, including diamond magnets,
and rings cast in solder that need “sizing”…

anyhow I thing that piecework if fair for the most part, a new
person can work beside a real live jeweler, asking questions, doing
some dirty work and getting paid to learn. it also keeps the employer
from playing the part of the slave driver. My old boss would say to
me, the same as I would put it to my assistants…here is a task, it
pays this much, take it or leave it. the more you do a job like this,
the more you will make an hour.

currently I charge about $65 an hour to work for a customer, and $35
an hour to work for a store. sometimes I can make well over $100 an
hour setting stones or doing a repair or custom job. but look at it
this way, it did not take me an hour to do it. it took me 15 years to
figure out how to do it in an hour.

as far as benefits are concerned, good luck. i have never been
offered benefits. those that I know that do get benefits work for a
very low hourly wage. I pay for my own, $5000 deductible, payable
quarterly, i can get better insurance for more money but the money I
save I invest in case I need hospital care.

i think the real thing that is needed is a situation where a senior
metalsmith needs alittle help, is understanding, and willing to work
with someone. in our world it seems like there are allot of
metalsmiths. The fact is, this is a dying craft and it is hard to
find a shop that has a well rounded maker who will share knowledge
and stress.

my final thought is that anyone who is going off to graduate school
should have to spend at least 6 months in a professional job shop or
studio. Remember the last line in the BEATLES’ “Helter

Wayne Werner
Baltimojo md…home to creative sufferer Edgar Allen Poe

To all who so generously replied to my request for help with
salaries and positions in the field – Thanks!

I haven’t given the lecture yet-- we’ve switched things around –
but the will get out and will undoubtedly prove useful to
these budding metalsmiths.

Thanks again.
Andy Cooperman