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What do you look for in apprentices?

Hi There,

My name is Samantha and I am normally a lurker on this forum. I am
moving to Ottawa with my husband and little one in July and seeking
an apprenticeship to be a goldsmith/gemsetter.

I am working on a cover letter to send to prospective spots and
trying to figure out what to write.

I love jewelry making and I do what I can in my apartment(sawing,
filing, playing with my flexshaft, and a lot of chainmaille jewelry)
I plan on taking some courses at the Algonquin college to improve my
soldering when I move. I know that starting out will mean low pay,
and I look forward to learning all of the skills from the bottom up.
I read all the books I can on the different techniques and would like
to eventually focus on gemsetting. I just don’t know how to express
to them that I am truly dedicated to learning the trade and that this
is what I want to do with my life.

As experienced jewellers what do you suggest writing or what do you
look for in apprentices?

Samantha Christensen

When I was apprenticed to my dad as a teenager I had no ego about
being a designer, I was eager to learn what was necessary to produce
what ever the shop needed. If the shop needed 4 bracelets overlay
with turquoise then I listened to my teachers and tried to make
exactly what they wanted I tried to make my work the same as theirs
so no one could tell the difference. If I was doing my job right, I
felt, my work would blend in with the rest of the inventory and that
would prove that I was as good as the other craftsmen.

I didn’t start to distinguish my work until I had some knowledge of
technique. Then I began to improve my abilities in stone setting and
make mine better than the others. Same with soldering and finishing.
In my mind that is what the business could benefit from, they didn’t
need another designer, a prima Dona ( I did that later to my
detriment) or someone who knew what had to be done. As I hired my
own apprentices I wanted someone who was a blank slate and would fit
in the team, not cowboy off and do it their own way. The business
already had it’s own identity and market and was not looking to
change that unless I as the owner/boss wanted to change direction.

So I always hired apprentices who were looking to learn, interested
in metalsmithing and interested in learning my business’s way of
doing things. Right or wrong, I was the owner of the business and if
I wanted an apprentice to teach me how to run my business or do my
style of metalwork I would have hired a consultant, not an

Sam Patania, Tucson


if I wanted an apprentice to teach me how to run my business or do
my style of metalwork I would have hired a consultant, not an

All I know is that you are right,

But with everything that is right there is a catch

If there is a single stream thought than there will be no creativity
and the outcome would be no invention or development

On a small scale you may be right but a brain storming session never
hurts and new idea’s are the ones that give you a driving seat in the
market New techniques, new designs,new everything

Change is the spice of life and the market as well

Think over it

Regan Mithani

I think if you are asked to brainstorm or design, it is at that point
you are no longer an apprentice but a peer. One stream of thought for
this artist is too much as it is! I know what you are saying, and it
makes me think where I get inspired when I need inspiration. I get
inspiration from many sources and I learned alot from my last
apprentice, but she was a good artist in her own right, she didn’t
know dick about jewelry which is why she came to me. She graduated
from art school in London and I lost touch with her. She, in my mind
wasn’t a real apprentice because she came to me to complete art
school credits, in my mind an apprentice is someone who comes to
work, for pay, for me.

Sam Patania, Tucson

sam - i found your post very enlightening i have taken my wifes son
on as an apprentice but i am lacking some clarity of definition of
what it means to be a day in day out apprentice. my lack of
understanding at this point is that i am to transfer my skills to
him. some of his duties include learning and some include learning
while you work and others include things that save me time such as
house keeping ( janitorial duties are about 20% of his time )

the rest of the i try to vary his projects to keep him interested in
another month or so i will be about ready to entrust him with all of
the investing and casting your thoughts please - goo

Gustavo, I have thought alot about if one one my kids want to
apprentice to me and I think much of my teaching would be very much
like how I learned, what ever need done is the apprentice’s job.
Lots of cleaning duties and repetitive technique projects so they
learn the basics as well as I did. I would probably involve them in
business duties earlier than I learned and decision making processes
in business. I would try to guide their education as well such as
trade schools, I would pack them off to New Approach school and GIA
gem courses depending on their level of interest in continuing the
business. I would try to teach to their interests and expose them to
new ideas.

Hell, for my own kids I would teach different than an employee,
which is an out of family apprentice. My life is not
compartmentalized away from jewelry, if I weren’t raising kids I
would be steeping in jewelry more, going to seminars, classes and
conferences all over and I would love to have my kids do that with
me, if they want to.

As to taking over areas of the business that would depend on their
level of interest. For a non family apprentice, I would advise much
of what I described above, that if they wanted to start their own
busness in the future they would need business education and other
trade school stuff where the shingle means something like GIA as far
as selling one’s self. My father didn’t teach apprentices business
practices, it just wasn’t done. But I think his hiring was much
different than mine, his goals for his apprentices were different
than mine. I assume an apprentice is using me for their education
and are going to move on at some point. If they don’t have that kind
of ambition I probably wouldn’t want to work with them. Just as I
would be very disappointed in my kids if they didn’t view my
knowledge as a starting point and want to grow from there.

Sam Patania, Tucson

Being an apprentice to Sam Patania, did just that for me. As he

I assume an apprentice is using me for their education and are
going to move on at some point. If they don't have that kind of
ambition I probably wouldn't want to work with them. Just as I
would be very disappointed in my kids if they didn't view my
knowledge as a starting point and want to grow from there. 

Just ask an apprentice what they want to learn from you and I bet you
would be surprised at the many things they may have missed while
immersing themselves in ten years of formal education to come out
with a “Metalsmithing Degree from Arizona State University.” When I
called to ask if Sam needed a second pair of hands, after I had told
him I was a “Sun Devil” he laughed, we met and I’ve been learning
from him for 3+ years now. Most people “know” what they want to
learn but what they don’t know is “how” to teach themselves!

Shawna Lobmiller
Starr Gems Inc.

s- thanks for the reply i liked what you said i can see where the
difference in involvement between family and non family apprentice
would exist. i try to quiz the wife on the techniques and pitfalls of
the learning process as it relates to people as she has an education
degree and does the reggio early childhood method daily at her job.
so far there is a balance of expectations on my part mainly dont
scold the kid because i know ahead of time he is going to screw it
i can put all my mistakes( and his) up there and he wont feel bad as
i like to tell people who whine followed by comments about how i make
things look so easy i answer that its because ive made more mistakes
than you have. - goo

Gustavo, excellent, last workshop I taught I took some of the things
I blew up with my hydraulic press to show that I screw up all the
time. One thing my dad did for me, I was apprenticed to him, was to
not get anyhow about mistakes but to take the mistake and show me how
to fix it. I would work on it until it was passable, not what I would
want but, passable. We would then put it in the show case and sell
that damn thing. Very seldom did I make pure scrap. I probably do
that more now than at any other time in my career but, then my over
head is low and I can do that. I call it experimenting and I learn
from it and still try to fix it to sell.

I clearly remember watching my dad wokr and thinking this is boring,
look how easy it is. Then going back to my bench and struggling
through the project, with lots of help from dad at every step. I
still teach that way. I would also do that with business problems,
I’ve pissed away more money making business mistakes than I can count
and somehow I’m still in business. To me that is the proof that I
should be doing this. That is what I think when I am discouraged.

Sam Patania, Tucson

All though we are not jewelers (we manufacture decorative findings)
we have employed many apprentice toolmakers, die makers, hub cutters
etc. and what we look for if it helps you are 1) Honesty, our
relationship is going nowhere without it. 2) Leave your ego at the
door, you are going to make mistakes we know it and expect it, so
should you… 3) Ability to show you have the basic skills…in other
words “show me your metal” what have you done, what are you
comfortable doing ? Good Luck, Ottawa is a terrific city I bet
you’ll love living there.

Steve Guyot
Guyot Brothers Co Inc