What makes a Goldsmith

I had an “AHA” moment the other day… This comes ultimately from
a recent thread, but it’s not a continuation of it, really.

Somebody wrote me off-list about that thread, and I just kept
thinking, “What is it they don’t get?” Who is unimportant, and it’s
a good thing to make public, here… And then my AHA moment - they
are stamp collecting…

Stamps… The saw is a stamp, the torch is a stamp, setting a stone
is a stamp, taking a seminar or reading a book is a stamp. And when
my stamp book is full, I’ll be a goldsmith.

But it just doesn’t work like that. There is a perfect example in an
oft-asked question here on Orchid - “How do I flush-set a square
stone (or similar)?” Obviously, there is a method to be learned in
doing that job - there are a myriad of factual things to be learned -
the formulas for alloying karat golds, many things. But jewelry is
made by craftsmanship, not facts.

On another, greater level, the answer to that question is, “You set
it just the same as you set a round stone into a four prong
setting.” Meaning that stone setting is NOT stamp collecting. A
setter doesn’t learn how toset each and every type of situation, a
setter learns How Stones Are Set (in the greater sense - of course
they learn the details, to start). He or she learns the factual
things, and little by little and over the course of thousands of jobs
it just sort of seeps into your being - Set this 4mm stone into this
6mm setting, set this 6mm stone into this 4mm setting, set this
crooked stone so it’s straight, on and on and on. You aren’t a person
who knows how to set stones, you ARE a stonesetter. It becomes
natural - a part of your being…

People like to use the jeweler’s saw as an example of a tool that
takes some effort to master, which it does. A much more difficult
tool to master, IMO, is the ball pein hammer - actually, The Hammer.
I can hear some saying, “Geez, you hold the handle and you swing
it…” I can also hear the forgers, raisers and others smiling and
saying, “Yeah…” I used to make concha belts (American Indian
form of jewelry… try Google if you need to), many of which I
stamped decoratively. I’d sit there for 6-8 hours at a time, “Stamp,
move, stamp, move, stamp, move” with about 5-10 seconds interval
between the two. You do the math… After the first 5,000 strikes I
started to get the hang of it, 5,000 more and that hammer was an
extension of my arm. Craftsmanship, not stamp collecting. After you
hammer 1,000 things 1,000 times each, you start to get the hang of

The essential point is that people need to get that sort of 2nd
nature, in your soul kind of ability on all tools in the arsenal.
And then there is the even greater ability of using them all in
tandem with each other with an equal 2nd nature. Separate things,
but they happen together.

“I know how to use a file” is stamp collecting… “I know how to
shape and finish this project, for which I will use a file, for one
thing.” is craftsmanship…

Process, as distinguished from procedure. To me, process is WHY and
HOW things happen (or what you decide needs to happen, i.e.,shaping a
piece). Procedure is how to MAKE things happen (i.e., deciding to use
a file to shape a piece rather than another procedure, such as a saw
or a grinding wheel).

IMHO, too many people miss this distinction, and end up being “stamp
collectors” rather than craftsmen.

Emie Stewart

Stamps... The saw is a stamp, the torch is a stamp, setting a
stone is a stamp, taking a seminar or reading a book is a stamp.
And when my stamp book is full, I'll be a goldsmith. 

John, this is so true. When I was at college the one year teaching
program was set at three months for each so called “skill”,the first
section was about design, the second was cutting and preparing the
shapes, the third was soldering and the fourth was setting and
finishing. I was surprised to see that when the year was over so
many of my fellow students now called themselves goldsmiths and
applied for jobs as such.

I also thought that I was skilled enough to work in a jewellers
workshop and took a position in a local workshop, mainly resizing
rings, doing small repairs and also keeping the shop’s stock looking
pristine and clean. I lasted three months before I realised that I
was not really a fully qualified goldsmith, what really opened my
eyes was when I was asked to resize an emerald and diamond set
eternity ring and I didn’t know where to start. I had been to college
and ticked off the skills but I had never developed them, which was
the problem.

Then I met James Miller and my whole thoughts on the trade changed. I
had started reading Ganoksin and noticed the few contributions that
he had sent in and they made sense to me, his advice on Orchid seemed
more understandable than the teaching that I had received at college,
so after looking through his Orchid gallery photos and seeing his
type of work, which I love, and also that he was UK based, I plucked
up the courage and emailed him directly with some questions, which he
answered almost immediately. We exchanged many emails and he also
kindly visited me at my old studio near Petworth in Sussex as it was
close to one of his regular customers.

At the time I was struggling with making silver flowers for a bridal
gown, James spent three hours with me at my workshop showing me how
to shape silver flowers and leaves with a hammer and some punches. In
those three hours I learnt more than three months at college. Since
that date I have moved workshops and am closer to where James lives
and he visits me when he is in my area, the last time he visited I
was given a masterclass in hand saw piercing, you have to see James
at work to understand what craftmanship really is, he can make the
saw draw pictures with ease and when he has finished cutting a design
the only filing that is needed is to remove the saw cut marks. James
has now semi-retired and has kindly given me a box full of his old
hammers and tools, which I will treasure, as many of his hammers and
punches are hand made. I even have a personally signed copy of his
marvelous book, which I regularly refer to as inspiration. To finish
I will say that in my opinion James Miller is a goldsmith.

Thanks for reading my story and opinions,

Making mistakes, then fixing them - goo

Aren’t goldsmiths, just like blacksmiths? they use gold instead? I
mean I hate to simplify it to that, but if you take a lump, bar, what
have you and turn it into something aren’t you “smithing”? The work
presented when finished is art whether all see it that way or not.

Wikipedia and also corroborated in Scottish Heritage books: The name
originally derives from smi or smi, the Old English term meaning one
who works in metal related to the word Wikt: Ssmitan, the Old English
form of smite, which also meant strike (as in early 17th century
Biblical English: the verb “to smite” = to hit). The Old English word
smi comes from the Proto-Germanic word smiaz. Smithy comes from the
Old English word smie from the Proto-Germanic smijon. The use of
Smith as an occupational surname dates back to Anglo-Saxon times,
when inherited surnames were still unknown: Ecceard Smith of County
Durham was recorded in 975.[7] off the record The Smiths family name
is honored by several Clans due to some very needed help in a couple
Wars, some centuries back, the MacDonalds especially (my clan) ANYWAY
hope maybe this helps. Afterall it is my husbands last name, lol.


You have hit the nail (or stamp) right on the head with your AHA
moment. When it becomes second nature, when a tool is not a tool but
becomes part of you - you are getting there.

It is a journey without an ending until they screw down the lid.

That is why it is so satisfying

Robin Key
Clavis Jewellery
Aberdeen, Scotland

Saw a quote in the back of Jewelry Artist, in Rio Grande’s
advertisement. Goldsmith Thomas Dailing said “As a boy, I referred
to such giants as da Vinci and Michelangelo as ‘Leo’ and ‘Michael’ to
help me remember they were human beings, not gods.” That said it all
for me. Goldsmiths are people who are good at what they do, not

I can use a jeweller’s saw, I can use a file, a torch, a polisher,
set a stone (and have probably set about 200 stones now), but I still
don’t consider myself a goldsmith. One day when I can do anything a
job entails, really smoothly and without thinking, and repair
anything at all, then I may consider myself a goldsmith - one day.

There are many, many skilled jewellers on Orchid making very
beautiful jewellery because they have learned the techniques. They
learn them and then continue to use them. I’m sure they’re not just
filing them away as a skill learned. You put them into practice and
make pieces which utilise those new techniques, until they become
second nature and you continue to use them, and then you learn new
techniques and put those into practice, etc, etc.

"How do I flush-set a square stone (or similar)?" Obviously, there
is a method to be learned in doing that job - there are a myriad of
factual things to be learned - the formulas for alloying karat
golds, many things. But jewelry is made by craftsmanship, not

Yes, but you have to learn the technique first - then you work at it
and work at it until you could do it in your sleep. It would be a
very naive person to take a class or read the technique in a book
and suddenly see yourself as a stone setter. As I said, I’ve set at
least 200 stones now, but I’m still woefully inadequate in the stone
setting department. But I’ll keep working at it until it’s second
nature. I am at least now setting stones without breaking them -
let’s hope I’ve not spoken too soon, as I’m about to make a pendant
with some gorgeous Coober Pedy opals!

Respect is given where it’s due, but it can get a little bit too
elitist and hierarchical at times. Us lesser mortals are doing our
best, and encouragement is better than putting us in our place.


An interesting subject started by John Donovan, of course debra is
correct literally when she says that a goldsmith is one who smiths
gold. I call myself a goldsmith because I was primarily trained as
such, my indenture papers stated that I was apprenticed as a
goldsmith and that whenI had completed the set training period and
had showed thatI had achieved a certain standard, I would be known as
a goldsmith. I was officially indentured at the Goldsmith’s Hall and
worked at a company that covered all aspects of this trade of ours.
This company had about twenty apprentices when I joined, each where
training in different sections of the trade. there were silversmiths,
boxmakers, silver spinners, silver polishers, silver platers,
goldsmiths, engravers, engine turners, flutemakers, engineers,
designers and antique restoration specialist silversmiths. Close by
our workshops were jewellers, enamellers, presentation box makers,
medalists and shops selling our products. Most of these trades also
called themselves “Goldsmiths” as the term seems to cover all aspects
of the trade.

Jackie sent in a comment yesterday about my visits to her workshop,
I am happy to pass on any knowledge thatI can and all I showed
Jackie was basic hammerwork techniques taught to me by silversmiths
in my old workshop. The last time we met, we had a long conversation
about pieces shown in my book, Jackie had assumed that some of my
pieces were made using wax modelling and casting techniques and she
was surprised when I told her thatI rarely used wax modelling and
casting, in my book only afew of the items shown have any cast
parts. Jackie was asking about one piece called “The Royal Whip”
which is an Irishhorse race trophy given anually to the owner of the
winning horse at the “Royal Whip Stakes” held at the Curragh in
Ireland, I was commissioned by one of the winners of this trophy to
make a replica of the original that was presented by King William
the fourth, the customer wanted an exact replica so the easy method
of casting from the original was not possible as the original was
made from three coloured golds, red,green and yellow. The design had
a spiral of green gold, pierced andcarved shamrocksover a long
conical handleof red gold, topped with a pierced crestwith
inscriptionand a royal crown. The crown alone had 53 seperate
solderings while in manufacture. Sorry to go on, as you see I like
passing on I have include a photo of the whip for those
who have not seen my book.

Peace and good health to all.
James Miller FIPG

How fantastic for you!! I love James Millers work. The amount of
design and beauty are astounding. Wish sometimes I still lived in
England, I feel somewhat isolated here. I met a wonderful semi-
retired goldsmith in FL last winter and had the same experience, what
he showed me in 3 hours was priceless.


also thought that I was skilled enough to work in a jewellers

I can’t imagine any reason to want to “put somebody in their

Jackie’s little essay nails the point quite well… It’s become more
and more clear to me that there’s a large contingent of jewelry
makers, quite a few on Orchid, who have no real conception of what
the jewelry industry is about beyond their own realm. So we had a
jewelry school graduate who didn’t know who Rene Lalique was - what’s
that about? And that “Fine Jewelers” are some evil cliche’, and on
and on. I had thought that the answer to the question asked here,
“Why would you WANT to set a million dollar diamond?” might be
something like, “Because it would mean you are the best in your
field, that you have the confidence and people around you have the
confidence in you that you will do a superb job on a most unique and
special object…” But then I realized the answer is actually,
“Perhaps youshould go on your merry way…”

The gold jewelry industry is alive and well, and going full bore.
I’m a professional goldsmith by any standard - that point isn’t
about me, it’s that there are thousands of others just like me, and
quite a lot that are better at it than I am.

And the way to be a part of that is to BE a part of it. The school
of goldsmithing is goldsmithing itself and no, on this planet people
who predominantly work other metals are not goldsmiths. The world of
gold is vast, and the heritage of it is embodied in the people
involved in it. So, a Turkish goldsmith has his ways, James Miller
is a fine example of classical British goldsmithing, Michael
Bondanza would be a great one for contemporary styling. And looking
and knowing is not good enough - well, it’s fun, sure. Goldsmiths
are the do-ers…

And, as I said before, there’s actually only one real way to do it in
any realistic time frame - get a job, be a part of it all. There’s
time enough to do your own thing after you get a good amount of
training to be able to do it well.

Somebody wrote me off-list about that thread, and I just kept
thinking, "What is it they don't get?" Who is unimportant, and
it's a good thing to make public, here... And then my AHA moment -
they are stamp collecting..... 

I have to pipe up here. For starters John’s talking about me, as
you’ve probably guessed, as it was the two of us who were banging on
about the “teaching yourself” thread. But I object to the comment
"What is it they don’t get?", as there was nothing I didn’t get. If
my posts were read carefully, it could clearly be seen that I was
actually agreeing with the vast majority of what John said.

I also vehemently object to being called a stamp collector. Yes I
said that you could learn the techniques in books - and you can’t
dispute that. But I NEVER said that once you’d read it and tried it
once, then you’d mastered it. For me, that is just the beginning. You
put it into practice over and over and over again, until you can do
it in your sleep. I said repeatedly that the journey I was describing
would take DECADES - that’s paying your dues. Whether by
apprenticeship, by classes or by teaching yourself, if you put the
decades in, you CAN get there.

There may be a few people on Orchid who are treating their own
personal journey as “stamp collecting” of techniques - I don’t know.
But I don’t for one moment think that the majority are, as has been
implied. I’m sure that the majority are taking their journey very
seriously indeed, and that they are not naive enough to think they
have it all mastered once the boxes are ticked.

Somebody said to me the other day that in their opinion, there are
only six to eight real goldsmiths who regularly contribute to Orchid
(including the person who said it), and that the rest of us are
making “tinker-toy” jewellery. This, I also found to be offensive,
both to myself, and to the vast majority of people here. In my
opinion (and I’m sure many others’), there are a great many very
talented jewellers/ goldsmiths (call them what you will) on Orchid.
People who are making beautiful, imaginative jewellery, which often
leaves me thinking “how do folks continue to come up with such
stunning designs?”. These people have got to where they are, by many
different routes, not all are the result of apprenticeships or formal
training, but they stand up there with some of the top people in the

There are people who will take classes all their lives and possibly
never be confident enough or good enough to be a “goldsmith” (I’m
beginning to hate that word). Then equally, there are people out
there (including many on this list) who are intelligent enough and
determined enough to teach themselves. Those in the latter group
don’t need someone else to tell them why something went wrong, or
what to do next. We have to learn quickly. Some of us ARE capable of
working out our own paths.

Mr Jim Miller spoke of his apprenticeship where, very early on, he
was asked to saw around a shape with a jeweller’s saw. His boss then
took what he’d done, and continued to saw again, closer to the line
and pinned it up on the wall next to his bench. I am NOT comparing
myself to Jim, as my work will never be of the callibre of his work -
but I have taught myself that lesson. The first time I made myself
saw out shapes and didn’t want to go too close to the line, lest I
accidentally go inside the line, I figured “I’ll file up to the line
afterwards”. Well, when I discovered that such filing took hours to
accomplish, I vowed, that the next shape to be sawn out, I would saw
to the line to avoid these hours of excessive, unnecessary filing,
just leaving the usual filing it would need anyway, to get rid of
the saw marks. I have taught myself many such lessons, and many more,
which I have then seen on Orchid, or in a book. And if Jim hadn’t
had the luxury of an apprenticeship, I’m 100% sure (being an
intelligent chap), that he would have taught himself the same lesson
too, and quickly.

I can use a saw (check), I can use a file (check), I can use a torch
(check), I can use a polisher (check), etc, etc, - but I am NOT a
goldsmith and won’t be for decades yet (I obviously need to say that
again because that point keeps being missed by certain readers).

Folks on this list are working earnestly to learn a set of skills to
become whatever they want to be. It’s very unfair to put them down
and make them feel like a “goldsmith” is some unattainable god-like
thing which they will never become in a million years. There’s no
reason why not at all. Neilthejeweler (who incidentally was on the
elite list of 6-8 real goldsmiths) has exactly the right attitude in
my opinion. He is encouraging, non-egotistical and he dislikes it
when others imply that learning to be a goldsmith is rocket science.
Yes it takes time, but it ain’t rocket science.

I was told that it’s not snobbery, but pride in what they’ve
achieved. How then can the same person be riled when beginners are
proud over small victories? Perhaps such folks have short memories,
and can’t remember their own small victories when soldering suddenly
worked for the first time, etc. They must have felt proud and I
wouldn’t believe them if they said not.

So let’s carry on collecting our stamps folks, and making our
"tinker- toy" jewellery, but remember, that we can’t just file away
those skills, or tick the boxes. We must practice them for decades
before we can use the illustrious title of “GOLDSMITH”!!! Me, at the
moment, I’m just a humble jewellery designer/maker.


Making mistakes, then fixing them 

I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I make mistakes and fix them
so that nobody else would know I’d made the mistakes - but I do NOT
call myself a goldsmith.

I am more in agreement with John D on this, in that it takes more
than just learning the techniques to call yourself a goldsmith - it
takes a long time and lots of experience, and I have said that all
along - even though my comments kept being taken wrongly.


Not wanting to stir the pot at all, just adding a different POV. I
was taught and never really thought different that a goldsmith was a
master of the techniques of the jeweler including bench, casting, and
finishing; the metal type that is being worked doesn’t matter. The
silversmith was a master of the techniques of forming metal through
three dimensions using an anvil, stakes, and hammers; again the metal
type doesn’t matter. The blacksmith has mastered the techniques of
forging three dimensional shapes in any metal. Only saying this is
how I was taught, I am sure that many people will want to disagree.

Daniel Culver

John couldn’t be any more wrong if he tried.

I am sorry to say it, and loathe to argue with someone whom I
consider to be exceptional in his craft. On the other hand, it is a
mistake when one blindly accepts at face value anything spoken by
someone they respect. I am sadly placed in this dire predicament.

I will freely and easily admit that some people miss the point and
do exactly what John has described. Painting everyone with such a
wide brush though is anathema to everything we do.

Jackie was unfortunately one of the people who was caught in this
trap. Thank you Jackie for your story.

She did what so many other artists here have said NEEDS to be done.
She took a class. The worst part was that the class was set up in
such a way as to present the various skills and techniques in the
very manner in which John says should be avoided. Thankfully for
Jackie she had the pleasure of knowing and being inspired by the
incomparable James Miller. She learned a lesson that some people
fail to learn and that others have no need to be taught.

A skill that is not developed is no skill at all.

This is where John’s argument falls down. John makes the mistake of
confusing someone who KNOWS how to set stones with a person who CAN
and DOES set stones. While the starting point for both people is the
same, and the knowledge for both is the same, the skill level is
entirely different. Both of these people could probably tell you HOW
to do it, but only one of them will be able to do it successfully
over and over again and show you how to do the same thing.

Persons who are self taught are no worse off than Jackie. In some
cases if they continue, they may in some ways be slightly better
off. We can talk about passion until we turn old and grey, but that
passion is what makes the difference between someone who teaches
themselves and overcomes obstacles and someone who decides that it’s
just too much effort. That passion is the thing that gets you up in
the morning and makes you see a new piece of art in your metal.
Michelangelo himself is said to have uttered on the creation of
sculpture “sculpting is simply a matter of chipping away all that
was not a part of the statue.”

I think that many times we miss the most important aspects of what
we do. Whether it is a chain, a ring, a vase, a chalice or a simple
pendent. That art, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art is
not only what you make it but what you put into it. It matters very
little that you were taught by this person, or that person. It
matters even less if they agree with you. What matters most is that
your energy and your soul are put into your hands and poured
liberally into whatever you are making.

So what makes a goldsmith? Is it, as Debra Smith writes, “…if
you take a lump, bar, what have you and turn it into something
aren’t you ‘smithing’ ?” Is it, as Gustavo Hoefs states, “Making
mistakes, then fixing them” or are we being facetious? Are we
intentionally obscuring the nature of our work to create an aura of
mystery and awe around what we do? Is that the real reason some of
us become upset or defensive when confronted with the self taught

Here too the definition of artist and craftsman (craftsperson) come
into play. If we accept that art is anything we have created to
artfully express a thought, feeling, emotion or event drawn from our
own heart and personal experience is it fair or even appropriate to
compare the skills of any artist to those of a bench jeweller for
example whose skill may be more technical than artistic. What of the
person who combines both such talents. Those persons for who the
technical mastery of a craft is just as important as it’s artistic

I think that it can be said that goldsmithing is one of the rare
trades where technical mastery is just as important as artistic
merit. In order to call oneself a goldsmith you must have
successfully mastered the skills necessary to competently create,
repair and fashion those articles which are considered your stock in
trade. By this measure then we elevate the goldsmith to a level
somewhat higher than merely an artist. While art is intrinsic in
design and creation, it is secondary to resizing a ring, or
repairing a necklace. Bearing in mind that it is necessary to
understand how a piece was created before you can utilize your
skills in repairing it. Here again, we see the combination of both
artistry and technical skill.

A jeweller is one who makes jewellery. It isn’t specified as to what
materials that jewellery is made from, nor the standards of quality
to which it is judged. A silversmith is one who works in silver as a
goldsmith is one who works in gold. A blacksmith works in iron and a
coppersmith in copper. A tinker makes pots and pans, but is he a
coppersmith, a blacksmith or just a metalsmith? A farrier shoes
horses, but is he really a blacksmith? A jeweller works exclusively
in gold and sets no stones, he creates jewellery but is he a

I think it is best if we accept varying levels of skill and define
what makes the difference between an artist who creates in gold or
silver and a person who makes jewellery and a bench jeweller who can
both design, create and repair. In one sense we can say that there
are artists, practitioners and masters. Where the line is drawn
though is entirely dependent on what aspect you are examining.

In the end, we come full circle to Jackie’s story and John’s broad
painting of “stamp collector” goldsmiths.

That which we are, we are. Each of us guided and informed by our
talents. To work, labour and create as those gifts see fit to allow
us. Anyone who chooses not to exercise those gifts can scarcely
blame others for their lack of motivation in bettering themselves.
Jackie proved that motivation pushes us to develop our skills and
that skills not exercised become meaningless. John misses this when
he calls someone a stamp collector. If you are creating art you are
exercising those skills and learning new ones. In time each of them
become a part of you and make you more and more of a goldsmith.

So John, my apologies if I have offended as that was not my intent.
I just feel that sincere students deserve far better than the short
shrift you are giving them. While there are some who will play the
"stamp collector" game and eventually fall away there are far more
for whom the passion and delight of creating art and jewellery will
continue to motivate them for the rest of their lives. Each of these
people will deserve the title goldsmith and the respect that comes
from learning and DEVELOPING those skills.

All the best to everyone.
Frank Spencer

it is better if other people call you a goldsmith than if you do


Hi Helen:

Relax. John wasn’t slamming you, or at least I certainly didn’t take
it that way. Once he said ‘it doesn’t matter who’, it didn’t even
cross my mind to waste any time worrying about who it might have
been. It didn’t matter. I rather imagine nobody else worried about
it either.

At some point in your journey, you’ll likely end up teaching, even if
informally. One of the things you’ll discover (an “ah-ha!” moment, if
you’d like) is that sometimes the way a student will ask a question
will clue you in to some aspect of how they see the world, or
sometimes it’ll trigger off a revelation of some other angle of view
on an issue, an angle that’s different than the way you (personally)
normally come at whatever it is. Sometimes, the revelation may be
triggered by a particular student, but once you see the world from
that new angle, your brain runs down along that new path, and follows
it to new viewpoints that may well not have anything to do with the
student who started it all. That was the sense I got from John’s
"…doesn’t matter who…" comment. You may have started the train of
thought, but where it ended up after it left the station had nothing
much to do with you. You provided the seed that crystallised a
saturated thought. That’s all.


PS–> I keep trying to come up with a coherent answer for “what
makes a goldsmith”, but since I’m more of a metalsmith than a
goldsmith, my answers are different.

For me, it’s about having the skills to allow the work to develop
into whatever the design needs to be, and to be confident in one’s
ability to produce whatever it eventually turns into, however it
needs to be produced, rather than saying “I have hammers. Therefore,
this thing will be raised.” or cast, or whatever technique’s hot this
week. It’s to be good enough to let the design speak louder than the

it is better if other people call you a goldsmith than if you do 

It is better if I call myself a goldsmith if that is what I do…
and it is better if I have both the confidence to call myself a
goldsmith and the skills to back it up.

Richard Hart G.G.

First a couple of comments, and then to my own whole point of this
thread, which, yes, there actually is one…

Well said, Helen… It’s obvious that anybody can do any work they
want to.

and that the rest of us are making "tinker-toy" jewellery. 

Now there’s someone who needs to take a stroll through the Orchid
gallery - lots of good work there…

And James, again I wish that we had a Hall of Goldsmiths… Here in
America things are quite different, which gets to the point…

A while back I read a very thoughtful and insightful article about
“Art Jewelry”. It said that the genre is thriving in Europe, but has
never taken off in America. Which is true, of course. Here in
America it’s a shrinking market. The reason they gave was the
apprenticeship tradition in Europe - of course that doesn’t make it
true, but to me it rings true.

A personal story in the same vein is a young woman who graduated from
CCA - one of the most highly regarded art colleges in northern
California, with a fine staff, including Jo-Ann. We went to her
gallery opening after graduation, and I stood there thinking
something to the effect of “You poor, stupid fool…” Sympathy, not
malice… Somebody had spent $5k or whatever so she could invest 4
years… It’s not criticism so much as that she just didn’t have
much to show for all that. And of course she went to college, she got
her shingle, so she’s a jeweler, right? Not only did she not have the
skills, bench OR design, but they never told her much about the real
world, either. Understand that this isn’t some lofty criticism, she
really just didn’t have it. Even Jo-Ann was like, “Well, I’m too nice
to say it, but yeah…” Far from an isolated incident…

And I doubt many would argue about American universities teaching
this strange, made-up concoction of jewelry skills that doesn’t
translate at all into the real world. And I could go on and on about
the woes of the American jewelry industry, but I won’t. This has
been discussed on Orchid many times… And it’s not all bad, there’s
much good and quite a few good schools, just not enough to go

Which leads us back to apprenticeships - learning on the job from
people who know more about it than you do. We don’t have that in any
official way here, but we do have a job market. My one and only
point in this thread is to say, “If you want to get ahead in the
jewelry business - and yes, become a “real” goldsmith, that’s the
place to go.” It doesn’t matter that they don’t make what you like to
make - it’s not the style, it’s the skills.

That’s it, that’s all…

PS If there ever was a “God” of goldsmithing, perhaps it was Michael
Perchin, Faberge’s workmaster…


Personally, I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about a label,
whether bestowed upon you or self inflicted.

When Alberic added his comments on this subject, he added the
phrase" At some point in your journey, you’ll likely end up
teaching", which struck a note with me. May I tell you a little about
my recent history. Three years ago at the age of 60, I decided to cut
down my workload and start retiring, I closed my workshop and moved
to a smaller one at home.

My wife suggested that I might like to do some teaching, as there are
a few colleges around my area that have jewellery and metalsmithing
classes. I arranged for an interview with the person who was incharge
of staffing at one of these colleges. They were impressed with my CV
and also my albums of photographs showing my work. They told me that
there would definately be a position for me on the teaching staff of
their jewellery workshops. Then came the matter of paperwork and
questions about my education, what college qualifications did I have,
my answer was none as I had left schooling at the age of 15 to start
an apprenticeship. I was told that before I could start teaching at
the college I would have to attend the college, at my own cost, and
get a certificate from them allowing me to teach. This would take six
months. I declined this offer, so they offered me a job as a
technical assistant to another teacher saying that I would assist
students at their benchwork and look after all of the workshop tools.
I asked what the wage would be and was given a figure that was twenty
five percent of my standard hourly rate. When I met the teacher I
asked of her experience as a jeweller and she told me that she had
gone into teaching straight from college, so I declined the offer and
gave up the idea of getting a teaching job.

While at the college I made enquiries about their existing jewellery
teachers and was told that they were all ex college students who had
gone straight from college into teaching. I am sure they are all
confident teachers but I feel that they lack the experience of being
in a true jewellers workshop among craftsmen. So I decided to spend
my spare time compiling a book of my work instead of going into part
time teaching. Finally I agree with John D about Perchin, I have
actually spent time restoring some of his work and the workmanship is
superb. But remember when he was working, quality was at it’s highest
and there were no time limits on his work, I read somewhere that he
spent fourteen months making the coach that fits inside the
Coronation Egg, that is a lot of labour time on such a small piece.

Peace and good health to all
James Miller FIPG