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Where next?


I’m just about to finish up a BFA in metal/jewelry design, and I’m trying to figure out what might be the best next course of action. I’d like to go for an MFA at some point, but I don’t know whether or not to hold off on that and maybe attend a bench school for better technical education. Or something else, not sure.

Thanks for any input.


I think that the first question to ask is “What do I want to do?”
-Teach? At what level?
-Make art? (This is likely not the road to financial security.)
-make high quality fine jewelry?
-Build a solid production or couture brand ala Todd Reed or Alex Sepkus or Pat Flynn (mix of art and couture)?



For years I have made career decisions based, in part, on the availability of health insurance as a part of my next move. This included my decision to retire eight years ago. Now I can make jewelry all day long and not have to worry about health insurance. It is too bad that someone just starting out can’t do the same. That way you could, as Andy suggests, do what you want to do.


Thanks for the replies. Healthcare is definitely something that has to be considered, but hopefully won’t be a limiting factor (too much anyway).

@andy_c as for what I want to do, well, probably a mix of what you listed honestly. I don’t think I would want all of my time dedicated to teaching, but as a part of my overall income I’d be happy to do something along those lines. Offering workshops such as you do–hello from Buffalo State by the way–seems interesting.

I’ll say my interest definitely lies in creating more involved, unique pieces, as opposed to say pushing out a bunch of production work. But reality does tend to dictate when you can eat.


At the age of 59, I started on the idea of writing with the Bench magazine
with Brad Simon. I wrote & wrote up to 18 articles just on 'setting stones’
and the detailed techniques. This was mixed in with travelling with him all
over the USA with his great seminars. Still writing! Until now have amassed
we over 1.25 Gig.s of Diamond Setting Information…whew!
What do I do now?..teach via the internet & in person. Last April, I
decided with Seth Rosen to get my essays out to “the masses on Ganoksin”…*for
free!!! *
Teaching is my passion! Why keep it when I leave this world? So to this
morning my essays have gone to 18 countries & 560 people have asked for
At the ripe ‘young age of 74’ I’m still travelling to get to meet with the
next generation of jewellers, who need help in ‘setting stones’.

Gerry Lewy
Toronto, Ontario.


I’m not suggesting that anyone abandon the realities of life, such as health care, but the first step is figuring out where in the field or industry you would want to be. Then overlay reality on that. Including pay, job possibilities and benefits.


Buff State was a fun experience for me. One of my revenue streams aside from teaching seminars and workshops (I knew long ago that I didn’t want to teach in a college or university—or any where that is long term) is custom and commission work which often allows me to build more complex or unique pieces. I chose that path over production. Honestly I don’t think that I would be happy choosing one path. I see teaching, custom, exhibition and even some limited production as all part of a whole. Each piece fuels the others….


Hi Bill,
Ted here in Dorset UK, another old sweat at this game. Currently at year 50 , and just started a years production of everything ive ever made over this time for a major retrospective exhibition next year.
as Andy replied, where is your passion? because the skill set you now have under your belt is only part of what you need .
If teaching is your thing, then as a potential employee of mine I wouldnt consider you for a post unless you had at least 5 yrs of practical production skills in addition to you BFA.
I didnt start till i was 34 and had 2 careers already,

  1. a through engineering training to degree standard in aviation
  2. A successful sales and marketing career in the financial industry.
    By my passion, late in surfacing, was to be in the applied art world.
    so all I needed to do was decide where that would lie.
    But I had other mouths to feed as well as mine! so I had the challenge of getting production and sales! up an and running within 6 months.
    So designing, making and marketing a product was the order of the day.
    Id advise you to get a job at a production jewellers workshop, theres no quicker way to adsorb the hands on skills needed. This work will help you decide where your real interest lies.
    Theory is all very well but without the practical skills isnt much use in the real world.
    Now making jewelley can be done in 3 ways, fabricate, cast or wrought, i chose the latter as it was where my talent lay, I dont do stones or solder together, achieving my results mainly by wrought or forged methods. this opens the door to doing work the other 2 ways cant achieve. Also its SO much faster!!.
    Time if you work for yourself is your enemy.
    So hope this is of help,
    how old are you?


@andy_c Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit, we certainly did. Like you, I don’t know if I could do teaching long term, at least not in the university system. And if I did, I think it would be of benefit to have real world experience so as not to make it a cycle of teaching others to teach.

@vladimirfrater Thanks for the reply, Ted. 24 here, and my passion is definitely focused on fabricating unique pieces or limited series productions. Not the type of person to say “good enough” on a piece, for better or worse.


Hi bprendergast
I applaud your investigation, to “look before you leap” into more education and (possibly) student loans. An MFA certainly could be a certification to teach on the high school or college or workshop level, but it probably will not sell you jewelry. If the particular program includes courses on business or establishing yourself as well as craft skills, then it might help you in a craftsperson’s career… If you are interested in a bench jeweler’s career, then I can suggest Blaine Lewis’s school in Franklin, TN. Blaine teaches stone setting, fabrication and repair in a state-of-the-art school near Nashville. It is not inexpensive, but when you are through about a year there (discuss with Blaine directly what you’d need to do) you have all the requisite skills to step into most workshops as a good/excellent bench jeweler. As with any education, you should ask about placement after graduation. My understanding is that Blaine’s graduates are assisted in placement by him and his recommendation and can find work in the best workshops in the country.

I’ve not taken courses with Blaine, but he’s well known and you can see in his promotional material how up-to-date the workshop is. I just turned 70, but if I were 10 years younger, I’d probably be down there taking courses. I might yet do it anyway.

Good Luck in whatever you decide,


@royjohn A guy who took a few studio classes at my college went there and said it was excellent. I’ve considered going there as well, though I don’t think I would want to be a bench jeweler. At least not forever. The more esoteric stuff is what excites me, but at the same time I’m always looking for ways to make sure the craftsmanship and overall construction are as close to perfect as I can get. That’s why I’m wondering if a technical scool might be the right choice?


Hi William,
Not sure what you mean by a technical school, so you might have to define your terms. At present
it’s my impression that an MFA is an arts degree which qualifies one to teach at a high school or college
or craft center level, but does not teach a lot of pure bench skills. There is a community college in Paris, TX
which used to give an associate degree in jewelry skills, but IDK whether they still do. IDK where else,
outside of Idar-Oberstein in Germany or Blaine Lewis’s school or GIA in Carlsbad, CA you would learn
actual bench skills leading to a job in the jewelry industry (Alan Revere’s School in CA?). An apprenticeship
with a master jeweler would be another way. It depends to some degree on what you plan to do. If you plan
to do bench work at a high level, pave setting, channel setting, etc., the Blaine Lewis New Approach School
would be the place, as when he says you are ready, doors to good jobs open up on his say-so alone.


If you want to just design then good luck. The industry is chock full of folks with degrees that want to design and hand it off to the folks who make. If you want to be a maker then you need a very high degree of bench skills and practice. I don’t know exactly what you learn in a in metal design degree but I have yet to be overly impressed by the people I have met sitting at the bench who have a metal arts degree. They always seem to know a lot about art but not enough about how to build a piece of jewelry. I think you would be wise to continue your education with some intense bench course like Blaine Lewis even if you don’t plan to be a repair person. You need some real practical industry experience even if that means working as an apprentice in a store for awhile sizing, setting and soldering.


Interesting that there’s GIA in Carlsbad, I have family right near there. As far as apprenticeships go, it seems like they’re not as much a thing in the US as Europe?


In the level of intense learning of being, or training to be a Diamond
Setter, it is incumbent for that individual to learn from the ‘best’. I had
the greatest fortune possible to learn, in a jewellery factory, under the
constant supervision from one of Toronto’s best setter, "Stan Levine,
I learned many techniques from him, very few would have the had the
chance. That company in turn made darned sure I was producing only the very
best quality. If my workmanship lacked the degree for which they wanted, I
would have my ‘knuckles slapped’. The degree of finishing taught me to set
everything 100%, or even better.:>) In my ‘setting essays’, I try to pass
on to the next generation that level which I learned in my 9 years of
apprenticeship. I have no BFA, or MFA degree or pieces of paper attesting
my qualifications in setting, My “Resume” is in my 36 pieces of silver that
show what Diamond Setting is all about!!!
Imagine Bright-Cutting inside Princess Claws, or doing a “Cut-Down” by
hand, as no CAD was used in those years. “Fish-Tail” can be seen in my
travelling Resume.
My suggestion for everyone is to make a visual-display of what you can do
by hand. Pieces of paper do not mean anything these days. Show your
interviewer what your hands can do! I do many times each year is to add or
remove some items. Get a very difficult CAD design made & have it cast in
silver. This is the (cheapest) method! After a year or two scrap it &
refine your metal, last week I scrapped 350gms of silver.
Pieces of BFA paper is nice, but the real thing is best, trust me!
Learn to repair jewellery, remove & reset diamonds with no marks to be
seen. Repair the finest quality jewellery, without using a Laser. Keep
learning, even last week, I got acquainted with newer setting tools…enough
said, agree?

Gerry Lewy
Toronto, Ontario.


OK. So I’m gonna step in it here and piss off quite a few folks and teachers with MFAs. I
have a background in both the arts and the trade so I’ve seen both sides.
I studied metals at a University. I left after 2.5 years because I knew that I had learned all that my teacher could teach me and I knew I didn’t need a piece of paper to make beautiful jewelry. My late father got his MFA and taught at a university level after he retired at 60. He had already had a successful career as an artist and wanted to pass on his skills. He didn’t care abut the money and put his wages into a painting scholarship fund.
So how much does an MFA cost these days? A lot it turns out.
An MFA kinda limits your career choices. It will qualify you to teach at a University or Public School. That’s pretty much the only reason to get one. That said there are so very few Universities that have tenure jobs in the arts any more. Public Schools have mostly gotten rid of arts programs. The pay at both is minimal. Many universities now mostly have “adjunct professors”. That’s a fancy way of saying they will hire folks with MFAs to teach 30 hours a week for very very low pay, no job security, and no benefits. Too many hours to get a second job and not enough to earn a living family wage that will leave enough left over to pay off school debt.
No one in the trade who actually make jewelry cares about a degree of any kind. What they want to see is your work. I have yet to ever need a written resume. When I was applying for jobs in the early part of my career I lied about having any university background because the shop foremen didn’t want to have to deal with breaking bad habits and haughty artistic attitudes. I just showed up with my work and dirty hands.
Get the technical training regardless of your career path. You can’t design properly unless you know how to make and repair jewelry on a professional level. You can teach without technical skills, but then you’d be perpetuating technical inexperience.
You don’t have to pay to learn. The fastest way to learn how jewelry is properly made and how to make it last for more than a few years is to get a shit job in a busy trade shop making and repairing jewelry. The pay is minimum wage or close to it. Your life will suck big time for the first 6 months to a year. But you will learn more in that year than in 20 in a school. With some notable exceptions, most folks who teach couldn’t make a living making jewelry. That’s why they teach. Teaching is a noble profession. However they keep perpetuating and teaching un marketable skills that they learned from folks who couldn’t make a living, who learned from folks who couldn’t make a living and so on.
Also in the trade we are desperate for young blood who have technical skills.
Gerry Lewy and I both have been doing our best to recruit and teach new stone setters especially. If you are fast and reliable one can make a very nice living as a contract stone setter. Henry Dunay financed and launched his design career by contract setting. Sarah Graham got her degree in International Business and then went to work in a busy trade shop to learn her chops.
Save your money and give yourself more choices about how you want your career to progress.
Most of all have fun and make lots of jewelry. I’ve had a blast doing it and still learn something new every day.
-Jo Haemer


Good info. I’m definitely not afraid of getting my hands dirty or long hours, I just want to make sure that the time I spend will translate to practical skill. If that means learning off the clock then that’s fine with me, as long as I learn.


Jo is right about the high cost and perhaps small return that an MFA confers. I’ve had a decent career as a maker and a teacher without the benefit of an MFA or even a BFA. But I think that there is value in an MFA that is not necessarily tied to financial reward. Or even about teaching. There are times in your career as a maker or an artist when you just can’t push yourself past your “set points”. Can’t break through to another layer on your own or even open the doors onto your potential. There is real value in that, in my opinion. Some people can do it on their own, some can’t. Whether or not that is worth the crazy costs incurred is something each person needs to decide.
I also feel that an MFA can lead to bias, just as a life in the trade can. Depending on what program you choose (and get into) an MFA can also put you very far into your head. In my world, I look for balance between the head and the hands.

This is a broad field, what I’ve always considered to be a Big Tent. As I said before, the first step, in my opinion, is to figure out what excites you. I’m not big on the word “passion” but the thing that makes your heart beat faster is the thing to look at. Please take everything you hear with a grain of salt. We all have opinions and biases.



So Bill,
spending time to translate to practical skill,? theres only one way and thats to actually start doing stuff.
If your willing lets do that with the following.
You say its the exsoteric stuff that excites you, have you an idea to put into writing to send us here? if so write out a list of the materials you need, the tools you will use and how long do you think it will take you to make it? and where you plan to do this?
Then can you think where you plan to sell this product and to whom? for how much?
so far this exercise has been about direction, now its time to put it into practice.
Await your reply


Here is my MFA story. It is about a ceramics department, but you will get the idea. I took several courses at the local University Ceramics Dept. I had already had some experience with throwing pots and was not new at it. I consider myself a functional potter, not an artist. I like to make beautiful, functional stuff. While I was there one day I went into the Masters level studio to talk to one of the students about a particular tool. While there I was dimly aware someone had made a number of large cylinders with rounded tops, about two feet in diameter, I didn’t think about them any more. Then the next semester I saw an “installation” on the lawn outside the University theater. It was about ten of these cylinders, some shorter, some taller, and all were red clay glazed just on the top, rounded part with a white gloss glaze. Around the top of the pieces the “artist” had written memories, like “when I was nine my Dad took me kite flying in a field and the wind was blowing through my hair,” and “when I was twenty I had my first love affair…it was over too soon and he just left without telling me anything.” I thought, “so this is Art?” The next semester I met a grad assistant who helped out in my class. He was quite competent in throwing and mixing clay and offering suggestions, but his thesis work was these three times life size busts of himself in realistic style. They weren’t bad as representationall pieces, but the idea was that he’d make them and then half destroy them by using a pressure washer on them. Some had half the face abraded away and the rest partially destroyed. Some had some of the bust untouched and half gone. He must have used various nozzles and pressures and times. And again I thought, “so this is Art?” The Art School students (various media) exhibit their work in the building atrium, publicly. Some is technically good and some is witty, but a lot is just an excercise in “how can I do something way out and original?” the best exhibit I saw was done by architecture students who had an Airstream trailer in the atrium. The professor made them strip everything out of it and polish the steel again and then design and build a new interior for it. Something new that went with the Airstream lines. I thought it was wonderful. Like retro jewelry on a grand scale!

So that’s my impression of MFA, you can draw your own conclusions. The thing is, if you go through the University library, you can find old craft books from the 1900’s to 1930’s and many were written by University professors who taught crafts like copperwork and forging and jewelry skills. My local University no longer has a jewelry program and I suspect that is true most places. Heikki Sepa, the anaclastic raising guy, was a professor at University of Helsinki and I believe he was a visiting professor in the US. Now there was a real silversmith who also pushed the boundaries of form.

@gerry lewy…Gerry, you should get an honorary doctorate (the best kind) in philanthropy, jewelry craftsmanship, integrity and grit awarded by all of us. You are the best!