One of the most interesting things about the jewellery/metals field is that there are so many career options, so many contexts that one can choose to work in. There are even ways of becoming wealthy if that is important in one’s goals. There are some broad categories of career choice within the field with various remunerative implications.
Choosing a training path is a matter of listing one’s goals in life, of deciding how one wishes to live, what responsibilities, pressures and degree of self direction and independence one has. Whether one chooses to become a jewellery store owner, artist jeweller, well paid stonesetter or sales manager is a matter of temperament as much as anything else. Therefore before beginning to make choices of end goal which will decide the route to take one should be comfortable with one’s life choices. Whether one likes to be directed or needs no boss is important. It does not matter what one chooses as long as one is conscious about it.
Any combination of rewards is possible in the field. It is important to have joy from your career, your profession, your life. Some paths will mean late nights and short vacations for a long time, others will bring local or national respect, still others will have steady income and low responsibility. Degrees of stress will vary. Best is to talk to a number of people doing the career that you find interesting.Examples of career options include;
Goldsmith can work with any material, knows construction, can work for someone else making jewellery or for oneself; usually with a broad range of abilities. Can make anything seen in standard jewellery stores. As an independent may market work through own store (best option) or through galleries and jewellery stores. High end markets are possible. An independent single person can gross about 80,000.00 a year and up with time. As an independent a goldsmith may be a custom jeweller.
Custom / Special Order Jeweller
Alan Revere of San Francisco’s Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts describes this niche as ‘including both employed and self employed people who work directly with the public or within a trade shop. They often interact directly with customers and create one-of-a-kind individualized work for them. This is a job which combines skills in goldsmithing/wax/model making, design, rendering, psychology, pricing, selling and negotiating’.This too is where some art school educated jewellers end up as well as goldsmiths. Many continue their education through the quality workshops and short courses offered across North America.
Anything from small production runs to mass production, from service work for others to marketing one’s own line. Niche markets can be from Biker jewellery to high end retail, from badges and souvenir pins to Consumers Distributing or Birks products.
Itself a wide range of options, this option is for risk takers who like to think of themselves as artists, who can handle independence and hard work with a long range view of returns. There are wide open niches in conceptual work and high end work. The market in Canada is quite unsophisticated, in Europe it is good, improving in the United States.
A person who designs and makes jewellery and accessaries which dove-tail to the fashion industry, lines, colors, time of year and so on. It requires a flair for PR , design, audience understanding and good business sense. Materials need not be costly with very big returns if done well. For the right person a really lucrative career.
Someone who designs jewellery through renderings and drawings, models or even wax originals. May be employed by a company or self employed. It is not necessary to know how to make the jewellery, just how it is made.
Crafts Jewellery Maker
A maker who markets through craft fairs and gallery-stores, usually with a line of hand-made, unique or low production run pieces. Can be anything from a single person to eventually a company employing a hundred people. The context is crafts, hand work, made by people.
Production Bench Worker
A goldsmith who specializes in production work, anything from running a punch press, a computer milling station (coming soon) to repetitive hand work. Not usually high status work.
Specializes in repairs. Often the best way of starting and learning jewellery skills and the basis of many a successful jewellery business. May be employed by a store or have ones own service business or retail outlet.
A secure employed position or a service company for jewellery stores and goldsmiths; a good setter earns very well and is well respected.
Store Owner / Manager
This is where the income lies highest, at the retail end of the chain. It requires good business skills and hard work, commitment and a great deal of money to do. Many owners however came to this point from goldsmithing bench jobs originally. Note markups in the industry can be hefty with triple keystone a standard in the United States.
A specialist career requiring few tools and easier in some ways than a full goldsmithing training. A good wax carver may be employed or earn fifty dollars an hour or more doing freelance work and commissioned pieces.
Other Specialized Careers
Caster possibilities include employment or a service company. Good prospects for an aggressive small company.
Gemologist / Appraiser
Usually an employed position, some options for independent service work. Training and equipment costs can be high. Diamonds are a specialized sub-section of gemology.
Gun Engraver often linked with hand engraving this can be a specialized service work.
This profession has almost gone. It is not hard to learn, merely requiring a great deal of practice. A good hand engraver can make a lot of money in service work for the industry because of its rarity. In Calgary the last city hand engraver offered to train someone for free to take over from him-but only a serious, committed hard working person. After several years of fruitless search he withdrew the offer and retired. A definite career option with respect for the work and a lack of competition.
Knife Maker / Cutler
A good one can earn up to 7-8000.00 for a knife that takes a month to make. Training and practice usually through blacksmithing or knife groups.Today sometimes called ‘bladesmith’. Lots of makers out there, look at knife magazines like ‘Blade’ to see what work has the best return.
This person may cut cabachon, facetted stones or carve gem materials. It can range from recutting jobs to unique sculptures in carved gems. Some lapidaries develop such a name for themselves that their work is worth many times any material value because of who cut it. Diamond cutting is a special field requiring intensive training.
A goldsmith specializing in making original metal models. Often an employed position it is the highest level of goldsmithing in many ways. Generally linked with larger operations though often goldsmiths are called on to make models in smaller companies. As an independent service career it is difficult to compete with wax models.
Fairly short training, an employed position. some opportunity for independent service work. Requires good marketing skills to find customers but demand is always steady. Few companies outside large cities would have enough work to employ a plater full time.
An employed position in North America, some find it monotonous, others find the concentration pleasant. Some room for independent service work in larger cities.
Well paid, requires long experience in the trade and jobs are easier to come by in the US than in Canada.
Rubber Mold Maker
Usually an employed position in a factory, plenty of room for independent service work in small to large cities; requires marketing skills. Some option for mailed service work.
Another almost extinct career but because of that some good options for independent service or original work, requires good marketing skills and probably training in Art School. Makes large scale objects in silver and gold, holloware, cutlery and so on.
The route would be through art schools and industry experience, long training with some room for employed and independent service work.
A specialized field. Most watches are now quartz and require only minimal skills to change batteries or movements. True watch making is dying out and this means that for a highly motivated skilled
watchmaker/goldsmith there are very well paying opportunities.
Coming soon and already here in some places are computer driven machines which carve wax, build up plastic models, harden plastic models from liquids, mill steel molds for wax or plastics injection. All of these are intended for casting. There will be an increasing place in the field of goldsmithing and jewellery production for people who understand goldsmithing and computers.
Sales Oriented Careers
Allied services sales agent: giftware, packaging, display, security, insurance, bookkeeping etc: self explanatory, selling to jewellery stores, subject to the vagaries of the economy.
It helps to have family and connections. A specialized field. Sales agent or travelling representative: represents manufacturers lines to jewellery stores, pay commensurate with skill and lines chosen. Some room for a self motivated person.
Employed by jewellery stores, pay is low to good depending upon the store and skills. A very high end store will have the best pay opportunities. It is a good way to learn something of the business of running a jewellery store, particularly in a smaller business where many jobs are expected of one.
Well paid, usually worked up through the ranks from sales staff.
Can be employed and represent a company, often a place for independents. You have to like travel and have good skills. Income can be very rewarding.
Skills needed to be a goldsmith with options for your own jewellery store. some areas may be subcontracted (eg mold making) but at least some experience with everything is wise.
- Sawing, piercing, filing
- Jewellery repair
- Polishing and finishing
- Layout, measuring, fitting and construction
- Soldering, soldered construction and fabrication, complex construction in wire and sheet
- Stonesetting (bezels, prongs, channel, constructing settings, bright cutting, bead, pavÃ©e)
- Making unique pieces and model-making for production
- Catches, findings and mechanisms
- Wax working and carving
- Casting, metallurgy, alloys and alloy calculations
- Molds and rubber mold making and cutting
- Rendering, drawing for customers, photography of jewellery
- Introduction to gemmology/practical gem identification
- Silversmithing/forming metal
- Production techniques and technology
- Surface treatments (metal coloring, coloring golds, chasing, diamond burrs, diamond flywheel, plating, etching etc)
- Basic jewellery design
- Bookkeeping and inventory
- Basic business practice and sales skills, understanding of appraisal requirements.
What will be coming is a day when on most jewellery store desks there sits a computer, screen and 3-D prototyping machine. The store owner slips a CD into the computer and shows the customer various rendered models of rings or jewellery. The stone’s colors, shapes and sizes can easily by altered from the keyboard or with a mouse. Heads can be exchanged on rings with a quick mouse click on a menu of photographic choices from the suppliers line. Various models can also be quickly chosen from images on a menu. A color printout of the photographically rendered jewellery piece can be handed to the customer.
If the store has not yet bought the code for that particular model or combination a quick call is made to the issuing company’s phone number, the model number is typed in on the phone and an access code given. The jeweller then types that in and the 3-D prototyping system quickly turns out a finished wax model ready for burnout, casting and finishing in the customer’s size. There will be jewellery designers who work a keyboard and mouse. And that even before they come out with machines that turn out the finished gold jewellery ready for setting and skip the casting step. There will however continue to be a place for most of the professions mentioned in this article.