Finding a job that offers a creative outlet as well as a reasonable earning potential is a real challenge. One of the career paths that has traditionally struck a balance between these two interests is jewelry design. The exact expectations of a jeweler, which is the general profession upon which the exact role of jewelry design is built, differ from job to job, but generally it is expected that a jeweler will be able to design, fabricate, and repair jewelry (“Job Details”). The reason this definition has such wide interpretation is that jewelry is no longer a simple matter of precious metals and precious stones. Even if it is focused only on precious metals and precious stones, which of those roles a particular jeweler focuses on is often a matter of choice or market demand (“Becoming a Jewelry Designer” 1). The wide interpretation of a jeweler’s job can be an enticement as a career, though, because it means a person entering it can focus on whatever area most interests them. There is no fixed definition of a work environment for jeweler’s, either. Roughly half of jewelers in the United States are self-employed while the rest work for jewelry repair, retail, and manufacturing businesses of all shapes and sizes (BLS). Based on these findings, it is reasonable to conclude that jewelry design is an open-ended business that can cater to a wide range of interests and proficiencies.
The exact duties of a jeweler are, as has been mentioned, diverse. Though a jeweler’s primary tasks on a given day depend largely on where they work, what their skill set is oriented toward, and their level of expertise, there are a few basic expectations place on most jewelers, the first of which is cleaning and polishing (“Want a Career” 1). Though cleaning is often a task assigned to apprentices in a jewelry shop, it is a critical responsibility nonetheless and one that an expert might be expected to perform just as much as a beginner. Repair and alteration are more advanced tasks because they require certain possibly destructive activities like cutting, soldering, and shaping of existing pieces. These tasks are often associated with a certain kind of jeweler who is specialized in the use of the necessary tools, but any jeweler who fabricates would also be expected to have basic repair and alteration proficiency (“Certified Bench Jeweler”). Though these tasks might seem mundane, they are necessary examples of the special skills that make a jeweler needed. Jewelers are expected to have delicate motor skills and high proficiency with cutting, welding, and shaping tools that a less dexterous user would only do damage with.
Other duties of a jeweler are more attractive. One of the more experienced jeweler’s responsibilities is the appraisal of precious stones, precious metals, and finished pieces (BLS). This is a skill that can be learned to a degree but also requires a practiced eye, to identify authenticity and craftsmanship. It also represents a jeweler’s business responsibilities. Jewelry is much more than its intrinsic value and the ability to determine how much work of what skill level went into a particular piece, or how much would be required to craft one, is essential for a jeweler who wants to make any kind of a reasonable salary. The peak of a jeweler’s achievement is often jewelry design, much like Tory Burch has perfected. Having an opportunity to be creative and exercise hard-earned skills is what attracts most people to being jewelers in the first place (“Want a Career” 2). If successful, a jewelry designer gets to set their own hours and work on the kinds of pieces they want to work on, at least primarily. Duty often takes the place of preference even at this level, however. Even those jewelers who can successfully create quality jewelry have to make a living and that often means working on commission. Pieces created according to client expectations will typically take priority over those created for the pure satisfaction of expression and craft (“Becoming a Jewelry Designer” 1). Even with this limitation, though, the opportunity to become a master craftsman and make a living with uncommon skill and creativity is an attractive proposition.
There are a few avenues that can lead a person to a jewelry design career. It is a relatively unregulated profession, compared to something with education and certification requirements like law or medicine, and so it is accessible to virtually anyone with the basic potential to perform the necessary duties. One of the most straightforward methods would be to simply embark on a career as a self-employed jewelry designer. While this method does lead most directly to the actual creation of jewelry, it also requires an investment of time and capital with relatively little guarantee of compensation. Successfully starting a private jewelry design or fabrication business would also require business skills like marketing and accounting, or it would require further investment to pay professionals to perform those tasks. The self-starter approach would also mean missing out on some of the tool skills, appraisal abilities, and general design theory that might be gained through a more conventional advancement.
For those engaging the jewelry design profession by the commonly accepted routes, there are still a few different options that leave the door wide open to people with a variety of backgrounds. There are conventional university degrees available in fine arts and jewelry design. This kind of education is seldom expected by employers, but it might provide an edge when it comes to the theory of design and peripheral tasks of a jewelry design business like the accounting and marketing that a self-starter with no education might be ill-equipped for (“Becoming a Jewelry Designer” 3). But since a prolonged and expensive degree is not necessary or expected for entering the jewelry design career path, it is a rarer approach. Some people just simply transition from one career to the next. There are more focused trade school educations that are faster, more affordable, and more relevant to the specific responsibilities of a jeweler (“Certified Bench Jeweler”). These are especially good for teaching prospective jewelers how to use the delicate and sometimes dangerous tools of the trade like saws, soldering irons, and punches, as well as the more technical tools that have become popular like CAD software (“Becoming a Jewelry Designer” 3). These more official approaches might also qualify a jeweler for official certification by the privately operated jewelry schools and unions in the country which can be a big advantage when seeking employment with an established jeweler.
The final, most common, and most popular method for pursuing a jewelry design career is apprenticeship. Whether it is to a master jeweler that you have sought out or to a friend or family member, jewelry design is a profession that holds to this oldest of educational methods. Apprenticing to a professional ensures immediate income, hands-on experience, and a knowledgeable mentor in the tools, methods, and concepts of jewelry design as well as the business associated with it. The only cost is accepting often low pay and doing many of the jobs that nobody else wants to do, like polishing, though this is a phase that a jeweler would likely go through in any job placement so the apprenticeship at least gets it out of the way faster and as a part of the basic learning process (“Want a Career” 1-2). Finding someone willing to take on an apprentice may not always be possible, but thanks to the other methods, there is no shortage of ways to gain the qualifications necessary to become a jeweler.
In terms of compensation, jewelry designers have a pretty broad range to look forward to. Self-employed designers will obviously face more expenses and difficulties in their earning than a jeweler employed by an established business or factory, but they also stand to retain a higher percentage of the profits that come from their labors, rather than accepting whatever wage is agreed upon. Since most jewelers do not have the skill or luck required to become successful jewelry designer right out of the gate, however, there are some pretty clear statistics about what the average jeweler can expect to earn. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, in 2010, the median pay for jewelers was $35,170 and the median wage was $16.91 per hour. These figures focus primarily on the technical side of the jeweler profession since most jewelers employed by a business fulfill duties like cleaning, adjustment, repair, and basic fabrication, but it accurately represents what someone trained in the jeweler trade can expect to earn in the workforce. The earning potential of a self-employed jewelry designer does not appear to be tracked, but it would be entirely dependent on success which is often as much a matter of luck as it is skill or talent. Whether selling to a local market, going on the road to conventions, or setting up an internet shop, the earning potential of the self-employed is less stable than an employed position, but potentially much higher.
Unfortunately, that workforce is not very promising for the near future. The BLS reported that from 2010 to 2020, available jeweler jobs are predicted to decrease 5%, a loss of about 2,000 jobs. This poor outlook is again focused on jeweler positions offered by employers, but it represents the availability of jobs for someone embarking on a jeweler career path with the ultimate objective of becoming a jewelry designer. There are no statistics to indicate whether self-employed jewelry designers have enjoyed an increase or decrease in success, or what the future holds for them. The internet is dense with individuals selling their creative work and it is more possible than ever to reach a large audience with private creativity. It is possible that the future of jewelry design lies with the self-employed, rather than with established business or factories.
BLS. "Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers of Labor Statistics." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/jewelers-and-precious-stone-and-metal-workers.htm>.
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"Certified Bench Jeweler." American School of Jewelry. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jewelryschool.net/bench.htm>.
"Job Details for Jeweler." Salary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Jeweler-Job-Description.aspx>.
"Want a Career as a Jeweler or Goldsmith?." Jewelry Secrets. Pgs. 1-3, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jewelry-secrets.com/Other/Want-To-Become-A-Jeweler/Jeweler-Education-Training-Needed-Goldsmith.html>.