Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers - What They Do
Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers use a variety of common and specialized equipment to design and manufacture new pieces of jewelry; cut, set, and polish gem stones; repair or adjust rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other jewelry; and appraise jewelry, precious metals, and gems. Jewelers usually specialize in one or more of these areas and may work for large jewelry manufacturing firms, for small retail jewelry shops, or as owners of their own businesses. Regardless of the type of work done or the work setting, jewelers need a high degree of skill, precision, and attention to detail.
Some jewelers design or make their own jewelry. Following their own designs or those created by designers or customers, they begin by shaping the metal or by carving wax to make a model for casting the metal. Individual parts then are soldered together, and the jeweler may mount a diamond or other gem or may engrave a design into the metal. Other jewelers do finishing work, such as setting stones, polishing, or engraving, or make repairs. Typical repair work includes enlarging or reducing ring sizes, resetting stones, and replacing broken clasps and mountings.
Bench jewelers usually work in jewelry retailers. They perform a wide range of tasks, from simple jewelry cleaning and repair to moldmaking and fabricating pieces from scratch. In larger manufacturing businesses, jewelers usually specialize in a single operation. Mold and model makers create models or tools for the jewelry that is to be produced. Assemblers solder or fuse jewelry and their parts; they also may set stones. Engravers etch designs into metal with specialized tools, and polishers bring a finished luster to the final product.
Jewelers typically do the handiwork required to produce a piece of jewelry, while gemologists and laboratory graders analyze, describe, and certify the quality and characteristics of gem stones. Gemologists may work in gemological laboratories or as quality control experts for retailers, importers, or manufacturers. After using microscopes, computerized tools, and other grading instruments to examine gem stones or finished pieces of jewelry, they write reports certifying that the items are of a particular quality. Many jewelers also study gemology to become familiar with the physical properties of the gem stones with which they work.
Jewelry appraisers carefully examine jewelry to determine its value, after which they write appraisal documents. They determine the value of a piece by researching the jewelry market and by using reference books, auction catalogs, price lists, and the Internet. They may work for jewelry stores, appraisal firms, auction houses, pawnbrokers, or insurance companies. Many gemologists also become appraisers.
In small retail stores or repair shops, jewelers and appraisers may be involved in all aspects of the work. Those who own or manage stores or shops also hire and train employees; order, market, and sell merchandise; and perform other managerial duties.
New technology is helping to produce jewelry of high quality at a reduced cost and in a shorter amount of time. For example, lasers are often used for cutting and improving the quality of stones, for applying intricate engraving or design work, and for inscribing personal messages or identification on jewelry. Jewelers also use lasers to weld metals together in milliseconds with no seams or blemishes, improving the quality and appearance of jewelry.
Some manufacturing firms use computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) to facilitate product design and automate some steps in the moldmaking and modelmaking process. CAD allows jewelers to create a virtual-reality model of a piece of jewelry. Using CAD, jewelers can modify the design, change the stone, or try a different setting and see the contemplated changes on a computer screen before cutting a stone or performing other costly steps. Once they are satisfied with the model, they use CAM to produce a mold. After the mold is made, it is easier for manufacturing firms to produce numerous copies of a given piece of jewelry, which can be distributed to retail establishments across the country. Similar techniques may be used in the retail setting, allowing customers to review their jewelry designs with the jeweler and make modifications before committing themselves to the expense of a customized piece of jewelry.
A jeweler's work involves a great deal of concentration and attention to detail. Trying to satisfy customers' and employers' demands for speed and quality while working on precious stones and metal can cause fatigue and stress. However, the use of more ergonomically correct jewelers' benches has eliminated most of the strain and discomfort caused by spending long periods over a workbench.
Lasers require both careful handling to avoid injury and steady hands to direct precision tasks. In larger manufacturing plants and some smaller repair shops, chemicals, sharp or pointed tools, and jewelers' torches pose safety threats and may cause injury if proper care is not taken. Most dangerous chemicals, however, have been replaced with synthetic, less toxic products to meet safety requirements.
In repair shops, jewelers usually work alone with little supervision. In retail stores, they may talk with customers about repairs, perform custom design work, and even do some selling. Because many of their materials are valuable, jewelers must observe strict security procedures, including working behind locked doors that are opened only by a buzzer, working on the other side of barred windows, making use of burglar alarms, and, in larger jewelry establishments, working in the presence of armed guards.
Jewelers have traditionally learned their trade through several months of on-the-job training; while this method is still common, particularly in manufacturing plants, many are also learning their skills in vocational or technical schools or through distance-learning centers. Computer-aided design is becoming increasingly important to retail jewelers and students may wish to obtain training in it. This skill can usually be obtained through technical school; however, some employers may provide training in it, as well.
In jewelry manufacturing plants, workers traditionally develop their skills through informal apprenticeships and on-the-job training. The apprenticeship or training period lasts up to 1 year, depending on the difficulty of the specialty. Training usually focuses on casting, setting stones, making models, or engraving.
There are also many technical schools offering training designed for jewelers. Some manufacturers prefer graduates because they require less on-the-job training. Course topics can include blueprint reading, math, and shop theory.
For jewelers who work in retail stores or repair shops, vocational training or college courses offer the best job preparation. These programs may vary in length from 6 months to a year and teach jewelry making and repairing skills, such as designing, casting, setting and polishing stones, as well as the use and care of jeweler’s tools and equipment.
There are various institutes that offer courses and programs in gemology. These programs cover a wide range of topics, including the identification and grading of diamonds and gem stones.
While it is not required, some students may wish to obtain a higher level degree. For them, art and design schools offer programs leading to the degree of bachelor of fine arts or master of fine arts in jewelry design.
The precise and delicate nature of jewelry work requires finger and hand dexterity, good hand-eye coordination, patience, and concentration. Artistic ability and fashion consciousness are major assets, particularly in jewelry design and jewelry shops, because jewelry must be stylish and attractive. Those who work in jewelry stores have frequent contact with customers and should be neat, personable, and knowledgeable about the merchandise. In addition, employers require workers of good character because jewelers work with valuable materials.