Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers

There are approximately 53,000 jewelers and precious stone and metal workers in the United States. Job growth predictions indicate that over the next decade the industry will experience little change.
Most jewelers and precious stone and metal workers are trained in a vocational or technical school or learn on the job. More than half of all workers are self-employed.

A range of tools and specially designed equipment is used by jewelers and precious stone and metal workers to design and produce unique pieces of jewelry; cut and polish gems; repair necklaces, rings, bracelets, and other pieces of damaged jewelry; and appraise jewelry to determine its value for insurance or sales purposes. Some jewelers are employed by large firms that manufacture jewelry in a range of styles and qualities. Others work for retail shops as designers, appraisers, or salespeople; still others maintain their own businesses.

Jewelry design and manufacture requires attention to detail, excellent manual dexterity, considerable skill, and an artistic sensibility. Some designers begin by twisting, melting or shaping metal; others create a wax model in which to cast metal. Separate sections can be soldered together, a design may be engraved or woven into the piece, and the position of precious or semiprecious stones is determined.

Other jewelers are trained in finish work. They may secure stones into the piece, finish engraving, clean and polish the completed work, or repair small imperfections. These jewelers might also accept earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, or other pieces for repair. Replacing clasps that have broken off, securing chain that has come lose, resetting stones, or changing ring sizes are common jewelry repairs.

Larger jewelry manufacturers typically employ specialists. Some employees design a model to be copied; others build tools required for precision work. Assemblers combine jewelry parts using soldering, fusing, wire wrapping, or beading and might set stones as well. Designs are carved into metal by engravers, and polishers finish the work.
Gemologists differ from jewelers in that they are trained to assess, describe, grade, and certify gem stone quality. Gemologists generally work in laboratories or as quality control experts for a variety of industries. Precision instruments such as microscopes and specialized computers are used, and findings are documented in written reports.

Appraisers specialize in ascertaining the value of a piece of jewelry and preparing documents to certify that value. In addition to knowing the market and researching specific areas, appraisers consult reference materials, auction catalogs, and price lists. A wealth of information is also available online at reputable sites. Appraisers might be employed by retail stores, appraisal companies, auctioneers, pawnbrokers, and insurance companies.
Technology such as lasers and computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software is reducing the cost of producing high quality jewelry and increasing the efficiency with which it can be manufactured. CAD technology permits jewelers to create several virtual versions of a piece set with different stones or embellishments to determine which version is best.

Jewelers must work in environments that are clean, well organized, well lit, and conducive to focused concentration. For the most part, jewelers work independently with little supervision. Most jewelry designers are artists, but they are also employees who must work efficiently enough to satisfy supervisors or customers. These demands can cause stress, and the close work can fatigue a worker’s eyes and cause headaches. Lasers must be handled carefully to avoid both injury to the jeweler or damage to the jewelry. The use of caustic chemicals, sharp tools, soldering irons, and heat torches present safety risks. Safety procedures must be followed to reduce the change of injury. Jewelers in retail shops must be good communicators who are personable and capable of speaking with clients about work to be done. Jewelers who also show jewelry or act as salespeople must follow strict safety procedures to avoid expensive items being stolen off the counter. Some retailers have elaborate security systems, buzzers, and even security guards.

Employers look for jewelers with good manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, and the ability to concentrate for long periods. Artistic sensibility is a plus. Most employers will require a background check.
Four levels of certification are offered through Jewelers of America and can help with advancement. Jewelers who are interested in advancement would do well to become familiar with CAD/ CAM programs, either through a technical school or through training offered by an employer. Those interested in becoming designers might consider a degree program offered at a university or art school. The most common method of advancement for jewelers with business training or experience is to open their own shops or accept work on consignment. Becoming a master jeweler, floor supervisor, or manager are all possibilities.

The median annual salary for jewelers and precious stone and metal workers is less than $34,000. Those in the highest 10 % were paid more than $55,000. Retail store jewelers are sometimes offered a commission for sales in addition to a base salary.