Enjoy a Sparkling Career Working With Precious Gems and Metals
It wasn't so much the clothing that caught your eye when you played dress-up; it was the jewelry. While the other kids scrambled to grab the doctor's or firefighter's coat, you searched for the necklaces that had fallen to the bottom of the trunk. You begged to get your ears pierced and were the first of your friends to show off the tiny gold studs. You just shrugged when they all asked, "Did it hurt?" What did it matter, as long as you got to wear the golden gems? Sounds like you'd shine in a career as a jeweler.
Jewelers work with jewelry in a variety of ways throughout their day. They are often described by the type of work they do.
Bench jewelers work at a bench surrounded by the tools they need for different jobs. At a shop, you might have seen a jeweler carry a customer's chain or watch to his bench to examine it for repair. Bench jewelers also clean jewelry using special cloths and chemicals, reset stones, make wax molds, string beads and engrave on metal. If they specialize, they might be known as silversmiths, goldsmiths, platinumsmiths or metalsmiths.
Gemologists use microscopes, computerized machinery and other tools to analyze gems—and pieces of jewelry containing gems—for quality and other characteristics. They then write reports describing and certifying their findings.
Appraisers examine jewelry to determine its value and write appraisal documents declaring this value. They have ongoing knowledge of the jewelry market but also do research for specific pieces or materials.
Production jewelers work in the manufacturing of mass-produced jewelry, usually working only on one part of the process along with others who work on other parts of the same jewelry.
Designers create their own jewelry and often specialize in certain materials or techniques to create their own style. One might design chunky bracelets with semiprecious gems. Another might design hammered metal pieces in silver or copper. Designers can create styles that are then manufactured in quantity, or they might create one-of-a-kind pieces for customers.
Most jewelers enter the field without formal education beyond high school. They learn on the job from bench jewelers, who teach them the skills of the trade over the course of about a year, similar to an apprenticeship, but rarely a formal one. Some attend a trade school to learn skills needed as a jeweler, but such training is not required. Typical business courses in marketing and management are also helpful in getting hired in the profession, since many jewelers work in retail sales.
Many gemologists and appraisers, however, are graduates of the Gemological Institute of America. In this program, they learn to evaluate the quality of diamonds and colored gemstones by carefully studying various characteristics of each. They also learn how to identify each stone and how to tell real from simulated stones. GIA also offers continuing education in the form of eight monthly online courses. Participants receive certificates announcing their completion of this program.
Jewelers earned a median salary of $38,200 in May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A median salary is the midpoint of listed salaries, with half earning more and half earning less than the median. The lowest 10 percent earned $22,060, and the highest 10 percent earned $66,110. Those who work in retail stores might be paid a commission based on their sales.
Jewelers can work in retail stores, manufacturing facilities, laboratories and their own studios. They might sit at a bench or stand at a polishing station or on a production line. Most work full-time, and many work nonstandard hours to be available when customers aren't at work. Self-employed jewelers or designers often attend jewelry and craft shows on weekends to reach additional customers.
Years of Experience
Jewelers can begin work with just a high school diploma and no work experience. This could be a plus for those who want to change careers without a lengthy course of study. As they learn jewelers' skills and gain several years of experience, they can expect to earn higher salaries. With retail sales experience, jewelers might be promoted to management positions overseeing other employees and mentoring newer workers in jewelry sales.
Job Growth Trend
Although jewelers will be needed to replace those who leave the industry, the overall need is expected to decrease by 3 percent through 2026. With more jewelry being imported and technology replacing some skills previously done by hand, fewer jewelers will be needed in manufacturing. Increased online shopping is expected to cause retail stores to need fewer jewelers working on site.
Graduating from a training program, or getting work experience where you've learned some jewelers' skills, is a plus if you want to work as a jeweler. Show potential employers your passion for jewelry, a willingness to learn, enthusiasm for working with people and an outgoing personality that will thrive in a sales environment, and you'll be at the top of applicants being considered for jobs in the jewelry industry.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.