If you are interested in becoming a jeweler or jewelry repairer, you can become involved in arts and crafts activities and take classes in crafts and jewelry making. Many community education programs are available through high schools, park districts, or local art stores and museums. Hobbies such as metalworking and sculpture are useful in becoming familiar with metals and the tools jewelers use. Visits to museums and fine jewelry stores to see collections of jewelry can be helpful.
If you are interested in the retail aspect of this field, you should try to find work in a retail jewelry store on a part-time basis or during the summer. A job in sales, or even as a clerk, can provide a firsthand introduction to the business. A retail job will help you become familiar with a jewelry store's operations, its customers, and the jewelry sold. In addition, you will learn the terminology unique to the jewelry field. Working in a store with an in-house jeweler or jewelry repairer provides many opportunities to observe and speak with a professional engaged in this trade. In a summer or part-time job as a bench worker or assembly line worker in a factory, you may perform only a few of the operations involved in making jewelry, but you will be exposed to many of the skills used within a manufacturing plant.
You also may want to visit retail stores and shops where jewelry is made and repaired or visit a jewelry factory. Some boutiques and galleries are owned and operated by jewelers who enjoy the opportunity to talk to people about their trade. Art fairs and craft shows where jewelers exhibit and sell their products provide a more relaxed environment where jewelers are likely to have time to discuss their work.
Conduct research on the Internet and review the information at sites for professional jewelers such as the Jewelers of America to learn more about the profession and how to become a jeweler.
Jewelers design, make, sell, or repair jewelry. Many jewelers combine two or more of these skills. Designers conceive and sketch ideas for jewelry that they make themselves or have made by another craftsperson. The materials used by the jeweler and the jewelry repairer are precious, semiprecious, or synthetic. They work with valuable stones such as diamonds and rubies, and precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. Some jewelers use synthetic stones in their jewelry to make items more affordable.
The jeweler begins by forming an item in wax or metal with carving tools. The jeweler then places the wax model in a casting ring and pours plaster into the ring to form a mold. (Jewelers who specialize in this task may be known as mold makers.) The mold is inserted into a furnace to melt the wax and a metal model is cast from the plaster mold. The jeweler pours the precious molten metal into the mold or uses a centrifugal casting machine to cast the article. Cutting, filing, and polishing are final touches the jeweler makes to a piece. They may also use lasers and computer-aided design in the jewelry making process.
Jewelers do most of their work sitting down. They use small hand and machine tools, such as drills, files, saws, soldering irons, and jewelers' lathes. They often wear an eye loupe, or magnifying glass. They constantly use their hands and eyes and need good finger and hand dexterity.
Most jewelers specialize in creating certain kinds of jewelry or focus on a particular operation, such as making, polishing, or stone-setting models and tools. Specialists include gem cutters; stone setters; fancy-wire drawers; locket, ring, and hand chain makers; and sample makers.
Bench jewelers usually work for retail jewelry stores. They perform work such as jewelry repair and cleaning and may also create jewelry pieces from scratch.
Silversmiths design, assemble, decorate, or repair silver articles. They may specialize in one or more areas of the jewelry field such as repairing, selling, or appraising. Jewelry engravers carve text or graphic decorations on jewelry. Watchmakers repair, clean, and adjust mechanisms of watches and clocks.
Gem and diamond workers select, cut, shape, polish, or drill gems and diamonds using measuring instruments, machines, or hand tools. Some work as diamond die polishers, while others are gem cutters. Gemologists and laboratory graders assess, describe, and certify the characteristics and quality of gemstones.
Other jewelry workers perform such operations as precision casting and modeling of molds, or setting precious and semiprecious stones for jewelry. They make gold or silver chains and cut designs or lines in jewelry using hand tools or cutting machines. Other jewelers work as pearl restorers or jewelry bench hands.
Assembly line methods are used to produce costume jewelry and some types of precious jewelry, but the models and tools needed for factory production must be made by highly skilled jewelers. Some molds and models for manufacturing are designed and created using computer-aided design/manufacturing systems. Costume jewelry often is made by a die stamping process. In general, the more precious the metals, the less automated the manufacturing process.
Some jewelers and jewelry repairers are self-employed; others work for manufacturing and retail establishments. Workers in a manufacturing plant include skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled positions. Skilled positions include jewelers, ring makers, engravers, toolmakers, electroplaters, and stone cutters and setters. Semiskilled positions include polishers, repairers, toolsetters, and solderers. Unskilled workers are press operators, carders, and linkers.
Although some jewelers operate their own retail stores, an increasing number of jewelry stores are owned or managed by individuals who are not jewelers. In such instances, the owner may employ a jeweler or jewelry repairer, or the store may send its repairs to a trade shop operated by a jeweler who specializes in repair work. Jewelers who operate their own stores sell jewelry, watches, and, frequently, merchandise such as silverware, china, and glassware. Many retail jewelry stores are located in or near large cities, with the eastern region of the United States providing most of the employment in jewelry manufacturing.
Other jobs in the jewelry business include appraisers, who examine jewelry and determine its value and quality; sales workers, who set up and care for jewelry displays, take inventory, and help customers; and buyers, who purchase jewelry, gems, and watches from wholesalers and resell the items to the public in retail stores.