Being a Bench Jeweler–the Pros and Cons

We have two full-time bench jewelers at our store.  They are always busy, repairing and creating jewelry.  We know them well but, for the general public, they seem a mysterious breed–tucked out of sight in the dark recesses of the shop.  They work with tools and heat and chemicals that can be dangerous. From the shop come loud noises that sound like wheels whirring, metal clinking, or compressed air escaping. “What’s happening back there?  What motivates them to do this kind of work?”

I asked them the pros and cons of being a bench jeweler. From the comments and letters of other bench jewelers there is a broad consensus on the following:

PROS

A bench jeweler is fulfilled by making pieces of art that people will treasure.  Clients are usually full of admiration and gratitude for the jeweler who can repair a sentimental favorite or create a masterpiece.  

A bench jeweler gets to be creative.  Whether he/she is making a custom piece for a client or for the store, there are a lot of decisions to be made on gemstone colors, metal design, and the engineering of the piece.  Even if the job is a repair, there’s creativity involved in solving the problem.

 Bench jewelers have lots of variety. Each repair, each creation poses different challenges.  If you don’t like a steep learning curve, don’t be a bench jeweler. 

No college degree is needed, however it helps to study at a trade school or design studio.  Much of what a bench jeweler needs to know is learned on the job from a mentor.

The environment back in the shop is one of collaboration. Our bench jewelers have shared memories of repairs they’ve done and jewelry they’ve made. Camaraderie is the natural state for a bench jeweler.  

CONS

As with all careers, there are downfalls.  The work of a bench jeweler can be dangerous.  It’s not uncommon to get cut or burned.  One of our bench jewelers described hot metal flying out of a centrifugal casting machine and being burned in several places.  

Even without injuries on the job, years of sitting and bending over tiny jewelry is hard on the eyes and the back. It’s a sedentary job, complete with the multitude of health issues that can come with not moving much.  

Bench jewelers often feel pressure to complete jobs.  Clients don’t want to be without their jewelry.  There’s additional pressure around holiday times, so overtime during the Christmas season is common.

It takes a long time and a lot of practice to be good at this work.  In the meantime, you are someone’s apprentice and probably not making much money.  

A bench jeweler has to be very patient.  He/she has to be able to concentrate for long periods.  Just imagine having to work daily with tiny parts, gems, and tools!

IN THE END

Bench jewelers are a special breed– good-humored, courageous, sympathetic, and humble. They must be willing to put up with interruptions from their colleagues and impossible requests from their clients. They must be prepared to take on difficult jobs with potentially expensive consequences because, as one bench jeweler put it, “Somebody has to do it!”  They must understand that, regardless of the quality of the jewelry, it has special value to the owner.  And they must accept that, stuck in the back of the shop, they won’t always receive credit for their efforts. 

And that final quality attributable to bench jewelers–playfulness. They jokingly say that they love playing with fire and banging away with their hammers. They may be kidding, but I think they really mean it! 

 

 

Out of this World Jewelry made of Meteorite

Jewelry is made of things from the earth–like metals and minerals.  Or it’s made of animals from the sea–like pearls and coral.  But meteorite is one material used in jewelry that doesn’t come from the earth or the sea.  Meteorite is extraterrestrial material, recovered after it hits Earth.  It’s used a lot in men’s wedding bands, and its use is starting to seep into women’s pendants and bracelets.

Lashbrook's Meteorite Men's Wedding Band

Lashbrook’s Meteorite Men’s Wedding Band

What is meteorite made of?   Well, it depends on which type you’re thinking about.  The three types are stony, iron, and stony-iron.  Only 5% of meteorites are classified as iron, but they are the ones that are used for jewelry.  These meteorites are primarily iron but contain trace elements like nickel, cobalt and gold.  The metal shows a distinctive crystalline pattern when cut, polished, and acid etched.  The pattern is the result of slow-cooling iron and nickel crystals.

One manufacturer of men’s wedding bands, Lashbrook, uses material from the Gibeon meteorite.  The Gibeon material is found near the town of Gibeon in Namibia.  Turns out that all meteorites are named for their location. It’s believed the tons of material that showered Gibeon 30,000 years ago is about 4 billion years old.

Suppose you want a piece of outer space in your ring.  After all, how cool is that?  But you should know a few things first.  Iron meteorites are magnetic so, if your job is working with magnets, you may want to reconsider.  If you have a nickel allergy, you shouldn’t wear meteorite.  Gibeon material is about 9% nickel.  And, even if none of the above holds true for you, you will want to treat your ring with care.  It’s important to never wear it in a pool or hot tub.   Because iron can rust, keep the ring dry as much as possible.  If you do notice rust, rid the meteorite of any moisture by soaking it in 90% rubbing alcohol and then air drying it.  You can clean it gently with a soft toothbrush, and then apply a small amount of gun metal oil, wiping away any excess.  Finally, the etch pattern that makes meteorite so distinctive can wear down and become fainter over time.  It is possible to re-etch the pattern, however.

A raw piece of Seymchan Meteorite

A raw piece of Seymchan Meteorite

One thing that surprised me was how many meteorites exist on Earth.  Over 40,000 have been found and cataloged.  Small pieces of meteorite fall to Earth everyday, but most of them are small and impossible to find because they fall into an ocean!  If you want to look for iron meteorite, here are a few tips.  Look in regions that are dry and have a barren expanse, like the Mohave Desert or the Great Plains.  The black to dark brown color of a meteorite’s exterior, due to the fact that it’s on fire when it enters our atmosphere, is easier to see when the land is tan-colored and without vegetation.  Also, the dryness of desert areas helps keep the meteorite from rusting.  Use a metal detector to find iron meteorites.  And check with the land owner before beginning your search.  It’s usually okay to search on public land, but you can’t take any specimens from a National Park.

I have only one tip if you want a meteorite ring.  Come to Dearborn Jewelers!!