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:
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.
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!
One of our favorite clients recently lent us his copy of Elizabeth Taylor, My Love Affair With Jewelry. Published by Simon and Schuster in 2002, the book contains 280 illustrations of her jewelry. Even better, the text contains many of her personal stories about the jewelry. She was a knowledgeable collector, and both her passion for and knowledge of jewelry shine through in these stories. She saw herself as the custodian of her pieces–“here to enjoy them, to give them the best treatment in the world, to watch after their safety, and to love them.” She understood that, in the future, other people would have them, and she hoped that they would cherish the jewelry and respect it. As she said, “. . .this kind of beauty is so rare and should be treated with such care and admiration.”
The first story she told was one of the best! She always loved pretty things and, because her dad owned an art gallery in the Beverly Hills Hotel, she was a frequent visitor. There was also a boutique in the hotel, and it was there that she saw the perfect pin for her mother. It was pretty expensive–about $25. That’s a lot of money for a twelve-year-old who earns 50 cents a week! But she saved for it and eventually was able to give it to her mom for Mother’s Day. It was one of her mom’s most valued possessions.
La Peregrina, before and after re-mount
Another favorite story for me was her mishap with a most famous pearl, La Peregrina. Mary Tudor of England wore this natural, teardrop pearl way back in the 1500s and, over the centuries, many other queens wore it, but in 1969 Richard Burton bought it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Soon after it was purchased, she was wearing the pearl on a delicate chain around her neck, when she reached down to find it missing! Fortunately, she was in her suite at Caesar’s Palace, so she knew it had to be in one of the rooms. Carefully, she started looking for it, trying not to arouse suspicion in her husband. She walked back and forth across the thick carpet in her bare feet, praying to feel the pearl below. All of a sudden, she saw one of her dogs chewing on, what appeared to be, a bone. In a flash, she opened the puppy’s mouth and found La Peregrina! Amazingly, it was not scratched. “I did finally tell Richard,” she said. “But I had to wait at least a week!”
The Welsh Pin, once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson
Elizabeth Taylor became friends with many famous people during her life. Two of them were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess wore this Welsh Pin whenever she saw Elizabeth, because Elizabeth liked it so much. It was actually a royal pin that the Duke had received when he was Prince of Wales. When the Duchess’s estate went to auction in 1987, the pin was the item Elizabeth just had to bid on. She felt that the Duchess wanted her to have it. And she knew that the proceeds were going to a cause she believed deeply in–AIDS research. She was one of two big bidders, but she made the last bid, for $623,000.
If you ever have the chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. It was filled with stories that helped me understand the personality of Elizabeth Taylor. And the pictures of the jewelry were amazing! I’ll close with a quote of Elizabeth’s that, I think, shows something of her true character. “If you’re a collector, I think you’ve got to be willing to share. Some people lock their passions up in vaults, behind dark doors, so it’s only theirs. I don’t understand that mentality at all. Each piece is different, each piece is unique. And they each call out, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ I do, however, have a safe!”
For centuries jewelry was designed by men. Seems odd, doesn’t it, when most all jewelry is worn by women? But the design field was male dominated for the same reason most fields were–men were seen as the more capable sex and the bread winners of the family. When did it become clear that women could design for women?
Perhaps the first to recognize this talent in a female was Rene’ Boivin, a Parisian goldsmith and engraver in the late 1800s. He married Jeanne Poiret, a woman who became his business partner in his jewelry workshops. Together they created fabulous designs which were in high demand among their elite clientele.
Egyptian Emerald Ring by Maison Boivin
When Rene’ died in 1917, everyone assumed that Jeanne would sell the business but, instead, she and her daughter, Germaine, assumed control. Jeanne, though not trained as a jeweler, knew a lot from working with her husband. She’d think out the designs and have someone else render them. She also had a talent for finding good talent, hiring young Suzanne Belperron in 1921 and, when Suzanne left in 1931, the talented Juliette Moutarde took her place.
Suzanne Belperron opened her own jewelry design firm with Bernard Herz, and later, his son, Jean, in a partnership that lasted over 40 years. Her designs were so distinctive–very fluid and organic. Even while those around her embraced Art Deco, with its straight lines, Suzanne elevated a more modern design. Famous women like the Duchess of Windsor and Mona Williams (pictured below) bought her jewelry. Her work was never signed, though. She always said that her style was her signature.
Sketch and finished piece by Suzanne Belperron
Juliette Moutarde worked with Jeanne and Germaine at House Boivin until they sold the company in 1976. Jeanne had died in 1959, but her daughter, a talented jewelry designer in her own right, kept the business going. Throughout these successful years, custom pieces were never signed by the individual artists. Perhaps it was seen as too bold, too assertive, for a woman to sign her work back in the early 1900s.
Design attributed to Moutarde, made for Claudette Colbert in 1936.
But because of these women, and a few others like Italian Elsa Schiaparelli, female jewelry designers today feel empowered to open their own studios, sign their names to their pieces, and earn their own success in the design world. Thanks to these pioneers, we know names like Paloma Picasso, Elsa Peretti, and Ippolita Rostagno, who have had their own jewelry lines for decades. And because of THEM, contemporary female designers–from Kendra Scott and Irene Neuwirth to Farah Khan Ali and Erica Courtney find success in the always competitive jewelry industry.
contemporary Ippolita design
Today we don’t think much about gender when choosing a designer. If you like the creation, you respect the designer! But it wasn’t always like that, and I wanted to lift up the courage of Jeanne Bouvin and her team of female designers. They worked and made their way successfully in a male world. Good for them and thank goodness for us. Their combination of talent and determination allowed women who came after to enter the field with confidence. Because of that, I want to nominate Jeanne Poiret Boivin for Mother of Female Jewelry Designers!
Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year. I feel that the emphasis on appreciation makes me, at least temporarily, a better person. When you spend more time thinking about what you’re grateful for, you end up being happier, kinder, and, in general, a more pleasant person. One of the many things I have to be grateful for is my colleagues here at Dearborn Jewelers.
Not everyone has the encouraging, optimistic work environment that we have here. We respect and understand each others’ strengths, and we support and help each other when help is needed. As one of my colleagues said, “We work as a team. We want to make the other person successful.” It’s not that we never have disagreements or times of stress. But we have so much trust in the good intentions of our team members that small disagreements are quickly resolved.
This camaraderie is part of what makes our store so comfortable to our clients. And because we don’t spend time thinking “grumpy thoughts” about our co-workers, we have more time to think about helping our customers find exactly what they are looking for. Especially at holiday time, it’s nice to know there’s a place you can go and be treated to a genuine smile and a true desire to help.
As always, we are so thankful for all of you who are friends and clients of Dearborn Jewelers. We hope you have a wonderful holiday season, filled with family, friends, and good cheer. But we are also thankful for the family we have here–Nick, Teri, Matt, Emily, Joy, Joan, Jill, and Ellyn. Happy Thanksgiving!!
The romance and history of colored gemstones has always fascinated me. I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story. Here are three I thought you might like.
TANZANITE: It’s said that we are all members of the “Tanzanite generation.” Discovered in 1967 by a Masai tribesman in Northern Tanzania, Tanzanite is mined in only one, 4 square kilometer, location. And the mines are getting deeper and harder to mine profitably. We will be the ones who can buy a new Tanzanite. Future generations will only see the stone in heirloom pieces. It’s estimated that Tanzanite One, the largest Tanzanite mining company, has less than 30 years of production left.
The gemstone was named by Henry Platt, great-grandson of the famous Louis C. Tiffany. Tiffany and Co. realized the importance of the gemstone and quickly made themselves the main distributor. Their marketing efforts made tanzanite one of the most popular gemstones by the 1990s. The beautiful gem hit the big screen with a “splash” as the Heart of the Ocean in the movie, Titanic.
MORGANITE: This pink to orange/pink variety of beryl was originally discovered in Pala, California in the early 1900s. It was named for J.P. Morgan, a great financier and collector of minerals. Tiffany’s gem buyer and gemologist, George Kunz, was the man who named the gem, buying up all he could find for his wealthy client. Incidentally, another pink gemstone, discovered at about the same time, was named Kunzite in honor of George Kunz. So, he got his own gemstone, too!
Morganite is the same species of mineral as Emerald and Aquamarine. Like Aquamarine, it is usually an eye-clean stone that can be cut in larger sizes. It’s a good thing, too, because a larger stone usually shows a more saturated color. Pale Morganite often needs that advantage. It’s generally heat-treated to improve its pink color and minimize its yellowish tint. The treatment is stable, so no fading occurs.
ALEXANDRITE: First discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the early 1830s, Alexandrite is the quintessential color-change gemstone. It was found by miners who thought they’d found emeralds, until nighttime came and they were sitting around the campfire. Alexandrite’s trace elements of iron, titanium, and chromium make it greenish in sunlight and reddish in incandescent or fire light. Boy, were those miners surprised when, the next morning, their red gemstones had turned back to green!
Legend says that the gem was found on the 16th birthday of young Alexander II, future Czar of Russia. The stone became the National Gem of Czarist Russia. It was the perfect fit with the red and green color scheme of imperial Russia’s military. Every Russian had to have an Alexandrite. Unfortunately, for all of us, the Russian supply was depleted. Fortunately, other deposits have been found in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Brazil.
Natural Alexandrites are very expensive, especially in larger sizes. Even the synthetic version is expensive, because it’s difficult to manufacture. But, if you’re lucky enough to own an Alexandrite, you have an “Emerald by day, and a Ruby by night.”
Perhaps you’ve seen the phrase, “Lazare. . .the World’s Most Beautiful Diamond.” Your mind might question the assertion. After all, aren’t all diamonds beautiful? How can a company make this claim?
The answer lies in the cut. In 1919, the cousin of founder, Lazare Kaplan, developed a mathematical thesis for cutting diamonds to precise angles and proportions to gain the optimum reflection and refraction of light. When a diamond is ideally cut, light rays from all sides are bent towards the center of the diamond and are reflected back through the top. If not ideally cut, light will “leak out” through the sides or bottom of the diamond. The beauty of a colorless diamond is all about its brilliance, scintillation, and fire. The Lazare Ideal cut maximizes all three.
A beautiful diamond is also tied to a company that does good work in its community. Lazare Kaplan International, Inc. supports a number of important causes in Namibia, where most of its diamonds are mined. LKI also supports policies that
protect fundamental human rights and the dignity of the individual
prohibit the trade in conflict diamonds (zero tolerance policy for conflict diamonds and strictly adheres to all protocols of the Kimberly Process)
prevent money laundering and combat the financing of terrorism
ensure business is conducted in an environmentally responsible manner
Finally, a beautiful diamond is one that can be yours forever. Every Lazare diamond of 0.18 carats and higher has the Lazare logo and an individual identification number, laser inscribed on the diamond’s girdle. This logo is your proof of authenticity as an ideal cut Lazare diamond, and the identification number is your proof of ownership.
Lazare Kaplan International, Inc. has been in business since 1903. It plans to be around for a long time to come. When it’s your turn to look for the world’s most beautiful diamond, be sure to remember Lazare.
If you’ve bought a diamond recently, it probably came with a diamond report. And that report might very well have come from the American Gem Society Laboratories (A.G.S.L.). The story of the American Gem Society is an interesting one that started back in 1934. Back then and still today, the A.G.S. is an organization dedicated to the maintenance of high ethical standards in the jewelry industry. Its primary purposes are 1) to encourage professional education within the jewelry industry and 2) build consumer confidence and trust in the knowledge, integrity, and competence of professionals in the jewelry industry.
Robert Shipley is the man responsible for starting A.G.S. He came from a retail jewelry background here in the U.S., but, after spending some time in Paris learning more about gemology, he felt that the industry lacked the education it needed. He started a correspondence school in 1931 called the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.) Three years later he established the American Gem Society, a sort of alumni association of G.I.A. The society started out small, and it was housed in the same building as G.I.A. Mr. Shipley was the President of G.I.A. and the Executive Director of A.G.S.
Al Woodhill took over as Executive Director of A.G.S. in 1946, and in 1948 the organization moved into its own headquarters. In 1955, A.G.S. established a Diamond Standards Committee which published the first A.G.S. Diamond Grading Standards Manual in 1966. Diamonds are evaluated using the 4Cs–cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. Carat weight is measured, but cut, color, and clarity are graded using a 0 – 10 point scale. Triple zero would be the grade given to the Ideally cut, Colorless, and Flawless diamond.
The American Gem Society , LLC opened in 1996 and became a leader in the grading of diamonds. Its Diamond Quality Document presents a complete analysis and documentation of the 4Cs. It provides both the professional and the customer with the details needed to fully understand what is being purchased.
Today’s customers can feel confident about their purchases if they are buying from an A.G.S. member store. Standards and regulations protect the consumer in a way that customers one hundred years ago could never have expected. Consumer confidence benefits everyone–customers, retailers, and suppliers. We owe our appreciation to Robert Shipley and the American Gem Society.
My goal, for the last three years, has been to become a graduate gemologist. I was the kid who had the rock collection and walked the beach looking for Petoskey stones. I am the adult who loves gemstones and jewelry. After years of teaching mathematics (another love of mine), the time seemed right to give gemology a chance. It’s been a wonderful and, at times, difficult journey. Gemology is not an easy science.
Gemology (or Gemmology) is the science dealing with natural and artificial gems and gemstones. It is classified as a geoscience, a branch of mineralogy. A gemologist studies the formation, localities, and physical properties of gemstones. He/she must be able to assess gemstones, using equipment and techniques to identify and evaluate the gem material.
I’m taking my classes through G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America), which is based in Carlsbad, California. But there are plenty of places that offer gemology education. Some of the more well known schools are the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (GemA), the Canadian Institute of Gemmology (CGA), the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences, and the Deutsche Gemmologische Gesellschaft (DGemG) in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. I don’t know a lot about the other schools, but I have been impressed with the education I’ve received at G.I.A.
A graduate gemologist diploma from G.I.A. means successful completion of three lab classes that teach you how to use the equipment and master the techniques needed to assess and identify diamonds and colored stones. There are also four reading courses that go over the history, localities, formation, crystal structures, and chemical/physical properties of diamonds and colored gemstones. Finally, there is a comprehensive gem identification course which requires both reading and lab work. During the course you are required to identify 500 gemstones. The course is designed to prepare you for a 20-stone exam which can be passed only if all 20 stones are correctly identified. You get five tries at the six-hour exam. If you don’t pass, there is an opportunity to do remedial work and try again.
Gemologists work in jewelry stores, wholesale gemstone companies, auction houses, insurance companies, and appraisal firms. If a gemologist wants to become an independent appraiser, additional education is needed. And all gemologists need to keep their skills updated by taking courses and being active members in organizations such as the American Gem Society. It’s a scientific job that often requires good people skills. So, tip your hat to those gemologists! They have worked hard to gain their title.
If you love gemstones, ask your jeweler if he/she hosts roundtable events. These are usually evening events that last 2 – 3 hours, taking place after your jewelry store closes. Food and drink are often served, and you are introduced to a gemstone expert. This expert shares knowledge and stories about gemstones and the gemstone industry. Sitting at a, usually rectangular, table, guests are given the chance to see, touch, and dib on approximately 100 different gemstones. Dibbing simply means that you would like another look at that gemstone after it has gone around the table. These gemstones are for sale, but there is never an obligation to buy. The goal is to have fun learning about and playing with gemstones.
More people want to be involved in the making of their jewelry. Mountings can mask flaws of gemstones, so it’s to the buyer’s advantage to see gemstones un-mounted. And mountings can be unique if you work with a custom designer. On-staff designers are generally at the roundtable event and they can help you with ideas for any gemstone you select for purchase. The whole process of 1) picking out the gemstone; 2) deciding on a design; and 3) having the piece made by your local jeweler is a memorable one.
Dearborn Jewelers recently hosted a roundtable event with gemstone dealer, Judith Whitehead. Our next event will be in September. If you are interested in attending, give us a call and we can put you on the list. It promises to be a great time.
Haven’t you ever wondered, when you look at beautiful art, what inspires the artist? How does he or she find that initial spark that leads to a fabulous painting, sculpture, poem, or piece of jewelry?
Inspiration often comes from nature. Heather Gardner, a jewelry designer from California, said, “As I travel, I am constantly observing the environment that surrounds me, taking in the beauty of each unique place, from color palates to habitats. I absorb it all and it seeps into my skin, creating a longing inside to express the emotion I feel from the beauty I’ve experienced.”
Manmade objects can also be inspiring. Anne Bower, a jewelry designer based in London, said, “I’m inspired by the beautiful and interesting objects that I find on my travels around vintage fairs, Parisian markets, antique and curiosity shops and on the internet.”
In a similar way, New York artist, Jill Platner, commented that her jewelry is inspired by organic and urban found objects. “They all spin. They move with the wind. I am fascinated by movement, mechanics, and the way things go together.”
Sometimes artists struggle to be inspired, which, I’m sure, isn’t an easy thing to admit. They must always be ready in case inspiration decides to strike. Jennifer Welker of Houston, Texas revealed, ” I always keep a sketchpad with me. Sometimes in the middle of the night I have an idea and I’ll start drawing things. . . I draw inspiration from our daily life, from our travels, and from architectural pieces.”
Jewelry design is a melding of engineering, the principles of design, and inspiration. When you look next at a piece of jewelry, marvel a little at its design and remember that it started with a sketchpad and a bright idea.