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! 

 

 

The Life of a Bench Jeweler

 

Repairing a Wedding Ring

Repairing a Wedding Ring

Usually hidden in the back of the store, out of sight and unknown, bench jewelers work their wonders in mysterious ways.  In an attempt to shed insight on the incredible work that they do, let me introduce Nick, the longtime bench jeweler and co-owner of Dearborn Jewelers.  Known for his ability to work miracles with jewelry, he can create beautiful new pieces and repair treasured old ones.  And he does it with a sense of humility and humor.

He started engraving in his father’s jewelry store when he was 14-years old.  He learned a lot about making jewelry from his dad, Nick Pavlich, and from another bench jeweler in his youth, George Omelczenko.  While most of his mastery has been obtained on the job, he did take stone setting classes from the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.) back in the early 1990s.

According to Nick, the three most important tools of a bench jeweler are “good eyesight, a hammer, and  inspiration.”

His best advice to young bench jewelers is “Take care of your eyes.” But there’s a lot more to it than having a keen eye.  Nick is a perfectionist and he has the patience to work with the jewelry.  He says he’s not patient when teaching others, but I find him extremely patient with interruptions about whether some repair can be done or whether some design is feasible.

His most memorable job was a lapel pin he made for a gentleman whose last name started with W.  I asked him why it was so memorable and he said, “It just turned out really good.  It was a script W, in white gold, with graduated diamonds mounted in it.  It was really pretty.”   We tried to find a picture of it, but no luck.  So he drew a little picture for me.  It’s amazing how he can remember details of jewelry he worked on, even if it was decades ago.

A bench jeweler’s bench is his domain.  It can look chaotic but he knows where everything is.  If you spend any time around the bench, you’re likely to hear the sounds of hammering, drilling, filing and the occasional “ouch.”  You’ll see the torch fired up, steam coming from the cleaning area, and sometimes you’ll even see Nick down on the ground, searching for that stubborn diamond that simply did not want to be set.  Being a bench jeweler is not easy work.

Most importantly,  Nick is a family man, a religious man, and a man of integrity and honor. You can always count on Nick to tell you the truth and to do his best for you. His sense of duty is one of the main reasons, I think, that Dearborn Jewelers is so successful. Customers know that no one will work harder and with more experience on their jewelry.

So the next time you look at your ring or put on a bracelet, you’ll have a better understanding of the work that went into making it.  Think about the person that made your jewelry–a combination of artist and engineer– the bench jeweler.

Making a custom fit wedding band

Making a custom fit wedding band