Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers design, manufacture, and sell jewelry. They also adjust, repair, and appraise gems and jewelry.

Duties

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers typically do the following:

  • Examine and grade diamonds and other gems
  • Create jewelry from gold, silver, and precious gemstones
  • Shape metal to hold the gems when making individual pieces
  • Make a model with carved wax or with computer-aided design, and then cast pieces with the model
  • Solder pieces together and insert stones
  • Smooth joints and rough spots and polish smoothed areas
  • Clean and polish jewelry using polishing wheels and chemical baths
  • Repair jewelry by replacing broken clasps, altering ring sizes, or resetting stones
  • Compute the costs of labor and material for new pieces and repairs

Technology is helping to produce high-quality jewelry at a reduced cost and in less time. For example, lasers are often used for cutting and improving the quality of stones, for intricate engraving or design work, and for inscribing personal messages on jewelry. Jewelers also use lasers to weld metals together without seams or blemishes, improving the quality and appearance of jewelry.

Some manufacturing firms use computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) to make product design easier and to automate some steps. With CAD, jewelers can create a model of a piece of jewelry on the computer and then see the effect of changing different aspects—the design, the stone, the setting—before cutting a stone or taking other costly steps. With CAM, they can then create a mold of the piece, which makes producing many copies easy.

Some jewelers also use CAD software to design custom jewelry. They let the customer review the design on the computer and see the effect of changes, so that the customer is satisfied before committing to the expense of a customized piece of jewelry.

The following are examples of types of jewelers and precious stone and metal workers:

Precious metal workers expertly manipulate gold, silver, and other metals. They use pliers and other hand tools to shape and manipulate metal. Some may mix alloy ingredients according to chemical properties.

Gemologists analyze, describe, and certify the quality and characteristics of gemstones. After using microscopes, computerized tools, and other grading instruments to examine gemstones or finished pieces of jewelry, they write reports certifying that the items are of a particular quality. Most gemologists have completed the Graduate Gemologist program through the Gemological Institute of America.

Jewelry appraisers carefully examine jewelry to determine its value and then write appraisal documents. They determine value by researching the jewelry market and by using reference books, auction catalogs, price lists, and the Internet. They may work for jewelry stores, appraisal firms, auction houses, pawnbrokers, or insurance companies. Many gemologists also become appraisers.

Bench jewelers usually work for jewelry retailers, doing tasks from simple jewelry cleaning and repair to making molds and pieces from scratch.

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Work Environment

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers held about 32,700 jobs in 2012. About one-third were self-employed. Many work from home and sell their products at trade and craft shows on weekends.

Most wage and salary workers in this occupation are employed in jewelry stores, repair shops, and manufacturing plants.

The industries that employed the most jewelers and precious stone and metal workers in 2012 were as follows:

Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores 33%
Jewelry and silverware manufacturing 21
Merchant wholesalers, durable goods 7
Personal and household goods repair and maintenance 2

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers spend much of their time at a workbench, using different tools and chemicals. Computers are also becoming an increasingly important tool in the jewelry industry as computer-aided design (CAD) can save workers time and resources. Many tools, such as jeweler’s torches and lasers, must be handled carefully to avoid injury. Polishing processes such as chemical baths must also be performed with safety in mind. Sharp or pointed tools also may pose hazards.

In repair shops, jewelers usually work alone with little supervision. In retail stores, they may talk with customers about repairs, do custom design work, and even do some selling. Because many of their materials are valuable, jewelers must follow security procedures, including making use of burglar alarms and, in larger jewelry stores, working in the presence of security guards.

Work Schedules

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers have varied work schedules. Self-employed workers often decide their own hours. Many work weekends, showing and selling their products at trade and craft shows. Retail store workers might also work nonstandard hours because they must be available when consumers are not working, such as on holidays and weekends. About 1 in 5 worked part time in 2012.

Education and Training

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers have traditionally learned their trade through long-term on-the-job training. This method is still common, particularly in jewelry manufacturing, but a growing number of workers now learn their skills at trade schools.   

Education

Many trade schools offer training for jewelers and precious stone and metal workers. Course topics can include introduction to gems and metals, resizing, repair, and computer-aided design (CAD). Programs vary from 6 months to 1 year, and many teach students how to design, cast, set, and polish jewelry and gems, as well as how to use and care for a jeweler’s tools and equipment. Graduates of these programs may be more attractive to employers because they require less on-the-job training. Many gemologists graduate from the Gemological Institute of America.

In jewelry manufacturing plants, workers develop their skills through on-the-job training. The length of training required to become proficient depends on the difficulty of the specialty. Training usually focuses on casting, setting stones, making models, or engraving.

Other Experience

Some workers gain their skills through related work experience. This may include working alongside a bench jeweler or gemologist while performing the duties of a sales person in a retail jewelry store. Time spent in a store with a bench jeweler or gemologist can provide valuable experience.

Advancement

In manufacturing, some jewelers advance to supervisory jobs, such as master jeweler or head jeweler. Jewelers who work in jewelry stores or repair shops may become managers; some open their own business.

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers who want to open their own store should first establish themselves and build a reputation for their work within the jewelry trade. After they achieve sufficient sales, they can acquire the necessary inventory for a store from a jewelry wholesaler. Also, because the jewelry business is highly competitive, jewelers who plan to open their own store should have sales experience and knowledge of marketing and business management.

Personality and Interests

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers typically have an interest in the Building and Creating interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Creating interest which might fit with a career as a jeweler and precious stone and metal worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Artistic ability. Jewelers must have the ability to create designs that are unique and beautiful.

Detail oriented. Creating designs requires concentration and patience. Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers must give attention to large and small details on the pieces they make.

Fashion sense. Jewelry designers must know what is stylish and attractive because that is what people are likely to buy.

Finger dexterity. Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers must precisely move their fingers in order to grasp, manipulate, and assemble very small objects.

Interpersonal skills. Whether selling products in stores or at craft shows, jewelers and precious stone and metal workers interact with customers.

Visualization skills. Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers must imagine how something might look after its shape is altered or when its parts are rearranged.

Pay

The median annual wage for jewelers and precious stone and metal workers was $35,350 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,940.

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers have varied work schedules. Self-employed workers often decide their own hours. Many work weekends, showing and selling their products at trade and craft shows. Retail store workers might also work nonstandard hours because they must be available when consumers are not working, such as on holidays and weekends. Jewelers who work in retail stores may earn a commission for jewelry sold. About 1 in 5 worked part time in 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of jewelers and precious stone and metal workers is projected to decline 10 percent from 2012 to 2022. Employment of these workers will decline because most jewelry manufacturing is now done outside of the country.

Traditional jewelry stores may continue to lose some of their customers to nontraditional sellers, such as department stores, but they will still maintain a large customer base. In addition, new jewelry sold by nontraditional retailers should create some demand for skilled jewelers who can size, clean, and repair jewelry. Custom jewelry has become more popular and may be a source of demand for jewelers over the coming decade.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be available for bench jewelers who are skilled at design or repair. New jewelers will be needed to replace those who retire or who leave the occupation for other reasons. As master jewelers retire, shops lose expertise and knowledge that is difficult and costly to replace.

Job opportunities in jewelry stores and repair shops should be best for those who have graduated from a trade school or training program and have related work experience.

Strong competition is expected for lower skilled manufacturing jobs that are susceptible to automation. Jewelry designers who wish to create their own jewelry lines should expect intense competition. Although demand for customized and boutique jewelry is strong, it is difficult for independent designers to establish themselves. Experience with computer-aided design (CAD) makes creating custom pieces of jewelry easier.

During economic downturns, demand for jewelry products and for jewelers usually decreases. However, demand for repair workers should remain strong even during economic slowdowns because maintaining and repairing jewelry is cheaper than buying new jewelry.

For More Information

For more information about jewelers, precious stone and metal workers, and gemologists, including job opportunities and training programs, visit

Gemological Institute of America Inc.

Jewelers of America

Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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