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Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Median—$27,400 per year

Employment Outlook: Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Jewelers design, make, sell, and repair jewelry. Their field is a broad one, including many kinds of workers. Jewelers work in design and crafts studios, factories, retail stores, and repair shops. They work with gold, silver, diamonds, and other metals and gems. Jewelers deal with rings, necklaces, earrings, and other ornaments. They may work with fine jewelry, which is made of precious metals and gems. Or they may work with costume jewelry, which is made of less expensive metals and materials such as shells, wood, plastic, or imitation gems.

Some jewelers are artists who design jewelry. They draw pictures to show how a piece of jewelry will look. They either make the jewelry themselves or pass their designs on to another craftsperson. Jewelry craftspeople often make jewelry based on the design specifications of another jeweler. Sometimes they make expensive, custom-made pieces that require a lot of handwork. At other times they make jewelry using assembly line methods. Even factory-made jewelry often needs some hand finishing. Workers who make jewelry use a wide variety of hand and machine tools. They use special magnifying glasses to help them see details when they are working on intricate pieces.

Many jewelers work in retail shops. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 40 percent of all jewelers are self-employed owners of jewelry stores and repair shops. They may design and make jewelry, but they spend most of their time running their businesses and selling and repairing jewelry. Jewelry stores often carry other items in addition to jewelry. They may carry watches, silverware, china, glassware, and a wide variety of gifts. Some employees in jewelry shops just sell merchandise. Others just repair jewelry and watches.

Within the larger profession, jewelers often narrow their field of work. Gemologists, for example, are experts in precious gems. They examine stones, such as diamonds and rubies, and estimate their value. They often buy and sell gems wholesale. Gem cutters are skilled workers who cut diamonds and other precious and synthetic gems. Other jewelers may specialize in engraving, setting stones, or repairing and restyling old jewelry.

Education and Training Requirements

Most jewelers are high school graduates. Training requirements vary with the type of work. Some people receive informal on-the-job training in a factory or retail jewelry shop. The training period may be three to four years, depending on what skills are being learned. Most people learn their skills in technical school programs, which last from six months to two years. Technical school courses include the use and care of jewelers' tools and stone setting. Employers usually want technical school graduates to have three years of additional training on the job. There are also college art programs that run for four years and lead to a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Some colleges also offer home-study courses. For those interested in becoming a jeweler, high school or college courses in physics, chemistry, art, mechanical drawing, and business management are helpful.

Jewelers work with valuable materials, so many employers require candidates to be bonded before they will hire them. Bond companies provide a kind of insurance that guarantees that bonded employees will not steal. They check candidates' backgrounds to make sure that they are honest before they will bond them.

Getting the Job

Interested individuals can apply directly to design and crafts studios, to jewelry factories, or to retail shops for a job. Individuals may be able to continue working at the places where they trained. Trade organizations and the jewelers' union may be able to provide job information. Prospective jewelers can also check with employment agencies, read the newspaper classifieds, or search job banks on the Internet for available positions.

If candidates want to open their own jewelry stores, they should first get some experience selling, making, or repairing jewelry. Initially, an interested individual will need a lot of money to open his or her own store. Loans are available, but candidates will have to convince the lender that they are honest and know enough about the jewelry business to succeed.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced jewelry workers can become supervisors in a studio or factory or managers in a retail store. Many become owners of their own shops or studios.

Employment for jewelers is expected to decline through the year 2014. However, there will be openings to replace workers who leave the field. While there is a growing demand for jewelry, more of it is being made by machinery, adversely affecting employment of lower-skilled occupations. People who have completed technical school courses in the design, making, and repair of jewelry have the best chances of getting jobs in jewelry making. As the economy fluctuates, so do opportunities. Jewelry retailers benefit during a strong economy, when people are willing to buy more. However, during an economic slowdown, opportunities are usually better for repairers as people decide to repair or restore existing pieces of jewelry rather than make purchases.

Working Conditions

Working conditions vary with the type of employment. Retail stores are usually quiet, clean, and attractive. Jewelers involved in selling must have good business sense and must be able to get along well with other people. Factories, repair shops, and studios are usually well lit and pleasant, but they may be noisy because of the machinery.

All jewelers should have some artistic ability. They must have good hand-eye coordination, as well as skill at working with their hands. Patience and attention to detail are essential.

Jewelers in factories often work thirty-five to forty hours per week. Those working in retail stores and repair shops generally work forty to forty-eight hours per week, including some evenings and weekends. Extra hours are required during holiday seasons when stores stay open longer. Both manufacturing and retail workers sometimes experience slow seasons when there may be layoffs. Some jewelers belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

American Gem Society
8881 W. Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89117
(702) 255-6500

Gemological Institute of America
5345 Armada Dr.
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 603-4000

Jewelers of America
52 Vanderbilt Ave., 19th Fl.
New York, NY 10017
(800) 223-0673

Earnings and Benefits

Jewelers earn a median of $27,400 per year, according to the BLS. Depending on the store, jewelers may receive commissions on what they sell. Earnings vary, depending on skill, union contracts, and place of employment. Benefits for employed jewelers sometimes include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans. Self-employed jewelers must provide their own benefits.