Gem and Diamond Workers - Occupational Profile and Resources
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Occupation Profile for Gem and Diamond Workers

Fabricate, finish, or evaluate the quality of gems and diamonds used in jewelry or industrial tools.

Signficant Points

  • About half of all jewelers are self-employed.
  • Jewelers usually learn their trade in vocational or technical schools, through distance-learning centers, or on the job.
  • Prospects for bench jewelers and other skilled jewelers should be favorable; keen competition is expected for lower-skilled manufacturing jobs, such as assemblers and polishers.
 
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Sample Job Titles
Apprentice, Diamond Setter
Apprentice, Lapidary
Apprentice, Stone Setter
Brilliandeer Lopper
Diamond Assorter
Diamond Cleaner
Diamond Cleaver
Diamond Cutter
Diamond Die Driller
Diamond Die Polisher
Diamond Driller
Diamond Mounter
Diamond Polisher
Diamond Selector
Diamond Setter
Diamond Sizer and Grader
Gem Cutter
Gem Expert
Gem Stone Cutter
Girdler
Jewel Bearing Maker
Jewel Blocker and Sawyer
Jewelry Cutter
Jewel Sawyer
Jewel Setter
Lapidary
Lathe Operator
Oliving Machine Operator
Pearl Cutter
Pearl Peller
Pearl Restorer
Phonograph Needle Tip Maker
Sapphire Stylus Grinder
Spotter

Training
  • These occupations usually involve using communication and organizational skills to coordinate, supervise, manage, or train others to accomplish goals. Examples include funeral directors, electricians, forest and conservation technicians, legal secretaries, interviewers, and insurance sales agents.
  • Most occupations in this zone require training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree. Some may require a bachelor's degree.
  • Previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is required for these occupations. For example, an electrician must have completed three or four years of apprenticeship or several years of vocational training, and often must have passed a licensing exam, in order to perform the job.
  • Employees in these occupations usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers.

Jewelers usually learn their trade in vocational or technical schools, through distance-learning centers, or on the job. Formal training enhances employment and advancement opportunities.

Education and training. Jewelers usually learn their trade in vocational or technical schools, through distance-learning centers, or on the job. For those interested in working in a jewelry store or repair shop, vocational and technical training or courses offered by public and private colleges are the best sources of training. In these programs, which can vary in length from 6 months to 1 year, students learn the use and care of jewelers’ tools and machines and basic jewelrymaking and jewelry-repairing skills, such as designing, casting, and setting and polishing stones.

Technical school courses also cover topics such as blueprint reading, math, and shop theory. To enter some technical school programs and most college programs, a high school diploma or its equivalent is required. However, some schools specializing in jewelry training do not require graduation from high school.

Colleges and art and design schools offer programs that can lead to the degree of bachelor of fine arts, or master of fine arts, in jewelry design. Various institutes offer courses and programs in gemology. Programs cover a wide range of topics, including the identification and grading of diamonds and gem stones.

Computer-aided design is becoming increasingly common, and students—especially those interested in design and manufacturing—may wish to obtain training in it; however, most employers will provide such training.

Most employers feel that vocational school and technical school graduates need up to a year of additional supervised on-the-job training or an apprenticeship to refine their repair skills and learn more about the operation of the store or shop. In addition, some employers encourage workers to improve their skills by enrolling in short-term technical school courses such as fabricating, jewelry design, jewelry manufacturing, wax carving, and gemology. Employers may pay all or part of the cost of this additional training.

In jewelry manufacturing plants, workers traditionally develop their skills through informal apprenticeships and on-the-job training. The apprenticeship or training period lasts up to 1 year, depending on the difficulty of the specialty. Training usually focuses on casting, setting stones, making models, or engraving. In recent years, a growing number of technical schools have begun to offer training designed for jewelers working in manufacturing. Employers in manufacturing may prefer graduates of these programs because they are familiar with the production process and require less on-the-job training.

Other qualifications. The precise and delicate nature of jewelry work requires finger and hand dexterity, good hand-eye coordination, patience, and concentration. Artistic ability and fashion consciousness are major assets, particularly in jewelry design and jewelry shops, because jewelry must be stylish and attractive. Those who work in jewelry stores have frequent contact with customers and should be neat, personable, and knowledgeable about the merchandise. In addition, employers require workers of good character because jewelers work with valuable materials.

Certification and advancement. Jewelers of America offers four credentials, ranging from Certified Bench Jeweler Technician to Certified Master Bench Jeweler, for bench jewelers who pass a written and practical exam. Certification is not required to work as a bench jeweler, but it may help jewelers to show expertise and to advance.

Advancement opportunities are limited and depend greatly on an individual’s skill and initiative. In manufacturing, some jewelers advance to supervisory jobs, such as master jeweler or head jeweler, but for most, advancement means earning higher pay for the same job. Jewelers who work in jewelry stores or repair shops may become managers; some open their own businesses.

Those interested in starting their own business should first establish themselves and build a reputation for their work within the jewelry trade. Once they obtain sufficient credit from jewelry suppliers and wholesalers, they can acquire the necessary inventory. 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. Courses in these subjects are often available from technical schools and community colleges.

Nature of Work

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers use a variety of common and specialized handtools and equipment to design and manufacture new pieces of jewelry; cut, set, and polish gem stones; repair or adjust rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other jewelry; and appraise jewelry, precious metals, and gems. Jewelers usually specialize in one or more of these areas and may work for large jewelry manufacturing firms, for small retail jewelry shops, or as owners of their own businesses. Regardless of the type of work done or the work setting, jewelers need a high degree of skill, precision, and attention to detail.

Some jewelers design or make their own jewelry. Following their own designs or those created by designers or customers, they begin by shaping the metal or by carving wax to make a model for casting the metal. The individual parts then are soldered together, and the jeweler may mount a diamond or other gem or may engrave a design into the metal. Other jewelers do finishing work, such as setting stones, polishing, or engraving, or make repairs. Typical repair work includes enlarging or reducing ring sizes, resetting stones, and replacing broken clasps and mountings.

Bench jewelers usually work in jewelry retailers. They perform a wide range of tasks, from simple jewelry cleaning and repair to moldmaking and fabricating pieces from scratch. In larger manufacturing businesses, jewelers usually specialize in a single operation. Mold and model makers create models or tools for the jewelry that is to be produced. Assemblers solder or fuse jewelry and their parts; they also may set stones. Engravers etch designs into the metal with specialized tools, and polishers bring a finished luster to the final product.

Jewelers typically do the handiwork required to produce a piece of jewelry, while gemologists and laboratory graders analyze, describe, and certify the quality and characteristics of gem stones. Gemologists may work in gemological laboratories or as quality control experts for retailers, importers, or manufacturers. After using microscopes, computerized tools, and other grading instruments to examine gem stones or finished pieces of jewelry, they write reports certifying that the items are of a particular quality. Many jewelers also study gemology to become familiar with the physical properties of the gem stones with which they work.

Jewelry appraisers carefully examine jewelry to determine its value, after which they write appraisal documents. They determine the value of a piece by researching the jewelry market, 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.

In small retail stores or repair shops, jewelers and appraisers may be involved in all aspects of the work. Those who own or manage stores or shops also hire and train employees; order, market, and sell merchandise; and perform managerial duties.

New technology is helping to produce jewelry of higher quality at a reduced cost and in a shorter amount of time. For example, lasers are often used for cutting and improving the quality of stones, for applying intricate engraving or design work, and for inscribing personal messages or identification on jewelry. Jewelers also use lasers to weld metals together in milliseconds with no seams or blemishes, improving the quality and appearance of jewelry.

Some manufacturing firms use computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) to facilitate product design and automate some steps in the moldmaking and modelmaking process. CAD allows jewelers to create a virtual-reality model of a piece of jewelry. Using CAD, jewelers can modify the design, change the stone, or try a different setting and see the changes on a computer screen before cutting a stone or performing other costly steps. Once they are satisfied with the model, CAM produces it in a waxlike or other material. After the mold of the model is made, it is easier for manufacturing firms to produce numerous copies of a given piece of jewelry, which are then distributed to retail establishments across the country. Similar techniques may be used in the retail setting, allowing customers to review their jewelry designs with the jeweler and make modifications before committing themselves to the expense of a customized piece of jewelry.

Work environment. A jeweler’s work involves a great deal of concentration and attention to detail. Trying to satisfy customers’ and employers’ demands for speed and quality while working on precious stones and metal can cause fatigue or stress. However, the use of more ergonomically correct jewelers’ benches has eliminated most of the strain and discomfort caused by spending long periods over a workbench.

Lasers require both careful handling to avoid injury and steady hands to direct precision tasks. In larger manufacturing plants and some smaller repair shops, chemicals, sharp or pointed tools, and jewelers’ torches pose safety threats and may cause injury if proper care is not taken. Most dangerous chemicals, however, have been replaced with synthetic, less toxic products to meet safety requirements.

In repair shops, jewelers usually work alone with little supervision. In retail stores, they may talk with customers about repairs, perform custom design work, and even do some selling. Because many of their materials are valuable, jewelers must observe strict security procedures, including working behind locked doors that are opened only by a buzzer, working on the other side of barred windows, making use of burglar alarms, and, in larger jewelry establishments, working in the presence of armed guards.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)