Bench jewellers are skilled craft workers who create and/or repair pieces of jewellery using a variety of materials and techniques.
What do bench jewellers do?
Bench jewellers are usually on hand in places where jewellery is sold. As well as making jewellery, they often carry out repairs for visiting customers.
They may work in:
- metals including gold and silver
- semi-precious and precious stones
- other materials, such as beads, stones, wire, shells, fabrics, etc.
What is the job like?
Depending on the piece and the finished effect they want to create, bench jewellers use different craft techniques. These can include goldsmithing and silversmithing, as well as traditional bench skills such as soldering, resizing rings and setting stones.
Many jewellers now use modern technology, such as laser-cutting and CAD imaging. However, some parts of the process need to be done by hand using traditional methods. Stone setting, for example needs a trained hand and eye.
Many jewellers now use modern technology, such as laser-cutting, but some things still need traditional methods.
Although jewellery is still made in traditional gold and silver, new metals and alloys are allowing jewellers to create innovative designs. Titanium, for example, is very light and can be hollowed out to make pieces larger than previously possible.
Some bench jewellers design their own pieces, for small scale craft production or individual bespoke designs, sometimes to a customer’s own requirements. Others work from someone else’s designs. They may be mass-producing for a large manufacturer.
Bench jewellers may be employed by a jewellery companies or shops to carry out repairs.
Jewellers work in a studio, either on their own or an employer’s. Many small-scale jewellers are self-employed, working alone or with a few others. Customers may come to the studio to discuss designs and buy jewellery.
Jewellers may go to craft fairs and events in the UK and overseas. Here they can meet other craft workers and suppliers and display their goods to visitors (including members of the public).
Many jewellers have websites to advertise and display their designs and services.
How do I become a bench jeweller?
You need to:
- be interested in jewellery and jewellery materials
- have some design ability and creative flair – the ability to think in 3D and translate designs into reality is also useful
- be able to pay attention to detail
- be good with your hands and able to handle tools.
If you are dealing with the public, you need to have customer service skills. If you are designing bespoke pieces, you need to be able to explain your creative ideas to customers.
If you are self-employed, you need business skills so you can market your goods and services, deal with finances and develop your business.
What qualifications and training do I need?
There is a wide range of jewellery courses at all levels on offer throughout the UK.
Apprenticeships are available through:
- the Goldsmiths Company, which runs its own five-year apprenticeship scheme
- Holt’s Academy, in Jewellery Manufacture at Levels 2, 3 and 4.
The Goldsmiths Company is also running a Foundation Programme which offers young people the opportunity to work towards a City & Guilds Level 2 Diploma in Jewellery Manufacturing, additional units in Employability Skills, Level 3 Diploma in Craft Skills.
College courses could include:
- a BTEC National Diploma in Design Crafts (Precious Metals and Gemstones)
- a BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design Studies, including Silversmithing and Jewellery
- a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Jewellery Design and Production.
Holts Academy offers Diplomas in Jewellery Manufacture at Levels 2, 3 and 4.
Degree courses concentrating on jewellery, gold/silversmithing and jewellery design are offered throughout the UK, including at:
- the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University (there is also an HND)
- Plymouth College of Art
- the Royal College of Art, London.
There are also a great many short courses on offer. These can be aimed at people wanting to start out in jewellery, or at experienced jewellers wanting to add to their skills.
Some courses lead to accredited qualifications, while others are for people interested in jewellery as a hobby. Check carefully that the course you are applying for is the right one for you.
Some courses have entry requirements, such as two A levels (or equivalent) for degree courses. You will also need to show a portfolio of your work.
As well as English and maths, art and design or design and technology (resistant materials) are relevant subjects. Business studies or enterprise are useful if you want to run your own business.
If you work with antique jewellery a lot, the Society of Jewellery Historians is a network for jewellery professionals who are interested in the history of jewellery.
What can I earn?
Making and repairing jewellery for a manufacturer or jewellery company, you could earn up to £25,000 per year, depending on experience.
As a self-employed jeweller, earnings vary a lot depending on how you develop your business. Craft work can be very competitive. Many people combine jewellery making with other paid work, especially while they are building their career.