29 November 2012

Goldsmiths specialise in working with precious metals, particularly gold.

As a goldsmith, you will need to be someone who takes pleasure in practical work and enjoys working with their hands. Photo: Holts Academy
As a goldsmith, you will need to be someone who takes pleasure in practical work and enjoys working with their hands. Photo: Holts Academy

What do goldsmiths do? 

There are numerous highly skilled areas within the jewellery industry, including mounting, hand engraving, stone setting, enamelling and finishing.

You need to be patient and able to concentrate for long periods of time.

The craftspeople involved in these areas work in precious metals including silver, gold and platinum.

They use these metals to make the supporting structure for jewellery such as rings, pendants and brooches.  

As a trained goldsmith you would specialise in working with gold, and you might do some of these things, but it is unlikely that you would carry out every skill required to produce an item of jewellery.

Instead, you might work with other skilled craftspeople to complete a piece of work. 

What is the job like?

The making of a piece of jewellery such as a ring can be broken down into several stages:

  1. Receiving instructions from a client or designer, which might be a simple drawing or complex design. You may need to work with them to correct any aspects of the design which will not work in practice, before agreeing on a final design.
  2. Working out and order the precise amount of metals and materials needed from the bullion (precious metals) dealer.
  3. Forming the various parts of the ring into the correct size, shape and thickness. These could include the top bezel where the stone sits, the claws which hold the stone in place, and the shank, which is the part that fits around the finger. You would use very precise measurements and specialised tools as required. Tools and processes could include:
    • A rolling mill to obtain the right thickness of metal
    • Files, pliers, piercing saws and hammers
    • Annealing or heating the metal using gas and oxygen so that it can be formed.
  4. Assembling the different parts of the ring using solder, ensuring the symmetry is exactly right.
  5. Finishing the ring using files and different grades of very fine wet and dry paper.
  6. Sending the jewellery to an Assay Office to be hallmarked. This involves stamping the piece with the date and maker’s mark.
  7. Sending the jewellery to a stone setter to have the stones added.
  8. Sending the finished ring to a polisher to finish it off.

How do I become a goldsmith?

Goldsmiths need to become fully trained and qualified, as the work is highly skilled. You can choose between an apprenticeship and a full-time college or university course.

You will need to be:

  • someone who takes pleasure in practical work and enjoys working with their hands
  • very patient and able to concentrate for long periods of time
  • creative and artistic – an ability to draw is an advantage and technical drawing skills will be of great use
  • reliable and honest as you will be working with expensive jewels and metals
  • a team player and committed to learning your trade.

Work experience or a short course will help to demonstrate your commitment to a potential employer and will therefore improve your chances of obtaining an apprenticeship.

Practical subjects at school such as design and technology (especially resistant materials) and art provide a good background for anyone wanting to become a goldsmith.

An understanding of maths is also an advantage since you will be required to work out the different amounts of metals you need for a piece of jewellery, which involves calculating areas. Even if you are not very good at maths, you need to be willing to learn!

What training and qualifications do I need?

Highly skilled goldsmiths always train in a workshop, as practical training and experience is the only way to learn. Students who go to college or university will have more design and theoretical knowledge, but will need to develop these practical skills. 

The Goldsmith’s Company offers a variety of widely-recognised and prestigious apprenticeships. The apprenticeship areas on offer currently include diamond mounting, silversmithing, hand engraving, stone setting, enamelling, valuing, and finishing.

Goldsmiths’ Company apprenticeships last for between three and five years. Depending on the area you specialise in, you may:

  • be employed in a workshop under a Master, who oversees your work
  • gain practical experience and training in traditional skills
  • be given the opportunity to gain recognised qualifications in jewellery
  • receive training in CAD (Computer Aided Design), RP (Rapid Prototyping) and sintering (a method used to create objects from powders).

All applicants to Goldsmiths’ Company apprenticeships must show their potential by undergoing a workshop trial with a Master to prove their suitability and commitment to the work.

All applicants to Goldsmiths’ Company apprenticeships must undergo a workshop trial with a Master.

Generally, Goldsmiths’ Company apprentices are aged between 16 and 21 and live in London and the South East of England. 

Other jewellery companies around the UK may also take on young people as apprentices. It's a good idea to send off your CV and a covering letter to a number of firms.

College and University courses for goldsmiths include:

A portfolio of your work is usually needed for a degree course. Academic entry requirements for a degree can include:

  • 2 or 3 A levels, which may need to be at certain grades, or an equivalent number of UCAS points
  • a BTEC Extended Diploma
  • an access course for mature applicants
  • a foundation diploma in Art and Design

In addition, you will need GCSE English (A-C) or Key Skills Communication level 2.

Other courses in jewellery all around the country may include goldsmithing as part of the syllabus. It's important to research the content of each course in detail before you apply.

What can I earn?

Apprentices at the start of their training may be paid the minimum wage, which starts from £2.68 per hour (2012 rates).

As apprentices progress through their apprenticeship and gain more experience, this rate would increase up to an annual salary of approximately £18,500 - £20,000 in your final year.

The Goldsmith’s Company offer a bursary scheme to Masters in order to support them whilst they train an apprentice.

Once experienced, the earnings of goldsmiths can vary widely depending on who they are working for. Some goldsmiths are self-employed, whilst others are employed by jewellery companies.

Salaries might start at around £20,000 per year for someone who is fully trained, and could rise to £40,000 - £50,000 for the most experienced and skilled person working for a top jewellery company or running their own business.

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