29 November 2012

Once a piece of jewellery has been made, it needs finishing and polishing. Finishing involves a number of creative techniques.

Polishing precious metals is highly skilled work. Photo: Holts Academy
Polishing precious metals is highly skilled work. Photo: Holts Academy

What does a finisher do?

Finishing refers to the effect required on the metal the jewellery is made of.

Finishing techniques include

  • hammering - small indentations created by a goldsmith using a hammer
  • pin ends - created by a series of fast-moving pins
  • beading - a form of edging.

Further finishing and polishing effects can be achieved such as the type of surface the metal has. This could be matte, satin or mirror.

The techniques used depend on what the jewellery is made of, how it’s been made, and the effect the jeweller, or the customer, wants for the finished piece

You may want to approach a local company for work experience opportunities.

During the making process, a piece of jewellery may get marks and blemishes on it. Scratches, file ridges or minor fire marks all have to be removed by the painstaking work of the polisher.

Polishing precious metals is highly skilled work. Some polishing may be done as the piece is being created, before it is assembled. Jewellery with diamonds or other gemstones may be polished before the stone is set. Polishing has to be done with great care to make sure that the polish reaches into every crevice of the piece.

The polishing can be done by lathe or by hand. The polisher can use a range of equipment, including:

  • brushes
  • leather or felt ‘bobs’
  • calico mops.

They may also use special materials, such as:

  • sand, emery or pumice abrasives
  • vegetable oil 
  • tripoli, a grease-based compound with a microscopic abrasive
  • rouge, a non-abrasive oxide (which comes in several colours) which burnishes the metal to a mirror finish and gives it a lustre.

Finally the jewellery is cleaned using ultrasound or solvents.

If jewellery has become tarnished or worn, finishing techniques can be used to restore its original appearance.

What is the job like?

Most polishers and finishers work for jewellery companies. The companies may be

  • producing jewellery in batches, perhaps using casting
  • creating more individual pieces, sometimes to a customer's own specifications.

Some companies specialise in providing finishing, polishing and plating services to other companies and to the public. You may do polishing work alongside other jewellery work, possibly working as a bench jeweller.

Some highly skilled gold or silversmiths offer polishing services. They may be self-employed. They are likely to be doing other jewellery work as well as polishing.

How do I get into polishing/finishing?

You need to be:

  • good with your hands
  • a quick worker – you have to be able to meet deadlines
  • good with people – able to get on with your colleagues in a small team and with customers
  • able to work to high standards.

What training and qualifications do I need? 

There are no specific qualifications for jewellery polishing and finishing. The techniques are covered in general jewellery courses, which can be studied at different levels in different ways.

Employers may be willing to train you, possibly through an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are available from:

If you are keen to get into jewellery polishing and finishing, you may want to approach a local company for part-time or work experience opportunities.

College courses include: 

  • 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.

Degree courses in Jewellery, Goldsmithing, Silversmithing and Jewellery Design are offered throughout the UK, including:

Holts Academy of Jewellery offers diplomas in jewellery manufacture at levels 2, 3 and 4

There are some short courses in polishing and finishing. Although there are often no entry requirements, some courses expect you to have knowledge of jewellery making.

Some short courses expect you to have knowledge of jewellery making. Make sure the one you apply for is right for you.

Short courses can be aimed at people wanting to start out in jewellery, or at experienced jewellers wanting to add to their skills.

Some short 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, maths and art, design and technology (resistant materials) is a relevant subject to pursue.

The Institute of Professional Goldsmiths and the British Jewellers' Association (BJA) may have further useful information. 

What can I earn? 

As a trainee jewellery polisher with no experience, you are likely to be paid at the minimum wage (£3.68 for people over 18) while you are training.

If you are finishing and polishing as part of a bench jewellery job, you could earn up to £25,000 per year, depending on experience.

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