29 November 2012

Silversmiths and small-workers are skilled craftspeople who form large-scale items from silver and other precious metals

Jo McAllister, Observer’s Rings, Collector’s Rings, fine silver, vintage camera lenses. Photo: Association for Contemporary Jewellery
Jo McAllister, Observer’s Rings, Collector’s Rings, fine silver, vintage camera lenses. Photo: Association for Contemporary Jewellery

What do silversmiths do? 

The items silversmiths produce can include: 

  • sporting trophies
  • holloware such as tea sets, trays and candlesticks
  • flatware, including cutlery
  • boxes
  • giftware, such as picture frames, christening gifts and other ornaments
  • bespoke items such as model boats and cars

As a trained silversmith, it is unlikely that you would carry out every skill required to produce an item. Instead, you might work with other skilled craftspeople to complete a piece of work.

What is the job like?

The work of a silversmith can be broken down into several stages. Your work could involve:

  1. Receiving instructions, such as a simple drawing or complex design from a client or designer.
    You might need to work with them to correct any aspects of the design which will not work in practice, before agreeing on a final design. For example, a teapot must be stable and pour well.
  2. Working out and ordering the precise amount of metals and materials needed from the metal supplier, also know as the 'bullion dealer'.
  3. Forming a sheet of silver to the right thickness and correct size, often using a template.
  4. Making the required parts of the piece. Various skills may be used to do this, including chasing, spinning and forging, depending on the item you are producing.
    Specialist tools including raising hammers and lathes are used.
  5. Decorating the surface of the piece, using, for example, a piercing saw to cut metal away.
  6. Eliminating marks and scratches in the silver with a planishing hammer.
  7. Assembling the different parts of the item using solder and a forge.
  8. Sending the piece to a polisher to finish and polish the piece. The polisher uses files, wet and dry paper, and mops to smooth the metal and achieve a fine polished finish.
  9. Sending the piece to a plating specialist to add silver or gilt plating to ensure the highest quality finish.

How do I become a silversmith?

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 metals
  • able to solve practical problems effectively.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Silversmiths 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.

Highly skilled silversmiths always train at the bench, as practical training and experience is vital. Students who go to college or university will have more design and theoretical knowledge but may need to build up their hand skills.

The Goldsmiths' Company offer a variety of widely-recognised and prestigious apprenticeships in the jewellery, silversmithing and allied trades. These apprenticeship areas currently include silversmithing, along with hand engraving, diamond mounting, stone setting, enamelling, chasing, polishing and finishing.

A Goldsmiths’ Company apprenticeship lasts 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 the latest technological innovations such as CAD (Computer Aided Design), RP (Rapid Prototyping) and sintering (a method used to create objects from powders).

All Goldsmiths’ Company apprentices must show their potential by undergoing a workshop trial with a Master to prove their suitability and commitment to the work. Generally, Goldsmiths’ Company apprentices are aged between 16 and 21 and live in London and the south-east of England. For further information see the Goldsmiths’ Company website.

Apprenticeships in silversmithing may also be available via the government's apprenticeships website. Look at the section on Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies, where you will find the section on Jewellery, Silversmithing and Allied Trades.

Apprenticeships for silversmiths, where available, are offered at intermediate and advanced levels.

You could also send off your CV and a covering letter to jewellery firms, whose details are normally on the internet, to ask about possible apprenticeships.

You need to show employers that you like making things.

If you plan to apply for a silversmithing apprenticeship, it's a good idea to have some examples of something you have made to take to the interview. This could be any 3D piece of work, or something you made in Design and Technology or Art lessons at school, or at an evening class or short course.

You need to show the employer that you like making things. Vacancies for apprenticeships are scarce and there is lots of competition. Employers are looking for people who are interested in the work and committed to the long training.

College and university courses for silversmiths include:

  • Foundation Degree in Silversmithing and Jewellery – entry is with a minimum of one A level and GCSE (A*-C) English and maths
  • HND in Silversmithing and Jewellery – entry is with one to two A levels
  • Degree courses in Silversmithing and Jewellery.

A portfolio of your work is usually needed for all higher education courses. Academic entry requirements for the degree might include one of the following:

  • two or three A levels,  which may be at certain stipulated grades to a required UCAS tariff or points score
  • a BTEC Extended Diploma
  • access course for mature applicants
  • foundation diploma in Art and Design

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

Other further and higher education courses in jewellery all around the country may include silversmithing as part of the syllabus, so it's important to investigate courses carefully. Short introductory courses are also available, in colleges, adult education institutes or privately.

The BTEC National Diploma or Extended Diploma courses in 3D Design or Art and Design may include jewellery design. The entry requirements are four GCSEs at grade C or above or equivalent, and a portfolio of your artwork.

The BTEC National Diploma can then lead onto an HND or degree in Jewellery and/or Silversmithing.

The Jewellery and Allied Industries Training Council provide a list of jewellery courses in further and higher education.

What can I earn?

Apprentices at the start of their training may be paid the minimum wage, which starts from £2.65 per hour (2012 rates). As apprentices progress through their apprenticeship and gain more experience, this rate would increase to an annual salary of up to approximately £18,500 - £20,000 in your final year.

The Goldsmiths' Company offers a bursary scheme to Masters in order to support them whilst they train an apprentice.

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

Salaries might start at around £20,000 per year for someone who is fully trained. They could then rise to £35,000 - £40,000 for the most experienced and skilled person working for a top jewellery company or running their own business.

Also of interest

Stay updated

Sign up for our weekly careers newsletter

View our privacy policy.

Related events & opportunities