I recently traded in an old toy for a brand new 2017 toy to add my garage collection. During the purchasing process the young woman at Harley–Davidson asked me my profession. “I’m a goldsmith.”
A goldsmith? What does a goldsmith do? I could not help but notice that she was more than just slightly adorned in all kinds of gold and silver jewelry; in a nutshell, I told her if not for a person like me you would not be wearing all that beautiful jewelry.
??? Her puzzled look spoke volumes; many goldsmiths just design and create handcrafted jewelry. Some, like myself, design and create not only by hand, but also using modern technology such as cad-cam (computer generated design) and stateof the-art lost wax casting systems. I also have 45 years experience as a diamond and precious stone setter.
In my shop, a simple pencil sketch or a customer’s design idea starts the two-week (on average) process of making a finished, fine piece of gold jewelry – and it’s mostly done on the premises.
Most goldsmiths are prolific at doing intricate restorations or complicated repairs. Don’t confuse goldsmiths with these large mall “fix it in a minute” kiosks, you are on your own with the final results of those guys.
It can get confusing distinguishing goldsmiths from some bench jewelers. Most bench jewelers do simple day-to-day repairs or adjustments, such as ring sizing, fixing broken chains and changing an occasional watch battery or two. On the other hand, it’s a no-brainer to tell the difference between a jewelry salesperson and the above mentioned. Many jewelry salespersons are usually found in three piece suits, sporting a perfect smile, fine coiffure and manicured fingernails. A goldsmith (or bench jeweler) with impeccably clean hands and fingernails is not a busy goldsmith. The environment (workshop) for working on jewelry is nota clean or sterile work area and wearing a fancy three piece suit is not a particularly intelligent idea.
Not every jewelry store employs a resident goldsmith or bench jeweler, and will be forced to “Send the work out,” a policy that does not sit well with most folks. The question a customer should ask is, “Out where?”
The “out where” can usually be a trade shop nearby or even in another city or state. I knew a jewelry store on the island (now defunct) that sent their entire customer’s work by courier or mail to Miami. Yikes! I’d be tarred and feathered and thrown off the Marco Bridge if I told my customers I did that disservice. Not a single piece of customers’ jewelry leaves my shop, except for diamond or precious gemstone cutting services.
I was asked the same “What do you do?” question many years ago, and my answer was, “If you ever need anything made out of diamonds, precious stones, gold, platinum or silver…here’s my card!”
It is an unusual career, with ups and downs, and success depending on location and the current state of how anemic our economy is. All and all business has been good. I love what I do and still feel a great sense of pride when I am personally complimented on simple repair work or finished pieces that my son Andrew or I have completed. I’m certain it’s not the common career choice of many high school grads. For that matter, how many aspiring watchmakers do you know of? It’s sad, but it will soon be a dying art here in the U.S.
Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of the Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island at Island Plaza for almost 25 years. He welcomes your questions and comments about “All that glitters.” Call 239-394-9275 or visit www.harborgoldsmith.com.