How to Become a Jewelry Designer
Getting Started as a Jewelry Designer
It often feels like jewelry design is one of the forgotten niches of the design industry. Fashion design is more glamorous; graphic design is more prevalent; and industrial design seems to carry more prestige. Everybody – men and women alike – loves jewelry but few stop to truly appreciate the craftsmanship and aesthetics that goes into the creation of every piece of jewelry, big or small. The responsibilities of a jeweler or designer are changing as technology evolves. Not only has the advent of computer-aided design changed the way many jewelry designers work, but the Internet has allowed many aspiring and talented jewelry designers a way to enter the industry independently that was previously unavailable. Jewelry designers we spoke with viewed this change in the industry as inevitable and ultimately think it will be good for the industry as a whole. But they are also watching the change warily and expect that the influx of new independent jewelry designers will make the industry more competitive than ever.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated there were more than 30,000 professional jewelry designers/precious metal workers employed across the country, but that number can’t possibly have included every single jewelry designer using eBay and Etsy to sell their works, which gives you an idea of just how vast this seemingly niche industry is. Despite the hardships and ever-evolving nature of the industry, the professional jewelry designers we spoke with were happy with their career choices. It is, of course, easier to be happy once you have become established, but these jewelry designers relished the unique daily interactions with clients and were immensely proud to understand that their creations would outlive them by many generations. The chance to create a meaningful piece of jewelry, whether it is a wedding ring or a necklace that becomes a treasured family heirloom, is what makes the job so appealing and worthwhile.
What’s both interesting and potentially worrisome about jewelry design is that there is no hard and fast path to become a jewelry designer. Our experts agreed on some aspects of the industry, but they also offered occasionally conflicting advice and ideas, which only illustrates how many different routes there are to becoming a professional jewelry designer. In the interest of shining some light on the more common and popular options, we asked three professional jewelry designers with decades of experience to share their advice and experiences in hopes that it would eventually help aspiring designers pick their own path. We also created this handy visual to serve as a brief overview of what the profession looks like today.
In many design professions, experts we have spoken to say that while some professionals get their start without a formal education, a design program is incredibly helpful when trying to break into the industry. But in jewelry design, that is not the case. Only one of our experts received a formal education in jewelry design, and even he didn’t recommend his educational path to anyone interested in becoming a jewelry designer. Their experiences are unique, and just because a formal education may not have helped them, doesn’t mean it won’t help others. As our experts pointed out, some trade schools and jewelry design schools give students a specific education on a specific aspect of the industry (design, metallurgy, etc.) and others offer a more well-rounded and general program. What type of education serves you best largely depends on where your interests lie.
Becoming an independent jewelry designer is hardly impossible as our experts have proven. Some jewelry designers have educational and career backgrounds that have nothing to do with jewelry design, yet they now have thriving businesses that have become full-time jobs. But what they all readily admit is that teaching yourself the craft and starting your own business is not easy and requires a lot of work and patience. No matter what sort of education you choose to receive, it is still importance to have a basic background in design, craftsmanship, and business, especially if you want to be successful owning a business.
WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE IN JEWELRY DESIGN?
- Gem City College
This vocational school in Illinois is focused specifically on jewelry design and offers a staggering array of educational programs focusing on the industry. From jewelry repair and watchmaking to horology and gemology, the school is a one-stop shop for anyone who knows they want to be a jewelry designer or work with precious stones and metals.
- Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
One of the country’s most prestigious art and design schools, SCAD offers far more than an education in jewelry design, but its jewelry design degree program is comprehensive and thorough. It offers students the opportunity to get an unmatched introduction to the jewelry design industry while also teaching design basics and principles that will serve students well in other career paths too.
- Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)
Another well-known fashion school with a recognized and lauded jewelry design program, FIT is a popular destination for aspiring jewelry designers. FIT pays close attention to helping its graduates get careers by aligning itself with the industry and employing experienced and talented faculty. Its combination of studio courses and design courses give students a comprehensive look at the industry and helps them find work easily with some of the leading companies in the industry.
- Gemological Institute of America
What better place to learn about jewelry design than from the preeminent gemology institute in the country? GIA understands, better than most, the transformation the industry is undergoing and its degree program is designed to help students adapt as well. It teaches computer-aided design software, manufacturing technologies, and of course, basic design and metalwork techniques and strategies as well.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
When it comes to getting your foot in the door of a specific industry, networking is important in any profession. But our experts stressed that networking and relationships were especially important in jewelry design, and even more important for those looking to start their own business. However, networking in the jewelry design industry doesn’t mean schmoozing with people at trade shows and conferences, although that can be a part of it. Mark Loren also strongly suggested that aspiring jewelry designers do their best to be around the industry in any capacity. He mentioned that he has hired employees just based on his relationship with them and said that some of those relationships started when the employee just walked into his store out of curiosity.
Whether you are trying to working for a leading company in the industry or just trying to carve out a living as an independent designer, the people you know and work closely with in the industry will be instrumental in your success. Talent and education are great, and undoubtedly helpful, for any aspiring designer looking for his/her start, but sometimes a well-placed friend in the industry will take you farther than your talent ever could.