Jewelry Designer

01

What Is Jewelry Design?

Both women and men wear different types of jewelry to accent their appearance or as some form of personal symbolism. Wedding rings are a prime example of jewelry meant to symbolize undying love with a circle that has no beginning or end. Necklaces, rings, earrings, and bracelets have always been popular, more so with women than with men. Thanks to the increasing popularity and acceptance of body piercing, a need exists for people to create studs and small hoops for people to wear on the nose, tongue, eyebrow, and other visible places on the body.

02

What Does a Jewelry Designer Do?

Jewelry designers create the concept for a new piece of jewelry and then use a variety of techniques to produce it. They may draw their design on paper or use a computer aided design (CAD) program to create it. Precious metal is a common material used to make jewelry. To create the final product, jewelry designers must work with metalsmiths to cast the stone. After completion of the casting process, jewelers cut the stone into several segments to create different pieces of jewelry.

Creating jewelry made of metal requires the jewelry designer to partner with a metalsmith. This person solders the metal chains to bind and strengthen them. A metalsmith waits until the open flame is hot enough to make the jewelry malleable. This allows him or her to form links and string a chain together. Metal casting is another process that jewelry designers may use. It involves mixing gold and silver with nickel, zinc, and copper to harden these materials so they remain durable when made into a piece of jewelry.

Beads are another common material in jewelry making. The primary materials in beads are bone, clay, glass, plastic, shells, and wood. Jewelry designers drill a hole through a bead in its natural format, paint over them, place a string through the holes, and turn them into necklaces and other types of jewelry.

Jewel cutting and setting are two important skills for a jewelry designer to possess. Cutting involves removing the broken or unattractive pieces of the jewelry in its original format, such as cutting away pieces of stone that eventually become part of a diamond ring. After cutting the raw materials, jewelry designers rub the rock against a harder surface to polish it and smooth out the rough edges. When a jewelry maker sets a piece of jewelry, he or she places it into a metal cast. This may involve using a machine with prong or claw settings to get the placement just right.

Jewelry designers who offer custom work are becoming increasingly popular in today’s society. People are willing to pay more for jewelry made especially for them that has more symbolism than something that has been produced to appeal to the masses. Personalization is a trend that is evident in many other types of merchandise as well. Those who are most successful in the field of jewelry design have a good fashion and artistic sense, manual dexterity, the ability to visualize the completed product, CAD training and skills, steady hands, and clear vision. There is little room for error when creating jewelry potentially worth thousands of dollars.

03

Where Do Jewelry Designers Work?

Jewelry designers can be self-employed or work in a jewelry store, repair shop, or manufacturing plant. They spend much of their time at a workbench surrounded by the physical tools they need to get the job done. These may include torches, lasers, and various chemicals. Most jewelry designers also have a computer at their work station installed with CAD software as well as other programs used in creating preliminary designs of new jewelry pieces. Depending on the size and value of the jewelry, some designers create a prototype before taking it to production. Approximately 75 percent of people in this field work full-time and 40 percent are self-employed.

Because of the increasing trend in personalization, many jewelry designers have found success with online sales. They may also sell jewelry they have created by hand at local craft and design shows, or sell it to stores. The career requires flexibility to work non-traditional hours in order to make sales during times when most people are not at work. A higher level of security is necessary with jewelry than with other items sold at shows and in stores due to the high dollar value of some of the pieces.

04

How to Become a Jewelry Designer

Although a post-secondary degree isn’t an absolute necessity in this career field, it does give entry-level workers an advantage when seeking employment or their first clients. Some people choose to pursue a traditional liberal arts education and major in some aspect of jewelry design while others prefer to complete a program at a technical college. Many community and technical colleges also offer certificate programs in specialty areas of jewelry design.

Education Options and Important Skills

Regardless of the specific degree or certificate program they complete, jewelry design students need to learn certain skills. These include:

  • Fundamentals of Cast Shaping
  • Jewelry Sculpture
  • Metalwork
  • Soldering
  • Gemology
  • Fashion History
  • Costume Jewelry
  • Computer Aided Design and other software programs
  • Drawing
  • Retail Management

As with all creative trades, it is import for students to build a professional portfolio of their best work. Prospective employers and clients want to see the artistic expression and jewelry making ability of anyone they are considering hiring. The portfolio should demonstrate a progressive improvement in design skills. It can include sketches and renderings as well as photographs of finished products. Some colleges have students create an online portfolio while others encourage them to make a physical one. Taking the time to develop both gives students more material to present to hiring managers when it comes time to search for a job.

Earn Practical Experience

This field offers several unique ways to gain experience before looking for the first full-time position. One of them is to enter jewelry design competitions, such as those sponsored by the American Jewelry Design New Talent Competition. While winning one of these contests can open many doors for students, just participating in one gives them the opportunity to make valuable industry connections.

The most common way to gain industry experience is to complete an internship. Those who attend a liberal arts or technical college may need to complete an internship requirement to earn their degree or certificate. Colleges typically have career counselors on staff who can help students locate and apply to internships. Students should prepare for their internship interview just as they would a regular paying job. This means practicing interview skills and making sure that the portfolio comes across in an organized, professional manner.

A jewelry design internship gives students the chance to develop their skills by observing seasoned professionals as well as completing hands-on tasks such as soldering. Most companies offering internships provide the tools necessary to design and create jewelry, although students should also be prepared to purchase their own. Some of the specific skills a prospective jewelry designer could learn during an internship include designing new jewelry pieces using CAD, repairing jewelry, calculating pricing, and custom jewelry design.

Volunteer work is not as prevalent in this field, but students can find it if they are persistent. One possibility is to work with a program that teaches people in poor countries and communities to make jewelry and other accessories so they can become self-supporting. Students don’t necessarily have to travel abroad to do this since they can offer their design services here at home.

Continuing Education – Advance Your Career

Some professional organizations within the jewelry industry offer specialty certifications and continuing education for those involved with jewelry design. The Gemological Institute of America and the Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America are two such examples. Jewelry designers who become a member of a trade organization have access to self-paced classes in topics such as:

  • Retail Management
  • Diamond and Precious Stone Grading
  • Marketing
  • Business Management
  • Base Pricing
  • Market Analysis
  • Production Costs

Membership in a professional organization gives people the chance to learn new skills and stay on top of industry trends through articles, conventions, and connections with other members. Some schools also offer a Master of Fine Arts in Jewelry Design. Examples of coursework at this level include:

  • Art Criticism
  • Technical Research
  • Advanced Studio Practice
  • Visual Communication
  • Retail Psychology

Students who earn a post-graduate degree complete an additional internship as well as write a thesis paper on a topic or problem in jewelry design and how they solved it.

05

What Is the Average Salary of a Jewelry Designer?

In May 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $37,060 for all people employed under the general classification of jewelers and precious stone and metal workers. A median wage means that half of the people with a job in this category earn more and half earn less. The lowest 10 percent averaged $21,640 at that time while those in the 90th percentile earned $67,120. Jewelry designers and manufacturers who worked in stores selling clothing and accessories earned the highest salaries while those who worked for merchant wholesalers earned the lowest.

06

What Is the Job Outlook for Jewelry Designer?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a decrease of 11 percent for jewelers and precious stone and metal workers from now until 2022. However, those with advanced or specialty training and the ability to offer custom design services to clients can still expect to do well in this career. One reason for the anticipated decrease in demand for jewelry workers is that many companies choose to hire labor from overseas to reduce production costs. Even so, people are still willing to pay more to get the design they want in a timely manner.

07

Related Art Careers & Occupations

People who have a flair for art and fashion may find their niche in a field related to jewelry design. Some of the most popular alternative career options include:

Craft and Fine Artists:  Craft artists use a variety of mediums to create functional products for customers. Examples include glassware, pottery, and textiles. The purpose of fine art is to create something that is more aesthetic in nature. Paintings, personal sculpture, and customized drawings are all examples of fine art.

Fashion Designers:  People employed in this field make clothing, shoes, and personal accessories for retail stores and individual customers. They start by sketching the design and then obtain the material they need to create the product, such as fabric for clothing.

Metalworkers and Related Occupations:  People who work as a welder, cutter, brazer, or solder use remote control or manual equipment to cut metal parts or join them together. This is an important part of the process in jewelry creation. Someone with a background in design may choose to specialize in the manufacturing aspect of jewelry or start their career here instead.

Woodworkers:  A woodworker uses his or her artistic sense and technical skills to create furniture, cabinets, and custom creations. They typically work with laminates, veneers, and wood.

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