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The Best Jewelry Design Schools in the U.S. 2017

Jewelry design is an art. It is also one of the oldest forms of decoration dating back to the oldest know societies in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Distinctively different than the simple beadwork available centuries ago, jewelry making has become more sophisticated using contemporary techniques like metalworking and gem cutting. And, although many designers continue to use technical drawing and drafting methods during the conceptual stages, computer-aided programs like Matrix and Rhinoceros 3D are becoming increasingly popular.

But, as with most things, jewelry design has changed and morphed dozens of times, and what was popular last year is out of style today. That said, what was popular centuries ago has become all the rage even now. Finding a jewelry design program that can offer you the latest in technology and is focused on teaching the fundamentals of jewelry design can help you realize a successful career as a designer, whether you work for a jewelry store, a manufacturer, or step out as a freelancer developing your own line.

Jewelry design schools teach students how to transform their artistic visions into tangible creations. To produce successful graduates, schools must educate pupils about the jewelry industry, the creative process, the many and varied jewelry styles, and the technical knowledge needed to understand of the properties of metals and gems. Some of the more specific areas covered in a jewelry design program are material and methods of manufacturing jewelry, rendering, wax carving and casting, metalsmithing, lay-out patterning, beads and stringing, French wire transitions, Danish clusters, computerized jewelry design and software programs, drawing, knotted necklaces, and the many business aspects of marketing, merchandising, and acquiring product.

In order to succeed in the field of jewelry design, graduates of jewelry design programs must have well-honed artistic goals, specialized skills, and a working knowledge of the business world. Deciding which school to receive the best education for the money can be difficult and confusing. On this page, we provide a list of the nation’s best jewelry design schools, along with guides and links to additional resources for students seeking education or training in a specific area of focus.

  • School Name

    9 schools ranked

  • KU Arts offers students resources available only at a world-class research university; as well as personal and hands-on training programs. Departments include Dance, Film, Media, Theatre & Visual Art.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 27,259
  • With 22 undergraduate degree programs, 12 graduate programs and international study options; California College of the Arts successfully balances tradition with innovation and theory with practice. Students enjoy an 8:1 student/teacher ratio and class sizes averaging 13 students.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 1,975
  • Located in the 3rd largest university in California, The School of Art and Design proffers 23 tenured full-time instructors; scholars internationally acclaimed for academic achievement as well as creative notoriety.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 34,254
  • RIT is a private college whose fine arts programs are consistently ranked in the “Top 10” by US News. Conferring associates, undergraduate and graduate degrees, it has 4 galleries and a Center for Design.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 16,639
  • The Tyler School of Art at Temple University is dedicated to providing a progressive education, focusing on student mastery of technique within the framework of a liberal arts education. From bachelors to doctoral degrees, Tyler offers artists, art historians, designers, educators and architects, a rich and diverse selection of programs from which to choose.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 38,007
  • The recipient of a multitude of awards and recognition from across the globe; VCUART demonstrates it student support by having one of the lowest tuition rates of the nation’s Top 10 Art Institutions.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 30,918
  • Founded in 1895, the Department of Studio Art is one of the nation’s oldest and most revered schools. Its success is reflected in its Museum, Music Center, Library, Auditorium and Fine Arts Building.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 48,514
  • US News ranked this Art Department, #1 in Printmaking and #15 for their Overall Fine Arts Program. Its sui generis is the premise that art is the nexus of all the humanities.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 42,716
  • With 30 distinct areas of study, Academy of Art University is America's largest private accredited art university. Markedly exceptional is their “No-Barrier to Admissions” policy. Applicants need only possess passion coupled with the ability to concretize it.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private, For Profit
    • imgEnrollment : 13,800

How to Choose a Jewelry Design Program

There is so much more to jewelry design than sketching out an idea for a bracelet or necklace or stringing beads. Designers work with a variety of woods, metals, and stones (along with other materials) to create pieces of wearable art. You will work with clients and draw or draft designs that express a part of the wearer’s personality or meet a requirement for the piece. That pair of earrings in the store window of Tiffany’s or hanging around the neck of a celebrity started out as an idea in the mind of a jewelry designer. But, just as essential, the jewelry you find in department stores like Target or Walmart (that every high schooler owns and loves) was also designed by a jewelry designer.

AVAILABLE DEGREES IN JEWELRY DESIGN

Different colleges, universities, and private school programs offer different classes and varying approaches to jewelry design. An associate degree in jewelry design will typically consist of general education classes, as well as creative design classes. Some of the coursework will include metalsmithing, color and design theory, gemology & gem identification, history of jewelry, etc. These programs often require a great deal of hands-on work where students are given the opportunity to create their own pieces in labs and design studios. The majority of these programs can be found at technical schools and community colleges. They provide students with the basics to enter the workforce or go on to earn their bachelor’s degree.

Some schools do not offer specific bachelor’s degrees in jewelry design, but many do, where students earn either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of fine arts. (At the master’s degree level, you can earn a master’s of fine arts in metalwork and jewelry design). Coursework takes students through art history and the elements of design, and gives them the chance to develop their own design aesthetic. Classes that students can expect to take may include studio practice, computer-aided design and drafting, drawing, idea visualization for jewelry design, art history, advanced color theory, and portfolio development. Nearly all programs include the bulk of time spent working in studios and creating jewelry. Bachelor’s programs are most commonly found at leading universities and private art schools across the county. Some schools even offer students the chance to study jewelry design in another country in study abroad programs. Here, students get the opportunity to work alongside professionals in the field, study design techniques and styles from other cultures, and learn about the jewelry design world from another society’s point of view.

In a master’s degree program, jewelry designers master their craft and enhance their design and creative abilities. Most programs take two-years to complete, and include classes in history of jewelry, history of adornment, metal forming and casting, jewelry and professional seminar, and graduate jewelry. Most students will be required to complete a thesis or creative project prior to graduation. Many programs also offer internships for students interested in applying what they’ve learned at school in real-world settings. Graduates typically go on to work as jewelry designers for a large company, teach, or work in jewelry repair. Many jewelry design grads will also open their own companies or work freelance.

There are also certificate degrees in jewelry design that give individuals college-level training without the cost or time investment necessary when completing a full degree. Courses can take about one year or less to complete and include instruction in photographing jewelry displays, introduction to materials and tools used in the creation of jewelry, jewelry design business, copyright laws, and marketing. As in most bachelor degree programs, certificate programs often require students to showcase their work in an exhibition upon completing the program. Tuition is affordable (comparably) and individuals can apply by showing their high school transcripts and design portfolio.

To ensure you receive the very best education possible from a program that will prepare you for a career in jewelry design, it’s best to verify the jewelry design program you are most interested in is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). (The NASAD is the leading accrediting body for programs that are artistic in nature).

FIRST THINGS FIRST

You do not need a college degree to become a successful jewelry designer. However, you do need a background in the basics of jewelry design, which includes the materials you will use, how these materials are manipulated, and how the piece will look when worn, before you can ever successfully design jewelry. That’s why going to school, earning a degree, and continuing your education to stay up-to-date with the latest advances in jewelry design is so imperative. Almost certainly, for every Cartier, there were students seated on stools next to their professors learning the basics of the craft long before forging their own career path.

Without question, a jewelry designer must be both artistic and creative. They must understand the basic construction of jewelry to make jewelry that is practical to wear and aesthetically pleasing. In a jewelry design program, whether taught at a college, university, or private institute, students learn the fundamentals of design, drawing, computer software, and more. And, depending on the route you take, simply designing jewelry, or designing and creating jewelry, you can certainly benefit from earning a degree.

Most employers want designers who have earned a degree, as they typically don’t require as much on-the-job training as individuals with no formal education. In fact, a survey conducted by CareerBuilder in 2014 showed that employers representing all industries (including art-related careers) said their educational requirements for employment increased over that past five years with 30 percent hiring college graduates for positions previously held by those with a high school diploma. The reasons for hiring college graduates vary from one employer to the next, but 84 percent cite at least one positive impact including higher-quality work, greater innovation and creativity, and improved productivity. In addition, a degree will help you stand out among the competition, and the field of jewelry design is very competitive.

PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE

In general, private schools vary on the how they distribute course credit requirements but are typically more specifically designed in a student’s major area of study. Private colleges usually have smaller class sizes and lower teacher-to-student ratios. However, a private college education usually costs more, sometimes two- or even three-times as much.
Even so, many students will often gladly pay the higher cost for access to the latest technology (because public colleges are state-funded, they don’t always have the resources to acquire the latest technology) and personal attention by professors. But, public colleges and universities typically have more students and degree offerings. Class size can be larger than in private colleges, and professors can be more difficult to pin down after class. Public colleges usually have more in-state students due to state-to-state reciprocity programs. A case can be had for a more experienced and professional faculty at private colleges, but that is not always the case, and you would be smart to check out the reputation and resume of a schools’ faculty prior to applying. If you like smaller class sizes and are willing to pay more for attending a private college where you get personal attention from faculty and staff, then choose that route as there are dozens of highly-rated private schools that have programs in jewelry design. On the other hand, if larger class size and high student-to-professor ratio isn’t as important as all the activities a university can provide, then check out jewelry design programs offered by leading universities nationwide.

FACULTY REPUTATION

Beyond a doubt, the college experience is based on more than being in a new environment, taking interesting courses, and meeting new people. And, while each of those things plays a part in why thousands of individuals register for college classes every year, college is, in a big way, shaped by your professors and school staff. Professors are paramount to a school’s success, but the work they do in class as mentors and advisors is equally vital. The sense of connection with professors helps students feel like they belong, and they can advise students on internship and networking opportunities outside of class and after graduation. Because they are experts in the field of jewelry design, they can also advise students on career options post-graduation. And, although a positive student-professor relationship alone does not translate into good grades or academic success, students that establish relationships with their professors typically perform better.
Schools themselves also benefit from having qualified faculty on staff. In fact, that is one of the reasons students choose one school over another; the reputation of its faculty. Look at a school’s faculty and see if their style of teaching aligns with what you want in class? How current are they on the latest jewelry designing software? Are they up-to-date on materials and tools used in jewelry design? Do you feel your professors will allow you the freedom to explore the many areas of jewelry design and encourage you do discover your own way? What do alumni or recent grads say about the jewelry program?

SCHOOL REPUTATION & COST

Most people will weigh the cost to attend a college, university, or art institute against the benefits; class size, course content, etc. Some will decide that college is not for them, while others will see the value that a good education has on future employment. Plus, state colleges and universities costs are very different than costs for an education from a private institution. That’s why it is so vitally important to research schools and decide what kind of education is right for you. Keep in mind that ‘some’ employers give much more weight to a degree earned from a private institution or a prestigious school that specializes in the arts, and jewelry design in particular. The important word here is some, as not all employers look at the school, but more so the body of work in a graduate’s portfolio.

That said, a school’s reputation can carry a great deal of weight as well. In Fall, 2013, just over 165,000 students at a number of campuses in the US took a survey by the American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2013. The outcome of that survey showed that 64 percent of respondents said a very good academic reputation was the most important factor in college choice. Although other factors such as cost, location, and course content were also vitally important, knowing the college you attend has a strong reputation which may help land you that dream job in jewelry design tops the list. Asking other students and alumni can shed light on a school’s reputation, as can professionals in the field who have hired graduates.

SCHOOL LOCATION

Beyond school’s reputation, faculty, and costs, many students consider location to also be a determining factor when choosing a college. Are you willing to move out of state and pay higher out-of-state tuition? If not, you may want to only consider schools in your local area, saving you money on transportation and housing (especially if that 4th bedroom is still available at mom’s). Keep in mind, however, that some states/schools offer tuition reciprocity programs to defray tuition costs for out-of-state students.

Larger cities offer greater access to cultural experiences not often found in smaller cities, and job opportunities at jewelry design stores, jewelers, or retailers may be greater. However, with size also comes longer commute times and the potential for added distractions. Smaller towns offer a more intimate setting, less traffic and congestion, and a home town feel. And, just like the size of a city is important, the size of a campus should also factor into your school decision. Are you excited about joining a frat house or sorority? Does participating in school athletics sound appealing? Smaller private colleges often offer much less in terms of activities outside of class, so this is also something to consider when choosing a school.

Keep in mind too, that there are also a few online and distance learning programs in jewelry design for students who work, live in a remote area, or have other obligations that don’t allow frequent campus visits to attend class. Online classes often allow you to learn at your own pace and can be less expensive, but you probably won’t have the opportunity to form those all-important mentoring relationships with professors or have the chance to form relationships with fellow students. So, ask yourself if student comradery is important to your overall college experience and if you’ll miss the one-on-one attention from professors on campus if you choose to study online instead.

What to Expect from a Jewelry Design Program

Whether pursuing an associate degree or a bachelor degree in jewelry design, or furthering your education by pursuing a master degree in metalworking or jewelry design, the goal of most college, university and private school programs is to prepare students for careers in the many areas of jewelry design. Course offerings provide both basic and upper-level skill development and knowledge of the jewelry design field. The experiences and personal journey students embark upon in their tenure provide a solid foundation for professional development and educational growth. Most programs are taught in both studio and art and design courses and prepare graduates for design, merchandising, repair, and production careers in the jewelry industry.

PROGRAM GOALS & OUTCOMES

Curriculum and outcomes vary greatly from one program to the next, but graduates at all levels are expected to demonstrate the ability to creatively problem solve within the field of jewelry design utilizing technical, aesthetic, and conceptual knowledge. They should be able to communicate ideas using oral, written, and visual presentation skills relevant to the field; recognize the influence that cultural and aesthetic trends (historic and contemporary) have on the jewelry industry; evaluate work in the field of jewelry, including their own work; and demonstrate professional skills and abilities to compete in the marketplace, both nationally and internationally.

WHAT SKILLS WILL YOU LEARN?

For individuals who are artistically inclined, motivated, and talented, there are a variety of career options in the field of jewelry design. But, for anyone who thinks jewelry design only involves aesthetic skills, this field also incorporates technical abilities as well. Jewelry designers working with precious metals must understand which ones are easily pliable, how they melt, and if they are compatible with gemstones. They must learn how to create images via computer-generated design and have knowledge of software programs like Rhino, Matrix, and ArtCAM that produce 3D versions of the piece. They must be able to work with their hands, be detail-oriented, and have excellent hand-eye coordination. They must know the properties of gemstones, threads, beads, and other metals. Jewelry designers must also understand that pieces may be too heavy or bulky to wear, or which materials are most durable and non-irritating. Jewelry design trends change, but the skills needed to produce works of art do not. To be successful in this field takes persistence, tenacity, and ongoing training.