While you may know that a sommelier is not the same as a winemaker and a director isn’t the same as a producer, you might not know that a jeweler who strings pearls and a jeweler who sets diamonds are just as different. Like in any industry, there are numerous specialties and skill sets within the jewelry world, all of which that fall under the umbrella title of “jeweler.”
This can be incredibly confusing to newcomers to the industry or even simply to consumers who are looking for the best artisan to create, repair, or sell them a piece. The first thing to know is that there are three basic jewelers: master jeweler, bench jeweler, and setter.
THE MASTER JEWELER
“Master jeweler” is a term usually reserved for the very, very best jewelers, but it can also be used to describe a jeweler with the most seniority and experience at a particular store or company. I have met quite a few people who use the title of master jeweler but have only met a handful of people who truly are master jewelers. A true master jeweler is expertly skilled in most, if not all, jewelry skills, including design, drawing, engraving, hand building, soldering, wax carving, and stone setting. They will be skilled in working with all precious metals, including platinum, gold and silver. A master jeweler is trusted with the most valuable and difficult jobs and will perform them expertly.
BENCH JEWELER - CAN ALSO BE REFERRED TO AS SILVERSMITH, GOLDSMITH OR PLATINUMSMITH!
A bench jeweler is the most common type of jeweler in the industry. Their range of proficiency can be from near novice to expert and can encompass a wide range of skills. They can be a master at none or a master at many jewelry-related skills. Typically, a bench jeweler will be performing repairs, doing minor setting work, and performing some hand building. He or she will most likely be the one charged with completing tasks such as chain soldering, polishing, or resetting a stone. The skill level required by a bench jeweler will vary as is determined by his or her place of employment. This is one of the reasons why there is sometimes such a vast difference in ability among bench jewelers. For example, a jewelry store may employ two bench jewelers. One may be solely tasked with very simple repairs, such as chain repair, soldering jump rings, or attaching an earring post, while the other, more skilled bench jeweler might then be tasked with the more difficult work, such as ring repairs, setting stones, bracelet repair, and hand building.
A setter does exactly what his or her title suggests—sets gemstones! Some setters only set stones and do not necessarily practice any other jewelry skills, while others may set stones and be skilled in other arenas, much like a bench jeweler. The difference in title is that a setter’s primary function and expertise, even if they do perform repairs and other tasks, is setting stones.
Other types of jewelers are a bit more specialized than those three basic titles and are a bit harder to track down in the field. Among these expert jewelers are hand engravers, stringers, wax carvers, enamelists, stone cutters, diamond cutters, gemologists, and jewelry designers.
Hand engraving is sadly becoming a lost art, and fewer and fewer people are practicing this intricate and difficult work as a result. Like the setter, a hand engraver may do nothing but hand engrave, or they might also be a bench or master jeweler with an additional expertise. Most people who hand engrave, however, do specialize strictly in that skill and are sought out for their talent. They may do work for numerous jewelers and patrons and often work independently from a jewelry store or manufacturing company.
A stringer is a person who strings beads and pearls. Oftentimes, they will also do wire working or wire wrapping, which is a type of metal work that involves no soldering. Stringers may also posses many bench jeweler skills, as well, but tend not to be setters or master jewelers.
A wax carver takes a jewelry design and turns it into reality using a process called wax carving. A wax carver creates—or is given a sketch or a sample piece to base his or her carving from—and then makes an exact model in wax that will then be molded and cast into metal. Wax carving by hand is becoming less and less common with the advent of 3-D modeling. Much of the work that would have been done by hand fifteen or twenty years ago is now being done by Computer Aided Design (CAD). Though, in my experience, there are still many scenarios where having someone to carve wax by hand is advantageous to a CAD model.
An enamelist specializes in enameling, which is the decorative art of adhering glass or plastics to the surface of metal through the use of a kiln.
A stone cutter does just that—cuts stones and gemstones. Stone cutters may also be bench jewelers but not necessarily so. Stone cutting is an art in itself. A keen and trained eye is needed to take a rough piece of gemstone and turn it into the glistening gem fit for use in jewelry. A stone cutter usually can cut two types of stones: faceted and cabochon. A faceted stone is cut with many small, flat, reflective surfaces that create the sparkle you see in so many pieces. A cabochon stone typically has a smooth, domed top with a flat bottom, and it will not contain any faceting.
A diamond cutter will possess all the skills of a stone cutter but will be more highly skilled and specialized. Diamond cutting is a very, very precise art. So much so that only a diamond cutter who has perfected his or her art for decades will work on large-carat diamonds, as they are the most difficult and require the most detail and precision.
A gemologist is formally schooled and specializes in gemstones. Gemology degrees and accreditation can be obtained from several universities throughout the country, most notably from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Gemologists possess the knowledge to grade gemstones and diamonds, and they can also determine the value of gems, their authenticity, and check for man-made treatments such as color treating and enhancement techniques. Gemologists will also be knowledgeable in topics such as gemstone origins, history, and the scientific characteristics of gems.
Jewelry designers can come from many backgrounds. Some designers are naturally talented and have no schooling while others’ talents have been honed at accredited universities like the Fashion Institute of Technology, Savannah College of Art and Design, or the Gemological Institute of America, which offers courses in jewelry design as well as gemology. Jewelry designers may or may not have the skills of a bench jeweler, but they should possess general knowledge of jewelry, fabrication methods, and stone-setting styles.
CAD MODEL Maker
Similar to a wax carver, a CAD (Computer Aided Design) model maker brings jewelry ideas to life. Using 3-dimensional design programs, such as Rhino, a CAD modeler will create a 3-d rendering of a piece of jewelry. The prototype is then "printed" in wax or resin and cast. A CAD modeler may or may not have traditional jewelry skills, but tend to specialize in CAD or CAD and jewelry design.
Now that you have a better understanding of who does what in the jewelry world, it will be easier to delineate between who will be re-stringing your pearls and who will be re-cutting a chipped stone for you. All have expertise that you can utilize to your benefit and many people in the industry are multi-skilled! So don’t be afraid to ask a sales person for advice on a gemstone, you may be surprised to fine out they are also a gemologist! All around talented and well-rounded folk we have in the jewelry industry!