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Goldsmith/Silversmith

Goldsmiths/silversmiths produce and restore precious metalwork items, including jewellery, cutlery, candlesticks, trophies, goblets and shields.

They may specialise in particular precious metals, such as gold, silver or platinum. The work could include:

  • producing designs and blueprints either for mass production or for small-scale handcraft production
  • softening the metal (annealing) for reworking
  • pouring molten metal into a mould
  • hammering, shaping, beating, stamping and soldering, using various tools
  • chasing and repoussé: engraving a raised pattern on the metal by hand or computer-aided design
  • electro-plating: covering a base metal with a precious metal
  • making holes or sockets and setting precious or semiprecious gems
  • making catches and chains of varying thickness, by machine or by hand
  • cleaning and repairing antique or broken items
  • marketing designs and finished items and attending trade fairs.

Goldsmiths/silversmiths generally work 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. Self-employed goldsmiths/silversmiths have flexible working hours, which may include evenings and weekends. They may travel locally or abroad to attend trade fairs. Workplaces include factories and small studios. Goldsmiths/silversmiths spend long periods doing intricate work. Because of working with molten metal and machinery, they may wear protective clothing.

Salaries may range from around £12,000 for a trainee or apprentice to between

£28,000 and £60,000 a year for highly experienced designers. Earnings for freelance goldsmith/silversmith craft workers depend upon sales.

A goldsmith/silversmith needs:

  • imagination and artistic flair
  • drawing and designing skills, both manually and using computers
  • patience and attention to detail
  • honesty, when handling costly materials
  • negotiating and commercial skills if self-employed.

Most goldsmiths/silversmiths are freelance or work for small firms in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Glasgow and Edinburgh. A few work for the insurance sector, assessing loss or damage. Networking at trade fairs is vital.

Most have an artistic or craft background, but there are no specific qualifications required. A few employers may offer training positions. The Goldsmiths' Company provides Apprenticeships, especially for candidates based in the south-east.

Training usually involves learning on the job, often combined with college study. There are relevant courses, part time and full time, from certificate to postgraduate level in subjects such as goldsmithing, silversmithing, design crafts, art and design, metalwork and jewellery.

Goldsmiths/silversmiths working in industry may become managers or international buyers. The self-employed must establish a good reputation and market their designs and finished items.

What is the work like?

Goldsmiths/silversmiths design, create and restore precious metalwork items including jewellery, cutlery, candlesticks, trophies, goblets and shields. They may specialise in particular precious metals, such as gold, silver and platinum.

The process of creating finished items may include:

  • producing designs and blueprints either for mass production or small-scale handcraft production
  • softening the metal (annealing) for reworking
  • combining silver with copper to strengthen it
  • pouring molten metal into a mould
  • hammering, shaping, beating, stamping and soldering, using various tools
  • chasing and repoussé: engraving a raised pattern on the metal by hand or computer-aided design
  • electro-plating: covering a base metal with a precious metal
  • engine turning: using a machine to create a texture on metal
  • making holes or sockets and setting precious or semiprecious gems
  • measuring ring sizes
  • enamelling using coloured molten glass
  • making catches and chains of varying thickness, by machine or by hand
  • cleaning, repairing, altering and restoring antique or broken items.

Self-employed goldsmiths/silversmiths must keep up with trends and attend trade fairs to promote finished articles. Many market their designs to store buyers and gallery owners. Some accept private commissions.

Hours and environment

Goldsmiths/silversmiths in manufacturing generally work 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. Self-employed goldsmiths/silversmiths work according to the volume of orders. Working hours are flexible, and may include evenings and weekends.

Workplaces include factories and small studios, sometimes attached to shops. Goldsmiths/silversmiths sit at a workbench for long periods of time doing intricate work. Working with molten metal, acids and using machinery requires attention to safety practices. Protective clothing and eye protectors may be worn.

There may be travel within the UK or abroad to attend trade fairs.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • A trainee may earn up to £12,000 a year.
  • Graduates may start on around £16,000 a year.
  • Highly experienced designers can earn £28,000, potentially reaching up to £60,000 a year.

Earnings for freelance goldsmith/silversmith craft workers vary considerably, depending on sales. Some graduates may have another job to help maintain a regular income, particularly in the early stages of their career.

Skills and personal qualities

A goldsmith/silversmith needs:

  • imagination and artistic flair
  • manual dexterity
  • drawing and designing skills, both manually and using a computer
  • good hand-to-eye co-ordination
  • patience and attention to detail
  • honesty, when handling costly materials
  • negotiating and commercial skills, if self-employed.

Interests

A goldsmith/silversmith should have an interest in:

  • metals and minerals
  • the creative process.

Getting in

Most goldsmiths/silversmiths are freelance or work for small companies. A few work for the insurance sector, assessing loss or damage. The majority of employers are in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Competition for entry-level jobs is high, especially for Apprenticeships.

Vacancies may be advertised in specialist trade publications and on specialist websites such as www.jewelleryjobs.com and www.jeweller-recruitment.co.uk However, many design jobs are not advertised. Networking at trade fairs is vital.

Entry routes

There are no specific academic qualifications required to become a goldsmith/silversmith. Most entrants have an artistic background or a qualification in applied art and design, design and technology or craft. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work. Experience of working with metal or ceramics is useful.

Some employers may offer training positions. The Goldsmiths' Company provides bursaries and prizes for those entering the goldsmith and the silversmith industries, as well as Apprenticeships for suitable candidates based in London and the south-east.

There are a number of full and part-time courses that may be useful to give an overview of the trade and develop skills:

  • Edexcel Level 3 BTEC Award, Certificate and Diploma in design crafts
  • BTEC Level 3 National Certificate and Diploma in art and design: exploring specialist metal and jewellery techniques
  • UAL Level 3 and Level 4 Foundation Diploma in art and design
  • BTEC Foundation Diploma in art and design (available from September 2010)
  • BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND) in 3D design/crafts, with specialist options in metal
  • foundation degrees in 3D design or applied arts, with an option in metals
  • degree courses in silversmithing, goldsmithing and jewellery.

Check entry requirements with individual universities or colleges. Most art and design-related courses require a portfolio of work for entry.

A full list of relevant courses can be obtained from the British Jewellers' Association. The Crafts Council website provides general information about craft courses.

Applicants for work involving precious metals and stones often have to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

Training

Training usually involves learning on the job under the supervision of more experienced colleagues, often combined with college study. Attending trade fairs and exhibitions helps maintain knowledge of industry and design trends.

A business course, such as the ABC Level 4 Diploma in business for creative practitioners, can be useful. The Goldsmiths' Company runs a business programme for graduates, a programme of master classes and seminars and awards for design excellence. Other organisations also run short courses, workshops and design award schemes.

Those wishing to further their skills can take a postgraduate qualification, including a Masters degree (MA) in jewellery, silversmithing and related products. Other relevant postgraduate qualifications include MAs in design, contemporary applied arts (including jewellery and metalwork) or creative practice.

Getting on

Goldsmiths/silversmiths working in industry may progress to become workshop supervisors or international buyers or move into management.

For the self-employed, career progression depends on establishing a good reputation and selling designs through galleries and shops. The Goldsmiths' Company offer an introductory course/package on hallmarking. Freelance goldsmiths attend trade fairs and maintain a network of clients to whom to promote new designs. The Crafts Council may provide advice and funding for sourcing a studio.

After at least four years' training and ten years' employment a craft worker can apply for membership and fellowship of the Institute of Professional Goldsmiths (IPG). The IPG represents practitioners of the following crafts: casting, chasing and repoussé, design, diamond mounting, enamelling, engine turning, engraving, goldsmith, silversmith, small worker, lapidary, polishing and wax modelling. Fellows can adopt the letters FIPG and use the IPG punch mark on their work.

Further information

Association of British Designer Silversmiths (ABDS). Website: www.theabds.co.uk

British Jewellers' Association (BJA), Federation House, 10 Vyse Street, Birmingham B18 6LT. Website: www.bja.org.uk

The Crafts Council, 44a Pentonville Road, London N1 9BY. 020 7806 2500. Website: www.craftscouncil.org.uk

Creative & Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Websites: www.ccskills.org.uk and www.creative-choices.co.uk

The Goldsmiths' Company, Goldsmiths' Hall, Foster Lane, London EC2V 6BN. 020 7606 7010. Website: www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk

Institute of Professional Goldsmiths (IPG), PO Box 668, Rickmansworth WD3 0EQ. 020 3004 9806. Website:

Jewellery and Allied Industries Trainhttp://www.ipgoldsmiths.com/ing Council (JAITC) c/o British Jewellers' Association (BJA), 10 Vyse Street, Birmingham B18 6LT. Website: www.jaitc.org.uk

The National Association of Goldsmiths, 78a Luke Street, London EC2A 4XG. 020 7613 4445. Website: www.jewellers-online.org

The Silver Trust. 020 8864 7934. Website: www.silvertrust.co.uk

Website listing jewellery designers, makers, galleries and retailers: www.whoswhoingoldandsilver.com

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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