Want to know why you can’t find a bench jeweler? Because you won’t pay enough.
Dear fellow jewelers and store owners:
I’m a 14th generation jeweler. My father had our family tree traced back 500 years, from Atlanta, New York, Russia, Spain, France to England. Dad and my grandfather were diamond-setters on the Bowery in New York. My father came to Atlanta in 1939 and set up shop and his business grew. I started my bench training at the age of 10 during the summers.
My trainer was the shop foreman and a World War II veteran. He ran a shop that at one time had 15 jewelers at the bench.
As a jeweler in my father’s shop, Willard was able to:
Buy a house in a good neighborhood as well as two cars.
His wife worked only part time. He did some work “on the side” to help when his kids were in college.
He had some savings. All of this working as a jeweler.
When I eventually opened my store I didn’t have a hard time finding qualified jewelers. In 1999, our jewelers were paid from $32,000 to $61,000 a year; average pay was in the high 40s.
So why can’t you find a qualified jeweler? Because you won’t pay them a decent wage. Shame on you! Why should a young person consider learning to be a jeweler when he can learn another trade or computer programming and start on a salary of $40,000 or more?
Recently I spoke to staff at one of the excellent jeweler schools in the U.S. where someone can take a three-month program and learn most of the functions related to a jeweler’s workbox. (Yes, he might be slow at first and need more training but he will still be a money-making asset for your store from Day 1.)
They told me one of their best students ever was offered $14 an hour, or $29,000 a year. That’s what Costco pays for an unskilled worker. Starting pay should at least be in the very high $30s.
My Geller Price Book is based on paying a jeweler from mid-$40,000 to the high 50s. A wooden workbench should produce between $185,000 to $250,000 a year in repair and custom sales. That means there’s plenty of money to pay a good wage to get a good jeweler. Stop trying to hire cheap. Hire and pay well, and then charge correctly and all the numbers will fall in place.
Think you don’t have enough work to keep a full-time jeweler? Then get busy advertising your in-house jeweler to bring in more business. Until we turn our industry around, you and I will still need to grow and invest in our own jewelers.
Give them extra training if there are jobs they can’t do. Get a laser machine. Hire high school students as part-time polishers (there’s no money in polishing) and train them as jewelers. Share this link, BeAJeweler.com, with prospective young people, and high school and college counselors to get them promoting jewelry as a career. The shop is its own profit center. Treat it as such and pay well.
WHERE TO FIND A BENCH JEWELER
Here are three of the many jewelry schools in America offering one-week and three-month jewelry-making classes.
New Approach SchoolFranklin, TN
(800) 529-4763 / newapproachschool.com, beajeweler.com
Gemological Institute of AmericaCarlsbad, CA
(800) 421-7250 / gia.edu/gem-education/ program-graduate-jeweler
The Revere AcademySan Francisco, CA
(415) 391-4179 / revereacademy.com
Headhunter for bench jewelersVic Davis
David Geller is a consultant to jewelers on store management. Email him at dgellerbellsouth.net.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 edition of INSTORE.