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Commentary: The Business

Wisconsin Jeweler Sees the Beauty and Necessity in Shop Dust

The future of the industry lies with the artists, she says.

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IF YOU DREW a 30-mile line from our first studio headed northwest, there were 14 jewelers 25 years ago when we opened. Today, there are four of us. There had always been four or five jewelers in the town we live and work in, now there are two of us. What is the difference? Shops.

The front of the house is shiny. The shop is dirty.

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The front of the house does the selling. The shop is dirty.

The shop is where the money is. The shop is where our future as an industry is. The shop is our hope. I love to sit next to my husband at the bench and watch how he moves metal with flame. It is an ancient craft and skill, and he is a true master. He would rather be at the bench than just about anywhere. He is 67 years old, and he will be one those guys who works metal until he dies.

The shop is dirty. That is where metal becomes jewelry. There is usually annoying music playing, and T-shirts with questionable sayings, but these people are artists. Their medium is metal, the accents are luscious gems. Their delicate metal work is what holds a $20,000 diamond to the finger. They are not given enough credit for their magic. The shop is dirty.

The thing about artists is they generally make poor businesspeople. It is a left brain, right brain thing. The shop needs the front of the house to sell their art, their craft. They don’t want to do the communicating with the customers; they would rather be at the bench. The front of the house needs to value what their shop does. Spend some time next to a bench to see how things happen.

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Do you envision Michelangelo, the Italian sculptor, as bright and shiny in gorgeous Italian robes? I don’t. I see him covered in rock dust, with graphite fingertips and paint all over his clothes.

I would suggest investing in education to show your shop staff you value them and want them to grow. When you send them off to be with other artists, they come back juiced and pumped with vision for the future. Give them funds and time to create pieces on their own. They will push harder for themselves than they will for a boss, so give them bench time to learn.

Do you know why so many older goldsmiths are disgruntled? They have had to work in spaces hardly bigger than a closet, with poor ventilation and no appreciation for years of service. Treat them like they are as precious as the gems they work with. Artists love stimulation. Take them to a cool new restaurant, or an art show, or a concert.

My advice? Change your culture to value your greatest asset. The shop is dirty, but that is where the true magic happens.

Jo Goralski owns The Jewelry Mechanic in Oconomowoc, WI, with her husband, Michael.

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