A Silversmith Career: Pros and Cons
Silversmithing can be an attractive career for those who are creative and skilled with their hands. Read on to discover more of the pros and cons associated with a silversmith career and see if it sounds like a good choice for you.
|Pros of Becoming a Silversmith|
|Work with high-end materials like precious metals and gems*|
|Postsecondary degree not required*|
|Work can be artistic and creative**|
|Certifications available that can help advance career*|
|Cons of Becoming a Silversmith|
|Employment of jewelers and precious stone and metal workers declining (-11% from 2014-2024)*|
|Exposure to chemicals and toxins possible**|
|Risk of being burned or cut by tools**|
|High degree of accuracy in work is necessary**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ONET Online.
Essential Career Information
Job Description and Duties
Silversmiths polish, smooth and shape metal to create a variety of products. They often work as jewelers, though they are qualified to build, repair and appraise silver products. You might use lasers or other technology for engraving, and you could use computer modeling programs to render metal shapes before actually starting on a design. Other tasks might include working with customers to assemble, repair or clean jewelry or other silver products in a specialized manner.
Depending on what kind of silver you work with, you could work in manufacturing or retail. With a sales and business background, you could open your own business devoted to silver products.
Job Growth and Salary Info
According to Salary.com, silversmiths earned a median salary of $37,989 as of January 2016. Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that all jewelers and precious stone and metal workers earned a median of $36,870 per year in May 2014. The highest level and concentration of employment was located in stores specializing in jewelry, luggage and leather goods. Rhode Island held the highest concentration of jobs in the industry, and Oregon was the top-paying state with an average annual wage of about $49,000 in that same year.
According to the BLS, employment in this industry was expected to decline by 11% from 2014-2024. Some jobs will be available due to retiring jewelers; however, competition for manufacturing jobs with a lower skill set requirement should be very high. Silversmiths looking to design their own line of jewelry will also face strong competition for work.
What Are the Requirements?
Most jewelers and metal workers get their skills through on-the-job training, though vocational schools may have relevant training programs. A high school diploma or GED is generally the requirement to enter the field, but some students may choose to earn an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree in their specialty. In fact, job opportunities will be best for those who have experience and have graduated from a training program. Examples of degree program topics that are relevant to silversmithing include jewelry, crafts and metalsmithing. In general, successful silversmiths should have the following skills:
- Good vision
- Finger and hand dexterity
- The ability to visualize an end product
- Good interpersonal skills
What Employers Are Looking for
Employers often look for silversmiths and jewelers with experience in specific metals or stones, such as sterling silver or gold. A background in repair techniques is beneficial, and multiple years of experience may be required. See below for a sample of the jobs available for silversmiths on CareerBuilder.com in April 2012:
- A jewelry manufacturer advertised for a jeweler and polishing technician in Pennsylvania. Candidates should be able to work with 18K gold, sterling silver and semi-precious stones. Other tasks include soldering and laser work, and salary is based on previous experience.
- A Dallas jewelry retailer is looking for an experienced bench jeweler with a background in setting stones, re-tipping prongs and performing minor jewelry repairs. Ideal candidates have 1-5 years of experience and need to have a flexible schedule. As part of the interview process, applicants must pass a bench test. Employee benefits include classes in technical repair and discounts on merchandise.
- A Rhode Island staffing company is seeking precious metal polishers who have experience with fine jewelry. The position is temporary with the possibility to be hired full-time, and base pay is listed at $11-$13 per hour. Candidates must undergo a criminal background check.
- A jewelry service center in New York is looking for a jeweler to repair, polish and apply finishes to fine jewelry. Other duties might include casting and working with mechanical watches. Candidates with 3-5 years of experience in the jewelry industry are preferred.
- A fine jewelry repair and manufacturing firm in Washington posted for bench jewelers with at least 3 years of relevant experience. Candidates can expect to work regular weekday hours and should have a background in soldering, fabrication and sizing. Pay is $18-$30 per hour.
How to Maximize Your Skills
A career as a silversmith requires you to be comfortable with technology, including the tools used for handling metal and the computer programs used to design and plan metal products. Training in CAD and other computer modeling software might give you a leg up in the job market.
Earning a professional certification can help you advance your career and show employers that you are well-versed in the techniques of your field. For example, Jewelers of America offers a Bench Professional Certification for jewelers, which involves both a written exam and a series of practical exercises.
Many art schools and professional organizations offer seminars and workshops where you can learn new skills and collaborate with other silversmiths. In early 2012, seminars offered by the Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America included topics such as how to create the best polish on metals and how to solder silver joints.
Other Fields to Consider
If you like the idea of working with metal, but a career as a silversmith doesn't sound like the right choice for you, consider a career as a welder. Welders work in a range of industries and use equipment to permanently fuse metal parts together. Your work could help create or repair buildings, bridges and essential pipelines, and you'll only need a high school diploma to get started (though completing a formal training program can be beneficial). According to the BLS, employment growth was expected to be about as fast as average (15% from 2010-2020), and welders earned an average annual salary of $38,000 in May 2011.
For another career that involves working with your hands, consider becoming a woodworker. Woodworkers use a variety of machines and tools to construct wooden products. You could specialize in one type of work, such as making cabinets or refinishing furniture. Employment growth was noted to be average, at 18% from 2010-2020, and woodworkers made an average salary of $29,000 in May 2011, according to BLS statistics. You only need a high school diploma to get entry-level work as a woodworker, since you'll learn a lot of what you need to know on the job.
To explore design careers outside of the realm of jewelry, you could pursue a career as a fashion designer. The average annual salary for the industry was about $74,000, but the overall rate of employment growth was not expected to change significantly from 2010-2020, according to BLS. After earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in a related field, you could create clothes, accessories and other fashion items, possibly under your own brand name.