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Audrey Toth delivering her acceptance speech
Audrey Toth delivering her acceptance speech
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Historic win for jeweller

Third-year TAFE student Audrey Toth is the first gem-setter to win the Women at Work – Making a Difference study award.   
In an effort to recognise women as the unsung heroes of the manufacturing industry, Manufacturing Skills Australia (MSA) launched the award for the first time this year and received an overwhelming response from women in the 14 training sectors that it oversees.

Toth won the award alongside automotive apprentice Kelly Byford and laboratory technologist Elaine Lees. The 22-year-old Toth is currently studying gemmology with the Gemmological Association of Australia and is the only woman in her TAFE class to be learning setting and manufacturing.

Toth’s employer and mentor at Sydney-based gem setter AE Design, Apkar Ervan, nominated her for the award. She currently works as an apprentice at AE Design and attributes a large part of her success to Ervan’s belief in her.

Toth first started dabbling in the jewellery industry seven years ago when she worked in a retail store. In 2005, she was the first person in her school to have her work selected for the Art Express exhibition and to be shortlisted for display in the National Gallery of Australia. In 2008, she started her apprenticeship as a jeweller learning manufacturing and repairs. She then took the unprecedented step of specialising in gemstone setting.

L-R: Laboratory technologist Elaine Lees, Audrey Toth, CEO of MSA Bob Paton, Chair of MSA Megan Lily and automotive apprentice Kelly Byford
L-R: Laboratory technologist Elaine Lees, Audrey Toth, CEO of MSA Bob Paton, Chair of MSA Megan Lily and automotive apprentice Kelly Byford

“Gemstone setting is a unique and specialist trade in that there are few people who know it and even fewer people who are willing to teach it,” Toth said in her application to MSA. “I wanted to learn it because I knew that there was very little if any women learning this skill and I saw the potential to succeed at something that was typically unheard of.”

Toth faced challenges in finding someone to teach her and encountered scepticism over her gender and relatively young age. It was seen as unusual for a woman to undertake gem setting, as it is considered a physically strenuous activity. Toth was lucky to find mentor Ervan but initially sustained many bruises and cuts and strained her muscles as she familiarised herself with the tools and techniques.

“Being a woman, I felt like I had a lot to prove. I wanted to show people that I could do the job as well as someone else,” she told Jeweller. “I think there are a lot of stereotypes in our industry and women have only just started to push the boundaries of societal expectations.”

Toth thinks the award is a key step forward in recognising that women are a pivotal force in the manufacturing industry.

A brooch that Audrey designed, handcrafted and set herself
A brooch that Audrey designed, handcrafted and set herself

“I believe the MSA Women at Work study award plays an important role in recognising not only the achievements of women in various manufacturing industries but also in raising awareness of the lack of women in these industries and supporting them to further their education and excel in their chosen careers,” she explained.

Toth advised other women who were interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing to undergo work experience and decide if they enjoy working in the environment.

“It’s important to be comfortable and happy at work otherwise you can never reach your full potential. I hope that [my achievements] encourage [women] to push the boundaries of society’s expectations so that they too can be inspired to do anything that they apply themselves to.”

Toth will complete her studies and apprenticeship in two years. After that, the world’s her oyster.

More reading:

Tasmanian designer wins top jewellery award

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Tuesday, 23 October, 2018 09:00pm
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