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Editor's Desk

Coleby Nicholson
Coleby Nicholson

Call for young jewellers to unite

Jeweller editor Coleby Nicholson believes there is a need to attract more young talent to the jewellery industry and he has called upon young jewellers to unite under a new group.
I regularly hear people complain about the lack of young talent in the jewellery industry. I’m also often asked for information about young designers or if I know any young salespeople, so I thought it was about time that young people in the industry formed their own group.

It’s widely recognised that there is a shortage of young people taking up apprenticeships in many industries, including the jewellery industry. While many Australian sectors are experiencing difficulty in attracting young people, a recent survey by the JAA found that 54 per cent of members were 45 or older and 21 per cent were between 56 and 65.

Interestingly, there are no JAA members under 25 and I believe it’s safe to assume that the average age of jewellery retailers and suppliers across the board is easily over 50.

I know there is a lot of great young talent in the jewellery industry – yet many people come and talk to us at the trade fairs to discuss, or lament, the fact that there is no promotion of young people.

I’d love to see, and therefore I’m willing to help facilitate, the formation of a young jewellers group. As the industry voice, I think Jeweller should assist young Australians to unite together to help advance their industry.

It need not be a formal association; it could simply begin as an informal group, perhaps under the banner YJA – Young Jewellers of Australia.

In fact, I am sure that there would be many Kiwis that would see the advantage of forming a cross-Tasman alliance – YJANZ – with other young Aussies.

Who knows, such an alliance could be a catalyst for a revitalisation of the industry. Afterall, it’s widely accepted that the jewellery industry lags behind other industries in terms of internet presence and online retailing, and if a new group can act as a hub of knowledge allowing young retailers, designers and suppliers to share information and experiences, it could only be a benefit.

With Facebook and other social media, it wouldn’t take much to get this new group organised. And if Jeweller, via our magazine, website and weekly newsletters, can act as the initial focal point to assist the formation of YJA or YJANZ, then great, let’s do it.

It would only be a benefit if young retailers could liaise with young suppliers or both could meet with young jewellery designers and manufacturers.

By getting the ball rolling now, it allows us enough time to see if there’s any interest in people starting, or joining, the group with the view of organising a first meeting at the Sydney jewellery fair in August. 

I also have no doubt that there would be a many suppliers and “old” people – on both sides of the Tasman – who would lend a hand to getting YJANZ started.

If you are interested in helping form a young jewellers group, click here

Update 16 April, 2011

What seemed to be a simple story on a simple issue has created a great deal of comment, and along the way I think one of the issues has been confused. 

While there is a lot of reader feedback about ‘jewellers’ (ie jewellery manufacturers, apprentices and trades people) my call is for young people in all sectors of the jewellery industry to come together. That is, it would be wonderful for say, retail sales staff to network with young people working for jewellery suppliers, and for young suppliers to meet young jewellery designers and vice versa. 

Therefore this is not just about apprentices, it about all young people who work in, and for, the jewellery industry.  

Coleby Nicholson

Former managing editor • Jeweller Magazine

Coleby Nicholson was publisher and managing editor of Jeweller magazine for over 12 years. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than a decade and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.

Worth & Douglas

Your Say

Young Jewellers Group
What a great idea ... I will pass this along to a couple of fine young ones that I know.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, please tell and forward the link to as many people as you can. The more the merrier.
posted by Melissa Harris on April 12, 2011 13:37

Amazingly spot on
Hi Coleby,
I don't even know where to start but can I just say that you are so amazingly spot on with your thoughts in "Call for Young Jewellers to Unite"!
I don't know if my thoughts are at all valuable to you as I'm not technically a jeweller, but I would like to get them out there to you regardless. I worked in the industry for over seven years in the marketing area and have followed your views via the magazine and website for ages. Since starting Pod People Designs, I have come to one clear conclusion: Jewellers are trying to market their businesses in a new world, the OLD way and are simply being left behind by contemporary brands, costume jewellery retailers and basically anyone who has the ability to utilize new media in the presentation of their goods and services.
And the thing that KILLS me is that this is having a direct impact on the way consumers perceive the intrinsic value of the jewellery itself.
I would be interested in being involved in this meeting if it comes together. I know I'm not a jeweller per se but I do have a genuine interest in the future of the industry and hope that you can keep me updated regarding the response to your editorial.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you for your kind comments. The concept behind a young jewellers group is to encompass all areas, or channels, of the industry; retail, supply and jewellery designers and manufacturers. That is, I see the group as a microcosm of the entire industry so the only provisos for being involved are that you are “young” (whatever that means!) and you work in the industry.
posted by Ciara Fulcher on April 12, 2011 15:29

Supporting young jewellers
Hi Coleby
I think that it’s a good idea, something we have tried to support for many years. We used to hold yearly exhibitions for contemporary jewellers which was mainly aimed at students and young jewellers, we also employ many young jewellers while they are at college and when they finish.
We have always supported the JMGA also which is more aimed at contemporary jewellers than the JAA but this has become somewhat older in later years and does not really seem to look at the younger jewellers.
But I am happy to help in any way, in fact many of the younger jewellers know us and where our factory is in Marrickville so it might be a possible venue for meetings of at least the NSW contingent.
We also have a quite large mailing list which is targeted more at this area of the market, we would be happy to email any info to help get things going.
Best Regards
Adam Wittig
EDITOR’S NOTE: : Thanks Adam. We will take you up on your kind offer!
posted by Adam Witting on April 12, 2011 15:49

Oh??? Are you serious???
Colby, I have been in the jewellery trade for 30 years and I have not seen anything done by the JAA to "fix" the problem!! I find it "a gutless" organization! The art of handcrafting jewellery has been "gutted" by "greed and power" over the small makers ever since the government decided to gut the industry getting rid of tariffs opening floodgates to import crap; now we have a problem with not enough young people learning the trade in it's proper traditional craft!!
No way has there been enough jewellers like myself teaching the next gen to become the next masters because many can't afford to, consequently are not taught the traditional skills that are dying off!!
WAKE UP COLBY!!!!! This has been going on to WAY TOO LONG!! Europe has far more respect for their artisan jewellers compared to this country!! Anybody taken any notice over the last 20 or so years whilst the big retailers have been destroying the traditional part of the trade???? No I think not!!! THAT is why there is a shortage of professionally "skilled" craftspeople AND the pay we get is poor!! Hardly anyone is prepared to pay for a highly skilled professional.
Is this getting through to you Colby???!!
Many of us are FED UP and we have learnt to shut our ears to the JAA!!!! The dissent is OUT THERE!! "The horse has bolted!!"
I was once over 20 years ago, and I still remember vividly on who told me, that handmakers were going to become obsolete!! and that guy was on the JAA manufacturers board at that time!! I find the JAA has been "very disrespectful" throughout the years I have seen the trades reputation decline!!
If there are people who don't like what I have written here, GET OVER IT cos there are some MASSIVE upheaval changes coming into this country very shortly and it will shock a hell of a lot of people!

EDITOR’S NOTE: : Before I comment on Kay’s response, readers might note that we verify our Your Say forum to ensure that comments are genuine. Provided they are not defamatory and provided we feel they contribute to the debate, we publish them. Having said that, I called Kay to try and understand her point because I was concerned that while reading her comments people might hear the eery music from the Twilight Zone.

While I have no problem with her having a different opinion and/or to seemingly attack me (or the JAA), I telephoned her to clarify that it was her intention to attack me or if it was unintentional (she informed me it was her intention) the only thing that I could fathom from the conversation over Kay’s yelling, and further tirade, was that apparently I’m personally responsible for many of the problems in the Australian jewellery industry and I should undertake a comprehensive investigation of “big business” in Australia!

I told Kay that I was happy to publish her comments and would also consider many of the other things she told me to do – one or two are physically impossible! - but before I could clarify the important point that “Colby” is a cheese, and I (Coleby) am a journalist, she hung up the phone.

Ahhh, I love this industry!
posted by Kay Sawatzky on April 12, 2011 23:21

Concern with old skill new skill
Hi Coleby,
Yes a lot of traditional jewellers are over 45 including myself. Yes a lot of young jewellers have new skills in computers that jewellers of my age never learnt in school and had to teach ourselves. There is also another problem of handmade jewellers or artisans not being able to teach young people more traditional skills because of a lack of funds and a need to earn a living to support our families.
I have taken on collage trained dip4 "jewellers" and had to teach them the basics of traditional jewellery making and repairing. While big businesses want to dominate the industry to make money and as quick and fast as they can without being jewellers, the true artist wants to develop his/her skill and this is what a group such as you suggest would/could be good for.
But I dont think JAA or your Jeweller magazine really cares for the industry considering your own survey stated 60+% independent jewellers who are the silent majority would not want to be involved with young crazy silver and alternative metal ideas that the majority of consumers would not buy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: : Yes Ken, you’re 100% correct … I don’t care for the industry at all, and that’s why I am trying to do something positive!

Aside from that confusion, I am not sure that I understand your point anyway. On the one hand Jeweller magazine is attempting to encourage change – and on the otherhand you seem to be telling us all the things that are wrong with the industry and which cannot be fixed – even if we try. My call is for young people in all industry channels – retailing, wholesaling and ‘trained’ jewellers – to unite.

Maybe you see my story as an attack on “old” bench jewellers - which it isn’t - but I learned a long time ago that either you are part of the solution or you are part of the problem and readers might like to consider in which category you sit.
posted by Ken Murphy on April 13, 2011 11:23

Networking is the key
I'm very interested in your article about uniting a team of the younger generations in the jewellery industry. I am the managing director for Independent Validation Advisory Australia Pty Ltd (IVAA). We process jewellery insurance claims for a large number of insurers. Although I am not a jeweller, I have been in the jewellery industry for the last few years since I finished my studies.
I have a lot to learn, and I strongly believe networking within the industry is vital to keep up to date. I would be very enthusiastic about joining a young group of peers within the jewellery industry.
posted by Matthew McHutchison on April 13, 2011 14:35

old skill new skill
Hey Coleby
I am not against the idea it has some merit. I am not a journalist but even I can see that once the old skill is gone who will teach it? You? Young teach the young? What is needed is mentors like what I did, once they leave their degree course work under a gifted artisan who will show them the traditional way and tricks of the trade
My main concern is that anyone can open a Jewellery shop and sell jewellery calling themselves jewellers!!!! yet could not make or repair jewellery to save themselves including degree graduates
posted by Ken Murphy on April 13, 2011 18:47

Don't moan
A good model for a youth organisation within another is The Australian Institute of Project Management and their "Young Guns" section for under 30s. They are very politically active will drive the future of that Org.
Interestingly The Jewellery Manufacturers Federation of NZ Committee has an average age of 35.125 years with two of the eight under 24. These two seek and receive mentoring, personal development and WORK from others on the Committee.
By being active they are shaping their own industry and the JMF welcomes and has fostered this. Don't moan about JAA get in there and fix it!
Greg Jones
JMFNZ Chairman (and okay, an old fart!)
posted by Greg Jones on April 14, 2011 09:57

Count this Kiwi in !
I am very keen for this new young blood of jewellers union!
I’m 25 years old and from Auckland, New Zealand and love Jeweller Magazine. I graduated from Industrial Design (2008) and opened a jewellery retail shop in 2009.
It would be great to have such an organisation available for support and August this year for the meeting would be a brilliant chance to gather everybody who will be part of this movement of revitalising the jewellery industry!
posted by Neaam Alhaseny on April 14, 2011 13:58

Fabulous idea
Hi Coleby,
What a fabulous idea!
As you may well know, I am a full time rep and, through my travels over the years I've got to know many wonderful people in the trade. I have always taken great heart and enjoyed meeting and talking to youngsters coming into the industry.
They have so many new ideas and, all I have met, show so much enthusiasm. They are always keen to listen and learn a few things from an "oldie" like me but equally we oldies can learn a great deal from the young ones too.
I really hope this idea of your takes off, Coleby. Well done!
David Wrenn
posted by David Wrenn on April 15, 2011 09:40

"old Fashion Training"
As a school that teaches only the "old fashion hand make pieces skills", to an average age of 22, we do not have a shortage of young people wanting to learn, we also teach modern skills like cad. We would welcome any assistance with the up and coming future of the jewellery industry both here in New Zealand and Australia as our students travel the world seeking knowledge and employment. We only have them for three years and there is a whole lot more to learn then what we pack into our course, but we do have an 86% employment record after they leave us so we must be doing something right.
Chris Minturn
Peter Minturn Goldsmith School
posted by chris minturn on April 15, 2011 12:43

Love It
What a fantastic idea!
I only have a small studio in Perth but would love to be involved (if its at all possible I am a very young 37 :)
And can I just say I really enjoy Jeweller and its unbiased look at the industry.
And as its been stated here before, if you have issue with the industry then you need to take it up with industry associations, or get stuck in and start trying to be part of the solution!!!!! Ranting to a magazine editor who is trying to do something positive for the industry is not of any benefit to anyone.
Keep up the fantastic work!
posted by Giselle Mckenna on April 15, 2011 13:27

Brilliant idea, a step forward!
As a 28 year old female, I have been involved in the jewellery industry for nearly a decade. I am not a jeweller but have spent the majority of that time in management positions. I now manage an independent jewellery store taking care of all the day to day issues of running the business, staff, buying etc etc.
I think individuals such as myself would benefit greatly from networking opportunities, advice and interaction with others in similar positions or with further experience in the trade and in management. I look forward to the furthering of this idea and would love to be a part of it.
I appreciate you Coleby, taking the time to consider and raise these issues for discussion and giving us, the younger generation in the jewellery trade, the opportunity to express ourselves on a platform that will be noticed.
Jasmin Taylor
(Please note this is not submitted by David McKay who our account is registered to, I am the manager in his store).

EDITOR’S NOTE: : Thanks for your support Jasmin. And by the way, why not join the jewellermagazine.com yourself? It’s FREE … and we will add you to the store’s account and, besides Jasmin, that way you won’t have to pretend you’re David anymore!!!
posted by David McKay on April 15, 2011 13:43

Excellent Initiative
Hi Coleby,
Looking at this from a management perspective rather a 'trade skill' one, I see a tremendous need to encourage and train not only young Jewellery talent, but young management skills as well.
We live in dynamic times and in many cases we see the younger generation shying away from taking over the family business much to the disappointment of their parents. They have seen their parents working huge hours for minimal return on their investment and they want more for themselves.
The Jewellery business is a fabulous and potentially lucrative one but we need to entice the younger generation back and equip them with the financial, stock, staff and business growth strategies and skills they need to prosper.
I have seen first hand the power of getting 'like minded', progressive retailers together so I say 'bring it on'.
posted by David Brown on April 15, 2011 14:37

Are the big jewellers listening?
I fear for our industry when I hear that some large jewellery manufacturers are demanding that TAFE assess their apprentices at the workplace.
Many of their jewellers are piece workers and do not have time to properly train the apprentices.
Attending TAFE gives them a chance to actually make jewellery and complete assignments and interact with other apprentices.
These large manufacturers are short sighted and killing any creative ability of our young apprentices who are being deprived of working and learning in usually state of the art TAFE workshops and in the case of Brisbane not being able to compete fairly in the Year 3 end of year Design Awards.
They are our future lets give them all the encouragement and opportunities to see, hear and learn from other jeweller teachers who are devoted to their trade and to all the industry representatives who volunteer their time to lecture the apprentices at TAFE.
There are JAA members and non members who feel that our apprentices deserve to be exposed to as much information as possible.
Being locked up in a jewellery factory all day doing menial tasks is not doing anything to keep our jewellery industry world class.
The JAA design awards last year in Sydney showcased what out TAFE teachers are achieving with our apprentices especially here in Queensland.
posted by Ralph Pownall on April 15, 2011 14:47

Lets Take Them To The Next Level
I firmly believe that we should be offering apprentice jewellers the equivilent of a Cert IV and as well as World Skills competitions offering those who excell in the design awards, both JAA and individual TAFE year 3 design competitions a trip overseas to study in Europe for example.
Our industry has to move on from the GFC quickly and create an environment in our jewellery workshops and TAFE classrooms that helps encourage young apprentices to break out and be creative.
They need the guidance of good teachers independent of the tradesman in the workshop who is usually too busy and under pressure to give that one-on one training they need to excell as jewellers and people.
Our industry is going down the gurgler because of the short sightedness of greedy businessmen who are so shortsighted it embarrasses me to see them involved in our industry associations saying one thing and doing the other or nothing to create an environment in their workshops where apprentices are jumping out of their skins to go to work each day.
posted by Ralph Pownall on April 15, 2011 14:59

How young is "YOUNG"?
Hi Coleby,
I am interested in this young Jewellers group. I do think it is very important to foster the interest of young people in the industry and to give them an environment where career advancement is encouraged. I find this industry very secretive and guarded, in contrast to other industries, where technicians or trades people actually help each other out and businesses even work together on projects. If we can encourage a young jewellers group then hopefully things can start to change and we will see a strengthening in Australian small business in this area.
Samantha Nordhoff
PS - I am 30 years old, does this mean I am too old to be considered to join the group?

EDITOR’S NOTE: : Samantha, that’s a good question! I received an email from a well-known 75 year-old retailer asking if he could join. His argument is, “I’m 75 years young!”

[ And if you knew him you’d probably reply “Yes, you can join”! ]

It’s a difficult issue and NOT for me to answer, If a group forms it can set its own agenda and mandate, but having said that, when I have asked people the question you have asked, the common reply is up to 35 years old OR … is that 35 years YOUNG!
posted by Samantha Nordhoff on April 15, 2011 15:15

Hi Coleby,
I think that if there would be financial support for jewellers giving up their time training an apprentice more jewellers would take them on.
I am concerned though about the lack of technical guidance when you train an apprentice. We have just employed a young epprentice and the (ancient photo copied) booklet did not ask for much in skills training. How do we know that an apprentice trained with Mr X has learned the same skills as the one trained by Mr K?
In New Zealand a group of Jewellers have set up a website http://nzsilversmiths.ning.com/ and share information. Although some people on there are only hobby jewellers (hippies with hammers I'm told they are called here)but information is shared about all sorts. Helping each other.
I was trained in a formal trade based school setting in Holland with 1 practical year in a workshop and find that this would be the best learning environment as you also learn from students around you. Together you create a passion for learning new skills. Learning from each other mistakes. However in NZ the only school is in Auckland and unfordable.
Yvon Smits
posted by Yvon Smits on April 16, 2011 08:50

Connecting is important
I found your article about the need for a young jewellers group in Australia quite interesting. I am 23 and studying jewellery at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane. I am also the treasurer for the Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Queensland (JMGQ). The points you made about connecting either through magazine or online forums really stood out to me. I think attracting people to the industry is irrelevant, there are many young people in the industry already, they are just not found in the same industry circles at the moment. I agree with you that something needs to happen to connect young people and would be interested in talking with you or others about realising this in the future. It is vital for any industry to make these connections as a strong sense of community is fundamental to any form of development.
posted by Andy Lowrie on April 16, 2011 14:47

Positive Concept
First of alI I would like to suggest that Kay Sawatzky should just calm down a little (take a chill pill)

Colby, if something like you suggest can get of the ground it could generate a great foundation and network for what could be the next generation of this industry.As long as there are large corporate retailers there will always be room for the small operators.We just have to keep producing a point of difference,fine quality jewellery.
A message for Kay,it seems you are very passionate on the subject but I think the last person to blame is Colby,gee he only tabled an idea to alleviate a problem he didn't create it.
posted by Brett Wood on April 16, 2011 23:32

Uplift our image
Dear Coleby,

Thank you for the work you do.


Our industry is declining and we need to boost its presence. The media strongly bring our reputation down through their reports. Our industry is strongly crying foul at the declining sales, we are doing nothing about it.

We need a mass marketing campaign to uplift our image and make people more aware of what a great purchase jewellery is. Keep up the good work.

Adam Farhan
Diamond Hill Jewellers – Seven Hills
posted by Adam Farhan on April 18, 2011 12:10

TV jewellery channels
Hya Colby,
Whereas I agree mostly with what you say, the tv jewellery channels are f#####g the system up with their price wars. It’s becoming an industry where there are no winners anymore, simply because of three companies at war with each other over prices.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks Terrence for the feedback but I a sorry, I don’t understand your point about three “tv jewellery channels”. I don’t know of them and regardless, I am not sure how it relates to my observations about young people in the jewellery industry. But thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
posted by terence armstrong on April 19, 2011 11:44

Put me down to join
Hi Coleby,

I would be very interested in being a part of this group. I’m 23 and I have only recently started jewellery manufacture at TAFE and I am taking the step into starting my own business.

I have spent the last two years in the UK working in the retail side of the jewellery scene and you are absolutely correct, Europe has so much more respect for the jewellery trade and they encourage young jewellers to express themselves.

It’s not been an easy industry to become a part of. There aren’t many TAFEs that provide the courses and there are even less apprenticeship positions out there. Hence why I’m starting up my own business. I would readily welcome any chance to network with other people in the business.
posted by Carlie Hasell on April 19, 2011 12:16

Great idea
I'm with Brett - Kay needs to calm down a little and put her arguments forward in a more articulate manner. Quite frankly I didn't get the gist of her letter at all.

I wholeheartedly agree with you on the concept of uniting young jewellers. I am a little too old to be involved, but I really wish there had been an avenue for me to explore my creativity when I was younger! I am not a jeweller, merely a jewellery artisan, but would dearly loved to have joined a group of like-minded people to unite our voice in this industry. I hope there is some way that idea can come to fruition.
Good on you for taking a punt.
posted by Lisa Crispin on April 19, 2011 12:20

Getting it out there
Hi Coleby,

I agree with your initiative, as a 28 year old woman, who decided in High School to become a jeweller, I have found it a tough industry to gain skills and opportunities in. In Polytechnic (TAFE equivalent in NZ) the jewellery stream was seriously lacking in mentorship and training (our tutor left halfway through our final year, and wasn't replaced!), to then graduate and realise there were no apprenticeships available for further training. I later moved to Australia for that reason, and whilst I am now (6 years after graduating in NZ...) employed by a fantastic female Jeweller and Mentor, found it was almost just as difficult to get a foot in the door here. I am a personable & conscientious worker, and was prepared to start at the bottom, but the support systems weren't there. As a kiwi, I was going to be charged international student fees through TAFE. So that scrapped that idea! I'm unsure if this is still the case... and I think (correct me if I'm wrong) as a kiwi I couldn't go through the apprenticeship system either. My point is I often wonder if the support networks had been around, even at a peer level, my mish-mashed solitary path into the jewellery industry could have been more efficient in time, energy and costs for myself.

I would love to help make it easier for new young jewellers to enter the industry.
Even a jewellery community website providing comprehensive details of the various options available in traditional and contemporary training, business mentorship, marketing, courses and apprenticeship information, and of course direct contact with other students, mentors, associations, retailers etc etc.

I am certain amongst Jewellers my age and younger this would be well received! Thanks for opening up the topic.
posted by Kate Higgins on April 19, 2011 14:33

hi, I know its a bit late but I have been following this commentry with intrest, I am a 22yr old "contemporary" trained jeweller. I trained at CSU in WaggaWagga. There we learnt trade skills like repairing and basket rings along with contemporary design skills. I am particulary interested in learning old world skills like inlay, engraving and enameling, so far I know a little inlay. I think there is allot of great ideas and potential here and I would look forward to any kind of community for young jewellers and possible mentorship/ skill/idea sharing activitys.
posted by Nina Baker on May 17, 2011 16:57

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