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Soapbox & Opinions

Let’s not lose the mystique of custom made jewellery

The industry sure has changed a lot over the years. Like many others my age, I started out in the business with my father, cutting gemstones and making jewellery by hand.

Everything was passed on from one generation to the next. Sitting alongside another bench jeweller and learning their techniques was one of the traditional methods of learning.

Unfortunately a lot the ‘old guards’ who have retired never ended up training younger jewellers. Their businesses have closed and their jewellery manufacturing techniques – like the art of engraving and diamond setting – are no more in vogue. Many techniques are now computerised, with many jewellers having adapted by solely using CAD/CAM to design jewellery.

This means there are many jewellers who have never been taught how to set or properly repair pieces.

How’s that for doom and gloom?

Now, I don’t think the industry is actually doomed – I think we just have a lot that needs to be worked out.

For starters, jewellers who are entering the trade need to be trained in all of the fundamental techniques. At gemmological associations for example, trainees are tested on their competencies, where they’re marked against a set of criteria. I think after this, these young trainees need to be followed up on, to ensure their techniques are still current and that they can do the tasks they’re set.

"Get outside your comfort zone and try something a little more ornate, rather than just having everything ‘bread and butter’"

Training facilities also need to be protected notwithstanding the dwindling funds. Those entering the industry need to be able to replace a claw or a broken shank or know how to restore jewellery back to its pristine glory; as my father said, “Even if you hire somebody, you need to know they’re going to do the same standard as what you would do yourself.”

As well as continuing to take on apprentices, we should also be making sure that we do everything within our power to bolster the reputation of manufacturing jewellers. People search for a good hairdresser or cabinetmaker based on quality of work, so our industry needs to do the same.

Legal professionals or accountants always have testimonials from customers on their website and list their credentials so that the customer knows exactly who they’ll be dealing with – again, I believe we should be doing the same too.

Yes, it’s good to embrace all these new technologies because it seems quite inevitable that’s where the industry is heading; however the importance of traditional techniques is being lost. I have too many potential customers come to our store who stand at the front and ask, “Is there a jeweller on the premises? Is everything repaired on site or is it sent away?”

That says a lot to me about the current state of the industry. It’s an issue of education – our customers assume that there is no longer a jeweller on the premises! They think that all their work will be sent offshore and returned six weeks later.

Another way we can ensure the mystique behind hand-made jewellery won’t be lost is to keep educating our youth. I’m all for fostering an interest and explaining the values of the industry in kids from an early age.

I do some informal teaching at primary and secondary schools, where I introduce students to gemstones and jewellery as part of their geology and other classes. Many of these kids are looking forward to using their hands in the future – and you could say I’m also looking at many future potential customers.

What else can be done? Unfortunately, there seems to be a notion that jewellers think they know it all and refuse to adapt to change. I worked beside another jeweller for 28 years, but he was reluctant to change any of his techniques during that time. You have to be a bit of both – you have to carry on with some of the original techniques as well as take on all the new ways that might actually be better.

I think we also need to make sure we never stop learning. There’s a variety of online tutorials and old-fashioned books you can flick through to get outside your comfort zone and try something a little more ornate, rather than just having everything ‘bread and butter.’ After all, when you get too complacent you get redundant.

I’ve been around in the trade for 40 years, and I’m still adapting, still making changes and trying to figure out what’s the right thing to do.

Name: Alfie Gryg
Business: Allgem Jewellers
Position: Master jeweller
Location: Perth, WA
Years in the industry: 38 years

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Thursday, 28 May, 2020 07:50am
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