Meet three up-and-coming bench jewelers in the early stages of their very bright careers.
The art of jewelry making is a rare find nowadays. With years of study and practice necessary to master the craft, this is a field of select, dedicated artists. While experienced bench jewelers are few and far between, a new generation of young and creative jewelers is entering the scene and launching careers of their own.
From just leaving jewelry school to the first years of working behind the bench, young jewelers are making their mark on the industry. I reached out to a few young, up-and-coming jewelers to get their perspective on starting their career and what kind of advice they’d give to other young bench jewelers getting their start.
Erickson Jewelers | www.EricksonJewelers.com
Iron Mountain, MI
Hi, Zac! Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?
I am from Iron Mountain, which is in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I went to Iron Mountain High School and graduated in 2021. I love to watch football and coach my middle school football team. I also love listening to music and collecting records (my favorite artist is Tyler the Creator), playing golf, and just relaxing and hanging around the house with my girlfriend. My duties at my family’s jewelry store are sizing and ring repair, chain repair, some setting work, and laser engraving. I’m learning more everyday though!
Sounds like you have all sorts of interests and skills! Did you discover the jewelry industry by working in your family’s jewelry store? What made you want to start your career?
The way I discovered the business is actually because I grew up in it. My parents have been in the jewelry business since 1993 and have owned their store Erickson Jewelers up here in Iron Mountain since 2009. I would go hang around the store all the time and watch my dad work. That's when I really fell in love with the industry. Not only that, but also going on trips with them to [Independent Jewelers Organization] shows, meeting other people in the industry, and seeing how much everyone really loves what they do was another thing that really made me want to be a part of this awesome line of work. In 6th grade, I even wrote a paper our class put in a time capsule that I wanted to grow up to be a bench jeweler!
What a great introduction to the industry! So, when you made the decision to become a jeweler, what did your training look like?
As far as my training goes, when I was in my final year of high school, I had a class where I could work so I would go to my parents’ store and my dad would teach me skills, such as polishing and sizing rings. When I graduated high school, I went to Tennessee to attend Blaine Lewis’s New Approach School for Jewelers for a three-month course on all the basics of repair, setting, and fabrication. And since then, my dad has been teaching me more and more every day at the shop. I also have an Applied Jewelry Professional degree from [the Gemological Institute of America].
I think it’s great that your dad has been your mentor behind the bench. Since you’ve started, what has been your favorite piece or project you’ve gotten to work on?
My favorite piece I’ve worked on is definitely the ring I made for myself when I got back from Tennessee and started working for my parents. I made the design on CounterSketch®. Then, I polished it and set all the stones. It's a big, thick, 14K yellow gold ring with 10 diamonds and 10 black diamonds on the top that were set in an order that makes a cool contrast design. It just feels cool to wear something you made for yourself.
What a special piece and great achievement! I have to ask, do you have a favorite tool or piece of equipment from Stuller to work with?
My favorite piece of equipment from Stuller is my Meiji® binocular microscope with the acrobat stand*. Having a microscope is such a lifesaver and helps me so much with the fine detail in my work every day.
*Stuller no longer offers this product. We now recommend the GRS® Acrobat® Versa & Leica® A60 (26-5101)
Definitely a useful tool at the bench. Okay, my final question is this: What advice do you have for any aspiring bench jewelers out there?
A piece of advice I have for aspiring jewelers is TRUST THE PROCESS. This job is not easy by any means and may take you a while to figure out, but when you do figure it out, it's so much fun and only gets easier and easier.
I think that’s terrific advice! Thanks for sharing with us.
Ash Hoffman Jewelry | www.AshHoffmanJewelry.com
Myrtle Beach, SC
Hi, Ashley! Thank you for taking the time to chat. To start, tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?
I was born and raised in Myrtle Beach, SC. I went to college at Clemson University and graduated with a B.A. in architecture. An architectural internship after college in Uganda sparked the jewelry bug and led me to south Florida to jewelry school. I moved home in 2011 to start my jewelry business and have been growing it since 2012.
Uganda??? How interesting! Tell me more. What about your experience sparked your career?
I have always been artistic and have always loved jewelry, but my time in Uganda really sealed the deal for me. I brought back to the states three full bags of Ugandan paper jewelry, an intention to sell each and every piece, and a goal to raise money for a dear friend I met while living in Uganda. Upon selling the jewelry, I quickly realized that there was a style that was more popular than the others, so I began taking apart the earrings and necklaces that didn’t sell and re-stringing them in the same fashion that the Ugandan women did, using all of the original pieces. And that was just the start!
What a unique beginning in the jewelry industry! So, once you started working with jewelry, did you receive any training?
I went to a small specialty jewelry school in south Florida and completed their master jeweler program. I have plans to complete the GIA diamond and colored gemstone classes in the near future, but right now being a mom to two small children and running my business has taken front seat.
Totally understandable. As you’ve worked to build your business over the past few years, can you tell me about a piece or project that you’ve worked on and really enjoyed?
I have a lot of projects that I’ve worked on so it’s very hard to pick a favorite, but I think the projects that bring me the most joy are the ones where I take my clients old heirlooms and we repurpose them into more modern pieces. They can wear and enjoy those pieces for years to come and something that’s a little more suitable to their style. I’ve also learned so much by doing this because I’m taking apart pieces and seeing how they’re made while deconstructing and reconstructing, so, it’s really helped me grow as a designer. I’ve learned how to repair jewelry and problem solve in a way that I don’t think you can really teach.
I think that is incredible! Learning on the job is crucial to making your own mark. As you’ve grown as a jeweler, what tools from Stuller do you like to work with or would like to work with?
The item that is definitely on my wish list from Stuller is the GRS VERSA + Leica magnifier but I currently love my Sunstone Pulse Arc-Welder for permanent jewelry. It has been a game changer in my business!
Permanent jewelry really has been blowing up everywhere. I’m glad we were able to help get you started! To close us out, can you provide some advice for aspiring bench jewelers?
I think the biggest advice — which is one that I still have a hard time with — is don’t be afraid. I think when you’re working with other people’s jewelry, there’s that element of fear that you’re going to mess something up and it’s obviously expensive mistakes whenever that happens, but you have to just be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. You have to be committed to being honest with your clients. I think it’s important to also know when to walk away from the projects and tackle it another day when things aren’t going as planned.
That’s advice I believe we can all benefit from. Thank you for taking the time to share!
If you want to keep up with Ashley’s journey, be sure to follow her on Instagram @AshHoffmanJewelry.
David Reynolds Jewelry & Coin | www.DavidReynoldsJewelryandCoin.com
St. Petersburg, FL
Hi, Julia! I’m so glad we could talk. Why don’t we get started with you sharing a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?
My name is Julia Aitken, and I am lifelong resident of St Petersburg, FL. I work at David Reynolds Jewelry & Coin as a full-time jeweler. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend and dog, learning new hobbies, and being outdoors.
Sounds fun! So, as a bench jeweler for an established jewelry store, how did you discover the industry and what made you want to start your career?
I discovered a love for jewelry making in my senior year of high school. I had the opportunity to meet this awesome silversmith, who spoke so highly of the craft and was very skilled. I was hooked on the idea of creating art with precious metal, so I enrolled in a local trade school and was able to land an awesome job about a year later.
Ah, so you began your training at a trade school. Can you tell me more about that and your training?
I was never the type of person who wanted to be in school. I could never sit still or focus. But with jewelry making, everything just clicked. The trade school I enrolled in taught me the basics of the craft, but I feel learning jewelry is like learning a language. You can take a course to learn the basics, but you only become fluent from repeated practice with native speakers. After I got my position at David Reynolds is when I really began to be able to “speak” and understand the trade. I truly learn something new every day!
I completely agree. Practice makes perfect. So, now that you’ve begun working in the field, tell me about your favorite piece or project you’ve gotten to work on.
At the moment, I am absolutely infatuated with western jewelry. One of my coworkers showed me how to sand cast. I used this method recently to cast from a cameo in silver and created the coolest ring.
That sounds incredible! While you’re working on projects, what is your favorite Stuller tool or piece of equipment?
Asking what my favorite tool is, is like asking me what my favorite song is! There are too many to choose from! But, if I had to pick just one, it would be my flex shaft.
That must be great for engraving and other useful skills. Alright, my final question is this: What advice would you give to other young or aspiring bench jewelers?
A piece of advice that I could give is actually something my boss told me, “At times, you are going to feel like you’ve fallen to the bottom. But you’ll figure it out and you’ll get back to the top. And then, you will fall again, and this process will repeat itself, but you can’t give up. You have to keep figuring out your way to the top.” I’ve truly lived by this statement, because being a jeweler is not even close to being easy. Our store’s head jeweler has been in the industry for decades and is still learning. I find that very inspiring and love that I am in an industry where I can continually grow.
That’s a perfect piece of advice that we can all take something away from. I really appreciate you taking the time to share!
The future of our industry is looking extraordinarily bright! These three bench jewelers represent a generation of craftsmen that are driving the jewelry space to new heights.
Stuller is happy to support all bench jewelers in their journey as both a resource and a provider of quality tools and materials. Interested in exploring our product selection and learning more? Visit Stuller.com today.