Since 2016, Jason Chandler has come to our Bench Jeweler Workshop, to demonstrate his metal forming techniques. As he works, a large group gathers, and he describes each step clearly and concisely while fielding questions. It’s easy to understand why teaching comes so naturally to him. And watching him work with sureness and precision makes it clear he’s a seasoned professional.
Jason looks younger than his years. With his sandy hair and clear, steady eyes, one might place him in his late 20s or early 30s at most. But he’s been a jeweler for 27 years. He discovered his jewelry passion early and is fortunate to have spent his career doing what he loves. Today, Jason is one of three partners in a trade shop, Portland Jewelry Artisans. He’s also the founder of and master teacher at the Portland Jewelry Academy, where he trains the next generation of jewelers.
In 2019, he decided to get the school state licensed as a private career school. “Among other benefits, students get tuition insurance, and the school has to maintain a minimum level of placement for our graduates. It involved endless paperwork. And I couldn’t hold classes, so I had no income from it.” Finally, in February 2020, PJA got licensed and began student enrollment only weeks before the three-month-long COVID stay-at-home order began in March.
During the school closure in 2020, Jason and his Portland Jewelry Artisans' partners concentrated on building their trade shop clientele. “Most of our business comes from referrals,” Jason says. “Since I had greater daytime availability, we took on more work, which helped make up for some of the income lost from the school.”
About 90% of their business is repair/refurbishment and 10% is custom design. The shop also offers mass production, expert stone setting, engraving (both hand and machine), enameling, and more. Jason is a platinum expert and teaches a course on working with platinum at the school.
Over the years, Jason’s had many challenging repairs. Recently, he sized an eternity band set with baguettes and rounds. “I needed to keep the clean-cut holes for maximum brilliance,” he says. “I ended up sizing it by soldering two rings inside the band with wire between them to get the right size." The customer was delighted with the results.
Then he mentions a custom design for a 50 carat cabochon Emerald. “It was a beautiful, valuable gem,” he says. “And like most Emeralds, it had inclusions that required extreme care. As a trade shop, we bring the consumer’s vision to life, so this isn't my design. The jeweler and I have to hope that the consumer really knows what they want because two days of work goes into making it. My biggest challenge was incorporating all the details requested. I bent, formed, and soldered basic 18K yellow stock into pieces I needed.”
The customer wanted the setting decorated with platinum flowers that Jason chased in a lead block. Each flower has a natural yellow diamond set at its center. “My style is more modern, and I like vintage details. The piece came out beautifully. The customer loved it - and that’s what matters to me.”
During the stay-at-home order, some jewelers worked by phone, Zoom, etc. The trade shop did simple repairs with curbside drop off and pick up. On June 19, 2020, Portland entered Phase One of reopening, and the shop could take on more work. "We're not open to the public, so we don’t have random customers," Jason says, "We buzz our clients in and out. We do in-person communication with social distancing, liberal disinfectant, and wearing masks. It lets us offer all of our services.” In other words, business is rebuilding as fast as Jason and his partners can work. And the school has reopened too, with six-person classes. When they eventually reach Phase Two, he will have ten students per class, which is his maximum.