How to Become a Silversmith 2021 (Apprenticeships, Education & Prospects)
Silversmithing has existed as a lucrative occupation for centuries. The “golden age” of silversmithing is widely considered the 17th and 18th centuries, when European silversmiths created high-quality serving ware and decorative household items in unique styles.
Today, silversmiths continue to design and fashion these items for small and large companies alike, but jewelry is more of a mainstream focus for most smiths. Regardless of the types of items you want to create, the following information will be helpful to you in deciding whether silversmithing is the right career path for you.
What Does a Modern Silversmith Do?
As discussed above, modern silversmiths create jewelry, serving ware, and other decorative items out of silver. While the actual work of making things is at the heart of a silversmith’s duties, in today’s increasingly technological world, smiths also spend much of their time online marketing themselves as artists, researching clients, and continuing their education.
Duties of a Professional Silversmith
Silversmiths perform a variety of tasks in their day to day routines, such as:
- Ordering materials and determining metal qualities
- Searching for clients and communicating with them about designs and outcomes
- Using various equipment to heat, cut, form, and polish metals into desired pieces
- Performing administrative and computer-related tasks, especially if self-employed
- Continuing education through online and in-person workshops and trainings
Silversmith Equipment Required for the Job
Some of the most common equipment used by silversmiths include files, pliers, hammers, polishing tools, vices, and a heat source to make metal moldable. Although these tools are standard in the industry, you may require more or less equipment depending on the types of items you make and your individual style.
If you work for yourself, you will be able to decide what equipment you use the most and what is worth investing in. If you work for an employer they will provide the tools needed and you will likely need to know how to operate a more extensive list of equipment.
Silversmiths working in the jewelry industry will work from a workbench, which is supplied with all necessary tools.
What Items Do Silversmiths Make?
Silversmiths working for houseware and servingware companies focus on creating utensils, bowls, platters, and other items for the kitchen and dining room. While historically the most popular focus of silversmiths, today most artisans focus on jewelry.
Jewelry craftsman create necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants, and other wearable art pieces. Smiths are known for their unique designs and therefore are seen as artists.
Education Paths for Silversmiths – Where to Begin?
Silversmithing is not a common career path today, but that does not mean educational paths are nonexistent or impossible to navigate. Depending on where you live, educational opportunities may be directly related to silversmithing and jewelry making or less obvious but no less valuable.
There are several educational options for prospective silversmiths, and each one properly prepares students for a career in the industry. Do your research and choose the option that works best for your personal learning style, interests, and finances.
1) 2 Year and 4 Year Degrees
Silversmithing is closely related to the fine arts. More and more colleges and universities are offering fine arts degrees with an emphasis on metalworking and other less-traditional mediums. These opportunities are great for future silversmiths because they cover the characteristics of metals and how to work them in creative ways.
Although not directly related to jewelry making, for example, a fine arts degree will equip prospective smiths with critical thinking and creative skills that are absolutely necessary for their careers.
This educational option also allows smiths to curate a portfolio of the work they completed in college, which is essential to finding work after graduation.
2) Silversmithing Apprenticeships
Like other metalworking professions like goldsmithing and blacksmithing, silversmiths can learn the trade from a professional. These training programs last anywhere from 6 months to one year and allow students to learn in a real-world environment from an individual who is successful in the industry.
Apprenticeships allow for hands-on learning that you will not receive in a traditional fine arts program. Each professional silversmith acquires their own unique skillset, and you will be able to absorb some of these faculties through close partnership with a master.
If silversmithing apprenticeships are not available near you, consider apprenticing with a skilled professional in a related field like fabrication or engraving. You will still learn vital skills in a hands-on environment that can be transferred to silversmithing later on.
Those living in Britain may have an easier job finding apprenticeships near them. The United States relies heavily on 2 and 4 year colleges and universities for career preparation. Regardless, research your area for more traditional learning opportunities like an apprenticeship if this is the option that you think would benefit you the most.
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Finegold, Rupert (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
Pair your “official” education with continued self-teaching in order to develop your own smithing style and stay ahead of industry trends. You can learn from YouTube videos, books, and experimentation. Consider creating an at-home work station if possible where you can go and spend time with the materials and tools of the trade.
Challenge yourself to create a wide range of items using different techniques and see what works and what does not. Plenty of successful silversmiths are self-taught, so if you are a self-motivated and talented individual, this may be all the education you need.
Additional Skills & Requirements of Silversmiths
Each silversmith has his or her own unique set of characteristics and mastered techniques. The following are a few skills all silversmiths need to succeed at the craft and stand out amongst competitors. For those seeking self-employment, their skillset must be even broader.
1) Manual Dexterity
Silversmithing involves working with very small pieces of metal and shaping them in intricate ways. Therefore, silversmiths require a high degree of manual dexterity and the ability to perform repetitive motions with their hands.
2) An Eye for Design & Visualization
Silversmithing is a highly artistic craft that requires knowledge in design. Silvermithing need to make good-looking products in order to sell them, and the more beautiful and tasteful their work is, the more sought after it will become. Many silversmiths develop their own style and create their own signature designs for pieces. Since silversmiths oftentimes partner with local jewelry stores to sell their designs, creating stand-out pieces is essential.
Self-employed silversmiths should be able to take a client’s vision for a piece and translate it onto paper, then metal.
3) Customer Service/Business Skills
Silversmiths working in jewelry stores or for themselves must communicate with clients daily and meet their individual needs. Customer service skills and persuasive communication techniques are essential for selling product and pleasing clients.
Self-employed silversmiths should familiarize themselves with marketing techniques in-person and especially online. Social media management, website building, and email marketing strategies are skills that will help grow an online small business.
Where Would You Work As A Silversmith?
Silversmiths work in a variety of settings depending on the items their create and their personal preferences. Consider the following scenarios when deciding what segment of the industry you want to work in.
1) Personal Studios
Self-employed silversmiths work in their own studios or workshops with a personalized collection of materials, tools, and equipment. This quiet option is perfect for people who are independent and prefer to work in an environment that allows for deep concentration.
You can set up your work space however you like, and can set your business hours or see clients on an appointment basis. This maintains emphasis on your work.
2) Storefronts/Local Businesses
Many silversmiths sell their designs at local stores and small jewelry businesses. This work setting requires more socialization and collaboration with fellow workers and customers. If you are interested helping others find ready-to-buy or custom pieces, working in a storefront may be perfect for you.
This more extroverted environment allows to you split your time between independent smithing and repairs and socialization. Working with others allows for more natural networking and will help familiarize you with the day-to-day operations of a business.
3) Large Companies
A smaller number of silversmiths work for large, world-renowned jewelry companies. Workshops at these companies are much larger than those of a self-employed smith or an individual working at a local shop. Silversmiths employed by large companies spend more time designing and crafting than interacting with clients, but also collaborate with each other to create the best finished products.
What is a Silversmith’s Salary?
American silversmiths can expect to earn a median salary of about $39,000. Silversmiths working in the UK make between £22,000 and £60,000 with a median salary of £30,000. Apprentices in the UK earn minimum wage. Self-employed silversmiths can earn lower or higher than these estimates regardless of where they live.
Many self-employed silversmiths work for commissions, which are determined based on experience, materials used, hours spent designing and crafting, the complexity of the piece, and profit.
How Long Do Silversmiths Work?
Silversmiths employed full time at jewelry stores and other establishments can expect to work 40 hours per week. Self-employed smiths work as many hours as desired or needed and can range from very part time to more than the traditional 40 hours. This largely depends on personal preference, number of clients, and busier times of the year.
What Are the Career Prospects for Silversmiths?
While the number of silversmiths entering the workforce has been decreasing steadily over time, this does not mean that their skills are not valued in today’s economy. People will always be interested in buying high-quality jewelry and home goods for themselves and their loved ones, so silversmiths are needed to meet demands.
Silversmiths enjoy a level of job security that many others do not. The natural creativity of smiths means that most can find ways to sustain themselves and thrive in the industry.
For silversmiths living in the UK, there are several organizations that support career development and security. The Goldsmith’s Centre, Contemporary British Silversmiths, The Silver Society, and Crafts Council are just a few organizations that assist silversmiths through online career centers, meetings, advice, and material discounts.
Silversmiths located in the US should join the Society of American Silversmiths for similar resources.
Preparing for a Career in Silversmithing (Things You Can Do Right Now!)
If silversmithing is something you are interested in pursuing, you can take actionable steps towards your goal by jumping in and learning as much as you can about the trade.
1) Art/Silversmithing/Stone Setting Classes
Since silversmithing requires artistic ability, any art-related classes will help provide a solid creative foundation. Consider signing up for art and silversmithing classes in your community and get to know fellow students. Even if the class does not directly relate to silversmithing, it may still be valuable in teaching art concepts that you can use in the future.
2) Self-Instruction and Experimentation
As discussed earlier, self-instruction can be a great way to learn the basics of silversmithing and place you ahead of the competition.
Take photos of your finished work and post them on a social media platform such as Instagram to build an online portfolio and share your work with potential clients. Consider creating a website to showcase your work and unique silversmithing style.
3) Work/Volunteer at a local jewelry store or art gallery
Immerse yourself in the world of silversmithing through a job or volunteer position. Many art galleries seek people to interact with visitors and sell pieces. Jewelry stores can be great places to learn about industry trends and how to work with clients. Gain inspiration from the jewelry and art you surround yourself with and apply what you learn to your own work.
Are You Ready to Become a Silversmith?
Silversmithing is an ideal career path for creative individuals who desire an equally creative job! With so many opportunities for education and employment, silversmithing is definitely a career any person interested in metalworking, jewelry, and art should consider.