More than 200 bench jewelers came to talk shop and test-drive the latest in tools and equipment at Stuller’s annual Bench Jeweler Workshop, which took place at the company’s headquarters in Lafayette, La., March 27–29.
Attendees, who signed up for seminars covering everything from basic diamond grading and to photographing jewelry, traveled from 32 states and represented three countries—the U.S., Canada, and Ireland.
The event, now in its 11th year, is a favorite with jewelers, “because they love networking and working with their peers side by side,” said Tammy Kidder, vice president of merchandising for Stuller. “‘People by nature are learners.”
The turnout of professionals underscored how familial the independent fine jewelry business still is. Many attendees came with sons, daughters, and spouses in tow.
Frieder Lauer, a bench jeweler from Houston, brought his son, Mathias Lauer, who’s following in his dad’s footsteps as a bench guy. “I came seven years ago and was really impressed by what I learned,” Frieder said. “This time I brought my son with me because I wanted to show him how things work in the industry. Look around—it’s a very complicated enterprise.”
Randall McDaniel, owner of two-chain fine jewelry store Diamonds N Designs, based in Sulphur Springs, Texas, brought his wife, Pat McDaniel, who’s new to the business (the pair married in 2012). Randall, who’s been in business for 33 years, says he comes to the event to “see new concepts and stay current on new tools.”
Pat was decidedly more wide-eyed. “I’m really excited about the classes,” she said, then motioned to her silver-white hair. “Forget the gray hair—I’m just getting going. I’d really like to become a gemologist.”
She was one in a clutch of newbies at the event. A small group of students from the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology in Paris, Texas, attended the workshop at Stuller’s invitation. “It’s so great being here,” one fresh-faced male student says. “We really get to see all kinds of tools and machines up close.”
Another first-time attendee, Miami-based Priscilla Gascon, is currently finishing her bench degree at the Miami Jewelry School but has worked on the retail side of the industry for years. Gascon called the workshop, “the last stop before I venture out on my own. I really wanted to check out all the latest equipment and just soak it all in.”
Darrell Warren, vice president of Stuller, said hosting the annual event “is a lot of fun—and a lot of work! But we love showing customers new things and things that will ultimately save them time.”