Jewelers Of America

After more than a year of planning and development, Jewelers of America launched a new test designed to grade the skills of bench jewelers.

JA Bench Jeweler Certification™ provides certification at four levels with a series of written and bench tests, allowing bench jewelers who have trained either on the job or in schools to demonstrate their skills.

“This is a very, very exciting time for bench jewelers,” says Mark Mann, JA’s director of professional certification. “This is the first time there has been a national standard for bench jewelers, many of whom have worked a lifetime to achieve their many accomplishments. This program will allow them to communicate those accomplishments to employers and the public.”

Mann, who came to JA from the Gemological Institute of America, made his remarks during a January 27 demonstration and press conference about the program during the JA International Jewelry Show in New York City.

Most retailers agree that nothing communicates value and trust like a strong policy of service and personal attention, and many stores have set up workbenches or shops on-site to back the products they sell. However, bench jewelers come in all shapes, sizes and skill levels. Because many bench jewelers learn the trade on the job, there has never been a graduation or certification process to prove a bench jeweler’s professional excellence to a blindly faithful customer.

Benefits for all involved: Several task forces manned by JA, the Texas Institute for Jewelry Technology and the Gemological Institute of America developed a comprehensive test for the many skills needed on a bench.

Tests are available for the JA Certified Bench Jeweler Technician, an entry-level generalist with some experience; the JA Certified Bench Jeweler, an experienced generalist; the JA Certified Senior Bench Jeweler, a generalist who can perform light jewelry manufacturing and make custom order jewelry; and the JA Certified Master Bench Jeweler, who can manufacture and create custom designs under stringent time pressure.

Tests can be administered on the jeweler’s bench with a proctor or at a JA certification test site. Official JA Bench Certification test sites have been established at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco, Cal.; GIA in Carlsbad, Cal.; and the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology in Paris, Tex. JA plans to add more sites throughout the country in the future.

A national standard: Many jewelry retailers and manufacturers agree sorting through the different skill levels of bench jewelers is a difficult process. “The standards of acceptable work are so low,” says Jeff Fiero of Alex Sepkus, New York City. “If someone can solder a piece together he calls himself a bench jeweler. The difference between that person and a skilled bench jeweler is like the difference between a high school violinist and someone who plays in Carnegie Hall.”

Though JA had not seriously marketed the test to jewelers before its launch, more than 400 people had already called to inquire about the program before it began at the show in January.

“The reception has surprised us,” says John “Buzz” Darden of Darden’s Jewelers in Murrell’s Inlet, S.C., one of the key architects of the program. Organizers estimate there are 20-30 times more bench jewelers than gemologists in the United States.

Once enough bench jewelers become certified, JA plans to market the certification process actively as a standard by which consumers can make a comfortable choice.

“I’ve wished for something like this for years,” says Tom Weishaar of Underwood’s Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Ark. Weishaar was the first bench jeweler to complete the Certified Master Bench Jeweler test, finishing the last phase, the manufacturing of a platinum ring, as a demonstration at the JA show.

“Several fine jewelry stores in our city report having ‘master-level’ bench jewelers on staff,” he says. “We see a lot of examples of poor service coming from some of those benches, and we have to redo a lot of their work. This program will protect the consumers and restore their confidence in bench jewelers.”