Jewelers of America (JA) has awarded Philadelphia jeweler Bernard D’Ascenzo Sr. the designation of Certified Master Bench Jeweler (CMBJ), the highest level in its Bench Jeweler Certification program. D’Ascenzo is only the sixth jeweler in Pennsylvania—and the 106th in the nation—to receive the distinction.
Candidates in the Bench Jeweler Certification program are evaluated according to their talent, professional knowledge, and technical bench skills. Through a written and practical bench examination process, they must demonstrate proficiency in a broad range of areas—including stone setting, soldering, etc.—proving that they meet an acceptable national standard. Certification is offered in four designations: JA Certified Bench Jeweler Technician, JA Certified Bench Jeweler, JA Certified Senior Bench Jeweler, and JA Certified Master Bench Jeweler.
D’Ascenzo, a native of Roseto degli Abruzzi, Italy, did not originally set out to become a jeweler. He attended a high school for architectural studies in Italy and came to Philadelphia to stay with relatives and continue his training. To earn money for college, he began designing jewelry for a family friend, a jeweler with a shop on Sansom Street, Philadelphia’s “Jeweler’s Row.” Despite reservations about his lack of jewelry experience—”I didn’t think I’d be asked to come back to work the next day,” says D’Ascenzo—he flourished and within a few years was designing and creating jewelry for many of the jewelers and retailers in the city.
In 1954 he opened his own shop on Sansom Street, Bernard D’Ascenzo Jewelers. Since then, D’Ascenzo has come to specialize in custom, hand-made platinum and gemstone jewelry, and he continues there to this day—although the shop is now known as Bernard D’Ascenzo & Sons.
Architecture has never lost its appeal, however. “Even today, when I visit New York, those beautiful, majestic buildings always take me back to my younger days and dreams that someday I may design the next Empire State Building,” says D’Ascenzo. “At the same time, after 50 years in this industry, my mind still thrives on creating better and more beautiful jewelry—the same way it had back then.”