I am worried that the standard of craftsmanship within our industry is dropping. Of course we still have wonderful craftsmen and women in the UK, and more in training, but unless you are based either in London or Birmingham – how hard is it to find a first class apprenticeship scheme?
The truth is it’s pretty well impossible – we’ve tried. I also worry about the quality of education and training provided by our universities and colleges. Students leave with little concept of what makes our industry tick – original, well-made, exquisitely well-finished work, made within a budget.
I remember early in my lifetime career in the industry, being led around a Spring Fair in the NEC by my favourite mentor, and being shown – in a manner that left no doubt in my mind – what original, well-made, expertly crafted, to a budget, means. And I will never forget the experience.
As a trade caster I think I am in a position to comment about what is being presented to the market. We see it all. Thank goodness most of the items we cast warrant the comment ‘a good master’, but too many pieces from new starters do not meet the necessary criteria.
And dare I mention what I think is the problem? CAD-CAM and its associated thinking.
How seductive professional programmes are when you can design and model on screen, colour render the image, and then present this to the customer. But with the best will in the world the final printed or milled piece will be a far cry from this presentation. That’s the tricky bit.
The casting is easy (usually!) but the piece then has to be finished, and that’s where the problems lie. It takes high end craftsmanship to turn a good casting into a fine piece of jewellery. Everyone seems to think it’s quick and easy to produce work ready for casting; this thinking then carries on into the rest of the craft skills – wax carving, finishing, setting, polishing and the rest, with the subsequent result of non-original, careless, poorly finished pieces, produced to a make-believe budget.
Computer aided technology is a wonderful tool, another string to the bow for the jewellery trade, but it is not the be-all and end-all. And to make it a little more hit-and-miss I believe there are those who can ‘do’ the computer side and can’t design, and those who can do the designs but are baffled by the technology.
Don’t shout at me – I know there are exceptions, and some get wonderful results on screen, but many use pre-programmed components to form complete designs. Original? I’m not sure. And once the CAD is either printed or milled is it possible to prepare each surface to a suitably high standard? Look closely at any computer generated/finished item, and so many of them have milling/printing lines on them which is just not acceptable.
As casters we receive work in many different form : CAD/CAM waxes and plastic, hand-carved wax, perfectly made metal masters, and many natural objects. But undoubtedly the pieces that are going to end up as the finest jewellery are the perfectly made metal masters AND once they’ve been moulded and cast they will be quick and easy to produce in quantity. So for any sort of production run – and this is usually the aim of the exercise – this is the way to start and the skills to produce such masters are the most valuable and practical. It is so easy to be captivated by new technology – I bet the Egyptians were tickled pink when they worked out casting – but let’s make sure we keep the final objective, a well made piece of jewellery, in mind.
As manufacturers we mustn’t look for an easy way out to make first class jewellery. A traditional grounding in craft skills will always be a primary requirement. Where a little effort can be saved in the production using CAD-CAM/casting let’s use it. I believe it’s all to do with mindset. Our rather unique industry combines design, making, finishing, costing and marketing all in one workshop to produce one, or thousands, of perfect items of jewellery. That must be the reason for coming in to the industry, and why we stay here, and why we all love it.
Mike Hurst is managing director of Jewellery Casting Scotland Ltd.This feature first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Jewellery Focus.