Apprenticeship: 9 Days that Will Shake Your World

Here's me, soldering away at the apprentice bench in the Pueblo, Colorado studio of master jeweler/lapidary Michael Boyd. Too cool for school!

Helen Driggs 
is the Managing Editor
for Lapidary Journal
Jewelry Artist.

I've been so busy travelling this year that I feel like I've gone away on vacation when I'm at home. Part of my travels included a nine-day apprenticeship with master jeweler/lapidary Michael Boyd, which I documented for the September Design issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. It took us almost a year to arrange and plan for the apprenticeship, and I made three homework pieces, shot about 200 photos, kept a day by day progress log, and wrote a full-length feature story on my experience. 

I specifically asked Michael not to treat me with kid gloves just because I'm an editor. And he didn't! At his studio, a typical first assignment he gives to his interns is "bezels, bezels and more bezels. Anything repetitive–that's how you develop your skills." I wound up fabricating fifty 20K and sterling bezels for 5mm and smaller stones in the first 48 hours. That was after we alloyed the gold, milled it into square stock, and rolled that into bezel strip. The most important thing I learned was that it isn't easy being a full-time jewelry artist. 

I had a great time at the studio, cutting rock, fabricating work, doing documentation photos, preparing shipments, cleaning equipment, drinking lots of hand roasted java, and listening to NPR. I learned so many tricks for production work, like pick soldering and gang soldering many bezels to a single backplate.  

Here's Michael, doing what he does best: cutting rock with a painter's eye for color and pattern.

We even spontaneously designed and documented a project to go with the feature in print. I did make a few mistakes, but nothing so terrible that I was sent packing. At night, I spent quality time with my laptop writing notes and blogging about what I did. Check out my Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Apprentice Log on Jewelry Making Daily to see what I did every day. 

Well, here they are–30 of my 50 20K and sterling bezels. That's more bezels than I'd made in my whole life in two days!

Apprenticeships are a cool way to get an intense learning situation at the same time you are providing cheap labor to the master craftsman. The custom of apprentices in crafts has been around since the middle ages. In exchange for work, the master provided food, lodging, and formal training. Today, goldsmiths are the most likely artisans to take on apprentices, given the complex nature of the craft and the depth of technical information to master. Usually, college-trained metalsmiths propose apprenticeships with established artists, however there is a change to trade work at a jewelry store or even with an independent artist when you haven't been formally trained. The best thing to do is ask about the possibility by talking to the artist you want to work for. We've got apprentice guidelines and other information in print, so check out the September 2010 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist to learn more.

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