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  • Writer's picturePaul Richter

Goldsmith or Jeweller.

I would like to define the differences between jewellers or as they say in the US, jewelers, and us goldsmiths. I say "us" goldsmiths because if you are one and you are reading this, you will agree with me. Please note: if you want to get the basic point of this post, then simply scroll down to the TLDR to avoid all of the rambling and history associated with my tale.

Firstly, I shall clarify why I am able to refer to myself legitimately as a goldsmith. Firstly, I did an apprenticeship under a master goldsmith from Vienna Austria. I learned the type of handed-down knowledge that you can't pay for in any technical college. I'm talking about knowledge that was passed down over hundreds of years. In the same fashion that Bushman tribal fellows would pass down legends dating back to times most people never even stop to consider. I spent years working under a journeyman (journeyperson if we are to adhere to modern day political correctness standards) named Monica Tucek who taught me more than a few simple fundamentals. Her husband Fritz was a real stickler for quality, so I could not get away with even a single microscopic blemish from day one. Which was a good thing. It was more of a "cruel to be kind" motivation. And he didn't want to be selling second rate goods. And that is what made Vienna Jewellers in Pretoria, South Africa very successful. I was taught about quality. Expert craftsmanship. I was often told to remake something or re-do something because I had made a slight miscalculation or something to that effect. these days if you tell a youngster to do something over, they will start to cry and leave because you are a "asshole boss". That is why after almost 20 years in this business I have resided myself to the fact that I will work alone. I do collaborate with other designers on projects, but when it comes down to the hands on work, I tend to have the inability to delegate. Oh well. However, I do have my eye on some accomplished goldsmiths internationally that want to come and work for me. I know they will be up for the challenge. But I will first have to slowly grow to the point that I can actually afford to pay them. Or pay my own bills quite frankly. Gone are the days where goldsmiths were second in the salary line only to stone masons, followed by knights.

I digress. Often.

So after working as an apprentice for a prescribed number of years under the controlling arm of the Department of Manpower and Training (no longer in existence) of South Africa, I qualified as a "Precious Metal Worker and Diamond Mounter" as is reads on my certification. I cried that day. But that is not big news because anyone that knows me will already be aware that I cry an awful lot. I once thought of having my tear ducts cauterized. A couple of years after this qualification, I decided that I wanted to go and experience life abroad. I had never flown on any form of aircraft before. I had never left South Africa. Unlike in North America where catching a flight to the Bahamas is like catching a bus. No big deal. Africa (particularly the southern most tip of it) is far away and expensive to escape for an international vacation.

It took me about two years to summon up the courage to leave Vienna Jewellers. And because I felt so guilty about leaving, I used a tactic I was unaware that I do until recently. I used a minor altercation the the workshop as an "excuse" to blow up at my former friend and colleague, who I still secretly really like. I left. I went to the hospital where my Dad was recovering from back surgery and announced in a very manic fashion (I was revved UP) that I had quit and I was leaving.

I got on the Virgin Atlantic flight in Johannesburg a few months later after organizing my work permit for the UK and said goodbye to a large group of friends and my family who came with to the airport to see me off. Later (many years later) I would discover that my Mom had bets on with my friends, saying that I would be back home in 6 months. Well, it's been 15 years now. And I didn't plan on leaving for good. I remember standing in my Ma's bedroom talking to her and I made a joke. I said "what happens if I meet a Peruvian princess on my travels and end up marrying her and settling in Peru?" She burst into tears and said "Ag no man! Don't talk shit!" And being me I actually felt bad. because I had no intention of leaving my parents. But as it happened I met a Canadian princess when I was living in London. And there remains another long and wonderful story to be told at a later date. If you're interested.

So living in London was absolutely shit. I mean I think back fondly. I made many friends. Drank many a good pint. Watched a few really good court side tennis matches at Wimbledon. Watched the Cricket World Cup 1999 through the stadium fences with my drunk antipodean mates (and my Cambridge University PhD student brother who was also hammered) because we couldn't afford tickets. We were those guys you see sitting in the trees outside the stadium looking in. But seriously, apart from the really great times, it was hard. I worked in a pub and lived above it when I got my position at John Donald, Designer Silversmith and Goldsmith. I will elaborate on London times more if anyone wants me to at a later stage. I am really trying to keep to the point here. John Donald had opened shop on Cheapside in the London Business district near Goldsmiths Hall on Gutter Lane, closest tube station St. Paul's. Right near the London Stock Exchange. Hence lots of black suits and brollies. He had served the likes of Twiggie and members of the Royal Family for years. I was hired as..... you guessed it.... a goldsmith. I worked in the basement of his store from 8am until 5pm every day for about two years. At that stage I had moved to West Acton near Ealing Broadway and would travel on the tube to work in the dark. It would be dark when I left work. I worked in the basement of a high-rise London building, without windows. I would go for a week at a time, from Sunday afternoon after the sun set in the winter at 3:30pm, until I saw the daylight again the following Saturday. To work in the dark. Work in basement. Back to West Acton where I worked in a Thresher Wine Shop until 12pm and then went home to drink beer etc. with my delinquent and most loved housemates. And then wake up and do it all again.

Whilst I was at John Donald, a lot of stuff happened. I could totally go off on a tangent here, but I try not to. I had the opportunity of holding Paul McCartney's grandson Arthur. John's son was married to Mary McCartney, Stella's sister. I also worked on jewellery for the late Princess Margaret. And various other high profile names and organizations. I felt privileged even if I was earning 15 000 Pounds a year and having to work at a wine shop to feed myself, pay for transport and pay my rent.

I remember breaking down in tears because John Donald (about 75 years old at that stage, owner of a Chateau in France and a huge country estate in East Sussex ) called me in to his office and gave me a very harsh talking-to. I was so upset. Tears were running down my face. He told me that I should go out and work for myself because he is tired of me infusing his designs with my own flavour and flare. "I realize that you are very talented, but I have been creating these hallmark designs for 40 years and you come along and can't stick to the program and directions.) Then he sent me to Harley Street to visit with a Psychologist on one side of the road and a psychiatrist on the other side of the road to try and help me because he figured I was troubled. And he really did care about me. He was a super nice man. Truthfully I couldn't stand his "Hallmarked" aged and ancient designs so I always tweaked them. Which I admit was stupid and wrong because I have a world of respect for the man. I was just young and full of shit.

I then (part of another story) came to Ottawa. I got hired at Bob Thompson Jewellers. I worked my ass off there for a couple of years before I joined Goldform. I really liked Derek and Greg, Jeff, Jagath, Maria... But when I moved to Goldform, I really found myself and my friends. The guys at Goldform are family to me to this day. Yes, this is another story that I can tell. And will.

TLDR: Goldmiths are skilled craftsmen that take precious metal in it's purest form, then perform alchemy (really it's just a mathematical metallurgical calculations) to allow the metal down with a mixture of other metals to get to the desired karat, then we roll it down, draw it out, anneal it, beat it, bend it, solder it, file it, sand it, set the stones, polish it and then viola! A piece of jewellery.

A jeweller is a person that will purchase premade components and stick them together in any way possible. Perhaps using solder on occasion. They will then sell this as a piece of handmade jewellery. Now I don't want to come across as a snob, because there are people that are a lot better off financially than me and they perform this practice. But there is a huge difference in what I do, as compared to most people that call themselves goldsmiths. It is a title that is earned. It's taken me about 30 years of practice to be able to feel bold enough to refer to myself as a Master Goldsmith.

This is the Wikipedia definition of a goldsmith:

A goldsmith is a metalworker who specializes in working with gold and other precious metals. Historically goldsmiths have also made silverware, platters, goblets, decorative and serviceable utensils, and ceremonial or religious items, but the rising prices of precious metals have curtailed the making of such items to a large degree.

Goldsmiths must be skilled in forming metal through filing, soldering, sawing, forging, casting, and polishing metal. Traditionally, these skills had been passed along through apprenticeships, however, more recently Jewelry Arts Schools specializing solely in teaching goldsmithing and a multitude of skills falling under the jewelry arts umbrella are available. Many universities and junior colleges also offer goldsmithing, silversmithing and metal arts fabrication as a part of their fine arts curriculum. But unfortunately they fall short of traditional hands on schooling, and basically suck.



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