Saturday, October 23, 2021

Inquiring Minds




Richard Alan

Over the course of a single day, I can be asked lots and lots of questions pertaining to my profession. The questions can begin with: Why? How come? Or my favorite… How do you know?

For those of you reading my column for the first time, let me catch you up to speed. I make my living as a goldsmith. In a nut shell, the following is what many goldsmiths do… He or she is a technical professional who works with gold and other precious metals and gemstones. A goldsmith can design, create and fabricate original pieces of jewelry and/or repair fine jewelry for their clients as requested. This includes making wax models and various ways of casting jewelry in silver or gold. Their skills can also include the mounting of setting diamonds and precious gemstones. It has always been considered an artisan trade and has been around a couple of thousand years or so. Centuries ago you would not be considered the hippest king or queen if you did not have your very own resident goldsmith.

That said, we are not to be confused with jewelry sales clerks in three piece suits and impeccable manicures standing behind showcases packed with glittering baubles. A goldsmith can be a jeweler or a sales person; it is rarely the other way around. We can be identified by our work aprons that are slightly soiled or covered with burn marks and our tell-tale funny looking head gear magnifiers. Many of us older goldsmiths have to use these magnifiers because of years of looking at objects the size of a no-seeum’s Adam’s apple. (Speaking for myself I wear magnifiers because without them I’m as blind as a clam.)

My early experience in the trade was as an apprentice at age twelve; a lot has changed in forty years. For instance, gold was $35 an ounce then and today it is over $1,700. Back in those days, the jewelry trade was very specialized. There were individual bench jewelers, diamond setters, polishers, plating specialists, engravers and watchmakers – very rarely did one person do it all.

It was kind of crazy; one shop made the ring, another trade shop set the diamonds, another rhodium plated the ring and the last shop did the engraving.

Today most of these individual trade shops are nonexistent except in



major cities like New York or Los Angles and their numbers have dwindled to next to none. Being in the business at a young age – and during the golden years – gave me the advantage of learning many of these special facets of the trade. Skills I still use today and teach my apprentices for prosperity.

I have been changing watch batteries for over thirty years. It’s no special feat; I could probably train a monkey to do the same thing. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make me or the primate a qualified watchmaker or watch-monkey. I have some knowledge as to why a watch will stop working but I do not repair watches nor do I ever want to. Then again, most watchmakers or watch repair persons do not make or repair jewelry; it is a separate trade.

Which brings me to the subject as to why some folks would bring their broken eyeglasses to a jewelry store? It’s sort of like going to a optometrist for a diamond ring! I will admit, my skill with a laser welder has repaired a hundred or more eyeglass frames over the years.

So maybe this explains to some extent what a real goldsmith does. Meaning no disrespect, but a person who bends some silver wire around a polished rock or sea shell and hangs it on a junk chain and charges you $14.95 at a crafts fair is not even in the same league as a bench jeweler or a master goldsmith.

In the next issues I will answer some very intelligent questions that have to do with ‘All That Glitters.” Such as why some folks are allergic to white or yellow gold but not platinum? Or how come gold is so darn expensive, and now platinum costs less? I will even touch on some not so intelligent questions such as… Why can’t you melt all my small diamonds into one big one? Or, I have been wearing this bracelet for over 40 years and I never had the stone fall out before? And my all time favorite: What do you mean it isn’t gold? We paid a lot of money in Mexico for that!


Happy New Year to All!!!


Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith with over 40 years of “on the bench experience” and is owner of The Harbor Goldsmith. He welcomes your questions about All That Glitters. 239-394-9275 or

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