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Jewelry Designer  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotHave you ever shopped for just the right piece of jewelry to go along with a special outfit? Do sparkling and shiny pins, bracelets and earrings dazzle you as you browse the mall?

dotJewelry designers use renderings (illustrated scale drawings), sketches, computer-aided designs or wax models to turn gems and precious metals into ornaments.

Dave Stephens, a jewelry designer in Oregon, sometimes sketches designs on a pad while he watches TV. Designers need to know how jewelry is made -- size, shape, weight, color and materials are important. They also need to think about how the piece will be used, safety and cost.

dotDesigners use colored pencils, special templates and watercolor paint called gouache to create their drawings. They may supervise craft workers who carry out their designs.

Those who run their own businesses also spend time looking for new customers and carrying out administrative tasks, such as reviewing catalogs and ordering samples.

Some jewelry designers make fashion news by establishing the line, colors and materials for each season. Others cater to specialty stores or high-fashion department stores. Most designers, however, work for manufacturers, adapting jewelry fashions for the mass market.

dotJewelry designers employed by manufacturers or design firms work 35 to 40 hours a week. They often put in extra hours during production deadlines or fashion shows.

Self-employed designers tend to work longer hours, especially when they're trying to establish themselves. Freelancers may meet with clients on evenings or weekends. All designers may travel to showrooms or manufacturing facilities overseas.

dotDesigners work with jewelers, mold makers, retail customers and jewelry buyers for stores and manufacturers. While the work is not physically hard, designers work a lot with detail and intricate designs -- this requires stamina. They need good vision and manual dexterity.

But creativity is more important than drawing skills. "I'll get ideas sitting in the bathtub or riding my bike. When I get enough sketches together, I'll leaf through them and see which ones really want to be made," says Stephens. Templates and other tools help designers create good drawings and renderings.

dot"Designer jewelry is like architecture and engineering on a very small scale," explains Jane Parker, a well-known designer. "We produce designs that can be effectively translated from paper to actual pieces made from stones and precious metals."

dotDesigners communicate their ideas in words and pictures. A good portfolio -- a collection of examples of the designer's best work -- often determines if they'll get the job. "Jewelry making is one of the few areas where the wearer can actually work with the designer," says Parker.

dotSherrie Kysilka is manager of jewelry manufacturing arts at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). "The key to success for jewelry designers is their ability to communicate. They must understand what the customer wants, and then create a drawing that can then be changed into a piece of jewelry," says Kysilka.

At a Glance

Make wearable art

  • Computer-aided design is becoming important
  • It's a very competitive field
  • You can train in a number of ways, but the more education, the better