Become a Jewelry Designer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out how to become a jewelry designer. Explore the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you'll need to advance your career in jewelry design.

Should I Become a Jewelry Designer?

Jewelry designers work with precious metals, diamonds, beads and gemstones to create wearable pieces of art. A jewelry designer may create one-of-a-kind pieces for high-end jewelers or an entire line for a mass-market fashion designer. They may also sell their jewelry themselves. Designers can create jewelry entirely by hand or they can begin the design process by using computer-aided design (CAD) software. As with many artists, jewelry designers are often freelance workers and must continually seek assignments or customers in a competitive market.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Related undergraduate degree or vocational training available
Degree Fields Fine arts or jewelry design
Experience 1-2 years of a combination of experience and on-the-job training
Key Skills Manual dexterity, artistic skills, fashion sense, good visualization skills, good vision, steady hands, experience with CAD software
Salary (2014) $36,870 per year (Median annual wage for jewelers and precious stone and metal workers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine.

Step 1: Complete Training

Although a formal education isn't necessary to work in this field, liberal arts colleges, fashion institutes and universities offer jewelry design degree programs to those who don't plan to freelance immediately. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers may prefer to hire graduates of trade programs because they require less on-the-job training. Shorter term jewelry sales diplomas and certificate programs are also available.

During these training programs, students learn the fundamentals of casting shapes and analyzing stones through courses in sculpture, metalwork and soldering. The art of jewelry design is developed through courses in jewelry sculpture, costume jewelry, gemology and fashion history. Although a student may elect a studio or design specialization, taking elective classes in both may offer more effective career preparation.

Success Tips:

  • Build your portfolio. As students master design and metalwork techniques, they can add each finished piece to a professional portfolio. This collection of work demonstrates jewelry design ability and artistic expression to potential employers. Individuals can continue to add pieces, sketches and renderings to their portfolio, even after they have left school. They can also edit their portfolio into a concise volume of their best work.
  • Become proficient in computer-aided design (CAD). Knowledge of CAD software is a valuable skill in jewelry design. Artists learn how to use these drawing programs to view design options and to determine accurate measurements and aesthetics. Although most degree programs offer CAD training as a core or elective course, students may want to supplement these programs with shorter diploma or certificate programs to gain greater proficiency using CAD software.

Step 2: Learn the Business Side of the Field

In addition to the creative and technical aspects of jewelry making, prospective jewelry designers should also become familiar with industry standards and business practices, such as diamond and precious stone grading, base pricing, market analysis and production costs. Students who plan to become freelance jewelry designers may want to take advantage of educational and professional jewelry associations, such as the Gemological Institute of American (GIA) and the Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America (MJSA).

Through these organizations, prospective jewelers have access to classes in CAD/CAM for jewelers, stone grading, as well as online articles and classes in retail marketing practices and business management. The GIA offers a variety of programs in jewelry design and sales. The MJSA provides members with industry-related business, technical and legislative information as well as sales and marketing opportunities.

Step 3: Gain Recognition

Jewelry designer can enter competitions as a means of gaining industry exposure and determining popular designs that might increase sales. Jewelry design competitions, like the American Jewelry Design Council New Talent Competition, are typically held annually and are judged by leading designers. These professional competitions offer participants an opportunity to cultivate valuable industry connections and increase potential sales.

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