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The term bench jeweler has had an evolving meaning over the history of jewelry making. At one time it referred to a craftsman with a fairly narrow set of skills, but today, it has a broader meaning, and a modern bench jeweler can perform a wide range of tasks in jewelry design, fabrication and repair. A skilled bench jeweler can repair damaged jewelry, craft custom made pieces, and fabricate pieces from specifications. He can also set stones, size rings, and do almost any other task related to the manufacture of jewelry excepting gem cutting, which is a separate specialty, although some bench jewelers have some skill in this area as well.
A modern day bench jeweler is expected to have a variety of skills. Formerly, the term applied to a craftsman with the more specialized set of skills of a goldsmith. In a traditional jewelry workshop, a number of craftsmen, each with specialized skills, perform certain tasks. In this setting, a goldsmith or bench jeweler is responsible for sizing and rounding rings, assembling other pieces, setting stones and other tasks involved in the assembly and making of the jewelry.
Under the more comprehensive and modern usage of the term bench jeweler, a broader set of skills is assumed, and in the case of the Jewelers of America guidelines for bench jeweler certification, has been clearly defined. This organization certifies bench jewelers according to a system of four skill grades. The lowest grade, bench jeweler technician, is expected to make simple repairs, assemble pre-made pieces, set stones and finish cast pieces. Such a technician must also be able to size and round rings and fabricate basic elements of jewelry such as clasps and prongs for stone settings.
The highest level of certified bench jeweler, the master bench jeweler, can perform any task related to the manufacture or repair of jewelry. He can create models for new pieces — either from metal or wax — for the creation of a mold, fabricate custom pieces, alter rings and other jewelry, and perform the most delicate and difficult repairs and modifications. A master bench jeweler can set any kind of stone, create or modify settings for stones, and can solder, braze and electroplate pieces as needed. Such a skilled jeweler can create a finished piece of jewelry beginning with the design, through fabrication and finishing, and then display it for sale.