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The occupation of a goldsmith is usually lumped together with jeweler occupations as they are both primarily involved in the design of jewelry that contains both gold and precious stones. In the Middle Ages, a goldsmith had the same reputation that a banker has acquired in modern times, because they were involved in refining and storing gold for future use. Though ancient goldsmiths worked together in guilds, the occupation is a largely solitary one now, with the US Occupational Outlook Handbook stating that 54% of goldsmiths are self-employed.
Crafting precious metals into jewelry often begins by carving wax to make a model for casting the metal. This, along with the ability to cut and polish gemstones, means that a goldsmith has to have a high degree of precision in his or her work and fine attention to detail if he or she are designers of his or her own jewelry line. Soldering and engraving are also common tasks involved in the gold jewelry profession. As well, a goldsmith regularly works with other precious metals aside from gold, including silver and platinum.
The degree of skill required to be a goldsmith can vary greatly. This depends on whether one works in a small business or part of a large jewelry manufacturing firm. Some goldsmith practices are also specialized services that deal in just finishing and polishing jewelry instead of making it from scratch.
Different names for these specialized jobs help to narrow down the field. Bench jewelers work in jewelry retailers and can split their time between cleaning, repairing, and fabricating jewelry. Mold and model makers usually work in large jewelry manufacturing businesses and focus just on making the tools that a goldsmith uses. Assemblers put jewelry components together and set stones, while engravers and polishers are finishing jewelers who personalize the final product and prepare it for sale.
Learning the trade of gold smithing is usually done in trade and technical school metalworking programs and on the job from other experienced jewelers. Though the demand for gold-crafting workers tends to be good, it also fluctuates based on how well the luxury products economy is doing. Working with gold and precious jewels is one of the world's oldest professions and many of the tools used in a goldsmith shop are of the same type used hundreds of years ago. Exceptions to this include laser cutting and engraving systems and computer-design software.
Skills needed to be a successful goldsmith involve fine hand-eye coordination for working with small tools and intricate designs, artistic ability, and a good business sense for dealing with the market and customers. A good portion of the role of a gold metalworker also involves repairing jewelry. This means that knowledge of previous methods of jewelry design, casting techniques, and valuation for precious stones and gold quality in antique jewelry is also required. Formal education in chemistry principles involving metals and crystal structures, as well as drawing and sketching classes should be considered. Computer Assisted Design (CAD) and Internet marketing are other aspects of the profession that can be used to increase the sales of an independent goldsmith.
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