by Chris Sherwin

After 40 years as a practitioner in the jewellery industry and educator of trainees and apprentices, I have had plenty of time to reflect on the changing landscape of our trade.

In this issue of Touchplate, I want to pose some challenging questions for us all, particularly in respect to the learning of jewellery making skills. 

Technological advancements and the impact of costs, access and quality of hand skills training have been very noticeable over the last few decades. Laser and puk welders, laser engraving, CAD design and print have produced opportunities for anyone willing to invest time and money into new technology and training in specialist areas. By comparison, how well has learning and investment in ‘hand skills training’ fared?

I’m merely reporting on a personal level, my observations, to our changing jewellery landscape. Universities around Australia have clearly changed their fundamental investment, focus and approach to artistic and creative endeavours, whether ceramics, glass, painting, print, fabric or metal. Conceptual-based design has tilted the scales over traditional hand skills and knowledge. TAFEs have gone down a similar path and are in serious decline in relation to the uptake of jewellery hand skills. The numbers, in that regard, speak for themselves. 

As a university lecturer and TAFE coordinator with many years of experience, I have witnessed these challenges and changes first hand. I certainly did my utmost over my career to support my students and encourage their skills development and learning, however it never seemed enough, when compared to the forces of change around me. I have also encouraged tradespeople to mentor and employ apprentices and trainees and support the system that gave them opportunity. 

Have we, as a trade, done enough to encourage a viable system of training that ensures continued opportunities for those entering our profession?

It is unfortunate that the jewellery trade does not have a powerful unified voice that can reach the ear of government. We are considered a cottage industry by many and this is most regrettable. Clearly not all jewellers are Guild members but regardless of this, I am proud of every jeweller in Australia who mentors emerging metal graduates and who employs apprentice jewellers. You are doing your best to support not only your business but, in a significant way, your support is keeping our profession alive. 

Politicians are reaping the problems they have sown over decades by defunding institutions of learning and deregulating industries without question. Now they cry loudly that we need to produce more locally skilled workers and import skilled workers by changes to visa entry for skilled migrants. Something tells me that many of us saw this coming! 

The Guild, JAA, GAA, gem merchants and jewellery valuers all add value to a vibrant passionate community with relatively common aims. We should remain determined to support each other and continue encouraging the uptake of training and the passing on of skills, particularly hand skills. 

Over the years, many people have volunteered their valuable time to support parts of their industry and this has helped create a relatively vibrant community. Have you thought about the legacy and positive impact you can make by making this sort of contribution to the industry that you have a passion for?

Chris Sherwin
Fellow #5 GSGA
Guild President