Stephen Webb – Industry Forum 2024

Stephen Webb, CEO of Standout Setting Academy gives his insights into the successes and challenges of 2023 with hopes for the 2024 year.

Written by Jewellery World

Stephen Webb
Founder and Teacher, Standout Stonesetting Academy

Can you share your insights into the future of stone-setting education?

The custom jewellery industry is crying out for more skilled setters—not just to keep up with the volume of work, but also to perform at a high enough quality to withstand the extra scrutiny from people looking at high-resolution photography and social media. TAFE’s don’t have the resources to teach stone-setting in much detail, and formal apprenticeships are becoming incredibly rare. Rather than relying on these structures, we need to train people who are in the industry and have bench experience already. There are hundreds of these people in Australia, of all ages, who would love to learn professional setting skills if a pathway were available to them. 

Fortunately, technology can make learning much quicker. Microscopes and power-assist engraving machines can dramatically shorten the time it takes to develop hand skills, and online learning can give reach and scale in ways never possible before. The setting industry hasn’t seen the full benefit of supported online learning yet but the potential is huge.

What courses do you plan to offer in 2024 to meet the changing needs of students and the industry?

Building courses properly is very time-consuming, so I’m putting my effort into the areas the trade most needs help with.  Many of the people who’ve done the Power-Assist Essentials course (with a microscope) now want to learn some more advanced material, so I’m working on an online course for them. I’m also building a claw/prong setting online course in a similar format to the Bezel and Flush Setting online course.

How do you foresee the contribution of Standout Stonesetting Academy in addressing the challenges of the stone setting shortage and improving the overall skills landscape of the jewellery industry in the coming years?

To make a real difference to the industry we need to be teaching the most needed skills, at the highest standard, as quickly as possible. That demands a well-structured curriculum with easy access to practice materials, and the right combination of live and on-demand training. I think of it as taking years’ worth of stone-setting expertise, packaging it up carefully, and sending it to a bench jeweller so they can unpack it in their own workshop. It takes a lot of planning but the technology makes it possible. Some of these students want to set up their own work, some will share the knowledge with others in their workshop, and some will take on contract setting work for other manufacturers. The demand is definitely there, we just need to keep the knowledge circulating to allow people to flourish.

What were the most significant achievements made by Standout Stonesetting Academy in 2023 in enhancing stonesetting education and expanding your reach?

2023 was the first year I had a fully-equipped teaching studio with four microscope benches, allowing me to run in-person courses on a regular schedule. I also expanded my online course overseas, running the live parts for European and American time zones.

Some of the biggest investments were into making better content—close-up video, voiceover, camera angles, diagrams, and editing. A lot of that is only just starting to become visible in the courses, but it’s a necessary investment that’s paving the way for lots more to come.

Can you share some specific improvements or innovations in your courses that made the biggest difference for students, and what further enhancements can we expect in your offerings for 2024?

The best feedback I get is about the mix of live teaching (whether that’s over Zoom or in the same room), and on-demand content. Each format has its strengths, so I can offer something unique and very effective by weaving the two together. Studies have shown that guided cohort-based training has dramatically higher completion rates than on-demand only, so this is the direction I’m planning to continue in.

What risks did you take this last year? Why? How did they work in your favour?

My biggest risk was to cut my bench work right back and focus on course building. In late 2022 I felt I’d run enough courses to prove the business model was viable, but progress [would] be slow if I didn’t put in some serious hours. I reduced my regular bench time to less than two days a week and closed the karate club I’d been running for 18 years. It was financially challenging at the time but it allowed me to make much more progress.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and hopes for Standout Stonesetting Academy in 2024? Are there any specific initiatives, partnerships, or goals you’d like to achieve to further empower jewellers and students?

I’m most excited about moving into a new workshop with more space and better facilities for interstate and overseas students. I’ll also continue building courses in the format that’s been working well for the last two years, including much more free content for those who’d like some help but aren’t ready to sign up yet. The industry will tell me what it needs, and I’ll continue to build it!

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