Kevin Hitchins, the president of the Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia, explains the importance of making a mark in the jewellery industry.
What is the Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia?
The Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia was formed in 1988 by a group of jewellers concerned that work produced in Australia should be marked as such. The Guild believes the time-honoured practice of gold and silversmiths personally marking their work as desirable for both personal pride and customer confidence. Therefore the first requirement of prospective Guild members is a Makers Mark.
Our fellow members are all individuals passionately involved in their work and find it difficult to understand why a person involved in this or any other creative activity would not mark their own creations.
What are the Guild’s major goals?
The Guild aims to:
- Establish and maintain a system of marking precious metal ware through the use of protected marks which will identify the maker as a Member of the Guild, and identify the date of manufacture
- Establish a register for historical purposes of the marks of those persons or bodies manufacturing precious metal in Australia
- Represent its members in any forum where decisions may be made which affect the industry (Gold & Silversmith manufactured articles) in Australia
- Support those systems of training which produce persons skilled in the use of precious metals
- Facilitate communication between members, enhancing their knowledge and skills.
What is the major benefit of membership?
Point of difference – Once accepted as a Guild member you can advertise to your customers that you have been accepted by the Guild and you uphold and mark your work to a quality standard. In addition your individual stamp is marked and registered by the Guild and your work can be historically dated. This is a distinguishable and identifiable point of difference from the general mass of jewellery and ephemera in the market place. Valuers, art dealers, collectors etc can use the Marks on an article to identify the metal purity of the alloy, identify and contact the maker or contact the Guild and also establish the year in which the article was manufactured and its full provenance.
Are most gold and silversmiths in Australia members of Guild?
The guild is primarily a register of Makers and their Marks and as such we do not expect most gold and silversmiths in Australia to become members, because for some reason or another many decide not to mark their work.
Are Guild membership numbers increasing or decreasing?
Membership of the Guild is growing. A couple of years ago the National Council decided to change the categories of membership to include affiliates and to make new Fellow Members submit Guild entry work via digital photographic format. These two changes have resulted in considerable growth, in individual Fellow applicants and new affiliates.
When and why did you join the GSA and become so involved?
I joined the Guild in 1989 (a year after its launch) and became actively involved on the Council after an extraordinary general meeting was called in 2002 and it was suggested that I “roll up the sleeves and get my hands dirty” and solve the issues – so I did!
What have been the Guild’s biggest achievements since you were elected president in 2005?
The biggest achievements are:
- First State Branch, in NSW
- Full constitutional review
- First web site – and soon the second new and improved consumer information site
- New membership categories
- Streamlined, efficient and selectively accurate membership application
- Expansion of the National Council
- First workshops run at GAA house in Melbourne
- Better industry involvement and communication
What have been your biggest setbacks in the same period?
Unconstructive, emotional criticism from the uninformed saps your energy and drive to achieve. This is a voluntary position that one holds due to the passion they have for their craft and industry in general, and you do the best you can within the guidelines and constitution that you operate under, yet this is not enough for some, 200 percent – 25 hours a day – nine days a week on their pet project and delivered two days before next Friday is all that they will accept – even if it is outside the aims and objectives of the Guild.
What is your vision for the GSGA and the gold and silversmith industry in the next five years?
Anyone involved in this industry (retailer, gallery owner, merchant, craftsperson, shop assistant, gold or silversmith, etc) can improve their personal and professional growth through education. It has become evident over the past few years that the vast pool of information out there, primarily the internet, has led to an informed yet often confused consumer. In order for the industry to serve the needs of the consumer adequately we need to be several steps ahead. I feel at the moment many are one or two steps behind!
What are your main goals for the GSGA and the gold and silversmith industry in the next 12 months?
The Guild’s main goal is to fulfil our aim with regard to member interaction and communication, principally through our forum section of the Guild website. The industry, in general, needs to address its image with the consumer – a good start would be description rather than deception, education rather than ignorance.
What do you see as the major challenges currently faced by gold and silversmiths?
Escalating metal and manufacturing costs have placed added pressure on a small craftsperson’s ability in the finance-administrative area.
Why did you decide to take on the role of chair of Standards Australia Committee CS-030 Precious Metal?
Standards Australia invited/appointed me as the chair of the Committee. I presume that they offered the position to me based on the fact that the Guild had been heavily involved in the drive to reinstate the old and lapsed documents, and during the course of many meetings with them and all the industry associations under the auspices of the AJGIC they formed the opinion that the Guild representatives had the greater understanding of the need for, and the drive to, achieve new standards for precious metals.
What were the committee’s major goals?
The major goal was to review the old standards and to investigate all international standards and legislation relating to precious metals, their alloys and uses, and to promulgate this into a set of guidelines relevant to the Australian Industry.
What have been the major achievements of the committee so far?
The Committee has conducted a full review of all ISO and Internationally relevant standards for precious metals and has drafted a document that best represents the current thinking on the most appropriate types and methods of identification for precious metal articles produced in Australia.
What are the major changes that will be included in the Standards Australia document?
The major points of change in brief:
- All precious metals are included in the one document (platinum, palladium, gold, silver)
- Hazardous materials section added (nickel, cadmium, etc)
- Adopt Millesimal system for fineness, parts/1000 (carat denotation no longer relevant)
- Border denotation used to distinguish elemental metal
- Mixed (precious metal and non-precious metal) marking included
- Makers/sponsors marking requirement removed
- Rolled gold and Plating document distinguishes finishing for decoration verses deception
- Rhodium plating included in Plating
How do you think these changes will impact on precious metal producers?
As these standards are voluntary the impact on every one in the precious metal supply chain will be different. I am sure we will see the major precious metal producers promote the fact that their semi and fully finished alloyed products are now produced to an Australian Standard.
The larger producers have always heavily promoted their ISO 9002 compliance and to add the SA/NZS will have major benefits for them; the issue of “under carating” is more relevant in the international market than locally, however they will actively drive the issue that when anyone purchases a 750 gold alloyed product it will definitely contain at least 750 parts per thousand of elemental gold, with no negative tolerance, in accordance with Standards Australia criteria.
How do you think the changes will impact on jewellery wholesalers, retailers and consumers?
Jewellers, retailers and importers will only be affected if they advertise that they comply with the Standards when they in fact do not. It may be possible that with time consumers may request verification. During the drafting of the documents, I always considered the position of an ignorant, yet intelligent and inquisitive consumer, someone who would see these stamps on their article of jewellery and who would try to find out what 375 or 750 actually meant.
Up until 1998 they could refer to official documents from the old ASA that stated what they were, yet for almost 10 years this industry has had no reference point to the stamps it places on precious metal articles. From September this year the industry and more importantly consumers will have somewhere to cross reference the markings and may in fact, over time, request information from the supplier about the quality and the guarantee of the product and material used.
How has the working life for gold and silversmiths changed significantly since you took on your apprenticeship?
The view hasn’t. For 27 years I have looked out the same window at the same parade! Yet in front of me each and every day I am presented with a new challenge. Possibly it is this fact – that each day you meet new people and are faced with new designs and new technical problems – that keeps you fresh and makes you want to turn up each day.
Once it was possible to say that we , ‘Australia’, was 10 years, five years or ‘whatever’ behind in design and trends, yet these days we often set the trend. This has been one of the significant changes in my time. Also the technology, which was once experimental, has now been adapted to a practical and useable level in our industry.
What has been the highlight of your gold and platinum smith career?
On a career front, I recently attended several major functions including an official AFL function where over 900 people were present. These events are where people wear their finest jewellery. Many clients, some of whom I had not met personally, were proudly showing their creations and extolling their virtues. The joy and sheer pleasure that most exhibited at meeting the maker and talking to the craftsperson was quite humbling and very gratifying – 28 plus years of satisfied customers is a highlight.
What advice would you give a young person contemplating a gold or silversmith apprenticeship today?
If you are going through the apprenticeship system the single most critical factor in your development will be to find a good workshop with a diverse range of work and with a technically sound craftsperson who has the ability to teach or impart their collective knowledge gained through years of practical experience.
I wish I could give in a few words ‘advice’ on selecting a good workshop but this is not possible. However, I would suggest that indenturing with a Guild Member would be a good start.