By Elizabeth Hoy
Apprentice gem-setter Audrey Toth was one of three joint winners in the inaugural Women at Work – Making a Difference study award which recognises the achievements of women in the manufacturing industry.
Women from 14 training sectors applied for the $5000 award which was announced at the Manufacturing Skills Australia annual conference in Brisbane.
Currently a third-year apprentice at Sydney-based AE Designs, Toth already has a Diploma of Fine Arts, is studying gemmology at the Gemmological Association of Australia, and attends Enmore TAFE one day a week.
Her employer, third-generation gem setter Apkar Ervan, supported her application.
She says she “experienced a bit of scepticism and sometimes shock and astonishment” from the trade when they heard she was learning setting, as physical strength is a traditional requirement of the job.
However, “my boss and I saw this as a challenge” she said.
“Apkar has shown me the importance of technique and preparation in my work as opposed to relying on force of application”.
Toth’s TAFE teacher Darren May believes new technology removes the need to physically push metal over the gemstones, but there is still “finesse and technique” involved.
“Audrey is quite focussed. She’s a very talented jeweller and an exceptional setter,” he said, describing her work as “pretty spectacular”.
May only knows one other female gem-setter, and says Toth is “breaking stereotypes already in the industry”.
“Having this sort of support for me means that more women like me are not limited in their work choices,” said Toth.
The prize money will enable Toth to continue her gemmology studies and the hand engraving course she recently started.
She also plans to set up a work bench at home and finish her TAFE major projects.
Meanwhile, Toth, who was “not expecting” the accolade, has formed a networking group with the other two winners – automotive apprentice Kelly Byford and laboratory manager Elaine Lees. She was surprised at how much they have in common despite being in completely different industries.
According to the MSA, the finalists were of such quality the judges felt all three women deserved an award.