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August 1999

Precious Metals & Bench:Metalsmithing

Video Vision

The New Approach School for Jewelers brings video wizardry to the classroom.

'Don't be fooled by the name," says Blaine Lewis, founder of the New Approach School for Jewelers, Virginia Beach, VA, which uses Lewis' Video Vision learning system. "The Video Vision learning system is no 'how-to' video." It is, he explains, a new way to teach through demonstration with high-tech video equipment to bring metalsmithing techniques to life.

Lewis offers two courses so far at his new school. "Progressive Stone Setting" is a five-day course that costs $695. "Platinumsmithing" is a four-day course that costs $550. In both, he works at a bench at the front of the class. While he performs the techniques, his work is shot by video cameras that convey small details. (The cameras were developed for the medical profession and are used primarily in teaching hospitals.)

The cameras can zoom in close to the jewelry so the class can easily observe every step and detail of what he does – as he does it. The action is displayed on a large monitor so no one has to hunch over the bench to see what's going on.

Student Involvement
The course is very much hands-on. When Lewis finishes demonstrating a particular task, the students immediately set to work at their benches to do the same thing. Lewis says it's important for students to try the skill that was just demonstrated before they have time to forget what they've seen. This method of teaching is more effective than simply describing skills – when a process is explained rather than shown, language problems can occur, he says. A term that means something in one area of the country may mean something else to him.

Kevin Wood, owner of The Ringer, a shop in Salt Lake City, UT, that specializes in custom work and specialty setting, has done bench work for 25 years and is a Jewelers of America-certified master bench jeweler. He tries to take at least one course or seminar a year and says that if he learns just one thing from each class, it was worth the effort.

"Because of Blaine's enthusiasm and passion for metalworking and his style of teaching, I learned enough the first day to make the whole course worthwhile," he says. In the stone-setting course, for example, he was delighted with the way the television monitors showed every detail without him having to stand over the bench. "Seeing something done is a lot more helpful than just having it explained to you."

Tradition with a Twist
Lewis got his initial training as a metalsmith and stone setter 14 years ago in Cincinnati, OH. He later went to work at Hardy's Jewelers, an 85-year-old American Gem Society store in Virginia Beach, VA, where he honed his skills, specializing in platinum work, repairs, restoration and stone setting. He says traditional training is important, but bench jewelers need more.

In his courses, he starts with traditional techniques and shows how they have evolved. He demonstrates how many have been made easier through the development of new tools and small variations in the way the work is done. He has learned many of the methods he teaches through experience and experimentation.

While the school is new, Lewis is not new to teaching. Over the past four years, he has traveled the country teaching the courses now offered at his school. He has taught more than 500 students in 26 states using the Video Vision system. Many of the students now enrolled are referrals from former students, many of whom have become JA- certified master bench jewelers. The success of the traveling program and feedback from jewelers and their employers encouraged Lewis to start the New Approach School in its permanent home.

For more information on course content, schedules and course availability, contact the New Approach School for Jewelers, Virginia Beach, VA; (800) 529-4763,

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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