Bench Emerges Anew

March 1999

Feature:March 1999

BENCH Emerges Anew

After years in the shadows, the jeweler's bench regains its rightful place in the spotlight

Bench jewelers are returning to center stage as store owners across America recognize having them is not just a good idea, but a great one.

Some jewelers worry about heavily advertised brand name jewelry overwhelming their own names. Others are concerned about mass merchants and the Internet. Regardless of the competition, however, a good bench personalizes your store in a way no jewelry seller can take away from you.

A Ripe Moment
Why bench? Why now? Mostly it has to do with new consumer expectations:

  • Faced with an overwhelming amount of mass-manufactured jewelry, customers turn to their jewelers for custom designs.
  • Consumers who already own jewelry – some of it shoddily made – are frustrated, not knowing where to go or who to trust for repairs.
  • Jewelry buyers' fascination with vintage has caused a greater appreciation for jewelry made "in the good old days." But vintage pieces often require fixing, necessitating skills in traditional fabrication andknowledge of newer technologies such as laser welding. Once again, consumers don't know where to go.

Add consumers' demand for service and interest in interactivity (what could be more interactive than discussing jewelry with someone who can actually make it?) and you've got the recipe for a powerful renaissance in appreciation for the art jewelers create (and later mend) at benches all over America.

Where Did Bench Go?
In the past 30 years, bench skills that once formed the heart of most jewelry stores faded into the background. "The owner, who had always worked at the bench, moved to the front of the store to sell. Bench got downgraded," says a longtime observer. Except in rare circumstances, bench skills, once celebrated by jewelers as famed as Fabergé (see From the Vault, p. 124), fell off many jewelers' radar screens. Some stopped benchwork totally, farm- ing out repairs. They stopped being jewelers and became retailers only, says one veteran.

The Times, They Are a Changin'
Savvy jewelers are resurrecting the bench, applying the same powerful marketing, advertising and image-building techniques they use to sell jewelry to promote custom jewelry and repairs. For example:

  • Underwood's Fine Jewelry, Fayetteville, AR, devoted most of its 1998 holiday video catalog to promoting the skills of its design and bench team, led by designer Mark Cartwright and JA Certified Master Bench Jeweler Tom Weishaar. Owner Bill Underwood narrated the process by which a piece of jewelry is created from start to finish, with a special section on Weishaar creating delicate filigree.
  • Austin Maxwell, Millburn, NJ, proudly displayed its bench jeweler in the front window when it opened a new store 18 months ago.
  • Reis-Nichols, Indianapolis, IN, opened a store that promotes its jewelry and watch repair area by placing it in full view of all customers.
  • Calla Gold, Santa Barbara, CA, sent its customers a postcard proudly promoting its ability to build jewelry from the ground up. It features owner Calla Gold's drawing of a design, the wax model, loose stones and finished piece, making it a learning experience as well as a promotion.

Other jewelers can join the leaders in offering this "old made new" service to a new generation of consumers who demand individualized attention. That is, if they've got a good bench.

Wanted: Respect
After years of second-class status, the bench community needs reassurance from the jewelry industry that it matters. Pay, working conditions, respect – all need improvement, say bench advocates ranging from bench jewelers and supportive retailers to associations and manufacturers that sell bench tools.

In return for increased esteem and visibility, the bench community has made an unprecedented commitment to education, with widespread improvements and expansions in training programs. In addition, Jewelers of America founded a certification program in 1997 that standardizes bench skills and describes the proficiencies bench workers should have at four levels: bench jeweler technician, bench jeweler, senior bench jeweler and master bench jeweler.

The JA® Bench Jeweler Certification Program offers exams to test whether a bench jeweler's skills are up to industry agreed-upon standards. The program makes it easier for store owners and managers to hire qualified bench workers and match skill levels to jobs, says Mark Mann, director of professional certification at JA.

Schools Meet the Challenge
Schools all over the country have eagerly agreed to meet the challenge of training bench workers. The Revere Academy in San Francisco, CA, for example, offers a core curriculum to prepare jewelers for JA certification. Other schools that train jewelers – such as the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, CA; Highline Community College in Des Moines, WA; and the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology in Paris, TX – have done the same, says Mann, who is organizing a second annual summit meeting for bench jeweler trainers later this year in Las Vegas.

Suppliers Step Up to the Plate
Manufacturers are pitching in also. Stuller Settings, Lafayette, LA, supported a JA scholarship program last year to help defray the cost of getting certified. Now it has expressed support for a new partnership with JA and its state affiliates. The program will halve the cost of certification for bench jewelers whose stores are JA members and who become certified within a certain time period.

Other manufacturers offer classes on their premises to teach bench workers how to use their tools to improve bench skills. GRS Tools, a division of Glendo Corp, Emporia, KS, offers weeklong classes in engraving and stone-setting. "We're teaching bench jewelers how to harmonize new technology with traditional skills to improve productivity and quality," says President Don Glaser.

Acknowledging the renewed need for a solid bench department, we present a selection of products, refiners and even a guide to basic watch repair that should help every bench jeweler.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue

The Double Third Hand Mounting Station makes precise soldering easy by holding parts in the exact position a bench jeweler needs. The Third Hands can twist, rotate and bend in all directions. Special jaws are available for platinum and other high-temperature work. The station, which costs $89.95, is compatible with Bench Mate, the patented and widely used work-holding system for bench jewelers.
GRS Tools, a division of Glendo Corp, Emporia, KS; (800) 835-3519, fax (316) 343-9640,

The Deluxe Jeweler's Workbench offers a 13/4-in. thick solid butcher block top, railing on three sides to prevent work from sliding off, mandrel holder and pull-out armrest, drawers for storage and pliers, a metal pan in a lacquered Masonite drawer that pulls out for easy removal of sweeps and a bench pin.
Gesswein, Bridgeport, CT; (203) 366-5400, fax (203) 335-0300.

Handmade tools, pliers, ring mandrels, micrometers, stamps, scissors and tweezers.
Myron Toback Inc., New York City; (212) 398-8300 or (212) 869-0808,

Texturing wheels are designed to produce a texture deeper and longer-lasting than sandblasting. The color-coded wheels are mounted on 3/32-in. shafts for use in a flex-shaft hand-piece and come in five wire diameters: 0.20mm, 0.30mm, 0.45mm, 0.60mm, and 0.70mm. Goggles and full face protection must be worn. Maximum operating speed is 6000 rpm.
Frei & Borel, Oakland, CA; (800) 772-3456 or (510) 832-0355, fax (510) 834-6217.

The GRS Ring Size Cutter simplifies ring sizing by quickly removing an exact amount of the shank. The cut is parallel and precisely to size so soldering is neat and fast. The process takes less than 10 seconds and leaves the bench jeweler with a single piece of ring shank that can be reused for upsizing. Available in U.S. sizes and metric sizes. Cost, $198.
GRS Tools, division of Glendo Corp., Emporia, KS; (800) 835-3519, fax (316) 343-9640,

GoldPro photo engraver is designed to scan images from photographs or artwork and engrave them on flat objects such as charms and medallions. This compact engraving machine uses two special diamond engraving tools creating a hologram look. Includes CNC engraver, control panel board, two diamond engraving tools and Photoscript software.
Gold International Machinery Corp., Pawtucket, RI; (800) 619-GOLD or (401) 724-3200, fax (401) 728-5770,,

Long-lasting, high-performance, diamond-impregnated rubber polishers from Germany create a high luster quickly, especially on platinum. These polishers are mounted on a 3/32-in. shank and are ready to use. Available in green/yellow (medium), gray/yellow (fine) or pink/yellow (super fine) fineness, in square edge, point and flexible disk styles. Wholesale prices range from $10.75 to $19.40 each, with quantity price breaks available. A special platinum polishing kit containing nine polishers is $99.95.
Stuller, Lafayette, LA; (800) 877-7777 or (318) 837-4100, fax (800) 444-4741 or (318) 981-1655.

LaserStar Workstations uses laser technology to weld without damaging heat-sensitive gems, settings or other complex castings. The system can be used on gold, platinum and silver alloys. Prices range from $24,995 to $36,995.
Crafford Precision Products Co.- CCP, Riverside, RI; (401) 438-1500, fax (401) 434-7260,

Henry Barney and Patrick Doran of B&D Sales Corp. demonstrate the company's laser welding machine. Laser welders can fix porosity, a problem in some cast pieces. They also come in handy for repairs where traditional welding could damage delicate parts.
B&D Sales Corp., Cranston, RI; (401) 781-4810.

Rotating stand allows easy access to nine screwdrivers with 19 spare blades and two fixing screws. Screwdrivers are color-coded for easy identification.
Kassoy, Hicksville, NY; (800) 4-KASSOY or (516) 942-0560, fax (516) 942-0402,,

Polisher and dust collector costs $395.
Esslinger, St. Paul, MN; (800) 328-0205 or (651) 452-7180, fax (800) 548-9304 or (651) 452-4298.

On average 1 ounce of pure gold can be found in one pound of dust. The WhirlWind Jr. Dust Collector features a 1 horsepower turbine for more suction to collect that precious polishing dust and is whisper-quiet, reducing noise pollution. Cost, $945 for two polishing stations.
Shor International Corp., Mt. Vernon, NY; (914) 667-1100, fax (914) 667-0190,

Made of a special alloy, these "Platinum" tweezers can withstand heat up to 3,000°. Sleeves along both sides give grip protection and pointed tips provide pinpoint precision. Overall length 53/4 inches. Cost, $49.95.
Roseco Inc., Dallas, TX; (800) 527-4490 or (972) 991-9731, fax (972) 404-9074.

Sparkie II, a minifusion welder, enables you to repair jewelry without the damaging effects of heat from soldering. Capable of volume production, Sparkie II is designed to be environmentally safe; needs no solder, flux or gas; and gives off no toxic fumes.
Triad Inc., Chartley, MA; (800) 642-4218 or (508) 222-7126, fax (508) 226-0819.

Castaldo® LiquaCast® liquid jewelry molding rubber has low viscosity, making it easy to mix, vacuum, de-bubble and pour. Ordinary pens and markers can be used to write on the molds for easy identification. Available in packages containing the required amounts of rubber and activator in three package sizes: 5 lb., 11 lb., and 50 lb.
Castaldo® Products, F.E. Knight Inc., Franklin, MA; (508) 520-1666, fax (508) 520-2402.

MAB Superfit's ring shank can be fit to the highest quality designer and wide gold and platinum rings. It's available in semifinished shanks up to 10mm and in solitaire mountings. The patented push-button release closes with an audible snap and leaves virtually invisible separation lines. Wax-to-wax installation is possible, as is sizing up or down one full size. No springs, wires or solder joints to contend with.
MAB Superfit Inc., Havertown, PA; (800) 765-7111 or (610) 449-4383, fax (610) 449-5304
Electric rotary tool is suited for light texturing, bead reaming and other light-duty tasks. Features include a six-position, adjustable-speed switch on the AC adapter with a speed range of 3,000 rpm to 15,500 rpm, a chuck that accommodates 1/8-in. shank tools and a lightweight handle that contains an on/off switch for rapid response.
Rio Grande, Albuquerque, NM; (800) 545-6566, fax (800) 965-2329.

Tools for Watch Repair

Here's what you'll need for basic services

By David Christianson
Certified Master Watchmaker
President, American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute

The level of watch repair service at jewelry stores varies from basic battery replacement to the full range available from a skilled watchmaker. As we approach the next century, store owners are realizing the link that watch service provides between customer appreciation and greater storewide sales. Everyone wears a watch. At some point it will need repair, cleaning or adjustment. If you can provide that service, you have a chance to gain a new customer and sell more watches and jewelry.

Service Points
Even if you don't have an on-site watchmaker, you can train a staff member to change a battery, adjust the band size and diagnose problems. A number of educational sources are available (see p. 61). And in many cases, representatives of watch vendors, equipment supply dealers and watch contract companies offer training when they visit your store.

This isn't a substitute for a formally trained watch repair person or watchmaker, but it does allow you to make basic repairs and identify when it's time to contact a watchmaker.

Analyze the Problem
The watch analyzer is among the most useful devices at the repair table. These devices, available from watch and battery supply companies, allow you to test the battery without opening the watch. The latest analyzers start at $25 to $95 for basic models designed for trained sales staff.

Many models in the $100-$300 range perform a wider range of tests to more quickly narrow down the source of any problem. In addition to battery testing, these often test the watch coil, the quartz crystal and the integrity of the electronic circuits. (Some lower-cost analyzers also perform some of these functions).

Openers and Closers
You also need a basic handheld case wrench to work with screw-in case backs.

Hard-to-open cases are better handled by a bench-mounted opener with a selection of jaws to fit most case backs. These are standard for any retailer who replaces batteries. A bench-mounted model is expensive but worth the investment for higher-volume operations. The selection of wrenches is wide, and many battery suppliers include a handheld model in "starter kits" aimed at providing retailers with the tools and cells needed for battery replacements.

With snap-back cases, finger pressure often isn't appropriate to close the case back. Then you need a bench-mounted case back press or a crystal press. These come in a variety of styles with varying grips and are relatively easy to use. In addition to those made by materials distributors, watch manufacturers often make customized closers and openers that fit their timepieces and most others. Seiko, for example, recently developed a bench-mounted snap-back watch case opener designed for use by sales personnel.

Sizing Bracelets
Among the newest tools available is a handheld pliers designed to punch holes in leather watch bands quickly. Most devices used in stores today require hammering into the leather with a staking tool. The new tool reduces some of the muscle power needed for a clean punch.

To better remove pins from metal bracelets, be sure your link removers and spring bar tools can handle the wide variety of bracelets and bands available. While many are "universal," others are made for particular bracelets. Ask your watch supply house for advice.

David Christianson, owner of Christianson Jewelry, Kendallville, IN, is president of the American Watchmakers- Clockmakers Institute, a certified master watchmaker and a fellow of the British Horological Society.

Crystal/case press features a screw-down press for fitting mineral crystals and closing watch case backs. Comes with a large knurled handle and includes non-marring nylon dies in sizes 37, 31(2), 24, 19, 18, 15, and 14mm. Cost, $19.95.
Cas-Ker Co., Cincinnati, OH; (800) 487-0408 or (513) 241-7073, fax (800) 487-5848.

Universal spring bar tool, for use on any watch, features tempered steel for strength, a metal handle and four interchangeable blades. Both ends unscrew for changing tips.
Rio Grande, Albuquerque, NM; (800) 545-6566, fax (800) 965-2329,

This compact watch tester allows you to determine whether the watch needs a new battery or more involved repair without opening the watch. It retails for $49.95.
Sy Kessler Sales Inc., Dallas, TX; (800) 527-0719,

  Guide to Refiners/Metals Suppliers

Where would the bench jeweler be without refiners, who process scrap, offer the full range of precious metals in all their various forms and alloys, and often supply finished jewelry findings? Listed below, in alphabetical order, are some of the jewelry industry's most well-known refiners.

Eastern Smelting & Refining has been in business for over 100 years as custom processors of jewelry scrap containing gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium.

Eastern Smelting & Refining, Lynn, MA; (800) 343-0914, (781) 599-9000, fax (781) 598-4880,

Glines & Rhodes uses advanced melting technology to give jewelers the highest return possible on scrap.

Glines & Rhodes, Inc., Attleboro, MA; (800) 343-1196; fax (508) 226-7136.

Hoover & Strong has been refining metal for the jewelry industry for 86 years. Its latest catalog features a wealth of practical information, from articles on jewelrymaking techniques to problem-solving columns written by Vice President Torry Hoover, a bench jeweler who has also worked at the refining and manufacturing levels. The company offers complete refining services, all metal alloys and findings.

Hoover & Strong, Richmond, VA; (800) 759-9997, (804) 794-3700, fax (800) 616-9997,

Precious Metals West/Fine Gold offers gold refining in small batches, casting services, all metals solders, alloys for karating gold (pictured), platinum and gold sheet and wire sizing stock, gold and sterling silver casting grain and other products and services.

Precious Metals West/Fine Gold, Los Angeles, CA; (800) 999-7528, (213) 689-4872, fax (213) 689-1654,

United Precious Metals Refining Inc. offers casting alloys, karat grain, de-ox sterling, solders, wire/plate, assays, and gold and silver refining. It guarantees high returns, fast turnaround and many settlement options.

United Precious Metals Refining, Inc., Alden, NY (800) 999-FINE, (716) 683-8334, fax (716) 683-5433.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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