Finding a job in the gem or jewelry business

This is a quick story about finding employment (a job) in the gem or jewelry industry. It explains why starting a store is likely not your best bet!

3 Minute Read

In 1976, a friend asked me to help him with his jewelry business. Once a week we would go to the local importers to purchase our materials. He taught me how to bargain for the best prices. Always buy in quantity and do not be afraid to ask for a discount. He had grown into one of the largest buyers and used that to his advantage. The wholesalers would rather give him a break on the price than see him go somewhere else.

During the week, we would string necklaces of seashell, hishi beads on tiger tail. He also had subcontractors he would pay to string. These were mostly housewives who picked up part time income without having to leave the home and family.

At the end of the week, we would sort the necklaces by design and put them in bundles of a dozen. These were loaded in a bowling ball bag, which was the only thing sturdy enough to carry that much weight.

I will never forget my first day of selling. With bowling ball bag in hand, I headed to Waikiki. There were dozens of small, oriental style, stall vendors who sold gift items to the tourists. They also made hishi necklaces. My advantage was that, due to our volume purchasing, I could sell finished necklaces for the price they paid for the materials and save them the labor.

At first, no one wanted to talk to me. After several rejections, one vendor finally asked to see my inventory. Once I had my necklaces out, the other merchants came around to see what was happening. Soon, I was surrounded by people talking in a dozen different languages. They were grabbing bundles of necklaces and handing me money - the universal language! I sold several hundred dollars worth of shell necklaces in a couple of hours and was well on my way.

Since I visited every merchant that carried jewelry, from little stalls to the most elegant jewelry stores, I was soon asked to carry other goods. I added Persian turquoise, Indian cut colored stones, and Columbian emerald to my inventory. Over the years, I have been through many changes, but it all started with selling shell jewelry to the tourist trade.

People frequently write the IGS about finding employment in the gem and jewelry industry. The opportunities are endless and are available to anyone willing to seek them out.

Consider the above example. My employer saw a single product that he could make cheaper than anyone else by purchasing the parts in large quantities. He created a business that allowed his family to live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

His supplier was also a self-employed individual. He imported enormous quantities of hishi beads and gold plated findings from the orient. He sold them at an open-air market by the docks. Jewelry wholesalers would buy from him and resell them from stores with more convenient locations. Housewives were paid for working from their homes. Street vendors and jewelry stores catered to the retail trade.

Around this one example are several forms of employment. In the industry at large, there are thousands of jobs available. If you like adventure, you can travel to foreign lands to buy rough or cut gems. If you are more artistic, you can find employment making jewelry or cutting gems. If you prefer to start your own business, you do not need a store with all its expenses. There are weekend markets, shows and the Internet to display your goods.

Established companies, large and small, need employees. They hire people for everything from bench repair, to counter sales, to traveling representatives. The only secret is to get out and start talking to people. The gem and jewelry industry is a small community. With your IGS certification, you will share the vocabulary and basic skills of others in this community. Even a department store salesperson will meet others in this community and hear of better job opportunities.

If you are serious about working in the gem industry, learn the fundamentals. Then go out, introduce yourself, and start talking to people. The opportunities are boundless and available to any one with the ambition to fill them.

Donald Clark, CSM IMG

The late Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters “CSM” after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff’s ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book “Modern Faceting, the Easy Way.”

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