How to Become a Jewelry Designer

By TACP Staff on July 10, 2019

It often feels like jewelry design is one of the forgotten niches of the design industry. Fashion design is more glamorous and graphic design is more prevalent. But, everybody loves jewelry. So, if you have the creative flair and talent to design pieces that excite & delight, the field of jewelry design may be for you.

1. Getting Started in Jewelry Design

The responsibilities of a jeweler or designer are changing as technology evolves. Not only has the advent of computer-aided design changed the way many jewelry designers work, but the Internet has allowed many aspiring and talented jewelry designers a way to enter the industry independently. Many jewelry designers view this change in the industry as inevitable and ultimately think it will be good for the industry as a whole. But they are also watching the change warily and expect that the influx of new independent jewelry designers will make the industry more competitive than ever.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there were more than 39,000 professional jewelry designers/precious metal workers employed across the country, but that number can’t possibly include every single jewelry designer using eBay and Etsy to sell their works, which gives you an idea of just how vast this industry is. The chance to create a meaningful piece of jewelry, whether it is a wedding ring or a necklace that becomes a treasured family heirloom, is what makes the job so appealing and worthwhile.

2. Learn the Fundamentals

Master the Basic Concepts, Strategies & Techniques Needed to Be Successful

Jewelry designers work in a wide range of materials to create wearable art in metal, fiber, glass, gemstones, and countless other materials. From simple designs that are produced mechanically, to exquisite pieces of art rendered in precious metals and the finest gemstones, a jewelry designer will take a piece from concept to final creation, and consider everything in- between like color, balance, and functionality.

The idea, or concept of jewelry design is the first step in the creation process and guides a designer through the decisions of determining balance, movement, contrast, and harmony, and how to integrate those concepts into a final creation. Initial concepts will answer questions like what makes one piece of jewelry more attractive than another, will the piece stand out and be noticed, and is the design unique and original? Is it wearable, or too heavy or clumsy? This stage in the design process helps designers decide whether the particular combination of materials is appropriate, whether the jewelry will be pleasing to clients, and whether the piece meets the basic requirements of good design.

While good jewelry design begins with a concept, it is the strategy behind that concept that forms the building blocks; taking a design from concept to completion and includes a thorough knowledge of materials (i.e., gemstones, metals, or fabrics), composition, if one element is to be emphasized over another, and what aspects of the design work, or which aspects do not work at all. This step helps designers candidly critique their jewelry to determine if it is aesthetically pleasing and meets the desired expectations. It allows artists to expand their designs from standard traditional pieces to innovative art, while remaining functional, comfortable and of value to clients.

Good jewelry design is also all about technique. It is something that a person may pick up on their own, through a YouTube video, or enroll in a jewelry design program offered at a college or university. Technique provides designers with the knack to create designs on paper or with a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program; it is the ability of a jewelry designer to know if a red garnet will stand-out against a gold pendant. Technique determines if a piece is wearable or durable. If it is too long, too short, or is too difficult to get on and off. Jewelry designers must know how to manipulate their designs, how to make alterations based on customer feedback. Technique allows the creation of beautiful pieces by using a saw, clay, a torch, hammer, nails, a kiln, and other tools that take ideas from conception to completion, and helps jewelry come to life.

3. Build Your Portfolio

There are a number of qualities a jewelry designer should possess to be successful; both personally or professionally. Jewelry designers must have inherent artistic ability and dexterity. They must be detail oriented, able to visualize and understand what is stylish and attractive at the time. As with most artistic careers, jewelry designers’ creations will be scrutinized and critiqued by colleagues, as well as clients, so a tenacious personality is key.

Yet, what’s both interesting and potentially worrisome about jewelry design is that there is no hard and fast path to becoming a successful jewelry designer and a strong portfolio is essential. A jewelry designers’ portfolio is important to receiving an internship, a new job offer, or new customers, and it gives designers the opportunity to stand out from the crowd because of their personal style and talent.

Because creative jobs are often based on your connections, learning how to network within the industry can mean the difference between success and failure. Ongoing professional development, either through continuing education or affiliations in industry associations, are also prerequisites for a successful career in this field. It is, of course, easier to be happy and more confident once a jewelry designer has become established. At the same time, many designers relish the unique daily interactions with clients and are immensely proud to understand that their creations will outlive them by many generations.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Jewelry Designers

Additional How-to-Become Guides for Careers in Fashion