As the name suggests, a precious metal worker deals with precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum, and objects made from those metals. Precious metal workers are found in many industries, including jewelry, antique restoration, furniture production, mining and blacksmithing. They also perform a diverse array of tasks within each profession.
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Precious metal workers have an immense repertoire of possible responsibilities. Those in the jewelry industry may craft metal jewelry, resize tight rings and bracelets and repair broken pieces. A precious metal worker may also do consulting work for insurance firms, reducing insurance fraud by examining items and verifying their material composition. They may specialize in engraving items cast from precious metals; the most popular among these are wrist watches, photo frames and wedding rings. Museums and antiques proprietors usually hire a precious metal worker to clean and restore delicate items, such as cutlery, jewelry and sterling silver tea sets. Of course, precious metal workers also create new items, including various liturgical items used in several Christian traditions, such as the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Artisans who decorate these items must frequently create elaborate etchings or carvings on thin sheets of gold or silver; they may do this with electric scroll saws and drills, although many still rely upon hand tools.
Precious metal workers must also have a concern for security. Because precious metals are so expensive and easy to pawn or sell, workshops, foundries and engraving boutiques are attractive targets for thieves. In many cases, a precious metal worker will be responsible for foiling burglary attempts through creative security measures. Gold, silver and platinum bullion are usually kept in vaults armed with several different types of locks, including combination dials, electronic code systems and fingerprint or retina scanners. Modern metal shops may also employ additional anti-burglary tactics, including laser-based motion detectors that automatically notify police when triggered.
A precious metal worker who works with molten metals must have excellent body awareness and be able to focus for long periods of time without growing distracted and endangering themselves and those around them. Those who embellish metal objects that have already been cast must have a tremendous eye for detail, a steady hand and excellent visual and spatial intelligence. This type of intricate, highly detailed work also requires dextrous finger control, a steady hand and great patience, particularly if the precious metal worker must rely solely upon hand tools. Excellent vision is another important asset; precious metal workers must be able to comfortably focus on tiny areas for hours at a stretch without visual fatigue. Precious metal workers do not need a college degree, although any academic or practical design experience is universally valuable. Many new metal workers enter the field with an apprenticeship, which offers valuable practical experience and networking benefits within the metal working community.
A precious metal worker must also be an ethical individual who can be trusted around large amounts of valuable materials, including gold. This is a concern for all workers who deal with expensive objects, and especially for those who create, refine or repair cutlery, jewelry and other small pieces that could be easily concealed in a pocket or purse. The price of gold, silver and platinum varies according to current conditions on the commodities market; however, all three metals command universally high prices.
Precious metal workers may work in several different environments. Those who make castings from molten metal may work in large foundry settings; however, many artisanal metal workers have small, portable home forges and may literally melt and mold precious metals in their garage or back yard. For security reasons, however, most manipulation of precious metals occurs in a warehouse or shop setting. Individuals who work in the jewelry trade usually work in a jewelry store or stand; these may be in shopping centers and strip malls, although very fine jewelry makers may do business out of large, impressive boutiques - particularly in major cities such as New York, London and Milan. It is important to note, however, that even in these scenarios the metal workers may have to work in cramped, dimly lit rear rooms. Real estate is at a premium in all major cities, so most retailers dedicate as much space as possible to actual sales and service. Those who work behind the scenes must not take up valuable space on the sales floor and may be relegated to an attic or a cramped basement workshop that is quite literally the size of a bedroom closet.
Precious metal workers who are paid by the hour typically earn about $16 for each hour they work. Wages earned by salaried metal workers fall along a broad spectrum; in the United States, the average yearly pay is about $34,000. Foundry employees who work in an industrial factory setting may earn more than many jewelry repairmen because of the inherent danger of working with molten metals. Metal workers who sell and repair jewelery or work in a strip mall engraving boutique may earn slightly more than minimum wage; jewelry designers, makers and repairmen employed by international design firms and couture houses may be compensated more generously, however, especially if they have decades of experience.