Thursday, December 6, 2007

My first jewelry job

I moved to nyc in June of 1991 with friends and a mere $200 to my name. We'd all just graduated from RISD and where else are artists going to go but to New York. We all shared this loft in a sketchy part of Brooklyn. It was an industrial area where the loft was and projects a couple blocks away. We drank 40's on the roof and watched hookers and their johns in cars below. Aah, those were the days...

Any who, I had to find work. NYC is one of the only places where there are tons of jewelry listings in the classifieds. Now, art school was great. I learned how to think. At the time, there was a lot more emphasis on the art aspect than on the business part. How do I make a living doing what I love? So I answered an ad and went on my interview. Wow, what a different world.

My very first jewelry job was working for a jewelry manufacturer on West 46th Street that had contracts with Tiffany's and Paloma Picasso for Tiffany's. I started at $7.25 an hour and was one of the only English speaking employees. Most were from Guatemala and El Salvador. There were three rooms. One had about 4 stone setters. The larger room where I was had maybe 15 of us, with the foreman. He's basically the manager. The third was the polishing room.

We'd come in and all be handed a metal box with our days work in it. Everything was 18k gold and everything was weighed before you got it. There were a group of us who finished the castings and another group who soldered the links together. The foreman had to check our work at each stage for quality. Before clocking out for lunch, we had to sweep all the gold dust and castings back into the box to be weighed and handed over before we left. We did this at the end of the day as well.

Day after boring day. I cleaned the castings in this damn bracelet for the entire six months I was there! Most of the men and women I worked with were good at what they did and worked very hard. It's not a glamorous life. After six months I was making a mere $7.50 and hating it. Around this time, the company had a "temporary layoff". Half of us were "let go" until they got some money stuff figured out. When they called back to "re-hire" us, I turned them down. I had found what I was looking for working for a jewelry artist in SoHo.

Months later I ran into some of the guys I worked with on the subway. They told me that one of the owners had been shot by the mob and that the foreman had been stealing the castings and making counterfeit pieces. Awesome.