Jeweler School at Paris Junior College Guarantees Students a Job
Talk about job security.
Any student who successfully completes the master jeweler program at Paris Junior College is guaranteed a job. Guaranteed.
It’s the sort of cache you’d expect, though, given that the Paris Junior College program is one of only two of its kind in the country.
“I get calls daily from jewelers that want to hire our graduates,” says Ulla Raus, division chair of the Paris Junior College jewelry technology program. “We have more job offers than we can ever fill.
This small public Texas college, in fact, co-authored the master jeweler program standards in the mid ’90s with a private college in California, hoping to make American jewelers industry-wide as prestigious as those overseas.
“In jewelry, anybody could hang their shingle out that says ‘master jeweler,’” Raus said. “We wanted to certify jewelers in America. In Europe it is very rigid; they have to be tested.”
Now, students can enroll in the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, as the PJC program is known, and complete up to four levels of mastery, with the highest designation being certified master jeweler.
“It helps keep us, the jewelry industry, supplied with people with the ability to work on jewelry in a professional manner,” says Doug Jackson, owner of Jewelmart in Paris and president of the Texas Jewelers Association. “A master jeweler would be able to do virtually anything with a piece of jewelry from designing it to manufacturing it to restoring it.”
Watchmaking, an important part of the jewelry industry and another area where skilled workers are desperately needed, has long had a certified program.
With the help of Paris Junior College, aspiring jewelers are now able to train for master certification, learning everything from centuries-old skills in identifying and shaping gems and metals to designing and working with computer-aided technologies and lasers.
Students in the program – working in a locked environment and under tight security – work with all the precious elements intrinsic to the jeweler’s craft.
“We have a great collection, everything they need,” Raus says. That includes diamonds – natural and manmade – emeralds and rubies.
The school gets donations of many of its precious materials and also works with some resources over and over again. “We can afford to let our students work in gold and platinum because we can recycle. It gets disassembled and melted down again,” he says.
Raus says graduates go on to work in fine jewelry – major stores in New York as well as internationally renowned manufacturers like Rolex. There are currently about 100 students in the program.
“Typically, the majority of them go to small stores that have repair shops in the back,” she says. But shop owners tend to make them managers quickly because they’re so knowledgeable about the industry.
The program’s reputation is solid nationwide, says Jackson.
“When we are at trade shows or meeting with the national association and state affiliates, they do ask about our school here,” Jackson says. “Many jewelers send their children to this school.”
The jewelers program is a big draw and could be a natural fit for many people, Jackson and Raus say. Raus says no particular artistic skill is needed; only a passion for jewelry and some hand-eye coordination.
“We have students of all ages,” she says. “We see children right out of school … and people retraining to start second career in their lives coming back and finally get to do what they wanted to do all their life. Our students come from all over the U.S. and the rest of world.”
Jackson thinks the industry is perfect for wounded veterans, who were traditionally trained as watchmakers after World War II, Korea and Vietnam. “For example, someone who has lost a leg or they’re in a wheelchair, this is a very great industry for them to be in,” he says. “There is work for them to do and a future for them. I would love to see our government offer something similar to the GI Bill that trained veterans.”
And as the aging jewelers and watchmakers start to retire, the need for skilled labor will only increase.
“We have a vacuum in our industry in watchmaking,” Jackson says, “and also in jewelry making and repairing. We need these folks to apply. There will be jobs for all of them.”