ST. PETERSBURG — From archaic bejeweled bracelets to the famed Faberge Eggs to modern gold watches — jewelry has been a part of human culture and civilization throughout the ages. For those who would like to learn the time-honored craft of making and repairing priceless adornments, The St. Pete campus of Pinellas Technical College (PTC) offers its Jewelry Making and Repair program.
Students get hands-on training under the guidance of Savanna Do, who is approaching 30 years as an instructor. Courses include everything integral to the craft like safety, constructing wire and sheet metal, finishing, polishing, cleaning, weighing, converting, electroplating, casting and setting, among other things.
It is the only public school jewelry making and repair program in the state, Do said. It takes about 18 months to complete the program as opposed to six months for a private school, but the lengthy training is key, according to Do.
“My students have enough training through practice and practice and practice,” he said. “Then they are able to do the job in the field.”
In the initial course students learn how to use the various hand tools essential to the industry. It even touches on the basics of clock and watch repair as well as jewelry design techniques, like sawing, piercing, filing, cutting and soldering metals. The second part of the program includes repairing rings, chains and hinges made of various metals. Do said that students work with silver, gold and platinum.
“We also teach them how to alloy gold from 24 karat down to 10,” he said.
The final part of the program involves meticulous mountings and stone settings. Finally they take their exam to become certified jewelers. Often, once students complete a piece of designed jewelry in the classroom, Do wrecks it.
“I break it so they can fix it!” he said. “That’s how they learn to remake it!”
In order to give the students a taste of live work, they will often repair jewelry for PTC school board employees at a minimal charge.
‘It’s to train them to meet the standards of the industry,” Do affirmed.
After students graduate from the program, Do explained that they can either work for a jewelry store, do manufacturing, or they can work for themselves.
“The good thing about it is that you can do it anywhere, anytime,” he asserted. “Rain or shine, morning, afternoon, or even 2 a.m., if you don’t want to sleep you can wake up and do it!”
He noted that these days with the internet, it is easier than ever for people to sell their designed pieces and they can work right from home to supplement their incomes.
There is an evening course offered as well, and this separate program caters not only to the elderly or retired, but students of all ages. The evening course has been available at PTC for a year and is a valuable option to those with busy schedules.
“It is very good for retired people to have exercise, not just physical but mental, too!” Do stressed. “I have students from 18 to 62, 63. The daytime is for the full program, but they can get the same diploma in the evening class, it just takes longer.”
He noted that some of his students make the long drive from Lakeland and even from Hernando County to take his course, and he keeps in touch with many of his ex-students as some of them have gone on to open their businesses. Jewelry stores throughout the Bay area frequently notify Do of any openings that become available, part time and full time. He estimated that the starting wage for an entry level position in the industry is between $13 and $25 an hour.
Do has been in the jewelry making and repair business since before he emigrated to the United States from Laos in 1975. Although he spoke no English when he first arrived to this country, he found work in the jewelry field where he could, before ultimately becoming PTC’s sole instructor of its jewelry program. With Do at the helm, the program has grown to about four times the size since its beginnings.
The reason is simple why he has chosen to remain an instructor for almost three decades: “I like people! I like to share my knowledge,” he enthused. “A lot of people have said, ‘Savanna, you’ve made a mistake,’ because they believe I should be out in the business world, but I say, someone has to teach someone else to become a doctor. I like to help the jewelry industry. I like to help get people out into the business. It is a very, very good program here.”
If you’re interested in exploring this career path, please visit myptec.org or call 727-893-2500. Financial aid is available.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email firstname.lastname@example.org