Goldsmithing vs Silversmithing

12 10 2011

I’m often asked about the difference between “Goldsmithing” and “Silversmithing” when I mention my Fine Art degree.

Many people assume that the words refer to a restriction in the metal / material used. Which is true traditionally, though it’s not that clearcut in modern terms…

I usually answer something along the lines of:

  • goldsmithing is the traditional term applied to making jewellery or jewellery-scale objects (yes, historically jewellery was usually gold)
  • silversmithing is the traditional term applied to larger-scale making, and often refers to silverware kind of objects (cutlery, vases, teapot, bowls, candelabrum, etc)
  • the skills required overlap and only differ due to scale
  • the tools needed can be different: silversmithing usually needing a larger solder torch, larger pickle bath, hammers, stakes etc…
  • there is a blurry line between the two terms though…
  • and a contemporary object maker, or metalsmith, would argue that these traditional terms no longer really apply broadly to describe the breadth of modern practice; as the materials used in the practices covered by these umbrella terms are no longer restricted to gold and/or silver (or even, in fact, metal)

The delineation according to Wiki is:

  • “The terms ‘silversmith‘ and ‘goldsmith‘ are not synonyms as the techniques, training, history, and guilds are or were largely the same but the end product varies greatly as does the scale of objects created.
  • Since ancient times the techniques of a goldsmith have evolved very little in order to produce items of jewelry of quality standards. In modern times actual goldsmiths are rare.
  • Silversmithing is the art of turning silver and gold sheetmetal into hollowware (dishes, bowls, porringers, cups, vases, ewers, urns, etc.), flatware (silverware), and other articles of Household silver.
  • so really – these are the “traditional” terms

An RMIT webpage shows a rather vague description [here] that doesn’t really define the terms – though I think this page is now out of date, given the changes to the Fine Art program which means G&S is now actually part of Object Based practice.

I would argue that not many people identify themselves strictly as a goldsmith or silversmith in the modern era. What do you think??

The different terms can be tricky for the inexperienced in selecting courses – eg. I was recently asked by someone who liked to wear silver jewellery, and wanted to learn how to make it, where to study silversmithing … so the course names can be bewildering to the uninitiated.

How do other makers answer this question?



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