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A silversmith is a craftsman or artisan that creates finished pieces primarily using silver. Silversmiths have existed for hundreds of years, and though they are rarer in the modern world than in eras past, their craftsmanship and work remains highly respected and desirable. The training to become a silversmith can take many years, and aspiring smiths often serve as apprentices to older, more experiences craftsmen. A silversmith may follow his or her craft as a hobby, an independent career, or even as an employee of a larger company.
Silversmithing lends itself to the crafting of many different objects, from silver flatware and tea sets to delicate jewelry and decorative sculpture. Different smiths may choose to specialize in a particular step of the crafting process, for instance, in the casting of a piece using wax molds, or etching designs on an existing object. Some smiths may also become experts in all of the steps needed to make a certain type of piece, such as turning an initial piece of silver ore into a delicate, carved brooch or ring.
Training to become a silversmith is frequently a self-guided practice, though some art and design colleges offer degree courses in metalworking and decorative arts. Many regions have silversmith guilds or networks, which allow aspiring smiths to find possible teachers and begin an apprenticeship. Smiths may supplement their education with seminars or short classes in specific techniques offered through guild networks, or may even attempt to learn the craft from books or online instructions. A traditional apprenticeship may last several years, after which a smith may be judged competent by his or her master to start working independently and operating professionally.
Prior to the advent of factory mass production, a silversmith was often a standard artisan in any large town. Many modern smiths spend time researching the long and storied history of their craft, which includes such legendary figures as Paul Revere, a hero of the American Revolutionary War. Though their services are less popular in the modern era, silversmiths can still have a profitable career making custom pieces for clients or working with a large silver-producing company, such as a flatware designer.
As a freelance professional, a silversmith must be able to channel his or her artistic abilities into a marketable service. Modern smiths may start websites where examples of their work can be seen or purchased, or may even operate storefronts. Some smiths can find steady work at historic sites that welcome working craftsmen, such as colonial village recreations or Renaissance fairs. Accomplished smiths may also be able to take on students for fees or find teaching jobs at art and design schools.