From a jewelry artisan's workplace to a treasured furniture piece from years past, an antique jeweler's work bench, or cabinet, is highly desired by both antique collectors and bench jewelers today. Crafted to last for many years, these benches can make for both a decorative piece and functional tool in the modern home. Add a hint of an antique aesthetic to your contemporary abode with these antique jeweler's benches.
The Jeweler's Work Bench
For centuries, jewelers sat at their workbench as they crafted beautiful jewelry from precious metals and gemstones. Surrounded by the tools of their craft, their work benches often had many small compartments to store all of the things needed for jewelry making and repair.
These master craftsmen honed their fine skills during years of apprenticeship at the side of a master jeweler that taught them the delicate art of jewelry making. For example, Ricky C. Tanno, a jeweler in Cleveland, Ohio, began his career in 1914 sweeping the floor of a jewelry business. There he learned his craft and opened his own store, which is now run by his sons, in 1929. The labor that put into his work illustrates how necessary these workbenches were to the artistic craft.
Continued Interest in Bench Jewelers Craftsmanship
As years passed and times changed, the art of the bench jeweler took a back seat to mass-produced jewelry and jewelry names that were heavily advertised. Many jewelry store owners, who were the bench jewelers of their stores, stopped handcrafting unique pieces and stepped into the front of their stores to sell pre-made jewelry to their customers. For the most part, their workbenches remained unoccupied with the exception of jewelry repairs and the occasional hand-crafted piece.
Over the last several decades, there has been a resurgence of bench jewelers and their highly specialized art. Sitting at their workbench, these jewelry artists are often located in full view of the customers, including the jewelry store's front window. A bench jeweler must be adept at many skills, including:
- Jewelry fabrication
- Jewelry design
- Wax carving
- Lost wax casting
- Stone setting
- Platinum work
Today, jewelers can earn a degree as a bench jeweler and order a new workbench online. But many of these artists want to learn from a master jeweler as an apprentice, just as their predecessors did in bygone days. They want to sit at an antique jeweler's work bench and feel the energy from the artists that created beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces at the same table they are using to create their unique pieces of work.
Historic Bench Styles
Bench jewelers have been working to create impressive works of wearable art for hundreds of years, dedicating thousands of hours of their time to the tinniest and most sparkly materials known to mankind. Among their many tools include their signature work benches, with their multiple shallow drawers and wooden frames. Modern styles haven't deviated too far from antique ones, focusing mostly on using cheaper materials and ready-made construction to lower the furniture's cost. However, of these bench styles, two types are of note:
- Straight-edge benches - Some of the earliest jewelers benches were created using straight-edge tables, which was inconvenient for close inspection of the materials. These benches came with various numbers of drawers on the side and center, depending on their style and era.
- Cut-edge benches - Although it's unclear as to when exactly these benches were first created, they have become a modern staple of the bench jeweler's toolkit. The half-moon cut-outs at the center of the bench help jewelers comfortably manipulate their materials and sit for hours at a time.
Antique Jeweler's Work Bench Values
Generally, antique jeweler's work benches were crafted out of various types of wood and weren't made with elaborate decoration in mind. Reminiscent of the demure and rigid arts and crafts style, these benches were built to be functional and not fashionable. That being said, their condition and the quality of materials they were made out of are the two most significant factors which contribute to their values. Take this 1920s workbench made out of oak and maple with a superior finish, which sold for a little over $1,000 in one auction, for example. While simple construction can bring in a nice sum, unique benches made out of truly unusual shapes or materials can sell for higher prices. For instance, this Art Deco bench is listed for a little over $5,000 thanks to its large, circular shape and dual-cabinet system. Ultimately, these benches follow the same pattern as other types of antique furniture in that they're worth the lower $1,000s on average, depending on the quality of their materials, the market interest, and their condition.
You Better Work, Bench!
To put a spin on RuPaul's famous phrase, these pieces of antique furniture better work, bench! Whether you're an actual gemologist or bench jeweler and want to use it in your trade or you want to customize them for a less functional purpose in your home, they're tons of ways for you to get the most out of your antique work bench:
- Use it for textile storage. Things like cabbage, spools, patterns, and so on can easily be stored in the shallow drawers of a jeweler's bench.
- Convert it into a writing desk. These benches' flat surfaces and shallow drawers make them perfect to use in the place of conventional writing desks.
- Pair it with a mirror and create a vanity table. The cut-out styles give you a great place to sit and lean to do your morning or nightly beauty routines; place a mirror on the wall behind the desk and fill all of the drawers with your skincare, haircare, and makeup products.
- Place it in the entryway/hall. Place vases and flowers and statement pottery on these tables to frame the edges of your home for a delicate, historic vibe.
- Make a modern plant paradise. The indoor garden has taken the world by storm in the past few years, and there's no better place to set up your new floral home than a jeweler's work bench.
A Diamond in the Rough
Through the years, jewelers have worked their craft at antique jeweler's work benches or cabinets, creating jewelry pieces that highlight their expertise, excellence, and love of their art. These physical pieces of furniture stand as a testament to their hard work and dedication, and you can help celebrate their labor by saving one of these benches for your own personal use.