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Billings master goldsmith 'rare gem' in shrinking profession

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Posted at 6:33 PM, Feb 14, 2024

BILLINGS — A Yogo sapphire is extremely rare, but a master goldsmith like Billings native Shane Berkman is almost as hard to find these days. He's a 'diamond in the rough' in an industry where many master goldsmiths are retiring.

His passion for the calling became crystal clear after taking a jewelry class at Billings Skyview High School when he was a junior.

“After all these years, now I’m a master goldsmith so I can pretty much do anything,” said Berkman at his custom jewelry shop in central Billings on Wednesday.

It's what makes him such a rare gem here in Montana. Like other trades, master goldsmiths are becoming increasingly rare.

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Master goldsmith Shane Berkman of Berkman Custom Jewelers

“There’s not many of us...I’m kind of surprised there’s not more people wanting to learn this trade ‘cuz it’s such a wonderful trade,” added Berkman.

It took years of practice and training to earn the title of a master goldsmith, but it means that Berkman can do everything and anything when it comes to making jewelry.

With 35 years of experience, you won't find two of any piece at Berkman Custom Jewelers, nor is anything mass-produced.

“It’s not imported. They're not machine set. These are all set by these two hands,” Berkman said.

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Berkman holds one of his custom made rings set with a Yogo sapphire

When it comes to his work, no stone is left unturned.

“He's a talented designer. He’s a perfectionist. He does not let things go out the door unless it’s right,” said one of his employees, Michelle Berger.

Berger was a long-time customer of Berkman's before she decided to work for him three years ago. Berkman's been designing her jewelry since he was just 19.

"In this size city, to have someone with this much talent and this much passion be available, is amazing," added Berger.

It's not just his work that makes him shine bright.

“I like the feeling here...I’ve been to a couple other stores recently and one I felt real hurried in,” said Billings resident Linda Bofto.

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Linda Bofto and Michelle Berger at Berkman Custom Jewelers

It was by chance that Bofto came into Berkman's store months ago, but it was fate when he asked to polish one of her rings.

“Come to find out, Shane was the one, he was kind of an intern with this gentleman. So, he’s the one that did the ring. And that was over 30 years ago,” said Bofto.

“I love the ring, it’s unusual, there’s no other like it,” she added.

It's what makes Berkman Custom Jewelers 411 24th St. W. at so different than most others.

“I like to see more handmade custom pieces but I don’t think you’ll see that. It’s going to be more mass-produced...I guess that just makes me more special,” said Berkman.