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Gem education

Hello all:

With all the talk about gems and the Tuscon show coming up… what
is the best way to educate oneself in the area of gems. I don’t
need to become GIA certified, but I want to be informed in order to
make the best purchases possible. Where does one begin?

Heidi P in AZ

what is the best way to educate oneself in the area of gems. 

Hi Heidi, It is a lifelong quest for knowledge. It is kind of like
computers… the more you learn, you realize how little you really
know. :wink: There is no way I’m aware of to get an “injection” of
critical data to prepare you for a show by a certain date.

Collect and read as many books as you can, go to as many gem shows
as you can, and ask lots of questions. A good reference is Color
Encyclopedia Of Gemstones
by Joel Arem. ISBN 0-442-20333-0. There
are also several decent “pocket references” you can actually take to
shows with you in case you need to check something out.

Of course, none of this really speaks to evaluating the dollar value
of a given stone. This knowledge will help you evaluate one stone
versus another, but recognizing the “good deal” only comes with
experience and awareness of market prices. Nothing benefits you more
than establishing a trusting relationship with a reputable gem

Consider a subscription to Lapidary Journal… although it seems to
have less about lapidary every year. Maybe they should rename it
"Bead Journal with Some Jewelry Making and a Bit of Lapidary
Occasionally Thrown In Magazine." There are also other magazines
dedicated to gemstones and mineralogy, and they would probably be the
best gauge of current market conditions and trends.

Hope this helps!

Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)

Heide, “Gemstone Enhancements” by Kurt Nassau is the best book I have
ever read. It is available through the GIA bookstore. Mr. Nassau
is one of the most respected authorities in the field of gemstones I
know. This book is easy to read. It helps to have a background in
physics and chemistry, but it is not necessary. Mr. Nassau will
debunk all the truisms you hear in the jewelry world. This book is
a “must read” for anyone serious about

Gerry Galarneau

Hi Heidi, As a self-educated (i.e. I am not a G.I.A. graduate…YET)
jeweler, I have learned a lot by asking a lot of people a lot of
questions, and that includes asking the same question to a lot of
different people. Unless they are swamped with customers or other
work, most gem dealers and jewelers are happy to share their
knowledge. It’s also a great way to learn who you can trust and a
great way to develop relationships and meet other people you might
not otherwise meet.

I’ve also learned a lot from reading trade magazines (Lapidary
Journal, JCK, Professional Jeweler, etc.) and books about gemstones
and rocks and minerals. And of course, another great resource is the
Orchid List.

These resources might not make you a Graduate Gemologist, but it can
help you become an educated jeweler.

JoAnna Kelleher
Pearl Exotics

Heidi, Gem education, specifically connoisseurship, is difficult to
obtain. Hardly any gem books cover this issue. The gem trade has
held its secr ets close for thousands of years. The essence of it,
however, is compari son. Pick a gem variety, say blue sapphire, look
at the stones displayed at each booth. Tucson is a great place to
educate the eye. Just keep y our focus on one or two types otherwise
the Tucson experience can be comp letely bewildering. Our affinity for
gemstones is immediate and visceral, either a stone talks to you or
it does not. Compare, compare, and don’t be afraid to a sk
questions. There are a few article reprints on my website, pieces
written on spe cific gem, that may be of help: . My
new book; “The Gem Aficionado, Secrets of the Gem Trade”, which will
cover the question of c onnoisseurship in depth should be out this
summer. It will be excerpted on the publishers website in a few
months. In the mean time, good luck and happy hunting.


Get books, Get specimens, Network with others then try out the
equipment yourself. Networking helps when you need to borrow
equipment and techniques.

Just a note, GIA doesn’t actually certify anyone or anything. “GIA
certified”, “certified by GIA” etc. is a trade misnomer.


Here’s the story of how I learnt about gemstones…

I’d just begun to make fine jewels and I got a horrific commission
from a rather wealthy couple. It was a week before Christmas and he
came in and ordered a ruby necklace with 10 x .5ct stones to be
delivered by the 23rd December.

I stupidly made the settings first and completed the chain and then
went out looking for the stones. As I wandered up and down Hatton
Garden trying to source the stones I realized that I was not going to
find them in the right size, that I was going to have to do the work
all over again, that I was going to loose money. I got a bit upset!

I confided all to a very elderly Hassidic gentleman who took me
under his wing. He took me around to friends, vouched for me at
various establishments and began to show me the right way to do a
commission. Why he did this I have no idea but eventually one of his
colleagues loaned me 20 fine rubies over a weekend. I was able to
take the stones to the couple, they chose the ones they wanted and
paid up front for them.

When I returned the rest of the packet I walked into a meeting
between a dozen or so gem dealers who lectured me severely on getting
some qualifications, gave me their cards and told me to come and see
them if I wanted help. I enrolled in the Gemological Association’s
classes at the Sir John Cass College (part of London University) and
after two years became a fellow (I have the nice initials F.G.A.
after my name now.)

Working for the qualification I met many dealers and the sons and
daughters of dealers from all over Europe and the Far East. I started
trading in small low quality colored stones.

That’s how to do it. Go on a good course, make friends, be
trustworthy and the doors open to you. Rather than being a closed
secretive sect of people I found the gem dealing community to be full
of great people. I was never cheated. Always dealt with stones that
wee in my stream of knowledge, listened carefully and took good


Just a note, GIA doesn't actually certify anyone or anything.  "GIA
certified", "certified by GIA" etc. is a trade misnomer. 

That’s a little peculiar, as I have a number of certificates from
the GIA.


All, I disagree with this way of obtaining gemstone knowledge. Word
of mouth passage of gemstone knowledge must be followed up by study
from known professional educators. Professional educators write
books that must pass close scrutiny of many other professionals.
They also explain in-depth why the phenomena you are try to
understand occur. Why is topaz blue? The street answer is that the
stone is irradiated. To understand the answer you must study the
chemical relationship of the mineral to the irradiation and heating
cycle. This cycle works for many To understand the
cycle you must study from an educator that is knowledgeable and has
the credentials to teach you. Otherwise, you will be street smart,
but very much vulnerable to an educated gemstone dealer who knows
and understands the whole story of gemstone enhancements,
and the gemstone production cycle. An inexpensive start is to obtain
books from your local library. The next step is to attend a
training facility. Listen to everyone and apply the knowledge you
have learned from your studies. Over time you will be able to tell
just by normal conversation whom is telling the whole story and whom
is just street smart and leading you down a broken path. I have not
attended a formal school of training in gemology. I have obtained a
Bachelors of Science degree in Biology with a minor in physics and
chemistry. With this background I have been able to expand my
knowledge and growing library of reference books. Two of my
favorite educators are Kurt Nassau and John Sinkankas. They are both
educated from the ground up, understand the subjects they are
writing about, and do not have the hidden agendas of most people
involved in the gemstone industry.

Gerry Galarneau

Hi Gang,

All, I disagree with this way of obtaining gemstone knowledge. 
Word of mouth passage of gemstone knowledge must be followed up by
study from known professional educators.  Professional educators
write books that must pass close scrutiny of many other
professionals. They also explain in-depth why the phenomena you are
try to understand occur. 

I agree with Gerry! It’s dangerous to accept what some one may tell
you about ‘gems’ as gospel unless you know where they’re coming
from. The gem/jewelry trade is full of ‘old wives tales’. The best
place to start is with some good books on the subject, followed up
by a class or two (or more) & a lifetime of education.

The more you learn the more fun it becomes. Besides, learning new
things keeps you ‘young’.


 Just a note, GIA doesn't actually certify anyone or anything. 
"GIA certified", "certified by GIA" etc. is a trade misnomer. 

Take a look at They explain
it in great detail. The “certificate” is a document that explains
the hours you spent time studying a particular subject, it does not
guarantee or endorce a persons performance as a certification would
imply. The AGS does certify qualifying members, but they retest
each year. GIA is usually a one time course with no followup to see
if anyone is keeping up with knowledge.

By the way they have removed many of the smaller ceertificates and
replaced them with a diploma i.e. diamonds graduate diploma or
colored stones graduate diploma. Much of this was changed due to
the missuse of the word certified in conjunction with GIA and their

Actually, what you probably have, is a "GIA Diamond Grading Report."
They avoid using the word “certify,” probably for legal reasons.

Certified Gemologist is a title of the American Gem Society, not the
G.I.A. They also issue “registered jeweler.”

My GIA diploma says “Graduate Gemologist earned in Residence” I cannot
legitimately call myself a Certified Gemologist. David Barzilay, Lord
of the Rings.

All, One other note about gem education. Gemstone education can be at
many different levels. The level I’m at requires much more in-depth
research. For instance I know the heat and radiation cycle. I do
not know why that radiation and heat have such a different effect on
the gemstone. Both radiation and heat are energy. Why does
radiation change a topaz to brown color and heat change the stone to
blue? What internally in the atomic structure of the stone is
changed by the radiation and heat to effect the absorption of light
so that my eye perceives the color of brown, then blue? I want to
know the relationship between radiation and heat and exactly what
physical change the two cause within the atomic structure of the
stone. Then I will begin to understand the radiation and heat

Gerry Galarneau

Hi Gery, I am with you. I have a love of treated color diamonds. They
are irradiated and the heated to achieve a wide range of colors.
purple, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, brown, and black. In
diamonds I have been told it is the trace impurities in the carbon
lattice and where they congregate that cause interferance with the
tranmissin of different wave lengths. I would like to find some one
that is willing to actually show me the process as it is done. That
way I could help others better understand the process. There are
still so many people that are afraid of any stone that has been
bombarded If anyone knows of sites I can go to please let me know.
etienne@etienne.comDr. E. Hanuman Aspler

		[ G a n o k s i n . C o m ]

David and Gerry certainly make a good point. There is certainly a
lot of misout there. And formal education through GIA or
a university is an invaluable asset.

I’ve been in Heidi’s situation and to an extent still am (as I still
have SO MUCH to learn). Going to a gem show when you’re new in the
trade can be an intimidating experience. I think what she was asking
was, what she can do now to best prepare for the Tucson show. Formal
education is a fantastic long term plan. But to prepare for buying at
this show, I suggest reading trade magazines and books, asking
questions on Orchid, and talking to lots of people, asking the same
questions over and over to a variety of people; gem cutters, gem
dealers, jewelry designers, 80-year old rock hounds, professional
educators, licensed gem appraisers, etc. Compare the different
answers to the same questions.

Use a variety of resources - formal education, industry media, and
people. Take classes from reputable institutions and ask the
instructors LOTS of questions. Read a wide variety of trade
magazines, books, and electronic media. Compare the and,
where possible, ask LOTS of questions. Go to trade shows, talk with a
wide variety of people and ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS! Always evaluate the
that you receive, considering the source.

And the search for truth continues…

JoAnna Kelleher
Pearl Exotics