GIA Distance Learning

I’m interested in getting some training in gemology and have been
looking at the distance learning program run by GIA which results in
a GG diploma. Has anyone had any direct experience with this
program? Comments? I’m also thinking about attending some week-long
workshops at the New Approach jewelry school in Virginia Beach.
Anyone been there?

Brian Corll
Vassar Gems

Absolutely do it. Hands down it’s the best gemology degree you can

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140


I took the GIA classes in the 1970’s and early 1980’s through the
distance learning program. If you intend to be in the jewelry
business or if you just appreciate gemstones I highly recommend these
classes. The knowledge and confidence you gain will be very valuable

Good Luck
Greg DeMark
Custom Jewelry - Handmade Jewelry - Antique Jewelry

Hi Brian,

I am currently in the midst of the GIA GG distance program. I have
had a very good experience so far and have learned a lot. The
classes are expensive and you will be purchasing some equipment for
gem identification. It has been worth every penny to me. Feel free to
contact me directly if I can answer any questions for you. I bought
some of my equipment from Robert James at at
his ISG online store. It saved me a little money. You might also
want to check out It is a forum of gemology
folks and there is some very useful info on there, including info
about GIA and the British FGA program, etc. I have also attended New
Approach for a stone setting class. It was also expensive (for me)
but worth every penny. Their program is cram packed with innovative
info and technique. It was a quick pace class in a well equipped
studio, supportive learning enviroment. I really want to go back for
more classes.

I would say for all this training, the more you push yourself, the
more you get out of it. It requires some self motivation and
continued practice on your own. I have also found that this is a life
long journey. There is always more to learn and I will never really
be done.

Hope this helps
Carrie Nunes

Hi Brian

I attended New Approach for a diamond setting class with Blaine
Lewis who started his school. 5 Stars. Blaine is a very good teacher
and his approach and methods of teaching makes learning easy. I’m
certain others will confirm these thoughts.

Mary Ann Archer
Mary Ann Archer Designs

Hi Brian,

Yep, been there, done that, never regretted it for a second (GIA
Distance Ed, not New Approach…yet). GIA’s program does lack a bit
here and there (spectroscopy is very difficult to teach even with
hands-on instruction), but has served me very well indeed. It isn’t
all home study because you’re required to sit three classes
in-residence for extension classes. These will fill in the blank

What I learned at GIA, though, is that I got enough training to be
an entry level gemologist. Also that there’s no substitue for
experience. For the past year, I’ve been extremely fortunate to work
alongside a GIA in residence grad who went on to further education as
an MGA (Master Gemologist Appraiser). On many occasions, he has
picked up on things I had either forgotten about, or completely
missed in training. Obscure things, to be sure, but important

Still, here in the US, no other distance education for gemology
measures up to GIA. The knowledge I gained from their training,
along with a bit of my own passion for the science, some personal
talent and the wonderful auspices of Noel Yovovich (an illustrious
contributor to this forum) got a bit of my work and opinion published
in Art Jewelry magazine last January.

The training was complete, but the experience and continued
education makes the difference, as does daily application of the
knowledge. And I’d like to take one more opportunity to thank Noel
Yovovich for submitting my work with her article last January. Noel,
you not only made a dream come true, you’ve encouraged me to begin
working on my own article for publication. The details aren’t quite
ironed out yet, but I’ll probably follow suit and ask for help here,
just as she did.

James S. Duncan, G.G.
James in SoFL

My wife took the GIA training and is a GG. The course was intense.
The final test she took under the supervision of a local librarian.
She had to identify 30 stones within a given time period without a
single error. She also has a very perceptive eye for color
variation. Her experience was some time ago. I took the course along
with her unofficially and learned a great deal.


I just got back from the New Approach School. I can’t say enough
about my great experience there. I took advanced stone setting and it
was terrific! Blaine is a super teacher and the facilities are
excellent. I have been stone setting for years but basically self
taught and not very good with gravers. I learned many new techniques
and tricks and now feel confident to tackle jobs like pave that I
have avoided. I never knew what I was missing without using gravers
more. I’m going back for ornamental hand engraving. You won’t be
sorry if you go, it’s a great investment in yourself.

I did the distance GG years ago. I did the gem ID in NY because I
didn’t want to wait for the stones to come a few at a time. It has
changed a lot since I did it and you can take chapter quizzes on the
computer which makes it go faster. I did the whole program including
the extension classes and final in 4 months. I found it extremely
easy, but only experience and a lot more studying has made me a
decent gemologist.

McCandless Custom Jewelry & Appraisal

Hi Brian,

I'm interested in getting some training in gemology and have been
looking at the distance learning program run by GIA which results
in a GG diploma. Has anyone had any direct experience with this

I got my GG many years ago via the correspondence program. It took
me about 12 months to complete the program.

I found it enjoyable & worthwhile.

There are some caveats though. Parts of the course are better done
if you have access to a gemologic microscope, a refractometer,
polarascope, dichroscope & scale.

A 10 power loupe may work, but the scope sure makes it easier & more
enjoyable. If you are on good terms with a store or someone that has
this equipment, possibly you could use theirs when needed. We were
assigned an instructor who we could contact if we had any questions.
I’d imagine that today with e-mail this’d be lots more convenient.

The other thing is to set a goal for yourself, I’ll finish & submit
each lesson the same week I receive it & then stick to that goal. If
you don’t you may find the program drags out too long.

You’ll have to do 3 weeks of lab classes at a GIA site. The classes
are Diamond Grading, Colored Stone ID, & Colored Stone Grading. GIA
has sites at Calsbad CA, NYC & they offer classes in different cites
around the US during the year.


I took all of my GG courses (other than labs) at a distance. I
coupled this up with buying trips all over the world but, still found
it useful. From what I understand the in residence program is more
rigorous. The courses have been revamped since I did it and are now
almost inanely simple but, in the end you still have to pass the 20
stone exam.

Have never heard of the school you mentioned.


For Information and sample chapters from my new book:


My name is Mel Huth and I am the director of the California Institute
of Jewelry Training, in Sacramento, California. We offer the full FGA
gemology program, both in distance learning and residence
environments. If you research further, you will find that the FGA
program is very comprehensive and very good. It emphasizes gem
observation in the first half of the course (Foundation) and gem
identification and stone properties in the second half (Diploma). It
has been around since 1913. Students who successfully complete the
program and pass the examinations are allowed to have the
credentials of FGA after their name.

Feel free to browse our website (; both
programs are explained in detail. If you have any questions, please
do not hesitate to contact me either on this forum or at
@Mel_Huth. I answer to both. Our phone number is

By the way, we are the first active Allied Training Center for the
Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A). Hope this helps.

Mel Huth

Great for the person who can not get away for 6 months. Took them
and got my GG. Best thing I ever did.

Only I went to NYC to take all the test and labs. This was a good
thing to do because of the people you meet there and you start
working on a network of people who you can help you later.

Michael Walker GG
Michael’s Gem box

Sorry about this long post, folks, but I think it’s useful to anyone
following this thread who is considering studying with GIA for their
G.G. program.

One very major consideration of taking the GIA Distance Education
courses is the very expensive need of certain gemological testing
equipment for the final course, Gem Identification. Of course, it
will be months before you’ll need the equipment, since there are four
prerequisite courses before Gem ID. Several of my Extension
classmates took as long as five years to complete the entire program.

Required equipment includes a 10X triplet loupe. Triplet means that
it 1) magnifies, 2) is color corrected and, 3) is corrected for
spherical abberation (distortion). Decent triplet loupes can be had
for under $20US. Although a loupe is handy, trust me here, you will
want a gemological microscope with darkfield lighting. Get the best
one you can afford. A zoom model is best, but I got by just fine with
an inexpensive 10X/30X relatively inexpensive model (Gem-Oro). The
darkfield well makes a big difference.

You will also be required to have a gemological refractometer to
measure refractive index of gem materials (there are refractometers
for other purposes). GIA’s model is very expensive at $659US, but
others have told me there are cheaper ones available on eBay.
However, I’ve been told that while they are fine for taking readings
on flat facets, they don’t work well for spot readings on cabochons.
I’ve never used one other than a GIA model, so I can’t say for sure.
This is the one piece of equipment you will use to test every gem
material (yes, there are faceted stones, cabochons, beads and even

The next requirement is a polariscope to check for double
refraction, interference figures and several other tests. GIA’s costs
$339, but anyone handy with a few tools can make one out of a length
of PVC tubing, a saw, two polarizing filters available from Edmund
Scientific and a light bulb. If you make your own, I strongly suggest
the glass type of filter, not the plastic kind as they don’t work as
well. You can also get glass polarizing filters from camera supply
stores but the ones I’ve priced aren’t very cost effective when
compared to a manufactured refractometer. I’ve even taken apart a
cheap pair of polarizing sunglasses to use in a pinch. It worked, but
I wouldn’t want to attempt the Gem ID course with it. The GIA model
includes an interference figure sphere that can be very handy with
Gem ID, although most gem materials are loathe to give up the figure
(you’ll learn more about this in the coursework). Before I gave up on
my plastic-lensed polarizers, I had a glass blower make me a couple
spheres of differing sizes to try out. They all worked fine. Any
glass woker can do it, as the glass likes to ball up on the end. It
simply needs to be as spherical as possible with no gas bubbles
inside. So, imagine using a “third hand” with two alligator clips,
clipping two sunglass lenses to it, orienting them, holding a
penlight (or hand torch in th UK) underneath while positioning a
gemstone on it’s interference axis while touching an interference
figure sphere to the stone. It can be done, but you really have to
like gemology to bother with it.

The fourth, and final, requirement is a dichroscope to test for
dichroism. Two types are widely available: plastic “Polaroid” type
and the calcite type. I strongly recommend the calcite model. While
rummaging through my older gemologist friends’ dichroscopes, I’ve
never found an old polaroid one that works, but the calcite ones
always last, as long as they’re taken care of.

So, those are the four main pieces of equipment a person is required
to own or have access to, while studying Gem ID. There are others
that are just as worthwhile to have, and I’ll get to those in a
moment. I want to point out that GIA has a Mentor Program. They
started it just after I finished my program, and I wish it had been
in place before I started. Basically, there are G.G.s in the trade
who have volunteered their time and equipment to Distance Education
students who are in the Gem ID course. There may be a mentor in your
area, or not. If so, (s)he can not only lend equipment, but expertise
as well. They are not allowed to help with your ID, but can be of
immense assistance in learning the ins and outs of using the

Now, on to some other handy things to have…

Spectroscope. Gem materials absorb and reflect light in varying
ways. Spectroscopy is a difficult application, but can be a telling
separation. Spectroscopes display the visible spectrum of light and
will show lines of absorption at different frequencies. Often, they
can make a big difference.

Specific Gravity. Best done with a scale, SG can be a huge boon.
Basically, you weigh an item in air, then weight it in water. Apply
a simple math equation and you’re done. Many gemologists make this
dtermination before many others, but GIA relies more on refractive
index (RI). RI’s overlap, and so do SGs. But rarely do they overlap
to the point where both readings won’t separate natural gemstones.
Hanneman (no, not Hanuman) Gemological Instruments makes a neat SG
balance scale that can be valuable, but it isn’t very portable. I
rigged up my own Frankenstein-like wire thingy to use with a shot
glass to weigh in water. Anyone can do the same. Just have a very
good carat scale. There are also SG liquids that can help a bit.
While not as pinpoint accurate as a scale, they can be very helpful
in separating gem materials. With practice, they can be extremely

A Chelsea filter can be useful in separating some as can
the variety of filters available from Hanneman. In fact, Hanneman
has lots of gadgets and geegaws for inexpensive gem testing, too
numerous to mention here. I don’t have the address or contact info
handy, but can post it later if requested. If you order the catalog,
don’t be unimpressed with its spartan look. Last one I got was a
couple of photocopied pieces of paper. It’s all real-deal stuff, but
some of it IMHO is best used by the more experienced gemologist.

Longwave/Shortwave utraviolet light with box. While not absolutely
necessary, this can absolutely prove your separation at the end.
Certain gem materials act differently under UV light, and shortwave
can be just as telling as longwave. It is worth having.

There is plenty of other equipment that can come in handy, but these
are the ones I use most often in descending order.

Now, with apologies to Carrie Nunes and several others who have
asked me if I know of any used equipment over the years, I have
recently stumbled upon some. While rummaging through my employer’s
old equipment, I have found a few things of interest. A calcite
dichroscope, diffraction grating spectroscope (metal body, sliding
focus type), polariscope and chelsea filter - all GIA and all in
workling order. There is also a GIA refractometer with a fairly
scratched hemicylinder that I am going to try to lap clear on my
faceting machine soon. If successful, the boss has authorized me to
offer this “Gem ID Kit” for $620. His first thought was eBay, but I’d
rather offer it to this group that has helped me so much. I’ll let
everyone know how it works out. If it doesn’t, the rest of the
equipment will be available for a very reasonable price.

James S. Duncan, G.G.
James in SoFL

I’m currently doing the GEM ID portion of the GIA’s Colored stone
course (which is to say…I’m very close to the end). I’ve been very
happy with GIA’s distance classes. It can be done mostly online,
however several labs that are only offered in major cities are
necessary. (You may want to look on their website to see the city
listing…which has been shrinking over the past two years.) These
labs are very good, but cost about $1000 a pop and are necessary to
attain one’s diplomas/certificates and ultimately GG.

Feel free to ask any more specific questions either through the forum
or offline at @Leslie_Macy

Leslie Anne Wright Macy

Hello Brian,

Please read my experiences and opinions of the three schools that I
have my diplomes from. In my website;

Kind regards from Montreal,
Oya Borahan

Students who successfully complete the program and pass the
examinations are allowed to have the credentials of FGA after their

I understood that you could only use the FGA if you are a member,
and you have to pay annual dues, is this correct?

With GIA, you get to use it once your have your degree, without any
further cost.


I am just finishing the colored stone section for my GIA GG, and
will then start the final part, gem Id. Luckily, when I had the
money, I bought all the instruments I needed then, even at that, it
was only around 1500, including the cheaper Gem Ore stereo scope. I
know others who have the Port-a-Pack mini lab, which is much cheaper
than GIA instruments. I think has it for around 750. It
has almost everything you need with the exception of the scope
spectroscope also known as the spectrometer. But those are around $60
at fdj as well. The people I know who have these kits like them and
say they work well. So I would guess with a mini lab and the few
extra things you will want or need, you should be able to get into it
all for just a tad over a grand. Maybe not the best of the best, but
good enough to get you started I would think.

As for the distance program, a lot depends on the distant
instructor. Ive had many in the past who were great. Ive had a only 2
who where not. One was moved to campus instructor, and Im waiting on
a new distance instructor now. Over all I would have to Give GIA a B+
on the program. There is great in the books, and a good
instructor can help immensely. There is also a wealth of good
and conversation on the web if you just look around. is a great place where many learning, new,
practicing and masters of gemology get together and discuss gemology.

I would have had my GG by now if I had not experienced 4 spinal
surgeries and a divorce. Those kind of interrupted my study time a
little. But I hope to be taking my finals before the end of this
year because Im trying to go to Paris Texas jewelry school. Ive had
my application accepted, and have the financing ready, but they just
haven’t answered a single email or fax in months, so I don’t know
what the problem is yet. Tried calling a few times, but the people
they say I need to talk to are not in at when I had called.
Everything else is in place, just need to finalize and find out
housing arrangements, tool list, and when it starts. Reminds me of my
last GIA instructor lol

Hi Daniel

By the way, FGA or GIA GG is just a diploma, not a degree.

Best regards,
Tay Thye Sun
Far East Gemological Institute
400, Orchard Road #03-10, Orchard Towers, Singapore 238875
Tel: 6735 8569, 6736 1273 Fax: 6732 0163