The word Gemologist, has long been a very obscure title, that, for many, brings up a big question mark. Since many who are shopping for gemstones and jewelry may hear this term come up from time to time, I thought it would be helpful to give this subject a bit more clarity, since there are many functions not shared from one type of Gemologist to the next.
Read on to learn the difference between a Sales Gemologist, Lab Gemologist, and Research Gemologist.
A common starting point for many just beginning their career as a gemologist, do so in a sales world. Although they are generally fully capable of basic gem identification, retail gemologists more-so specialize in sharing their scientific knowledge in order to assist their customers understand more specifically what they are buying. From topics as simple as demystifying the 4 C’s of a diamond, just on a much more nuanced level, to providing a more comprehensive understanding of the differences (and similarities) between species and variety of colored stones like ruby and sapphire (both part of the corundum family) or aquamarine and emerald (both part of the beryl family), to the explanation of treatments that may or may not be applied to different varieties of gemstones. Their role among the world of sales is quite important, as they provide a much more educational and informative application to the theory of gemology in order for a potential buyer to make a more informed decision. Generally speaking, however, retail gemologist lack in the practical application of, say, what a lab gemologist is exposed to, just due to the fact that they simply aren’t equipped with the proper tools and equipment, nor are they exposed to such a consistent flow of “mystery” stones needing identification. The occasional “grandma’s ruby found in the attic” is about the general extent of what they will be identifying.
Lab gemologists, on the other hand, who’s entire careers revolve around the constant, hands-on and scientific identification and separation of gem material, treatment detection, and in some labs, pinpointing where in the world the material may have been mined from. All of which are determined by using specialized equipment and applying a very specific knowledge base of investigative and hands-on techniques. Lab gemologist are generally much more well versed and trained in the use and theory of chemistry, physics, and geology to assist in their day to day analysis of submitted material by not only using traditional visual and optical techniques, but also utilizing spectral imaging with incredibly advanced pieces of equipment that are otherwise cost prohibitive, nor practical for retail gemologists. However, due to a rapidly advancing era of science, the creation of new synthetics and treatments can sometimes leave even the most experienced lab gemologists puzzled, or even oblivious to its existence for a period of time, and unless the laboratory has invested a great deal of resources and finances to a specific research division, published works or collaborations between smaller labs in order to incorporate these findings is the only way to keep up on advancements in science. These findings are almost always discovered and published by research gemologists.
Research gemologists, who’s primary function is studying new and existing material that has generally come directly from the source in order to ensure its authenticity and nature of origin. In doing so, this allows them to analyze a control subject so that when new man-created/altered material hits the market claiming to be something it may or may not actually be, it is these samples and collective studies that can either prove or disprove the the claim. Ultimately, this method of data collecting allows researchers to discover and implement new methods of detection for synthetics and/or discover new treatments otherwise undetectable by current methods. Researchers are one of the most critical roles within the entire industry.
So there you have it. Although it is by no means a complete and exhaustive list of every role a gemologist can have, these three pretty much covers the broadest categories. Other gemologist roles that may overlap one, two or even all three of these categories are gemstone and diamond sorters, buyers, designers, and of course, appraisers.
Joshua D. Lents, FGA, GG