My goal, for the last three years, has been to become a graduate gemologist. I was the kid who had the rock collection and walked the beach looking for Petoskey stones. I am the adult who loves gemstones and jewelry. After years of teaching mathematics (another love of mine), the time seemed right to give gemology a chance. It’s been a wonderful and, at times, difficult journey. Gemology is not an easy science.
Gemology (or Gemmology) is the science dealing with natural and artificial gems and gemstones. It is classified as a geoscience, a branch of mineralogy. A gemologist studies the formation, localities, and physical properties of gemstones. He/she must be able to assess gemstones, using equipment and techniques to identify and evaluate the gem material.
I’m taking my classes through G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America), which is based in Carlsbad, California. But there are plenty of places that offer gemology education. Some of the more well known schools are the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (GemA), the Canadian Institute of Gemmology (CGA), the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences, and the Deutsche Gemmologische Gesellschaft (DGemG) in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. I don’t know a lot about the other schools, but I have been impressed with the education I’ve received at G.I.A.
A graduate gemologist diploma from G.I.A. means successful completion of three lab classes that teach you how to use the equipment and master the techniques needed to assess and identify diamonds and colored stones. There are also four reading courses that go over the history, localities, formation, crystal structures, and chemical/physical properties of diamonds and colored gemstones. Finally, there is a comprehensive gem identification course which requires both reading and lab work. During the course you are required to identify 500 gemstones. The course is designed to prepare you for a 20-stone exam which can be passed only if all 20 stones are correctly identified. You get five tries at the six-hour exam. If you don’t pass, there is an opportunity to do remedial work and try again.
Gemologists work in jewelry stores, wholesale gemstone companies, auction houses, insurance companies, and appraisal firms. If a gemologist wants to become an independent appraiser, additional education is needed. And all gemologists need to keep their skills updated by taking courses and being active members in organizations such as the American Gem Society. It’s a scientific job that often requires good people skills. So, tip your hat to those gemologists! They have worked hard to gain their title.
If you love gemstones, ask your jeweler if he/she hosts roundtable events. These are usually evening events that last 2 – 3 hours, taking place after your jewelry store closes. Food and drink are often served, and you are introduced to a gemstone expert. This expert shares knowledge and stories about gemstones and the gemstone industry. Sitting at a, usually rectangular, table, guests are given the chance to see, touch, and dib on approximately 100 different gemstones. Dibbing simply means that you would like another look at that gemstone after it has gone around the table. These gemstones are for sale, but there is never an obligation to buy. The goal is to have fun learning about and playing with gemstones.
More people want to be involved in the making of their jewelry. Mountings can mask flaws of gemstones, so it’s to the buyer’s advantage to see gemstones un-mounted. And mountings can be unique if you work with a custom designer. On-staff designers are generally at the roundtable event and they can help you with ideas for any gemstone you select for purchase. The whole process of 1) picking out the gemstone; 2) deciding on a design; and 3) having the piece made by your local jeweler is a memorable one.
Dearborn Jewelers recently hosted a roundtable event with gemstone dealer, Judith Whitehead. Our next event will be in September. If you are interested in attending, give us a call and we can put you on the list. It promises to be a great time.
Haven’t you ever wondered, when you look at beautiful art, what inspires the artist? How does he or she find that initial spark that leads to a fabulous painting, sculpture, poem, or piece of jewelry?
Inspiration often comes from nature. Heather Gardner, a jewelry designer from California, said, “As I travel, I am constantly observing the environment that surrounds me, taking in the beauty of each unique place, from color palates to habitats. I absorb it all and it seeps into my skin, creating a longing inside to express the emotion I feel from the beauty I’ve experienced.”
Manmade objects can also be inspiring. Anne Bower, a jewelry designer based in London, said, “I’m inspired by the beautiful and interesting objects that I find on my travels around vintage fairs, Parisian markets, antique and curiosity shops and on the internet.”
In a similar way, New York artist, Jill Platner, commented that her jewelry is inspired by organic and urban found objects. “They all spin. They move with the wind. I am fascinated by movement, mechanics, and the way things go together.”
Sometimes artists struggle to be inspired, which, I’m sure, isn’t an easy thing to admit. They must always be ready in case inspiration decides to strike. Jennifer Welker of Houston, Texas revealed, ” I always keep a sketchpad with me. Sometimes in the middle of the night I have an idea and I’ll start drawing things. . . I draw inspiration from our daily life, from our travels, and from architectural pieces.”
Jewelry design is a melding of engineering, the principles of design, and inspiration. When you look next at a piece of jewelry, marvel a little at its design and remember that it started with a sketchpad and a bright idea.
This may be my favorite show because it has such an inclusive, comfortable atmosphere. Held at Riverpark Inn, a conveniently located hotel near the convention center, this show has all the amenities you could ever want. There’s lunch seating underneath palm trees by a clear blue swimming pool. There’s a bartender who will happily get you a water, soda, or even something a little stronger. The hotel is air conditioned so, if you get warm in the outdoor exhibition tent, you can always look at the many exhibits inside the hotel.
The show is open to the public, but many jewelry dealers come to the show, too, so vendors sell at both retail and wholesale prices. In many ways, having the show open to the public creates a more relaxed atmosphere. People come to this show for fun, not just for work. The vendors, too, seem more at ease. I had one vendor tell me to jot down the prices he was quoting me, because he might forget them if I chose to come back later. He had nothing written down, and couldn’t even hand me his business card because he only had one left. When I finally left his booth, I had a list of prices and a photo of his card.
There’s such a variety of merchandise at the Pueblo Gem Show. While cut gemstones are certainly represented, there’s also a lot of rough, uncut stone for sale. And there’s a huge selection of both large and small mineral crystals. (You can buy amethyst crystals in their 3 – 4 foot tall host rock, or you can buy tiny samples of emerald or ruby that show their natural crystal structure.) There’s also finished jewelry and even a place to buy props for displaying jewelry.
Variety is also a good word to describe the people you meet at the Pueblo Gem Show. Ryszard Krukowski is a stone cutter/sculpter of fire agate, a brilliant stone that reveals its beauty as its outer layers are “peeled back.” He and his wife live in northern Canada but travel to northern Arizona to mine the agate or purchase the rough from the Native Americans that also mine there. A dedicated rock hound, he is passionate about his work. Inspired by the stones and by other places he’s visited, he carves dragons, serpents, and sea creatures from the rough. He talks about the “journey” he takes with each stone, and he has great stories to tell about the last 35 years of traveling.
Mr. Krukowski fit right in with the Pueblo Gem Show. Artsy and eclectic, passionate and fun are words to describe both. Along with the A.G.T.A. and the G.J.X., this show makes the perfect trio for anyone in the jewelry business. And, if you’re not in the business but go to Tucson for the fun of it, make sure to start with the Pueblo Gem Show. I promise you’ll have a good time.
The 110,000 square foot tent that houses the G.J.X. (Gem and Jewelry Exchange) is crowded, noisy, and busy. Vendors’ booths are small and packed together like puzzle pieces. Walking is treacherous with all the “speed bumps” covering the web of electrical wires that light each booth. As you slowly make your way down the aisles, you’re likely to see jade bangles next to faceted gemstones and microscopes next to strands of pearls.
As you’d expect with a tent, creature comforts are at a minimum. There’s no place to sit except near the food booths. Choices for lunch are limited to foods like hotdogs and tacos. The temporary restrooms are located outside the tent. Inside the tent, the air is warm and a little stagnant.
Still, this highly reputable show is for wholesalers only. You must present the G.J.X. sticker to enter. Some of the vendors are A.G.T.A. members but, for whatever reason, were not able to be part of the A.G.T.A. show. Other vendors are grouped together by geographic origin such as the Idar-Oberstein group from Germany, famous for its magnificent stone cutting.
It was there that I met a young gem cutter named Christopher Kreis. Christopher travels with his mother and father to gem shows around the world, selling his creations. Trained in traditional cutting methods, he felt that these methods limited the stones’ potential. He wanted, like a sculptor, to bring out the natural beauty of each specimen. This meant creating new styles of cutting that are actually patented under his name. Creations such as “the fluid drop”, made from natural blue topaz, are the result. Looking at the stone, you feel like you’re looking at a captured droplet of crystal clear water.
I asked him if he’d ever thought of another career. At first, he didn’t seem to understand the question. Of course, his father’s family has been in the jewelry business for over 200 years and his mother’s family for even longer! Perhaps he never thought of working outside the jewelry industry. But then he spoke of how he loved the variety of his work. He gets to explore gem mines in the great outdoors, create beauty in the solitude of his workshop, and travel the world meeting people who love his work. It does sound like a good life!
The personality of this bright man was distinctly different from the show where he was exhibiting. Christopher was so unassuming and peaceful. He seemed youthful but with a wisdom beyond his years. The G.J.X. is robust and loud. It lacks the sophistication of the A.G.T.A., but, with over 700 vendors, it makes up for it with energy, enthusiasm and wide selection.
The Tucson Gem Show attracts interesting people. People come from all over the world, and they have stories to tell. But the individual shows also have personality. This series will concentrate on three different shows–the A.G.T.A. (American Gem Trade Association); the G.J.X. (Gem and Jewelry Exchange); and the Pueblo Gem Show–and the stories I heard at each show.
The A.G.T.A. gets top billing at the Tucson Gem Show. It takes up the Convention Center, the fanciest venue, during the peak days of the two-week show. Its exhibitors must be members of the association, which has the highest ethical standards for full disclosure of any gem enhancement or origin.
It always feels calm and safe at the A.G.T.A. Everyone’s there to make a living, but there’s enough mutual respect and integrity to keep an honest exchange. It’s also very comfortable at the A.G.T.A. Booths have more elbow room, the environment is cool and carpeted, and the restrooms are of the permanent variety. At lunchtime, open doors lead outside to tables and chairs surrounded by food trucks offering wide variety.
The other shows know that you have to pre-register and meet the standards of A.G.T.A. before they’ll let you in the door. So, if you have your A.G.T.A. badge, you’re usually guaranteed entry to any other show. The A.G.T.A. deals only in wholesale, so the general public is not allowed.
Loose, cut gemstones are the specialty of the A.G.T.A. Only a few, high-end jewelers show finished pieces. The show also has booths set up for the top gemological schools and laboratories. There are educational seminars bringing in well-known speakers of the gem and jewelry industry. The Smithsonian Institution shows off its new gemstones and jewelry.
So, what is the “personality” of the A.G.T.A. Tucson Gem Show? It’s cool, cultured and full of integrity. It might also be just a little bit snooty. Everyone is well dressed at the A.G.T.A. People drink lattes for breakfast and have salad for lunch. There’s no one noisy or hot or grumpy at the A.G.T.A.
Maybe it’s this abundance of high class culture that draws me to the more down-to-earth vendors at the show. One such woman who, along with her husband, owns turquoise mines in Nevada, told a great story about a piece of turquoise I bought for my mother. It came from an area near the Ajax Mine, found in the Candelaria Mountains. She told me that one day she and her husband were walking their property and stumbled upon some pieces of turquoise just lying like gravel. They looked around and found a pick ax handle pounded into the ground nearby. It looked old, and they determined that it was probably left by a miner back in the 1930s. They think the miner saw what they saw and marked the place with the intention of returning. But, for some unknown reason, he never did.
When they started mining, they found a vein of turquoise. It’s called the Candelaria Pick Handle Mine. I can’t wait to tell my mom this story. And I’m so glad the owner took the time to tell me. Jewelry is best when it comes with a story. This one was like a good Western–rough and tough, with a little bit of mystery. And what a far cry from the classy, sophisticated story of the A.G.T.A. It was wonderful to experience both.
Next week’s story focuses on the G.J.X. show and a young stonecutter from Germany.
Usually hidden in the back of the store, out of sight and unknown, bench jewelers work their wonders in mysterious ways. In an attempt to shed insight on the incredible work that they do, let me introduce Nick, the longtime bench jeweler and co-owner of Dearborn Jewelers. Known for his ability to work miracles with jewelry, he can create beautiful new pieces and repair treasured old ones. And he does it with a sense of humility and humor.
He started engraving in his father’s jewelry store when he was 14-years old. He learned a lot about making jewelry from his dad, Nick Pavlich, and from another bench jeweler in his youth, George Omelczenko. While most of his mastery has been obtained on the job, he did take stone setting classes from the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.) back in the early 1990s.
According to Nick, the three most important tools of a bench jeweler are “good eyesight, a hammer, and inspiration.”
His best advice to young bench jewelers is “Take care of your eyes.” But there’s a lot more to it than having a keen eye. Nick is a perfectionist and he has the patience to work with the jewelry. He says he’s not patient when teaching others, but I find him extremely patient with interruptions about whether some repair can be done or whether some design is feasible.
His most memorable job was a lapel pin he made for a gentleman whose last name started with W. I asked him why it was so memorable and he said, “It just turned out really good. It was a script W, in white gold, with graduated diamonds mounted in it. It was really pretty.” We tried to find a picture of it, but no luck. So he drew a little picture for me. It’s amazing how he can remember details of jewelry he worked on, even if it was decades ago.
A bench jeweler’s bench is his domain. It can look chaotic but he knows where everything is. If you spend any time around the bench, you’re likely to hear the sounds of hammering, drilling, filing and the occasional “ouch.” You’ll see the torch fired up, steam coming from the cleaning area, and sometimes you’ll even see Nick down on the ground, searching for that stubborn diamond that simply did not want to be set. Being a bench jeweler is not easy work.
Most importantly, Nick is a family man, a religious man, and a man of integrity and honor. You can always count on Nick to tell you the truth and to do his best for you. His sense of duty is one of the main reasons, I think, that Dearborn Jewelers is so successful. Customers know that no one will work harder and with more experience on their jewelry.
So the next time you look at your ring or put on a bracelet, you’ll have a better understanding of the work that went into making it. Think about the person that made your jewelry–a combination of artist and engineer– the bench jeweler.