28 November 2012

Gemmology is the study of gemstones, from precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds to semi-precious stones such as amethyst and topaz.

Your work as gemmologist can include identifying and grading different gems and evaluating various characteristics. Photo: Holts Academy
Your work as gemmologist can include identifying and grading different gems and evaluating various characteristics. Photo: Holts Academy

What does a gemmologist do? 

Gemmologists, or gemologists, are experts on gems, or precious stones. Gems are pieces of mineral or rock which are then cut and polished and used for a variety of decorative purposes, including jewellery. 

Gemmology also includes synthetic and manufactured stones. 

Your work as gemmologist can include:

  1. Identifying and grading different gems and evaluating various characteristics, such as:
  • quality
  • colour
  • clarity
  • rarity
  • the way in which they have been cut
  • their value
  1. Understanding the different characteristics of gems, including:
  • chemical composition
  • crystal system
  • hardness and durability
  • lustre
  • country of origin
  • heat treatments to enhance durability and colour
  1. Buying and selling gemstones
  2. Providing valuation and appraisal services, often for insurance purposes.

What is the job like?

Your work will involve using different types of equipment, including spectroscopes, microscopes, lenses and refractometers which enable you to study the characteristics of gems.

Gemmologists may be employed by retail jewellery firms as buyers. An in-depth knowledge of gemstones is also very beneficial for retail staff. They can then advise customers effectively about different stones such as birthstones, as well as fairtrade issues around how the gems were produced.

Some gemmologists are employed in laboratories, which provide various services, including assessing gems (perhaps to see if they are genuine) restoration and repair treatments. Synthetic gemstones are also created in laboratories.

Once fully trained as a gemmologist, you could also work in a variety of different settings, including with diamond-mining companies, gem dealers, wholesale gem buyers, valuers, auction houses, or in manufacturing and retail.

At a senior level, you might travel around the world – to mines, markets and trading centres.

How do I become a gemmologist?

It's important to be interested in minerals, crystals, stones and gems, and to enjoy studying science subjects, such as physics, chemistry and geology.

You also need to be:

  • practical and good with your hands
  • very patient and methodical
  • someone with a close eye for detail
  • someone with good vision (corrected by glasses if necessary).

What training and qualifications do I need?

If you want to progress within gemmology, you will need to get the relevant qualifications.

Gem A courses

The Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem A) offers a range of private courses in gemmology at different levels. Most of the courses are open distance learning with practical classes in London, although evening courses (also in London) are available.

Courses include:

  • Gemmology Foundation Course, leading to the Foundation Certificate. This introductory course takes either four or eight months. It will introduce you to the many different types of gems, their origins, properties and distinguishing factors, their commercial uses, and the use of different pieces of gemmological equipment.
  • Gemmology Diploma Course, leading to the Diploma Certificate. You can study this course either via open distance learning or for two evenings a week in London. The course lasts for eight months, and is an in-depth study of gemmology and the principles of gem testing. Upon completion of this course you are eligible for Fellowship of the Gemmological Association (FGA) status.

Gem A also offer a range of other courses including a Diamond Diploma course, short courses and workshops.

Other courses

Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery offers a two year full-time HND in Gemmology. This very practical course includes:

  • how to tests gems in the laboratory and identify them
  • jewellery design and production
  • the Gem A Gemmology Diploma and Diamond Grading Diploma.

The entry requirements for this course are 120 UCAS tariff points, a BTEC National Diploma at Level 3 in Foundation Studies in Art and Design, or equivalent qualifications.

What can I earn?

Some gemmologists are self-employed, and their earnings can vary widely. When starting out, you might be earning the minimum wage to start with, which is £6.19 per hour for those aged over 21, and £4.98 per hour for those aged 18-20.

With more experience in gemmology, salaries can rise to between £20,000 and £30,000 per year.

A stone buyer working for a wholesaler may earn up to £35,000 per year. Salaries of up to £40,000 are possible for management roles within gemmology. 

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