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Roughing it: Buying at the source: How hard can it be?

Enjoy the journey

The author making friends with the 'locals,' a lemur.
The author making friends with the ‘locals,’ a lemur.

Don’t forget to have fun. Yes, it’s a work trip, but make sure to see something of the country. National parks, archeological sites, local eating places, and just meeting the people are a big part of the experience of travel.

I love cutting gems, seeing clients, and so many other aspects of my work, but my overseas buying trips are by far the most enjoyable and exhilarating parts of the business.

Whether or not it makes financial sense for someone to travel each year to buy, going once or twice to experience the countries that provide our gems offers a chance to see first-hand just how hard it is to produce high-quality stones. Meeting the people who mine, broker, and cut those gems, as well as seeing how they live, instills a new appreciation for the gems themselves.

For more, see Dos and don’ts of buying abroad.

Lisa Elser is a professional gem cutter and owner of Custom Cut Gems in Vancouver. She trained in Switzerland after a career in IT consulting to some of the largest banks and insurance companies in the world. Elser and her husband travel the world to buy rough gems, working to ensure the stones purchased are ethically mined and benefit local communities. In 2013, she won an AGTA Spectrum Award for her 14.24-carat Nigerian tourmaline, which is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Elser can be contacted at


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