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In the trenches: The challenges of working as a retail gemmologist

By La Shawn Bauer

Under short-wave UV light, this light blue spinel displays a strong chalky greenish-blue colour, indicating it is synthetic.

Being a retail gemmologist is kind of like being in the Special Forces, I find. We are dropped into the field and in most cases, are all alone with no backup, making do with what we’ve got. So we had better make sure we know what we are doing.

By that, I mean we must be up to date regarding advances in gemmological testing, the latest techniques to help identify various treatments, newly discovered gem deposits, and the synthetics and imitations making their way to the retail environment. Ongoing education is a must among our ranks. As retail gemmologists, we have some very specific challenges in our field. In some ways, our work is completely different from that of lab or research gemmologists.

How so? Well, first of all, our workspace is not a pristine, germ-free laboratory environment. We also have to contend with testing unknown stones in their mountings and without the benefit of them having been meticulously cleaned. We have neither hours nor days to conduct our tests and evaluations. There is also the matter of not having another gemmologist sitting next to us to offer a second opinion on a particularly challenging stone. We definitely don’t have access to the latest, greatest, and insanely expensive equipment that would help make our jobs easier. And finally, we don’t get to wear fancy white lab coats with our names embroidered above the left pocket. (Yes, I’m poking fun at my lab rat brothers and sisters, but I still want a lab coat!)

What do we have? For starters, it’s the ability to convey gemmological principles in everyday English, free of the scientific names, definitions, and terminology consumers may struggle to understand. Why is that important? Consumer confidence is built on trust; clients need to feel the person they are dealing with is not talking down to them. Overall, our task is to strive for professional excellence as we offer an opinion regarding grade or value.

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