Careers in Gemology
Gemologist. For me the name conjures up memories that range from lugging equipment from store to store doing appraisal promotions, to being flown to London and asked to do a damage evaluation on a million-dollar diamond of 10.57 carats that had been chipped. Careers in gemology can take you as far geographically as you can imagine, and to professional heights as high as any international profession if you get the training and experience.
Training and experience. Now there is a concept that few people new to this industry truly understand. It may surprise you to know that there was once a time in this industry that you had to be born into a family in the gemstone industry to work in this industry. Of course, that was in the late 1800’s for the most part. But even to this day some of the careers in this industry, such as diamond cutter, requires one to quite literally be born into the business because it takes up to 25 years to learn how to properly cut a large, expensive diamond. Most employees would not commit to be an apprentice diamond cutter for 25 years before they became a fully vested diamond cutter. That’s far too long of a training time for all but family members today. But the concept of an apprentice in this industry is not that far in the past on several levels.
This idea of being an apprentice applies to becoming a gemologist, but not in quite as strict of a path as becoming a diamond cutter. But there is still a required learning time before one sets out as an independent and professional gemologist….or at least, there should be. In truth, far too many people new to this industry graduate from a gemology school and immediately consider themselves to be trained gemologists, and even trained appraisers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, gemology training is the first step, the beginning. It is the portal to the industry and not the destination. A portal. An entry point. That is what formal gemology study is, but it is still nonetheless the most important first step. Mainly because there are far too many out there in the industry who consider themselves proper gemologists but have had no formal training to really understand that current issues facing the gemological community.
It is true that a few decades ago one could be a good gemologist and be self- taught. There are many who accomplished that feat. But the problem is, 20 or 30 years ago the number of treated and created gemstones on the market was miniscule compared to what we have today. The basic methods of identification were all that were required for one to be a viable gemologist. Today, however, this is not the case. Today it is required that a professional gemologist understand an ever-increasing number of gemstone treatments and lab created gemstones to truly be considered a professional.
We should clarify that everyone who loves and studies gemstones is technically a “gemologist”. After all the definition of a gemologist is: one who studies gems. The fact that you love gemstones enough to take this course says that you are already a “gemologist” to the purest sense of the word. But let’s take this concept one step further and go to the idea of a professional gemologist. Where (and why) is there a line between simply being a gemologist and being a “professional gemologist”?
To my understanding this concept can best be defined by using another profession: musician. Anyone who plays an instrument is technically a musician. The difference in a “musician” and a “Musician” is that a professional “Musician” gets paid to play music. The key point is that the professional Musician has attained a level of skill in playing their instrument that they are paid to perform for others.
This same concept can apply to a gemologist. Anyone who studies gemstones is technically a gemologist. But one who is paid to do gemological study is a professional “Gemologist”. To attain that level of expertise requires practice, training, and more practice….just like a Musician.
Now, in the previous decades one could become an apprentice in gemology just as one could become an apprentice musician or carpenter, or many other skills. The idea of working with and learning from an expert in a trade or profession was long considered the true path to a future in any industry. Whether it was a diamond cutter, plumber, musician or gemologist. By working with an old “Master” in the field one could learn all the knowledge that this “Master” had learned, and then go on to add their own knowledge and experience to hand down to the next generation when they became a “Master” themselves and took on an apprentice.
Sound sort of weird? It shouldn’t. That is how it used to be done, and how it is done best if one is going to learn a skill or professional to the highest degree.
Now, the question becomes: How does one become a “professional gemologist” in this day and age of difficult economies, distance education and lack of many trained gemological “Masters” on the market? The answer: It is difficult, but not impossible. The key to becoming a true professional gemologist is to learn from as many knowledgeable gemologists as possible, attend as many seminars and teaching events as possible, and always consider yourself to be a student of gemology…even if you have been in the industry for 40 years. Always be a student. You may well become one of the top gemologists in the world, but you should always consider yourself to be a gemological student in the true sense of the word, that there is always more to learn. This course is your beginning. Your portal. This is a doorway through which you enter the world of gemology and becoming a professional gemologist. You are a gemologist, now become a professional gemologist. Take the next step in becoming a professional by always striving to learn and never, ever thinking that you have achieved the ultimate education no matter how long and far you study.
Now that we understand the concept of a professional gemologist, let’s look at some career paths that are open to you that can lead to a very fun and rewarding career.
If you want to make a living as a gemologist, learn to use the knowledge to meet the needs of your customer. Nothing more, nothing less. No one is going to be impressed by how much you know. They will be impressed by how you apply what you know to be able to sell gemstones. And make no mistake, the only way we can make a living being gemologists is if we help someone sell gemstones. Without selling gemstones we are all working at the local grocery store or something else. Which brings us to our first career path.
The first step is to choose a gemology school that meets your needs and expectations as far as the program, costs and services.
In all fairness there are several great gemology schools out there that you should consider, but in all honesty, we hope you consider the ISG as we have been designed specifically to serve as the best portal in the industry for new gemologists.
But the most important point is that you should never simply settle for one gemology school. That will severely limit your knowledge and your experience working with the masters. Your goal should be to study with as many quality programs as possible to gain the greatest knowledge and experience from as many other gemologists as possible. I am not just talking about instructors. Some of the most rewarding learning experiences I have had as a student has been what I have learned being around other students, both young and old. Consider everyone you meet in this industry to be a potential teacher because everyone you meet will have knowledge and information that can be added to your own.
OK, let’s talk about some of the options you have professionally as a gemologist….
Start selling in a jewelry store
None of you will have to start out as a store janitor like I did with a Zale's Jewelers in Denton, Texas many years ago. At least I hope you don’t. But it was a start. For most of you the best starting job to seek with your gemology training is on the sales floor of a jewelry store. There is no better place to learn this business than on the sales floor of a local retail jewelry store. There you will learn about customers, merchandise, values and prices, inventory, security and just about everything else you are going to need to know regardless of where you finally land as a professional gemologist. Spend some time. Pay your dues. Learn the ropes.
Once you get some retail experience you may want to branch out and start doing appraisal work. Appraisers can work in many business situations from doing contract work for stores to being hired to do appraisals as a store employee. We cover how to do this in our IIJA Jewelry Insurance Appraisal course in the RGA program, but doing appraisals is something that most gemologists find themselves doing regardless of what else they would like to eventually do. But remember, straight out of gemology school does not make you an appraiser. It takes specific appraisal training to become a jewelry appraiser. Gemology diplomas like the GIA Graduate Gemologist make you a gemologist, not an appraiser. So be careful to get the proper training if you decide to start doing appraisals.
Some of the top rated jewelry appraisers also serve as consultants to high value jewelry buyers. People who spend a lot of money on jewelry like to have someone they can trust to consult with regarding their next addition to their collection. Once you establish yourself as an expert gemologist who knows and understand the market, and you live in a area with a lot of affluent buyers, you can find yourself being asked to help find unique items and double check purchases for authenticity. This can be a very rewarding job as it usually pays a high percentage of the value or a per hour fee.
Insurance and Litigation Expert Witness and Investigator
This is, of course, one of my specialties. Once you get established as a professional gemologist, you can reach out to the local insurance and law offices to offer your services. High value jewelry and gemstones are quite often the centers of major insurance investigations or litigation cases. Once you get the required credentials and training to understand these areas, the pay is some of the highest in the industry. From my own experience, I am paid over $3,000.00 per day for litigation appearance, and over $250.00 per hour for document review, research and report writing. This is an extremely lucrative area for a professional gemologist. It takes a serious dedication to cause to get into this area, but once there with an established reputation the business comes to you.
Diamond or Gemstone Grader or Buyer
Virtually every new gemologist I meet wants to become a gemstone buyer and travel the world going to mines, gemstone markets and buying gemstones in far off exotic places. In truth, the best paying jobs for a well-trained gemologist is going to be either doing appraisals for a large company, or managing a jewelry store and moving up the corporate chain, or litigation expert. Jobs as diamond graders or gemstone graders are fun and very exciting to start, but don’t pay that well. Most jobs as diamond buyers for major companies only go to well experienced gemologists, and individuals with very high college education levels. Everyone wants to be a world traveling gemstone buyer, but there are simply not that many of those jobs out there and you have to know someone and very high credentials to get those jobs.
The key issue to keep in mind is that this is the gemstone selling industry, and all professions related are directly related to the success of gemstones getting sold. From goldsmith to appraiser to janitor, no one works if the gemstones do not sell. So, the best paying jobs are going to be related to selling in some manner. If you want to make the money, find a way to turn your love of gemology into the ability to sell. Here are some examples of salaries in the current market.
Wholesale Gemstone Dealer
Once you have some serious experience and made some great industry connections, as a professional gemologist there are many roads open to you to become a wholesale gemstone dealer. I am not talking about someone that goes to gem shows and buys stones to sell to your local retail jewelers. If it were that easy a lot more people would be doing it. I am talking about someone with connections to the mine’s owners or connections to primary dealers in gemstone producing areas. It is difficult if not impossible to make a profit going to a gem show and selling to local jewelers. But if you can gain the knowledge as a gemologist and make the necessary connections to the direct source, you can establish yourself as a wholesale gemstone dealer and open a whole world of profits and fun working directly with the mines and primary producers. It takes time to get the knowledge and experience, but this is how most wholesale dealers get established and it is something you can do also with your gemologist credentials.
Average Salary Ranges of Gemologists in US market:
Jewelry Store Salesperson (entry level person): US$40,000.00 to US$80,000.00 Appraiser (only) for Jewelry Store: $40,000.00 to $100,000.00
Jewelry Store Sales/Appraiser/Manager (experienced 5 years): $50,000.00 to $185,000.00
Diamond Grader and/or Stone Sorter for Importer: $30,000.00 to $55,000.00 (all levels)
Wholesale/import dealer salesperson/gemologist: $40,000.00 to $100,000.00 (entry to experienced levels)
Independent Appraiser (very experienced with appraisal training): $80,000.00 to $200.000.00+
Insurance and Litigation Expert: $100,000.00 to sky is the limit
There are always exceptions both high and low, so don’t think this is the only range available, but this is based on industry reported averages depending on what geographical area you live in. Large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles will pay higher while a jewelry store in Killeen, Texas will pay on the lower end of the scale.
International Employment Opportunities
There are two issues that I learned when I first got into this business:
- If you have experience in a jewelry store you can almost always get a job in another jewelry store, and
- If you can speak the language you can almost always find work in a jewelry store anywhere in the world.
This may sound far-fetched, but I have lived and experienced this. Think about it: Jewelry and gemstones are the same worldwide. Sure, the brands may differ a bit geographically, but the overall knowledge that goes into the jewelry and gemstone industry in one country is the same as applies to another country. As a result, if you have jewelry experience and knowledge there is a good chance that you can work anywhere that you can speak the local language.
I do not speak Dutch or West Indian Patois, but because the local business language is English I was able to run a chain of jewelry stores on the Netherlands Antilles island of Sint Maarten. And when I established the Caribbean Gemological Institute I worked with jewelers in 28 countries around the Caribbean and Central America.
Quite literally, if you have gemology knowledge and training, and have experience that you can provide in the local language, you can work almost anywhere in the world. Of course, there are always issues of getting work permits and visas, but that is something you will have to deal with no matter where you go if you work outside of your home country.
The important issue is that this gemology business of ours is worldwide, and you are only limited by how far you can travel, how big you can dream and how much money you want to make.
If you always consider yourself to be a student gemologist, you will always be open to learning and sharing. And that is what makes this industry great. Regardless of where in the world someone may be located, they have the knowledge to share with you and you with them. It iss just a matter of everyone being open to working together.
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Robert james FGA, GG
President, International School of Gemology