by Barbara van Look, Content Development Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and BeadsĀ®

Gemology is the study and identification of gemstones and a gemologist is the person who does that studying and identifying. Gemologists learn to recognize different gemstones by knowing the scientific properties of the gemstone materials and how those properties are showcased or hidden by the shape, cut and polish of finished gemstones.

Fire Mountain Gems and Beads has three on-staff gemologists in a number of crucial locations throughout the company. They identify, test and verify gemstone products the company sells. When you purchase beads, cabochons, faceted gems and finished jewelry with gemstones, you are purchasing items that have been analyzed and scientifically identified. Gemstone materials are identified through a series of tests, each measuring an aspect of the stone, with the overall result allowing a gemologist to positively identify it.

Gemstone materials are minerals--such as diamond, ruby and emerald--as well as organic substances like pearl, amber and coral. Gemologists learn the structural, chemical and physical characteristics of each type of gemstone material and use a number of tools to identify and grade gemstones. The primary tools of all gemologists are a trained mind and a keen eye for observation.

The gemologists at Fire Mountain Gems and Beads have all completed the full course from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). This involves years of training as well as hands-on work. All of our on-staff gemologists are fully certified Graduate Gemologists (GG) with the GIA.

Arbel, a gemologist in our Advertising area, explains that the GIA course comes in a series of clearly written, concise booklets. Each booklet highlights different types of materials, explains how to identify that group of materials and offers tests on recognizing it. Then comes the practical test.

The practical labs require the student to purchase their own equipment. The gemstones are rented from GIA and the test requires the student to correctly identify a majority of the stones--until the final test. The final test must be taken in a pre-approved location with a pre-approved instructor who monitors and times the test. The student must correctly identify all stones within the time limit in order to receive the Graduate Gemologist certificate. And if a student gets one identification wrong? "You have to wait and study up before you can try again," she says. "It can be a very stressful experience."

The first tool a gemologist reaches for is the loupe. The loupe (or "10x hand lens") is used to visually inspect gemstones, which is key to recognizing many synthetic gemstone materials, as well as grading the clarity of diamonds. For gemologists, the loupe is their "right hand man"; loupes are carried at all times, within easy reach. For Dev, Fire Mountain's traveling gemologist, the loupe is also a sentimental reminder. Dev's loupe is from his first teacher, an uncle back in India, who had piqued his interest in precious gems. This is the loupe he carries and uses today around the world on buying trips for the company.

The next tools a gemologist uses are the Refractometer and the Polariscope. "Each gemstone material has its own fingerprint in light," says Micheal, the quality control inspection gemologist at Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, "and the refractometer can see it." The refractometer measures how light enters and exits the stone and recently helped him separate white topaz gemstones from clear quartz in a shipment. Meanwhile, the Polariscope measures how light bends in a gem, and helps separate gemstone materials from glass simulants. Combine the results of these two tests and a trained gemologist will be able to identify most gemstones.

While Dev is first in the trenches, identifying stones on buying trips, Michael is the one verifying that what the company ordered is what the company received. He tests every diamond that comes in the door, double checking that the listed grades are accurate and that stones in diamond-studded clasps have not been replaced with simulants. He uses an industry-calibrated diamond color grading set and an electronic diamond detector to verify the presence of diamonds. Michael also measures gemstone cabochons, beads and faceted gems to confirm their calibration or test whether the shipment meets Fire Mountain's sizing standards.

Some of the other tools used by gemologists include:
  • Specific Gravity Testing Liquids
    A set of five jars, each containing a standardized liquid at a specific density greater than water. A stone will sink or float when dropped into the liquid. This determines its density and Dev has used it to identify the difference between identically colored rubies and garnets.
  • Mohs Hardness Points
    A set of four double-ended rods with hardness testing points used in scratch tests. Each point equates to the Mohs hardness scale and can identify any material harder than talc and softer than diamond.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) Light
    Commonly used in a booth or box, UV light causes fluorescence in gemstones such as natural opals, rubies and some diamonds.
  • Stereo Microscope
    The microscope is used for viewing gemstones at higher magnifications than available with a loupe. This allows the gemologist to check a stone for inclusions that will mark it as a natural material.
  • Geiger Counter
    Stones such as smoky quartz, lemon smoky quartz and blue topaz are frequently treated with neutron radiation. All shipments of those gems are tested with a Geiger counter so there is no danger of radiation to employees or customers.
  • Digital Calipers
    Digital calipers allow gemologists to estimate the carat weight of gemstones, especially when they are already set in jewelry. Cabochons and faceted stones can also be measured to ensure they can fit within calibrated settings or mountings.
  • Gemological Institute of America (GIA) Stone Identification Charts
    These two charts are available only to GIA students, and list the identifying characteristics of many gemstone materials.
  • The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) Gemstone Treatment Guide
    This guide indicates the types of treatment a gemstone material may receive. Customers will find the stone treatment (if any) in Fire Mountain's advertising and invoices. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads strongly suggests that our customers follow these guidelines as well when selling gemstones and jewelry, for the benefit of their businesses and their customers.
With a selection of tools and extensive training, the gemologists of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads work to ensure that the gemstones you receive are the gemstones you paid for. Materials that are new to the market or require an objective evaluation (such as chalk turquoise) can also be sent to independent GIA labs for thorough identification. After all, Dev says, "Honesty is the reputation of Fire Mountain Gems and you don't want to play around with that."

Shop ... Resources ...