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Gemmologist

Gemmologists identify and evaluate the quality, characteristics and value factors of diamonds, other gems and ornamental materials.

There is a great variety of gemmology jobs but the work may include:

  • identifying gems such as diamonds, and coloured and ornamental stones
  • detecting imitations such as treated (enhanced), composite, synthetic and artificial materials
  • assessing the quality of gemstones, particularly grading cut diamonds
  • buying and selling gemstones
  • providing appraisal and valuation services.

Gemmologists use a range of testing equipment in their work.

Salaries range from around £14,000 to more than £50,000 a year. Many gemmologists are self-employed and their income varies accordingly.

The hours of work and conditions vary considerably between different gemmology jobs. Those working with retail jewellers may work 37 to 40 hours a week, including some weekends.

Gemmologists may work in a laboratory, workshop, office, shop or studio. These are usually suitably lit and comfortable. Those working in mining or prospecting, or travelling to gem markets, may work in remote and uncomfortable locations. As they work with valuable materials, gemmologists must observe strict security procedures. This can include working behind locked doors with barred windows and burglar alarm systems.

A gemmologist should:

  • be good with their hands for handling gemstones
  • be methodical and patient, with meticulous attention to detail
  • have good computer skills
  • have an interest in crystals, rocks and gems
  • like earth sciences and geology.

Gemmologists work throughout the UK, with some concentration in Birmingham and London. They are employed by producers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in the gem and jewellery industries. Some work for gem-handling companies or jewellery houses.

There are no set entry requirements for becoming a gemmologist. Some employers take on people with art, design or design technology qualifications. Relevant subjects include jewellery, art, craft, earth sciences or geology and materials science or technology.

Gemmologists often develop their skills through on-the-job training and part-time study.

Many gemmologists become self-employed or work as consultants. There are good opportunities to work overseas.

What is the work like?

Gemmologists identify and evaluate the quality, characteristics and value factors of diamonds and other gems and ornamental materials.

The work is varied but may include:

  • identifying gems such as diamonds and coloured and ornamental stones
  • detecting imitations such as treated (enhanced), composite, synthetic and artificial materials
  • assessing the quality of gemstones, particularly grading cut diamonds
  • buying and selling gemstones
  • providing appraisal and valuation services.

Gemmologists use their experience to evaluate precious stones and prepare identification and appraisal reports. Those working for large jewellery houses may be responsible for the buying and selling of stones and for agreeing contracts.

Some trained geologists work as gemmologists in the mining industry. They help to assure the quality of the minerals, rocks and gems which are extracted. They also ensure the safety of the extraction process.

A few gemmologists are employed by insurance companies that offer their own appraisal services for customers who wish to insure pieces of jewellery.

Many jewellers study gemmology in order to become familiar with the physical properties of the gemstones with which they work.

Gemmologists use testing equipment such as lenses, refractometers, spectroscopes and microscopes to study the characteristics of gemstones. More sophisticated testing procedures are necessary to identify some synthetic and treated diamonds and gems. These procedures are also used to verify natural and untreated stones or to find out where the stones come from.

Hours and environment

The hours of work and conditions vary considerably between different gemmology jobs. Those working with retail jewellers may work 37 to 40 hours a week, including some weekends.

Gemmologists may work in a laboratory, workshop, office, shop or studio. These are usually suitably lit and comfortable. Those working in mining or prospecting, or travelling to gem markets, may work in remote and uncomfortable locations.

As many of their materials are valuable, gemmologists must observe strict security procedures. This can include working behind locked doors with barred windows and burglar alarm systems. In larger diamond sorting operations they may work in the presence of armed guards under CCTV surveillance.

The gem trade operates worldwide. Work with diamonds may involve travel to diamond-producing areas such as Africa, Russia, Canada and Australia. People working with gems other than diamonds may need to travel to China, Burma, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Africa or Madagascar, where the vast majority of coloured gems are marketed, cut and sold.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary depending on the employer and where people live.

  • A gemmologist starting out may earn around £14,000 a year.
  • With experience this may rise to between £25,000 and £35,000 a year.
  • Senior gemmologists in industry may earn more than £50,000.

Many gemmologists are self-employed. Their income varies accordingly.

Skills and personal qualities

A gemmologist should:

  • be good with their hands for handling gemstones
  • be methodical and patient, with meticulous attention to detail
  • have a good memory
  • have good eyesight
  • be security conscious
  • have good computer skills.

Interests

It is important to:

  • have an interest in crystals, rocks and gems
  • like earth sciences and geology.

Getting in

Gemmologists work throughout the UK, with some concentration in Birmingham and London. A number of gemmologists are self-employed and travel to mines, markets and gem-selling centres throughout the world. Others run small businesses as designers or makers of jewellery and ornamental goods. Gemmologists are employed by producers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in the gem and jewellery industries. Some work for gem-handling companies or jewellery houses.

Other employers include:

  • large international diamond-mining and marketing businesses
  • mine operators
  • international gem dealers
  • jewellery wholesalers and retailers
  • international gem-testing and diamond-grading laboratories
  • auction houses
  • pawnbrokers
  • specialist educational institutions.

Specialised gemmological knowledge can sometimes be required in occupations such as policing, forensic science, customs and insurance.

Entry into gemmology can be difficult although, once in the industry, it is possible to move between jobs. Vacancies may be advertised in national newspapers and professional journals such as Retail Jeweller and The Jeweller. They may also be advertised on industry websites.

Entry routes

There are no set entry requirements for becoming a gemmologist. Some employers take on people with art, design or design technology qualifications. Relevant subjects include jewellery, art, craft, earth sciences or geology, and materials science or technology. The Diploma in creative and media may also be relevant to this area of work. A general knowledge of the major sciences, particularly physics, is very useful.

Birmingham City University offers a two-year full-time BTEC Higher National Diploma in gemmology. Entry is with one A level and four GCSEs (A*-C), a BTEC National Diploma or equivalent qualifications. Candidates are usually expected to a show a good art and design portfolio.

Some gemmologists have a degree in one of the geosciences which include geology, geophysics, geochemistry and exploration geology. Entry to degree courses is usually with at least two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C).

Some people enter this work with relevant experience, such as mining, auctioneering, dealing, cutting or retailing gems.

Training

Gemmologists usually develop their skills through on-the-job training supervised by experienced colleagues. They often study part time for qualifications.

The Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A) offers a range of qualifications. Study can be full time, part time or by distance learning. Gem-A qualifications include:

  • Foundation Certificate in Gemmology which takes four months full time or six to ten months by distance learning. It is an introduction to a wide variety of gem materials and includes theory and hands-on practical work.
  • Diploma in Gemmology which expands students' practical and observational skills and introduces them to a wider range of the gems and imitations encountered in the jewellery trade. Study takes between six months full time and around a year by distance learning.
  • Gem Diamond Diploma which provides an in-depth knowledge of diamonds and how the diamond market operates. It includes diamond grading, characteristics, colour estimation and how to identify imitations and treatment. Study takes between four months full time and eight months part time.

Kingston University offers a BSc (Hons) degree in gemmology and applied mineralogy. It is designed to build on the Gem-A Diploma, although applicants without the Diploma who have a relevant degree and experience in gemmology may be considered for entry. The course lasts one year full time or two years part time.

There is also a range of jewellery courses at colleges throughout the UK.

Getting on

Gemmologists working for wholesale and retail operations, and for large jewellery houses, may have the opportunity to progress to senior management in their organisations.

Many gemmologists become self-employed or work as consultants.

There are good opportunities to work overseas.

Further information

British Jewellers' Association, Federation House, 10 Vyse Street, Hockley, Birmingham B18 6LT. 0121 237 1110. Website: www.bja.org.uk

The Gemmological Association of Great Britain, (Gem-A), 27 Greville Street, London EC1N 8TN. 020 7404 3334. Website: www.gem-a.com

The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG. 020 7434 9944. Website: www.geolsoc.org.uk

Jewellery and Allied Industries Training Council (JAITC), c/o the British Jewellers' Association, Federation House, 10 Vyse Street, Hockley, Birmingham B18 6LT. Website: www.jaitc.org.uk

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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