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Every year, when the Academy Awards roll around, the press and the public pay as much attention to the hair, gowns, and jewelry worn by the nominees as they do to the actual awards themselves! The necklaces and earrings worn by the stars are usually closely examined, and breathlessly described to the television audiences watching at home.

Jewelry has played an important part in human cultures for thousands and thousands of years, but it is rarely the chains or clasps that have enthralled us for centuries--it's the glittering, polished precious and semi-precious gems in the jewelry that take our breath away.

But how do you know those diamonds Liza Minelli is wearing are real? Gemologists are the experts who decide. They examine natural gemstones as well as imitation gemstones, identifying and grading all sorts of gems, such as diamonds, emeralds, rubies, topaz, and jade. They not only know a real from a fake, but they can even identify the going rate for a gem. The going rate for a diamond, for example, changes, and it is up to the gemologist to keep track of these fluctuations in the market. They have to know what to sell their gems for, but also need to know what to buy the gems for!

Gemologists use a number of tried-and-true as well as modern techniques to identify the worth, weight, and authenticity of a gem. Some design jewelry for their stones, while others work as gem cutters, as well. Some may work only as an appraiser, traveling the globe analyzing people's jewels and new found stones.

Gemologists can apply their knowledge in a number of ways. They may choose to work as designers, salespeople, as an appraiser, or with a mining company, analyzing the gems pried from the earth. No matter how they choose to work, theirs is a specialized art and talent that will survive in the glittering splendor of engagement rings, pendants, and Oscar necklaces for years to come.
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  Interests and Skills  
Successful gemologists require good manual dexterity, good color vision and steady hands. They must be patient, meticulous, honest and detail-oriented. Solid analytical skills and the ability to work with clear guidelines in an organized manner are important. Some business sense is valuable, especially for those going into business on their own.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Identify different types of gemstones and their imitation counterparts
  • Differentiate between natural gems and stones that have been treated for color or enhanced clarity
  • Grade gemstones and pearls
  • Identify metals and differentiate between antiques and copies
  • Examining optical, surface and internal characteristics using a loupe, microscope, polariscope, dichroscope or polarizing filter
  • Measure gravity by hydrostatic or heavy liquid immersion techniques
  • Calculate precise dimensions using tools to discover weight and gravity
  • May estimate worth of gems
  • Identify synthetic and treated gem materials using sophisticated technology (e.g. radiology for pearls)
  • May manage jewelry staff
  • May design and make jewelry
  • May look after administrative duties
  • The typical day for a gemologist involves working closely with a variety of precious and semi-precious stones. They meet with people selling raw stones, clients looking for a gem to purchase, or people who want their work appraised. Gemologists may travel around the world to appraise or purchase gems, conduct seminars, and to learn about new techniques.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Gemologists often work alone, or along side jewelry store owners, jewelry designers, and assistants. They can be found in home offices, large jewelry companies, in studios and design offices belonging to their employer, or with wholesale companies. Some work full-time, some part-time, and some on a freelance basis. They may have to travel. When working for themselves, gemologists can set their own hours, but gemologists with a company can have more regular hours.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Gemologists with experience work as appraisers, designers, and salespeople. They can learn international jewelry arts, and apply this knowledge to their own work. They can also branch out into other crafts, like gold and silversmithing, weaving, and stained glass, write books and articles on jewelry appraisal.

  Educational Paths  
Gemologists generally require a combination of formal instruction and on-the-job experience. Employers prefer to hire gemologists who have a diploma in gemology. There are full-time courses, seminars, as well as correspondence courses available. Other courses to consider are in jewelry arts, geology, chemistry and physics. Those planning on going into business on their own may also consider taking some courses in merchandising, business administration, and marketing. Keep in mind, however, that advancement in this occupation generally requires a large financial investment.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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