Do you prefer the cool sparkle of a diamond, warm luster of a pearl, or flash of color from an emerald? As a gemologist you have opportunities to handle precious and semi-precious gems on a daily basis. Gemology is the scientific study of gems and their properties, including color, origin and grades. While it may begin with a general interest in precious stones, gemologists are trained and certified professionals skilled in the identification of gemstones.
Most people you see in the front of the retail chain jewelry shops are sales staff. They know how to sell jewelry and are able to talk with customers about the qualities of stones. Behind the scenes you’ll find the bench jewelers who clean, mount, and repair jewelry, gemstones and precious metals; some may create custom designs. Gemologists are the people who understand the scientific properties of gems, buy and sell stones for jewelry shops, and identify treated and synthetic gemstones.
As a gemologist you need to understand the properties and the history of diamonds and colored stones. Certified gemologists undergo extensive training in the identification of precious and semi-precious gemstones. You must be able to use the tools of the trade, including microscopes and spectroscopes to identify real stones from synthetic. A certified gemologist grades and appraises stones, using her knowledge of color, clarity and shape. The most basic qualification is having intimate knowledge of gemstones.
The first step in becoming a gemologist is obtaining certification from a recognized gemological institute or educational program. The certification programs ensure that you have the necessary qualifications in gem identification. Most initial certification programs take between six months to one year to complete. During the program of study you learn to identify gemstones, grade diamonds and colored stones, and detect synthetic and treated gems. Most programs combine classroom work with laboratory and hands-on experience.
Specialized diplomas prepare you to develop expertise in specific areas, such as identifying and grading pearls, developing expertise in diamonds or focusing on common and unusual colored gems. Through advanced preparation you learn about the origins of the gems; and how to trace the journey from point of origin to the point of sale. You also learn the technological techniques and trends in producing and grading natural gems.
Entry-level gemologists find employment in gemological laboratories and jewelry shops where they hone their skills in identifying and working with gemstones. As professionals they are asked to analyze and evaluate gemstones; they also assist with appraisals and valuations of gems. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not distinguish gemologists from other jewelry and precious metal workers, the median salary in 2010 was approximately $35,170.
2016 Salary Information for Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers
Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers earned a median annual salary of $38,200 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, jewelers and precious stone and metal workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $27,890, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $50,410, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 37,700 people were employed in the U.S. as jewelers and precious stone and metal workers.
- Canadian Gemmological Association: Professional Gemmology Courses
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers
- Career Trend: Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers
Stephanie Maatta has been a writer for more than 10 years, with articles published in professional journals including "Library Journal" and "Reference Librarian." Many of her publications focus on professional development and career advising. Maatta holds a Ph.D. and Master of Science in library and information science from Florida State University.