Beginner Gem Buying

Just a little clarification to explain the logic behind what seems to be my random spelling of the word “gemmology”.  In case you didn’t know, I’m British, and I live in Malaysia.  Both countries spell “gemmology” with a double “M”.  Americans, in their constant effort to simplify our language (for better or worse), like to remove letters wherever possible.  Therefore, gemmology becomes gemology and jewellery becomes jewelry.  So, when you notice that I use both spellings, there is a reason.  I spell everything according to the British way. However, when referring to companies, I use the exact spelling of the company name.  The end result is that my writing often appears to skip frivolously between spellings, but I promise in this case, it’s not frivolity on my part.

Anyway, after the brief digression, let’s continue………..

When I tell anyone about my gemmological qualifications, I usually get requests to identify stones.  A friend will ask: “What is this stone?”; “How much is this worth?”; Want to do business, I have a friend in Afghanistan?  Unfortunately, as with most things in life, it’s rarely as simple as it first seems.

Sure, any gemmologist can take a great guess, which is usually reasonably accurate.  But, when dealing with gemstones (some of which are worth more than your average car) it’s not wise to rely on guess work alone.  And so, that is where the science of gemmology comes in, we deduce the identity of a gemstone by relying on a series of tests, and a complex process of elimination.  To become a respectable gemmologist takes years of practice, and is not a skill that can be in a day, or even a month.   However for anyone wishing to study the fascinating world of gemmology in depth, I would recommend a few great (and free) online resources to begin with: – Pretty much the number one in gemmology worldwide, at least according to their own opinions anyway. – A fantastic American online resource for all things gemmology related, they have a very helpful forum and never frown upon newbie questions. – Barbara offers a very comprehensive gemmology course online for free!! – Owned by renowned gemmologist Richard Hughes, this site offers informative and entertaining information packaged in an easy to navigate site.  The company, located in Bangkok Thailand, also offers gemstone grading and certification.


For anyone wishing to take certified diploma courses, I highly recommend:

Gemological Institute of America – Their graduate gemologist programme, is recognised and offered worldwide.

Gemmological Association of Great Britain – A slightly more scientific programme, it is offered worldwide, however it is not as widely recognised as the GIA’s

Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences – Based in Bangkok, I haven’t studied here, but would love to!


Back to the basics

Today we are not going to look into identifying gemstones, we are going to simply look into things that make us feel a little cautious and to ask a few further questions.  These are not firm rules, but hopefully will provide a little food for thought.

Flat bottom cabochons – especially in star stones.  If the material appears to be a very fine colour and quality (bright and clear), but the base of a cabochon is flat, alarm bells should ring.  Most good quality gemstones are cut to retain as much weight as possible, having a flat bottom removes extra weight but its quicker to do – so is usually indicative of low quality or synthetic material.

Scissor cuts – this is one of the simplest cuts, and is often used on synthetic gemstones, especially CZ.

Bright, bold and excessive amounts of fire in gemstones – these are often CZ, especially if they are cheap!

The word “Hydro” – this is basically just another word for synthetic, the sellers use this because it sounds better than “synthetic”.

Gas bubbles – these only occur in natural glass, never alone in crystalline materials – they are tiny, but a sure give away.

Concave facets – these indicate a stone was cast in a mold, rather than being cut.  Always a good idea to check the bottom of cabochons for this.

Turquoise and Lapis – this can be difficult to identify, but often it turns out to be dyed marble or another similar material.

Warm to the touch – this indicates plastic or glass, crystalline materials conduct heat away from the source at a quicker rate and therefore feel cooler to the touch.

Please bear in mind – these are only tips that will hopefully save you from ending up with an impressive collection of Cubic Zirconia, but are in no way set rules!  Gemmology is a fun area of study, but it is still a science that requires careful consideration and testing to be accurate.  However, after the note of caution, the only way to truly learn, is to go out and buy!!  So, go…… spend a little money, no more than you would be happy to lose at blackjack, but get out there and buy.  As with anything, doing, not reading, is the only true way to learn.