The Groom Club had a wonderful opportunity to interview with Lisa Rosen from IGS and ask her a few questions about the International Gem Society and gemology in general. Lisa is the CEO and has been working with IGS for many years and took over stewardship of the company along with her husband Seth when the former founder stepped down and retired in 2012.
Now let’s get into the questions!
A: Gemology is the science of gemstones, and to be more specific gemstones can be precious, which includes the main 4 gems, Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires, and emeralds, or semi-precious, which includes all other gemstones. We’ve even taken it down to the mineral level. So we really look at the science and chemical makeup of precious stones, semi-precious stones and minerals. Using sophisticated tools and computers, gemologists can do a deep dive into the molecular makeup of gems and minerals and find the key differences between compositions that give gems their lovely colors, shine, and other characteristics.
A: So there is no one official way to become a gemologist. There are plenty of options for courses from various institutes across the world. At these institutes prospective gemologists learn all about precious and semi precious gemstones and how to identify them using the proper equipment. However, most of these courses are very expensive and require you to be in-person in the gem labs. The founder of IGS, Donald Clark, had a different vision for gemology. He aimed to make becoming a gemologist more accessible and affordable for those who could not go the traditional route. He came up with a curriculum that can be delivered online and for a significantly cheaper price. All that is required is a home lab setup, including the essential gemology tools, which will be a valuable investment and still cheaper than other options. IGS sends a gem kit to test the knowledge gained from the online courses and if the gems are identified correctly then the student can become an IGS certified gemologist. Many course options can cost someone thousands of dollars, but IGS can turn you into a gemologist for under 600$.
A: Our motto at IGs is Never stop learning. The field of gemology, when you include mineralogy, is massive, so when you become a member of IGS you get access to the IGS learning center which includes over 700 articles, a forum where you can communicate with thousands of IGS members across the world, and gem price guides. People frequently use the learning center to identify the type and value of their gem, other people utilize IGS gemology courses. There are two main courses that IGS members can take. The first is a professional gemologist course, which focuses on colored gemstones. The second is a diamond specialist course which solely focuses on diamonds. Supplementing these courses are a multitude of mini courses which do a deep dive on specific gems and other topics. IGS is constantly adding to their learning center to further improve their curriculum Every quarter more mini courses are being added to the learning center as well as two articles published weekly. So If you’re looking to learn more about a specific gemstone and are asking questions like “ I’m interested in buying an emerald as an engagement ring stone, what does a treated emerald look like versus an untreated emerald” because there’s a difference in prices, or “What does a natural gemstone look like versus a synthetic gemstone or a Colombian emerald versus, you know, some kind of emerald from somewhere else?” So when you become an IGS member you get access to all of these tools to help expand your knowledge of gemology.
A: We have something for everyone. We have something for a hobbyist who enjoys rockhounding and wants to try and identify and understand what they found. We have a lot of folks who are professionals who are looking to work in a jewelry store or a gem lab or even a mine. In the past two to three years we here at IGS have really spun up our content for the casual consumers. We have content for people who are looking to buy an engagement ring and want to learn about what to look for, how to buy it,how to buy a diamond online, what are the latest styles, what are the options for different budgets and many other topics. We have a lot of articles on price and so we really pride ourselves on being able to serve all varieties of people who are interested in gems, jewelry or gemology.
A: We have an army of gem dealers as members at the IGS and we send them surveys to get price information for gemstones. We also have a team of advisors who are in the trade of gem dealing who advise us on prices. So really it is an amalgam of professionals who helps inform us on the current value of gemstones.
A: So obviously, the biggest piece of advice is do your research and do your homework. Make sure you know what you’re buying. There’s all types of different grades for different things. For example, if you’re looking for a colored gemstone and you want to buy a ruby, because maybe that’s your partner’s birthstone, make sure you’re very well educated on rubies and the origin of different rubies and quality. You know what determines quality in a ruby? Because it’s very easy to be taken for a ride if you’re not well-educated. The same thing goes for diamonds. I think the biggest problem with diamonds is there’s just so much choice, especially now with lab diamonds. And so it can be very overwhelming so when I advise people on diamonds, I say start with your budget because there’s something for every budget, but there’s always going to be something prettier that’s a little more expensive. So make sure you’re clear on your budget. Then I say, look at the style of the person that you’re shopping for because you want to make sure that you purchase something that you know fits with your partner’s style, and there’s all different ways to determine style.We even have a quiz to help determine someone’s style. So I think budget and style are the two most important factors. The cliche that I use is from the Sex and the City episode where Carrie finds out that Aidan is going to propose and he bought her a pear diamond. And that was horrific, she was freaking out that he bought her a pear. She didn’t want a pear and the whole episode was about the drama around this pear shaped diamond.
A: Funnily enough pears are actually making a comeback, what was out of style 20 years ago has now become popular again. What’s also making a comeback are old euro and mine cuts, I’m seeing a lot more of those come across my desk, but if we were just going with three styles I would say the most popular are a round solitaire, round halo, and a square halo.
A: So it started with Debeers. So, you know, diamonds are not actually rare and basically it was a marketing campaign by DeBeers in the thirties or forties. they needed to boost sales.And so they ran a bunch of ads around diamond engagement rings and that you should spend three months salary on the diamond. that originated as a marketing campaign and sort of took hold as a mainstream belief. It was probably like, to my mind, one of the most successful marketing campaigns probably in history and diamonds became really,really mainstream because people thought that they were really valuable, really rare. But they’re not, they’re not, they’re plentiful. And, you know, there are a few companies that control the supply and demand of diamonds and we’re very interested in watching how lab diamonds disrupt the market for mined diamonds
A: I think over the next ten years, I think it’s a little longer term because you still have people who think that there’s a stigma attached to lab grown because lab grown diamonds,for a long time, we’re called synthetic. I think there’s a belief that people think lab grown diamonds aren’t real diamonds, even though they are grown right there in the lab, just like in the earth. They are real diamonds. And I think the younger generations, like younger folks who are getting engaged, are going to care less and less about whether it’s grown in a lab or in the earth. They’re going to care more and more about price and quality size potentially, and also the social aspects of buying a lab diamond. If you buy a lab diamond, it’s not a conflict diamond. It’s not funding wars in Africa or even the war in Ukraine because Russia is such a huge supplier of rough diamonds to the market. I believe they supply 30% of the world’s rough diamonds,and those stones then go to India and other places to be cut because there’s no real record of the chain of custody. You have now way of knowing whether what you’re buying in the store came from Russia and is therefore funding their war on Ukraine.But when you buy a lab grown diamond, you don’t have those concerns. You can be a lot more socially and environmentally conscious. And so I think the younger generations are going to care a lot about buying sort of a conflict free. More environmentally friendly diamonds and, I think, lab grown will probably start eroding the prices of mined. I think you’ll always have the people who will want to know that their diamond came from the earth rather than a lab, but I think the market forces will even out. So, yes, I think the market for lab grown will definitely impact the market for natural diamonds. I think it’ll still take a while because it has to sort of shake that stigma of being a fake diamond. Because of that stigma, I think the resale value of a lab grown diamond isn’t the same as a natural diamond. Diamonds for the most part in the 1 to 2 carat range that people are buying for engagement rings are not good investments. Like you’re not going to recover your money on that purchase, but you’ll recover even less I think on the lab grown, it’ll be harder to resell than a natural.
A: So you basically need a piece of sophisticated lab equipment to be able to tell whether it’s a lab or lab grown or natural. Any jeweler who can tell you that, like, I mean, the technology has gotten so good, it’s just it’s now it’s pretty much upon you just gotta look down at the molecules and see. I think that a lot of the lab grown may have inscriptions and stuff like that that maybe you can see with the loop. But like from a pure, you know, the sparkle, the cut, the clarity, No, you cannot tell the difference, chemically they’re identical. It’s the same process as what’s happening in the earth it’s just in a contained,scientific setting where they induce the growth. It’s a high pressure, high temperature environment that they can simulate in the lab and the technology.The reason why they can do it at scale now is because the cost of the technology has come down over time. It used to be very expensive to do it, which is why you didn’t see any lab grown diamonds. It just didn’t make sense economically. But the unit economics of creating a lab grown diamond or such that they can create lab grown diamonds at scale. That’s why you can see stuff like at LightBox who’re selling lab grown diamonds for $800 a carat.
A: I’ve never actually been in a lab that’s been growing diamonds, but most of the stuff that I’ve seen for sale is top quality color, top quality clarity, because they can be highly selective. And my husband was telling me that you can get a four carat ash of top quality, top clarity for something crazy like $10,000 a carat. I look at things like James Allen and Blue Nile and LightBox and Angora and what they have for sale. The difference in the price isn’t that huge when you jump between sizes or clarity grades, not as much as mined diamonds. You know, you can still get the full spectrum of different colors, but still you make it different colors. I mean, if you look at LightBox, it’s like all of our diamonds, essentially what they’re saying and this is not verbatim, but it’s like “all of our diamonds are ideal cut, f color” For $800 a carat.
A: I’m just saying diamonds are a terrible investment unless you are buying the top,top quality stuff like argyle pink diamonds, which are basically pink diamonds from a mine in Australia that’s closed. You know, it’s like a million bucks a carat, literally. This is the rarest.
Yeah, they’re super rare, like red diamonds, really high quality canary yellow diamonds in big sizes.There are people who start diamond funds where they actually hold the material and it will appreciate over time.But if you’re looking to buy a one carat or a one and a half or two carat, it’s a terrible investment.You shouldn’t be buying diamonds like that to hedge against inflation. Diamonds are pretty much just a straight consumer expense, a high consumption expense. Don’t expect to get your money out of it. You could sell it for something, but you’ll never get your original investment.
Interested in more gemological content or becoming an IGS member? Head over to the International Gem Society to check out their in-depth articles and tools!