Gem Testing Labs • Tips on Choosing a Colored Gem Testing Lab • Lotus Gemology

How does one go about choosing a good gem testing lab? The gemologists at Lotus Gemology provide the following guide to help customers make the best decisions when choosing a good gem testing lab.

Gem Testing Labs and Tips on Choosing a Good Gem Testing Lab

Most people only purchase a fine gemstone a few times in their lives. As a result, they need guidance to ensure that they receive the best value for their money.

Choosing a Gem Supplier

Step one in any major purchase is selecting a reliable seller. There are several things to look for here, including:

  • Number of years in business: It is always a good sign when a business has been in operation over an extended period of time, particularly if they have operated in the same location or community. This implies that their customers have been satisfied with their services and the value offered. Conversely, red flags would be when a business is constantly moving or, particularly, changing its name.
  • Referrals. Businesses that are successful generally have no problem supplying potential customers with references of others they have dealt with. In fact, this practice is so important in the gem and jewelry business that in the US, an entire independent organization (Jewelers Board of Trade) exists to assist trade members with dealings with others in the business. They maintain a rating system and businesses that receive too many complaints that are not properly resolved will be downgraded.
  • There are many other factors as well, including customer service, range of products to select from, etc.

Choosing a Good Gem Testing Lab

Once you have made a purchase (or have a prospective purchase), it needs to be verified. This brings us to the subject of how to choose a good gem testing lab. Gemologists and gem testing labs are like referees at a sporting match. Their presence is designed to provide a neutral party that sits between buyers and sellers, ensuring that the game is fairly played. But just like a buyer choosing a seller, one should also carefully choose a gem lab. Here are some of the things to look for.

Location, Location, Location

In a field where determining the origin of a gem is so important, it is surprising that some labs list business addresses which are little more than letter drops. This does not exactly engender trust and is a red flag. Additionally, one often sees lab reports where the words "GIA" or "FGA" are even bigger than the name of the lab itself. For those new to this field, you might believe you are looking at a document issued by the GIA or Gem-A. This is often done with questionable intent and is another major red flag.

Owner, Owner, Owner

Who owns a gem lab? It's a simple but obvious question. Is the lab a neutral entity, or perhaps is it owned in part or whole by people involved the sales of gems and/or jewelry? If gemologists are supposed to be neutral parties, how can they avoid perceived or even actual conflict-of-interest when clients own part or all of the business? Lotus Gemology is 100% owned by its founding gemologists. It has no outside investors or partners.

Lotus Gemology's Bangkok office in the heart of the city's gem district. Lotus Gemology is a Thai company through and through and is proud of its Thai heritage.

Lotus Gemology's Bangkok office in the heart of the city's gem district. Lotus Gemology is a Thai company through and through and is proud of its Thai heritage.

Working Experience of the Gem Lab's Gemologists

Similar to selecting a seller, one should inquire about the number of years the lab's gemologists have been practicing their trade. While different people learn at different rates, the practical minimum for a good gemologist today is at least five years of daily gem testing experience.

Professional Qualifications of the Gemologists

There are many fine gemological training programs around the world, with the two best known being the Graduate Gemologist (G.G.) diploma from the Gemological Institute of America and the Fellow of the Gemmological Association (F.G.A.) diploma from the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A). Like universities, generally the better the program, the longer and more extensive the institutional publishing record. All of the founders of Lotus Gemology have F.G.A. diplomas from the Gem-A.

Gemological Publishing Record

One of the chief ways that gemologists gain respect is through publishing. As any academic or scientist can tell you, the phrase "publish or perish" is of great importance. Gemology is an academic and scientific exercise that involves extending the field via new discoveries. When gemologists make such discoveries, it is incumbent on the gemologists to publish them. This is not just to let others know of the discovery, but also to allow their peers test the information and try to verify it. Thus, expert gemologists and trustworthy gem labs have lengthy publishing records, particularly in peer-reviewed journals. Beware of the gem-testing lab that will not provide you with a list of their publications, nor offer such a list on their web sites. This usually means they have little, if any, publishing record. A list of articles and books published by Lotus gemologists can be found here.

Just a few of the books on gems and gem testing that the gemologists at Lotus Gemology have written. A solid publishing record is a good sign of competence in gemology.

Just a few of the books on gems and gem testing that the gemologists at Lotus Gemology have written. A solid publishing record is a good sign of competence in gemology. A full list of Lotus Gemology's published œuvre is available here.

Professional Respect of the Gemologists at the Gem Testing Lab

Some gemologists command far greater respect from their peers than others because of the quality of their work over time. This professional respect manifests itself in things such as industry awards and invitations extended to them to give lectures on topics relating to their expertise. Lotus Gemology's gemologists have received numerous industry awards in recognition of their work and have been invited to deliver lectures to different groups around the world.

Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes is one of the world's best known gemologists and has lectured around the world. Here he delivers an address on the colors of ruby and sapphire in Wuhan, China in May 2019. Lotus gemologists are much in demand as speakers.

Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes is one of the world's best-known gemologists and has been invited to lecture across the globe. Here he delivers an address on the colors of ruby and sapphire in Wuhan, China in May 2019. Lotus gemologists are much in demand as speakers. You can see a list of groups they have addressed in the past here.

Gemological Experience both in the Gem Lab and in the Field

One of the tasks that colored gemstone labs are asked to do today is to determine the country of origin and the presence/absence and type of treatments. This requires extensive experience in the field, collecting samples from known localities and samples that are positively not treated. Labs that do not have this field experience will have a hard time building up a proper reference collection.

Faceted sapphire from Ilakaka, Madagascar from a Lotus Gemology client, along with rough sapphire from the Lotus Gemology reference collection. A good reference collection is a must for a good gem lab.

Faceted sapphire from Ilakaka, Madagascar from a Lotus Gemology client, along with rough sapphire from the Lotus Gemology reference collection. A good reference collection is a must for a good gem lab.

In addition, because most gem materials are minerals or rocks that come out of the earth, to truly understand them at the highest level, gemologists must spend part of their time doing research in the field. If gemologists spend all their time in the lab, they will understand only half the story. Thus, when comparing gem labs, look for those that employ gemologists with both lab and field experience.

Lotus Gemology's Wimon Manorotkul, Richard Hughes and Billie Hughes trying their hand at Ilakaka's Banque Suisse deposit in Madagascar. Such field trips are a vital part of gemology.

Lotus Gemology's Wimon Manorotkul, Richard Hughes and Billie Hughes trying their hand at Ilakaka's Banque Suisse deposit in Madagascar. Such field trips are a vital part of gemology.

Gem Lab Reference Library

It is not enough for a lab to have a solid reference sample collection. A good gem lab also needs a solid reference library close at hand, where literature searches can be made quickly as questions arise. Lotus Gemology is fortunate in having direct access to the personal library of Richard Hughes and Wimon Manorotkul. Built up over four decades and featuring over 2000 volumes and papers (with the earliest dating to the 1630's), it is one of the largest and finest gemological libraries in private hands. Lotus Gemology has also created the Four Treasures, a free, online searchable gemological database with over 5000 references to assist researchers.

A few volumes from the personal library of Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes and Wimon Manorotkul. It is critical for a good gem lab to have access to a wide variety of book on gemology and mineralogy and the related fields. The internet, while quite useful, is no replacement for a solid reference library.

A few volumes from the personal library of Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes and Wimon Manorotkul. It is critical for a good gem lab to have access to a wide variety of book on gemology and mineralogy and the related fields. The internet, while quite useful, is no replacement for a solid reference library.

Clear Treatment Disclosure

Apart from origin, the identification of treatments is of huge importance, as they can have a significant impact on value. One of the ways to judge the trustworthiness of a lab is to examine how they deal with treatment disclosure. At Lotus Gemology, we believe treatment disclosure should be explicit and clear. Which is why all Lotus reports have color coded covers. Gold covers are reserved for gems that show no evidence of enhancement of any kind beyond ordinary cutting and polishing. Silver covers are used for gems treated by normal industry-standard enhancements, while black covers are applied to gems which are either heavily treated or man-made (synthetics, glass).

Lotus Gemology is the only lab in the world to color code its reports so that a clear deliniation is made between gems that are natural and untreated (Lotus Gold), gems that are enhanced by industry standard methods (Lotus Silver) and gems that are heavily treated or synthetic (Lotus Black).

Lotus Gemology is the only lab in the world to color code its reports so that a clear delineation is made between gems that are natural and untreated (Lotus Gold), gems that are enhanced by industry standard methods (Lotus Silver) and gems that are heavily treated or synthetic (Lotus Black).

Equipment

Some might be surprised that this is the last topic we will mention, but that is for a reason. The most important piece of equipment in any gem lab is not plugged into a wall; it is that which rests behind a pair of human eyes. This determines the accuracy of the findings of any quality gem testing lab. Most major gem labs today are equipped with a variety of modern instruments. These include, but are not limited to, gemological and Raman microscopes, photoluminescence, UV-Vis-NIR and infrared spectrometers, x-ray fluorescence, LIBS and other trace element chemistry analyzers.

Lotus Gemology employs a number of sophisticated instruments to assist in their gem testing, such as the UV-Vis-NIR and Raman spectrometers shown above. But the most important instrument (and the most difficult to master) remains the gemological microscope.

Lotus Gemology employs a number of sophisticated instruments to assist in their gem testing, such as the UV-Vis-NIR and Raman spectrometers shown above. But the most important instrument (and the most difficult to master) remains the gemological microscope.

But having an instrument is not enough. You have to know how to operate it and, most importantly, understand how to interpret the data. Some labs try to impress their clients with instrument jargon and lab data on the reports. This is just a distraction because it takes years of experience to be able to properly interpret that data, something that almost no client has.

That said, any good gem testing lab should be willing to sit down and explain to their client how and why they made the decisions they did. If a lab refuses to do this, it is a red flag. At Lotus Gemology, we are always willing to discuss our findings and take it one step further by offering free rechecks for any of our reports. We don't know everything and we sometimes make mistakes. We cannot claim perfection but do our best to correct imperfections when they are brought to our attention.

Despite the major advances in gem testing equipment, the vast majority of decisions regarding both origin and treatments involve the gemological microscope. And that, as we said before, involves the organ behind our eyes. The skill in using the microscope is largely dependent on experience.

Lotus Gemology's Billie Hughes creating a photomicrograph of an inclusion in a gem. Lotus Gemology's Hyperion Inclusion Database features over 1000 meticulously described and referenced images, and is open to the public free of charge. It is our way of giving back to the industry that has given us so much.

Lotus Gemology's Billie Hughes creating a photomicrograph of an inclusion in a gem. Lotus Gemology's Hyperion Inclusion Database features over 1000 meticulously curated and referenced images and is open to the public free of charge. It is our way of giving back to the industry that has given us so much.

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