Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gemology Lab Classes at GIA Hong Kong

I started my education at the Gemological Institute of America, knowing right away that it would be a long and fulfilling journey. Now back home to finish the several hundred gem identifications from GIA, I still reminisce about the many laboratory classes I took while in Hong Kong.

It started with the diamond grading sessions, which was a tedious (but rewarding) experience. In that class, I learned more about the world's most famous mineral than I ever have in my entire life. It was also in this class that I met my mentor; Alan Chiu, and my good friends Elisa and Samson. Not knowing how to speak Cantonese, Elisa showed me the best places to have a good lunch after long morning hours in the lab. During the course, I learned how to use the planet's smallest ruler to gauge precise measurements and impeccable angles in more than several dozen natural stones. It was also the first time I became familiar with the GIA DL-Scope; a favorite instrument of mine to this day.

When I came back to Hong Kong for the second time, I was met with a couple of friendly faces and new personalities. It was the beginning of October and we started our lab on colored stones with Alan introducing the students to each other. I met Charlotte from Shenzhen, China during the first day of class. She traveled back and forth everyday to attend the laboratory classes, which were held once every year. Soon after that, I realized that while a lot of my classmates were in different industries, majority of the class was indeed rooted deeply in the Hong Kong jewelry trade. While this course was a great eye-opener to the world of colored stones, the next course was the one with all the hard-to-master instruments.

I took the introductory pearl grading course during late nights, but even with the long hours everyday I still found joy in the newfound information I was able to absorb minute by minute. Here, Stella Lee; director of GIA Hong Kong led us to learn a lot about Asia's most popular organic gem. We examined troves of Tahitian, South Sea and Akoya pearls, as well as the new spice colors produced by China's freshwater pearl farms near Shanghai.

The gem identification laboratory course refined my knowledge of the integral gemological instruments. Our teachers; Stella and Annie, were pro's in the field and shared a great deal of insight previously unknown to me. The refractometer, polariscope, and spectroscope were among some of the various instruments we were required to use in order to identify several dozen minerals from scratch. We used a fiber optic cold light source for the spectrum viewing, which proved to be a daunting task. Short wave and long wave UV light, and a hydrostatic method were also used to find out other basic properties like fluorescence and specific gravity.

I became close friends with some of my previous classmates who also returned for that course as well. During the breaks I spent time talking about jewelry and branding phenomena with my buddy Nelson who worked successfully for many years at Van Cleef and Arpels. Good chats with him and my friend Gary led to my curiosity in learning more about the exciting Hong Kong market. Gary and Nelson also brought me to a good place to buy gem equipment, which was a welcome sight for me (because it's terribly hard to find those at home.)

After the initial sessions, I hung out with Loh who worked in the Malaysian jewelry trade and AB who came previously from the Indian gemstone industry. The lunch sessions were as much an eye opener as the classes because a lot of these people were quite knowledgeable about the industry.
Before our final exams, our group of buddies had a 'last supper' at a local Hong Kong style diner. Despite the usually crowded eateries, we found a place where the ten of us could actually sit together! I'll most likely hear more stories about these sessions the next time I make a stopover at Hong Kong and meet up with everyone again.

It's still a long road before I earn the G.G. diploma from GIA, but these experiences have given me a bright motivation to push forward and learn as much as I can about being a professional gemologist. It's a path I know that I'm going to master one day. The learning doesn't end though, and that's the beauty of my trade. I can't get enough of this colorful world. :-)

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