Jewelry: The Ultimate Gift, Part 1

An interview with Nader Ayad, GG 1986, ISA 1992, (GIA) Graduate Gemologist and owner of Mission Hills Gallery

What is your favorite part of your job?

Helping clients to achieve their needs with a pleasant professional experience.  I also enjoy acting as a six-figure arbitrator, more simply a judge. I resolve disputes between people, involving evaluations, expert opinions, and the import and export business practice.

What is your least favorite part of your job?

Just like most people in other businesses, I dislike dealing with unhappy customers, who can’t tell what’s right and what’s wrong.

How do different cuts of gemstones affect the gem itself?

Cutting gemstones mainly affects their value, shape, and color. Gemstones are mostly acquired for their color, brilliance, and rarity, and they are sold by weight. This is important, as the gem cutter will want to cut the stone, for the best yield form rough. Gemstones have different, almost abstract, shapes in their uncut form, so it is necessary to cut it in a form closest to its rough shape to retain as much weight as possible. The best color is achieved in a gem if it is cut so that color is concentrated at the bottom of the stone. Brilliance is emphasized by cutting the best angles for maximum light to be reflected in addition to high polished facets, which contribute to the gemstone surface pleasant appearance.

Is it easy to tell between naturally occurring and synthetic gemstones?

Yes, and no. Depending on the gemstones being dealt with, a new synthetic material may be difficult to trace. It’s not always easy to tell the difference in new material.  Synthetic gemstones possess the same physical and chemical compositions as the corresponding natural stone. However, by studying the inclusions, or characteristics, within a gem, identifying how it was made makes it possible to tell. Many gem experts and gemologists studying inclusions in gemstones can even tell where it was mined! Microscopes can aid identification too; for example, seeing triangular metal platelets in alexandrite proves that it is man-made. Other than these methods, gemologists may use spectroscopes. Used in the food and space industries to identify materials, it shows color bandings of reflected light. These are always the same for each specific material.

Reflectometers measure the reflective index, RI, which measure the critical angle, and display numbers on the Reflectometer screen, of light bending at a different speed while going through a gemstone. This is synonymous to looking at your hand through water – the light is bent, and your hand looks smaller and curved. In general, analyzing gemstones is a process of elimination, using different methods. It can be difficult at times. Some materials must even be sent to a laboratory, since a gemologist can’t perform all tests.

In practice, do you deal differently with organic and inorganic gemstones?

All organic gemstones have originated from living creatures. Some examples are amber from fossilized tree sap, coral from sea creatures, jet from pressurized decayed wood, and pearls from oysters. Work involving these gemstones must be done more carefully than with inorganic minerals. These stones must be kept away from chemical agents, heat, prolonged exposure to bright light, and dry environments. Ultrasonic cleaners will also damage organic gems very quickly. However, testing is easier, because most organic fakes are made from plastic. A thermal conductivity tester will reveal a burnt, acrid smell.

Do the ways in which gemstones are formed affect how they must be extracted from the earth?

Different gemstones are mined in different ways, based on how they are formed. For example, five large tons of dirt, on average, must be removed to find a one carat diamond! Explosives are used in some emerald mines, which bedded as layers in rocks, and many gemstones do not survive the process.

Does the formation of gemstones affect the refining process?

On a polishing wheel, most gemstones are refined, or cut and polished in the same direction. On the other hand, diamonds must be turned as they are being refinished, each time in the different direction of the crystal formation, called the grain. Cutting a diamond against the grain may cause damage to the polishing wheel.

How would you compare the studies of geology and gemology? (in terms of how it feels to work in such a career, and how intriguing the studies are to you)

Gemology is technically a subset of geology that deals solely with gems and gem materials. Gemstones form under high heat and pressure under the Earth’s outer crust. The next layer of the Earth is the mantle, made of hot molten rock. All forms dealing with Earth layers comprise geological science. However, geology can aid gemology studies. According to an acquaintance, Chuck Fipke, a geologist discovered the Canadian diamond mines by tracing icebergs moving diamond soils in 100000 years journey to the Great Lakes 1 ; this was the reason for the discovery of the largest diamond mines in Canada, The Ekati mine, Lac de Gras Northwest Territories. In addition, ants have been getting water from a river in Australia to build their colonies. As the mud mounds had shining spots, scientists followed the ants and found bigger diamonds at the riverbanks!