Gem Stone Certificates

Gem Stone Certificates

Tourmaline gem stone

Keep in mind that these are my personal opinions and experiences, other people may have different ones. The short answer is some times. But often NO gem stone certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on. I can already hear the flak I am going to catch because of this article, but here are my experiences and opinions.

OK, what do I mean? Well there are quite a few things that influence a gem stone certificate. But the most important thing to remember is a certificate of any kind is only as good, honest, and accurate as the person writing it.

When you pick a gemologist to do a gem certificate for you, ask questions, find out if the gemologist is experienced and has a good reputation. This is critical to the quality of any gem certificate that is for any gem stone you may buy or evaluate.

Here is an article that you should read. Common Sense #3 – Experts and Ethics

Basically there are several types of gemstone certificates. There are gem stone certificates that are done by a gemologist with a degree from some where like GIA (Gem Institute of America) or one of the other accredited schools. There are many schools. Gemstone certificates that are done by a GIA gemologist or some other well known gemology school graduate in theory should be reasonably acceptable. But do not depend on them.

The sales pitch made by GIA and other institutes and the people selling stones with these certificates is that these types of gem certificates are all quality and consistent. The “party line” that is put out by these people is that their gem certificates are not only industry standard, but honest and trust worthy.

The real facts are some of the certificates are good and some are not and that there are also political things (in my opinion ) effecting the grading criteria. More on this subject later.

The truth of the matter is that there are gemologist that just barely pass the tests and have no real life experience, and frankly some people have absolutely no ethics or common sense. There are of course a few people that are top in the classes and ethics. So at best it is a mixed bag and gem stone certificates vary as widely as the people writing them and the grading systems being used (there is not an international standard system).

When you start talking about gemstones and ethics, it is important to also realize that some people do the bare minimum required and some people go the extra mile and try to be more honest and make sure that ALL the information available is disclosed. What do I mean? Well just as an example. Some gemologists (and sellers) actually look into and check stones that are questionable and some gemologist do not.

For example in the Andisine gem stone scams, there were very, very few gemologists or dealers that would or did investigate undisclosed treatment issues, even though many people (like me) were raising serious doubts and questions about the stones for years before the scandals actually broke and became public.

Articles of interest
The continuing questionable Andesine story…?
Labradorite? What is it? Value and marketing issues…

Basically the big gem institute’s party lines were that everything was fine, they never uttered a word of caution or information. They never investigated or questioned any thing going on in the trade in my opinion. Yes, it makes me mad, these institutes at best failed to protect honest people through incompetence and politics and at worst were involved with the scams.

In the mean time the commercial interests, despite their claims of innocents, are at the least guilty of not bothering to verify their stones or ask the right questions of suppliers and yes these seller certainly know better so do the commercial interests selling the bad stones. Ethically lacking commercial interests as well as individual gem dealers selling the treated stones made millions and millions of dollars and the people buying them got taken and basically cheated in my opinion. Many if not most of the stones were treated and man-made color, not natural, valuable, or rare as claimed by the commercial sellers.

Now there were a few, and I do mean just a few gemologists and dealers that raised the alarm and questioned the Andesine. My point here is that the vast majority of the people in the trade as well as gemologists all played “do not ask any questions and do not tell any lies…” They went along because they were all making money and did not want to know what may have really been going on in Bangkok (as well as other places) with the treatments.

Note: This same kind of scam is going on in my opinion with the copper treatment of Tourmaline (Pariaba color). There are a lot of questionable things happening and I have personally seen Tourmaline treated with copper to make it blue and there are a few gemologists warning of problems. But the big commercial sellers and the gem institutes are quiet and basically doing nothing as usual in my opinion.

Also I would point out that when I and a few other people I know have asked questions and spoken up about problems in the trade on Andesine as well as other stones we were and are often attacked viciously by the dishonest people selling the treated stones. The attacks got personal and plain flat nasty.

So by ethics I mean. Do you want a seller and/or gemologist that will inform you of the ALL problems and questions that a particular gemstone may have? Some one who will say… “I thinks there is a problem here even though it is not being admitted by the trade and institutes, I do not recommend buying this stone right now until further testing or evidence is known.”


Do you want a gemologist with poor ethics that uses the excuse that the “official Institutes” have not uttered a warning and there for the gemologist follows the “party line” and never informs you of issues that might be relevant to you the buyer? By the way the majority of the graduate gemologists I know fall into the “party line” category. So as you may guess I have little to no regard for them. Right you want the person with a high standard of ethics that says “I think there maybe a problem…”

Sadly there are very few around. You noted I have a few other reservations about all gem certificates? Yes, there are more issues besides the ethics of the person (gemologist) writing the certificate, although ethics are critical. I do have some serious problems on many of those supposedly quality gemologist (GIA and others) gem certificates.

Here are some of the issues. I said this earlier but it needs to be repeated. A gem certificate is only as good, knowledgeable, honest, and accurate as the person (gemologist in this case) writing it…. and would add that quality of any gem certificate also depends on the gem grading system being used by the gemologist writing the gem certificate.

Like any thing else in the world there are a few experts, many OK trade types with reasonable or a fair amount of experience, and a lot of idiots that should not be allowed any where near a gem stone. So be careful how you choose a gemologist.

I have seen dishonest or at least what I would call “judgment impaired” people writing gem certificates more than once. Mistakes in grading happen all the time, some are honest, many are not. I have seen many grading certificates that were, lets say very questionable. I do not know if the gemologist just did not have enough experience to know what they were doing or they were less than honest and bending the results the direction they wanted.

Here is a true story. I have a friend (many actually and yes with some of them we agree to disagree on the grading issues) that is a graduate gemologist. He got a job doing in house gem certificates (certificates the sales people used to promote the sale of the stones and jewelry) for a large retail commercial jewelry company (Diamonds were the specialty of the company, but it could just as easily be colored stones). Once he had worked at the job a few weeks the bosses started to “suggest” quality grades that were several grades higher than the gem stones in question should be graded.

He ignored the “suggestions” and thought maybe he was being too sensitive, not sure about what to do or exactly what these bosses were saying. A week or two later he looked back at some of the certificates that he had done and the grades he had made… had been changed to be higher, in many cases several grades higher than he originally gave the stones. He corrected them and went to his boss to point out the problem.

He was told that another gemologist (he was the only gemologist at that branch of the company at the time, that was a flat lie) had looked at his certificates and that the stones had been graded higher. They then proceeded to give him a lecture about how his standards needed to be changed and that if a gem stone was on the border between grades, he should grade the stone up in value, not down.

My friend quit the job. Remember this is a major jewelry marketer, this type of thing happens ALL the time and many people just go along. So no, you cannot generally trust a certificate in my opinion. Especially from most of the larger commercial jewelry and stone sellers. Yes, there are a few honest ones, but frankly in my experience the honest ones are in the minority.

Note: A gem certificate from an “independent” gemologist is much more likely to be at least more accurate as far as the basics. So be aware of “in house” gem certificates, you want gem certificates done by completely independent geologists that are really independent from the seller.

Remember that just one grade difference on some stones can be thousands of dollars difference in profit. So when in doubt I grade a stone “down”, but I am an exception. Many commercial sellers bend the grades as far as they can up, to increase profits.

Another issue. I have some serious disagreements with the grading system GIA uses. In my opinion the system is… lets say slanted to give the best interpretation to many of the “commercial” cut types of gemstones and the people hustling them. The commercial cutters and the trade houses are who the institutes (other schools also) need to stay in business and their main sources of business. These commercial interests are also the business’s that hire the schools graduates, so there is a lot of buried self interest involved.

Money flows from the trade groups and commercial interests and often finds its way into the schools as “gifts” or “contributions”. This is well documented, just do a little research and you will find many articles as well as scandals in many of the gemological institutions. You will also find grading scandals, where diamonds were graded higher than they should be.

In doubt? Here is a link to GIA’s Diamond Scandal This is on the Rapaport News, one of the diamond trades main news organizations.

Here is more. Jewelry Insurance Issues

Lets say in my opinion there was/is some very questionable politics and associations involved when creating the GIA grading system and I find the system bad enough that I will not use it. That should tell you a lot…

Here are some links.

Common Sense Gemstone Grading – by Jeff R. Graham copyright 2007
Use of this Grading System – For anyone who would like to use this system.

I am not using GIA’s grading system for colored stones.

Note: Be aware that there are many gem stone grading systems, for example I think mine is the easiest and most honest. But remember because there are many different systems, you need to know what system is being used on the gem certificate and what that system means in detail. For example I have seen some sellers using a grading system that the clarity grades were completely different, in the seller’s favor as far as quality and clarity and very miss leading.

OK, you are getting the point that I am not very impressed with GIA in particular, as well as other schools/institutions that offer gem certificates or train gemologist that offer gem certificates. You are correct, I am a not very impressed. Now that being said, the schools that graduate gemologists do try to have some standards (low ones in my opinion). So a gem certificate from an accredited gemologist is better than nothing and in a few cases may be reasonably good. But do not count on it.

My advice is that, yes if possible a GIA or other well known gemologist school graduate certificate is better than nothing. Be sure the gemologist writing the certificate is completely independent from the seller. Also be sure and know which “grading system” the gemologist is using and what it means. I would very strongly point out and urge any one buying gem stones to do their home work and learn the various grading systems and at least know the basics, you need to understand the grading system(s) being used on the certificate. Some thing is better than nothing and at least with this kind of gem certificate you can get a better idea of the quality of the stone in question. As I have said the gem certificate maybe very good or very poor, it depends on the person doing it.


Learn what you are looking at yourself. Education is your best way to be sure you get what you pay for. So educate yourself.

OK there are other types of gem certificates out there in the market and these types of certificates can vary dramatically in quality. For example some of the best and most honest gem certificates I have ever seen are from quality faceters (like myself).

On the other hand some of the most dishonest gem certificates I have ever seen in my life are from some of the TV people and large dealers trying to hustle a dollar. The only way to really sort these types of gem certificates out is by the reputation of the people involved. I cannot give much advice here because they vary widely. Do your home work and educate yourself before buying expensive gem stones.

In conclusion, yes if you can get a graduate gemologist gem certificate on a stone you are interested in buying, it is not a bad idea and better than nothing. But frankly the honesty and knowledge of the seller and your own gem education are as important, if not more so. Gem certificates can vary widely so do not depend on them. They can be a guide, but consider them just that a guide, do not trust them too much.

Gem certificates from an accredited gemologist, are at least a partial defense for the average gem buyer. Education before buying gem stones is the real main defense. You want to be sure you get what you pay for? Then educate yourself.

About the author
Jeff R. Graham
The late Jeff Graham was a prolific faceter, creator of many original faceting designs, and the author of several highly-regarded instructional faceting books such as Gram Faceting Designs.
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