Adventures in Gemology

I buy my gems very carefully from trusted, reputable sources.  I’ve got a sharp eye with a loupe and I can spot many fakes a mile away with my own trusty little eyeballs.  I send gems out to a GIA graduate gemologist for testing and verification.

In other words, we were getting along just fine, until I decided I wanted to learn the anatomy of gem innards myself. The downside to this latest obsession is that the toys are expensive, and there is a LOT to learn. There’s a reason people go to long, expensive, and often remotely located schools to learn gemology.

Just choosing the equipment was an adventure unto itself.  I try to keep my expenses as low as possible, because eventually they all have to be built into what I charge customers for finished jewelry.  Nothing in this industry comes cheap if you buy quality, and cheap can often be sadistically worthless in incalculable ways.

Never trust the little orange light.

One place I decided to economize was the purchase of the refractometer, for which I opted to pay about $400.00 less than I perhaps should have. I eagerly delved in with a packet of gems whose identity was certain. I gazed into the depths of its glowing orange bowels and read the pronouncement within.


Unless all of the gems had suddenly decided to undergo a radical change of their internal structure overnight, my new toy was pulling numbers out of its optical prism and watching my confusion with snickers of delight.  I sent it back home to live with its mother and obtained a new refractometer. After sternly warning it about the horrific fate of its misbehaving predecessor, I put it to the test.

It worked.

I heaved a sigh of relief, identified a few gems, and ran eagerly over to the computer to blog about it, because that’s what any self-respecting dork like myself does when experiencing elation few normal people are likely to share.

Why go through all of this?

Because I’m clearly a masochist. And I love you guys.

Accurate and honest representation of the gems I sell is of paramount importance to me, and I do everything I can to ensure that what I send you is accurately identified.

Crime scene extras such as gunpowder residue and DNA samples are not included, and most importantly:

The yellow tape is MINE. Allllll mine.

Want a tour of the lab?

Don your safety goggles and creepy blue gloves and follow me.

No laboratory, gem lab, evil lair of evil, or even fake FBI office is complete without a microscope, so let’s take a look over here. Feel free to lean over my shoulder and ask, “Ohhhh, is that a fingerprint inclusion?

Zeiss Stemi gemological microscope with fiber-optic ring lighting system

Allows for microscopic examination of inclusions in gemstones, which can offer clues to the species, origin, treatments, and authenticity of a stone.  Also great fun for finding out whether that tortilla is moldy in real life, or just within my paranoid imagination.  (Answer: mold.  Lots of mold.)


Measures the refractive index of gemstones, a key identifying factor which can also help identify fakes. Also, glowing orange light of doom.

Required for refractometer use: one creepy little brown vial of toxic RI fluid called methylene iodide.


No, one doesn’t raise it carefully to scan for enemy ships before surfacing. A polariscope is primarily useful for telling me whether a gem is singly or doubly refractive. Only a small handful of gem varieties are singly refractive, so this is a very useful quick tool for telling certain shiny things from other shiny things.


Used to check for pleochroism. How many colors show up through two tiny windows while viewing the stone from multiple angles help determine who the killer what the gem might or might not be.

Specific gravity scale and kit

Darkfield loupe

Cool name, equally cool gadget. It lights up the innards of the stone in a way that highlights internal inclusions and flaws, plus it sounds like something I might be able to accidentally create a black hole with.

UV Light

A specialized, exotically priced wand containing a 254nm shortwave ultraviolet light. This thing is awesome. It looks like something the TSA would use to inspect your grandmother before boarding to make sure she didn’t accidentally bring her fragmentation grenades along again.

It can make you go blind. It’s endlessly useful for making sure you got all the blood out of the carpet. And most importantly, it makes certain gemstones look like they’re attending a rave. This is very useful in identifying them, especially if they’re trying to get around under an alias.

I also have a couple of longwave UV lights, the kind that aren’t as retina-searing and also kinder on the pocketbook.

Jeweler’s loupe

Detectives have big round magnifying glasses, jewelers have loupes. It’s like a professional badge of magnification, and holds the power to make you instantly look like you know what you’re doing. It’s second only to the clipboard in the realm of arbitrary power accessories, which is probably why I own three of them.

Gemology Tools Pro

Professional gemology software. It spits out all the data a geek could possibly want about pretty rocks. Unfortunately, it cannot zoom and enhance grainy CCTV images – but good luck anyway with your bank robbery/kidnapping/crazy bus hijacker case. It sounds like fun.

P.S. I still need a bubbling beaker of something green.

Many thanks to and its many helpful experts, The Gemology, and Andrea Robinson for their inspiration, education, and assistance.