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Taking your first steps in the gem trade

Any new venture can be daunting and taking your first steps in the gem trade is no exception, especially when so many dealers and insiders seem to have been in the trade for generations. It’s not always the case, though. I’m one example – I’ve been fascinated by gemstones for as long as I can remember, but I was 46 before I finally bit the bullet and started training with the GIA!

Along the way, I’ve had many interesting conversations about routes into the gem trade. I know there are many of you novices out there – artisan jewellers, enthusiasts and hobbyists who would like to know more about what steps you need to take, so this blog contains some pearls of wisdom from those who have travelled that road.

The first thing to remember is not to let lack of experience put you off. Everyone has to start somewhere. Drive and determination is key – if you’ve got the passion, you’ll get the results. For Mark Smith, who I recently met up with in Thailand, it was an adult education course at night school that lit his fire. He went on to study Gemmology and Horology, initially planning to concentrate on clock-making. Spending 1 year of his course in Madagascar changed all that, and Mark instead decided to combine his love of travelling and gemstones. He started doing a few gem shows and built up gradually from there.

Mark says that proper training with a respected institution like the GIA or FGA is really important. You can also study Gemmology at university – Birmingham City University for example, has a degree course in Gemmology and Jewellery. There are various free or low cost courses online you could try to whet your appetite and see if study is for you. It’s a challenge, he says, but you’ll find a way if you really want it.

Another important tip is to make the most out of your connections. “But what if I don’t have any?” I hear you say. Well there’s an easy way to resolve that – get out there and introduce yourself to people! Visit gem shows and you’ll find tons of people on the circuit who are super friendly and willing to share their knowledge and experience with you. Watch deals being done and look at what people are buying. You’ll soon start to pick up the basics.

Lucy Crowther of Minka Jewels got into gemstones after working for a large jewellery company in Jaipur, India. “I used to sit in on the stone buying and I really loved watching the traders come in with so many incredible parcels,” she says. After a while, she got to know the tiny movements and secret handshakes that were used to negotiate a price.

Inspired by her experience in Jaipur, she trained as a gemmologist at the Gem-A and then landed a job with a top Hatton Garden gemstone trader, where she learned even more.

Don’t take on too much at once, especially while you’re still learning the ropes. Sophie Rodari, who I met in Sri Lanka, got into trading gemstones through her passion for travelling, fashion and nature. She says that her strategy was to start small and concentrate on a specific gem type. She based her choice of gemstone on the market she was targeting and the gems she was most attracted to.

By concentrating on a specific gem type, you won’t end up overwhelmed by too much information. If you’re a jeweller, you’ll almost certainly also end up with a more coherent collection.

Taking your first steps in the gem trade, then, is really like taking your first steps in anything: educate yourself, learn from those who’ve been there before you and make sure you start small.

Good luck! If you would like more tips and advice, I’m happy to have a private consultation either by phone or in person. Get in touch!

Author of Gemstone Detective

Be sure | Be smart | Buy with confidence

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