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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Introduction to Gemology: Barbara Smigel, PhD, GG.

Hello, I'm Barbara Smigel .....

How do they form? * Why do they shine? * What sets value in a gem? * How can you spot a simulant or synthetic? * What creates a cat'seye or star in a gem? * How can you tell one red gemstone like a ruby, from another like a red garnet, or a piece of red glass? * Which gems are best for jewelry and why? * Where and how are gems mined? * How are they cut and polished? * What is the toughest gemstone? (No, it's not diamond!) * What the heck are these?

If you're interested in learning about gemology from a scientific rather than from a commercial or artistic viewpoint, then you are in the right place (not that either art or commerce are unimportant or will be ignored, they just won't be our main focus.)

This is a series of lessons that I've developed as part of a course that I teach at College of Southern Nevada, where I'm an Emeritus Professor. But you don't need to be a registered student to use these materials! As you go through the lectures and essays, you'll see references to text readings, homework assignments, self quizzes, discussions, and exams which are meant for the registered students only.
The down side is that you won't be able to access the actual course website and the materials posted there, unless you are a registered student. The up side is that you're welcome to freely browse the contents located here, and there are no tests, grades, or time schedules to worry about. I've posted a sample course syllabus for your information, but none of the rules, timelines, or expectations listed therein apply to you, the casual visitor or independent student.

This free Gemology Information is provided by Dr. Smigel's retail website Artistic Colored Stones:

About Dr. Barbara W. Smigel

Stone Collector/Beginning Gemology Student
Many years ago a chance encounter with a little book on gemstones changed my life. At that time, I was a more than 20 year veteran professor of biology, and had always thought of stones primarily as places for bugs to hide under. :-)

As I looked through the book I thought, "Gee, I'd like one of those, and one of those, and one of those..." I soon began collecting gemstones, starting, of course, with the more common ones but rapidly getting into the rare, exotic and expensive! Because I wanted to be sure I was getting what I was paying for, I enrolled in "Gem Indentification" and later all of the gemology courses with GIA (Gemological Institute of America).

The next logical step was to learn to cut stones myself. Not being the type of person who can learn easily from illustrations in books, I sought out a mentor from our local gem and mineral club. He was kind enough to let me sit by his side and watch him facet, and later cut stones on his machine. I was hooked. I ordered my own equipment and, to be honest, made every mistake it is possible for a new cutter to make--at least three times. But, ultimately, I got the hang of it. Before too long I had reached the point of no return -- too many gems piling up. The only way I could continue cutting the high grade gem material that I loved was to sell some of it, so I started this business.
Becoming a Gem Merchant
Initially, sales were by mail order via classified ads, and locally by word of mouth. The ACS website debuted on the internet in August of 1997 with a few dozen stones for sale, all of which I cut myself. As time went on, and the website became more and more popular, I slowly acquired my associations with the select group of affiliated cutters whose work I purchase or consign.

At present, I am just an occasional contributor of stones to the site, generally just a piece or two per year, as time permits. When I do have the great luxury and pleasure of some free time for cutting, I use an Ultra Tec machine and tend to favor geometric and freeform designs and Barion cuts especially in rare gem species and varieties. The stones that I cut are identified with "BWS" after the description, other letters indicate the various affiliated cutters (see below) whose works I admire. and whose contributions enrich my site offerings so much.

Becoming a Gemologist/Gemology Teacher
By 2001 it was impossible for me to continue to cut stones, run a business, teach full time and have a family life. As a result, I "retired" from my college biology teaching job to concentrate more energy on my gem interests. (Semi-retired is more accurate, as I still teach classes as an Emeritus Professor at Community College of Southern Nevada, here in Las Vegas, only now I'm teaching Introductory Gemology for the Geology Department.)
In April, 1998 I obtained the Colored Stone Diploma, and in September, 2003 I received the Graduate Gemologist credential (GG) from GIA. I continue to be an obessive gemstone collector.

Instruction in Gemology
After obtaining the GG, I began preparing a science-based introductory gemology course for the geology department at Community College of Southern Nevada. I began teaching this course in Fall, 2004 in a traditional on-campus format. As of Fall, 2005, an internet verison became available through CCSN which makes the course available to students anywhere in the country (or in the world for that matter) through the college's distance education department.
If you'd like to learn more about the science of gemology, but don't want to take an official course with fees, grades, credits and deadlines, I've created a free version open to anyone, which you can access at this link:

Jewelry Design
Jewelry design has been one of my continuing interests and aspirations. A few years ago, BWS/FS Designs made their debut on the website, and are exclusive to ACS. My designs are primarily sleek, contemporary pendants, and pin/pendants, in gold with rare and unusual stones in interesting combinations. They have been fabricated to perfection by Felipe Sandoval, Master Jeweler and Goldsmith.

This free Gemology Information is provided by Dr. Smigel's retail website Artistic Colored Stones:

On that site you will find the Gem of the Month: Each month this section features either a topic of interest to gem lovers or one special gemstone with background on the material and its value. well as the "Ask Barbara" page: Each month, on this page, I'll answer gemological or other pertinent questions sent to me by email or through the "Ask a Question" link above.

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