Interview with GIA Certified Gemologist Rachel Chertoff Kaminetsky – The Raw Stone

February 10, 2013

We are pleased to have the opportunity to post an interview with our newest team member - gemologist Rachel Chertoff Kaminetsky! Rachel was born in New York and grew up in the town of Efrat, Israel. After completing her BA in art history and theater from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Rachel traveled to Los Angeles where she earned her Graduate Gemologist certificate from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

Rachel earned extensive experience in many areas of the jewelry trade at Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers, where she worked for 4 years, including jewelry sales and appraisals. Upon her return to Israel, Rachel worked for jewelry retailers such as H. Stern, allowing her a broad picture of the jewelry industry in Israel. She also worked for the Rapaport Group where she gained a deep and valuable understanding of the global diamond industry.

The Raw Stone: Can you describe what it means to be a GIA certified gemologist?

Rachel: The GIA offers its students a number of courses about jewelry and gemology. In order to be certified and a Graduate Gemologist you must complete training in diamonds and diamond grading, colored stones and colored stone grading, gem identification and studies on how the gem and jewelry industries work. GIA describes it as “the difference between wondering and knowing” and I would say that being a GG of GIA means you have in depth knowledge that can be applied to various facets of these industries. In addition, alumni of GIA have the opportunity to continuously enrich their knowledge by various continuing education programs so as to keep up to date in a constantly evolving industry.

The Raw Stone: How does having a gemologist on staff enhance a jewelry business's success?

Rachel: Having a gemologist on staff instills confidence in the client as well as in the rest of the staff. Clients can feel more comfortable with a purchase after being educated about the stone and getting a further understanding as to its relative value.

Other members of the staff can also turn to the staff gemologist and get further input on the items on display and feel more confident making a sales presentation.

In addition, part of the gemologists' training is to be humble enough to admit “I don't know” rather than making things up, thus gaining trust for honesty and the opportunity to learn something new.

The Raw Stone: What are some of the biggest issues that you see in the gem business today?

Rachel: There are two issues that seem to be continuously on the table; the first being gems, particularly diamonds, coming from problematic sources. The diamonds from the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe is one example of a source that is not overseen properly, and violates human rights regulations. The trade of these stones is still taking place in certain parts of the world. The second issue is the area of synthesis and treatment of gemstones, which becomes more advanced as technology develops. Techniques have become more advanced, resulting in a greater challenge in separating natural stones from their synthetic or treated counterparts.

Workers at the Marange diamond fields ©London Evening Post

The Raw Stone: What are some of the biggest issues that you see in the jewelry industry today?

Rachel: I think there are issues shared by the jewelry industry worldwide, and issues that are unique to specific jewelry markets in particular. I believe jewelry businesses around the globe are dealing with the effects of the internet on the industry. Having the ability to shop from the comfort of your home, clients having a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips (sometimes incorrect knowledge as well!), getting publicly rated online by clients, and the need to compete for clientele not only against other local jewelry businesses, but worldwide, poses a great challenge for even the most established of jewelry businesses. Needless to say, the difficult economy is usually first to take it's toll on jewelry and other luxury goods.

The Raw Stone: How do consumers know that they can trust their jeweler when making a purchase that includes a fancy gem?

Rachel: Having trained professionals on staff whom, even if not gemologists, understand and can explain about the fancy gem, its features, benefits and how to care for it is very important.  In addition, in many countries there are jeweler guilds and associations, such as the American Gem Society (AGS), which keep high standards and keep their members up to those standards through annual examination and the like. Frequently, word of mouth is a good way to find a good and reputable jeweler, (a method made easily accessible by the internet and social media.)  In addition an establishment in business for a relatively long time, or one participating in charitable causes are a couple of good signs as well.

The Raw Stone: Is it possible to tell where a gem comes from by looking at a photo? Or by looking at the gem itself?

Rachel: It is not possible to determine the origin of a gemstone from a photo, nor by looking at the gem itself. If it is a natural, untreated gem, it is possible to  identify characteristics that are commonly associated with a particular location, however this is very rarely conclusive. In addition, there are many cases in which a stone discovered in a mine known for X does not have that typical characteristic. For example, many diamonds from the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe have a slightly greenish tinge to them, however, there are diamonds from Marange that lack this characteristic.  At the same time we know of green diamonds from other sources, the most famous one being the “Dresden Green”, first documented in 1726, Poland, and on display today in Dresden, Germany.

Occasionally gem origin can be determined by advanced lab testing, but is rarely worth the expense.

Sample stones from Marange diamond fields.

The Raw Stone: Is it possible to tell the actual quality of a gemstone by looking at a photo?

Rachel: Assuming the photo is of extremely high quality, I would not rule out the possibility, but would be very reluctant to make an expensive purchase based on a photo alone.

The Raw Stone: How confident can consumers be when purchasing a gemstone from a site like eBay?

Rachel: Sites like eBay or Etsy, where items are posted and described by “anyone” can be problematic. The sellers do not always know enough about the material they are selling, and may use incorrect descriptions. I have frequently seen diamonds sold on eBay with a copy of a certificate. I would encourage buyers to be sure of a fair return policy when buying a high value item from an individual.

The Raw Stone: What is the best way for a buyer to purchase gemstone so that they can be sure of the quality and authenticity of the stone?

Rachel: As much as my training and experience is from the retail side of the industry, I believe in finding a jeweler who is honest and knowledgeable. I think it is important for the client to ask questions, not necessarily to “test” the jeweler or sales person, but to get educated about the potential purchase and feel empowered to make an informed decision rather than feeling they may or may not have been “taken for a ride”.

The Raw Stone: Have you ever come across situations where jewelers sell stones that aren't what they advertise them to be?

Rachel: Unfortunately, yes, I have. I will say that in the cases I have seen this was not done maliciously, but due to ignorance and lack of training. (This is a common issue in the jewelry industry in a particular location)

One example of this is a discussion I had with the owner of a jewelry store about a beautiful blue stone in a ring that was on display. I have asked if it was a sapphire, and he said, “No, it is not a sapphire, it is corundum.” Sapphire, of course, is a variety of corundum, making his statement sound like “no, that is not a Labrador, it is a dog!” So I gathered that the ring was holding a synthetic sapphire to which the owner got offended and stated that he does not carry synthetics.  Luckily he was irritated enough to show me the invoice for the item, which clearly stated “created blue corundum.”

Lack of training as well as the language barrier led him to try and sell synthetic sapphire as “natural corundum.”

A synthetic sapphire ring.

The Raw Stone: What suggestions would you give a buyer who wants to purchase a stone safely online?

Rachel: I would suggest buyers look for well-established sources, read reviews, and shop through secure sites. Buy from companies, not from individuals. Look for customer service contact info so you know you can ask questions either by phone or by email. Make sure there is a fair return policy. When buying a polished diamond ask for a certificate or a dossier, or ask the company if they can help you get one for the stone you're interested in (this usually incurs extra costs).

The Raw Stone: What are some ways that you yourself are able to help buyers and jewelers?

Rachel: I can help buyers by explaining about different stones or jewelry items, their sources, special care needed, and help them find the item that fills their needs or criteria. I believe I can help buyers feel more confident about their purchase by educating and empowering them to make a good judgment.

I can help jewelers by "translating" what it is the client is looking for, understanding the inventory and guiding the client towards the best options for them. In instances where the staff members are less trained, I could explain about different parts of the inventory, and get the staff confident about the items they are to sell.


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