Guide to Gemstone Certification

Buying a piece of fine jewelry, especially an engagement ring, is a major investment. Certificates that outline and disclose all the pertinent information about the stone are often seen as necessary and proof of a reputable sale. While this may have some truth to it for a diamond certificate, the world of gemstone certification is much different. We’re going to break down the process of getting a gemstone certified and how to protect yourself and your gemstone.

The Process of Gemstone Certification

Just as with diamond certification, there is a standard process for gemstone certification. A gemstone certificate is a document issued by a licensed gemological laboratory that defines all the various internal and external characteristics of a gemstone. Certificates can verify weight and specify color and clarity grades. Some may also include identifying features or include a map of the stone, as well as indicating if the gemstone has gone under any enhancing treatments.

Gemstone certificates can help you gather identifying information about your stone, but they do not prescribe a monetary figure for the worth or value of the gemstone. If you see a certificate that does this, it’s highly suspect and you should consider that gemstone and certificate with a lot of caution.

The reason there shouldn’t be any monetary figure associated with the certificate is because the certificate itself is supposed to be completely subjective and reflect only the qualities and characteristics of the individual stone under examination. To consider a monetary figure during the evaluation would imply that the gemstone grader has a particular motive for how that gemstone is being documented.

Similar to grading a diamond, the gemstone certification process happens in a specialized laboratory that contains highly-technical equipment utilized by a trained, licensed, and hopefully experienced professional gemologist. The gemstone is evaluated and put through some different testing procedures to determine all of its identifying characteristics.

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The Best Type of Gemstone Certificate  

All gemstone certificates are not created equal. Certifying gemstones has actually become a very lucrative market. While each agency employs their own graders, they often have developed their own accredited schools so that they’re also teaching and training the next graders who will be entering the market. When considering gemstone certification, you want to ensure your certifying agency is neutral and not involved in the purchase transaction.

For gemstone certification, there are really only two agencies—the first is the American Gemological Society (AGL). They are well regarded in the industry in terms of the gemstone certifying process. The AGS is a non-profit, trade association that includes members across the professional fine jewelry industry. Founded in 1934, they operate under a high code of ethics with an emphasis on consumer protection and education.

The second agency is the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). They are the most well-respected lab in the industry with extremely transparent practices. Since their founding in 1931 as an independent, non-profit organization, they’ve been dedicated to research and education in the field of gemology.

Just about all other agencies do not offer enough consistency and objectivity with their grading to be considered reliable. This is especially true if you come across a seller-issued certificate. Certificates that have been created by the seller – even if done by a trained and experienced gemologist on staff – is not an accepted practice in the gem trade. Certification should be done by an independent third party with no financial stake in the outcome.

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Issues in the Gemstone Certification Business

It’s important to remember that although institutions like the GIA and AGL have built up stellar reputations, they also have a vested interest in maintaining that reputation. But all certificates are not created equal even amongst the gemologists that these agencies have trained. Some gemologists who write certificates have barely passed their tests at these schools. On top of that, they may lack real life experience that helps more seasoned gemologists write excellent certificates reflecting the nuances of gemstones.

The business of gemology is quite closed off. It features organizations and companies that will go the extra mile for their customers as well as those who will do the bare minimum. There are certain practices that ride the line of being ethical while there are other practices that are absolutely considered unethical. But the industry as a whole is often quite hesitant to call out these unethical practices.

One of the biggest discrepancies is the judgment call made in grading a stone up or down a level. Gemologists need to make these calls with every single stone they evaluate. When in doubt about whether a particular stone qualifies to be in a higher grade or if it should stay in the lower grade, gemologists with more experience will often grade lower because they’ve had more interactions with the rarity of stones that should make it into the higher grade. However, many commercial sellers or retail jewelry companies with in-house gemologists will err on grading higher, which can mean thousands of dollars difference in profit.

Finally, the gem grading systems play an important role in how ethical gemstone certifications can be. Some professionals believe that the GIA grading system for colored gemstones is slanted to give a better analysis of the more commercial-grade cuts and types of gems. There’s an ecosystem here where the GIA and other schools rely on commercial cutters and trade houses to stay in business through both gemstone analysis and hiring their schools’ graduates.

This is all to say that there are many other factors and considerations often entering the gemstone certification process that have nothing to do with the features and characteristics of the gemstone.

Tips to Feel Confident in Your Gemstone Purchase

When it comes down to certificates, it is always better to have a certificate for the gemstone you’re purchasing than not. But since so many grading systems exist and there can be a wide discrepancy between quality and ethics of the gemologist doing the grading, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your investment.

  • Always seek an independent, third-party gemstone certificate.

This will likely at least be more accurate as far as documenting the basic features and characteristics of the gemstone. We highly recommend that you avoid in-house gemstone certificates. However, if you come across one and feel good about the company selling the gemstone, you can always inquire whether they will allow you to have a third party evaluation done. Depending on the carat weight of the stone, the process could cost from $80-$300. But if you’re considering a ruby or sapphire or emerald that costs $5,000, it would be well worth it to show the quality of the gemstone is consistent with how it’s been priced.

  • Know what grading system the certifying agency uses.

As we discussed about the GIA grading system for colored gemstones, certain biases are likely to be present with any grading system employed. The more you know about the grading system of the chosen agency, the better you can understand how to interpret the certificate. For example, if they tend to be more lenient with color intensity gradings, then you know to consider that grading to be down a level or two in reality.

  • Do your homework to be knowledgeable about gemstones.

The best way to advocate for yourself with your gemstone purchase is to be knowledgeable about gemstones. The more you know about the chemical and physical properties of the gemstone you’re considering, the better position you’ll be in to evaluate not only the certificate, but the gemstone itself. This can help make it very clear whether what you’re seeing on the certificate is actually reflected in real life with the stone.

Gemstone certifications are excellent guides to understanding a gemstone and its quality. However, they are not infallible documents. They’re created by people, and people can have certain motives or simply make mistakes. Education is always going to serve you the most when it comes to your gemstone purchase. We’ve covered many of the most popular gemstones at length in our education section. And if you have more questions, we are always here to offer guidance so you choose a high-quality gemstone you love.

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