Rapaport Magazine

A study in sparkle

The Swiss Gemmological Institute’s new online courses are a helpful gateway to the world of diamonds, pearls and colored stones.

By Sonia Esther Soltani

A series of free online courses covering diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and pearls aims to share the vast knowledge of the Swiss Gemmological Institute (SSEF) with the rest of the world.

“There are many ideas going around, but there aren’t that many trustworthy sources of information where people can go and inform themselves, whether they are part of the trade or people that are just generally curious about gemstones, diamonds and jewelry,” explains course director Dr. Laurent Cartier. The program’s mission is to make that information accessible and thereby improve understanding between the industry and the general public, he says.

“That’s not to say that we have the absolute truth about these things,” acknowledges Cartier, “but the philosophy was somehow to group some of this knowledge together and give people a place they could come to and take whatever they want from it.”

From origins to end consumers

The SSEF team designed the modules — available in English, French and simplified Chinese — to make the information as clear as possible. Each course starts with an introduction to the selected gem before delving into its history, its properties, how it forms, where it is sourced, common treatments, and — when relevant — its synthetic counterparts.

The courses aim to be impartial, which explains why they avoid the contentious subject of gem pricing. The nonprofit foundation specializes in giving neutral scientific information about gemstones and not taking any positions, Cartier points out. The classes cover all gem origins, allowing students to make up their own minds about pricing and marketing, he adds.

Since its launch in April, the program has attracted a wide range of students, from experienced professionals who studied gemology decades ago and want a refresher, to trade members who never had the chance to take a course on these topics. End consumers and collectors interested in doing research before heading to a dealer or a jewelry store have also enrolled.

While the course topics are currently limited to diamonds, pearls and the Big Three gems, the SSEF is considering adding other stones that have become popular with designers, such as opals, tourmalines and spinels. Cartier, who has been conducting in-depth research on sustainability, is also interested in a program looking at ethics, responsible sourcing, blockchain, and due diligence.

Hands-on learning

The Swiss institute has now resumed its in-person courses — which are short, intense and practical — for groups of under 10 people. This fall, it is launching an advanced training program called “Gems & Jewellery: History, Identification and Important Trends” in partnership with jewelry historian Vanessa Cron. The significance of gems in historic and contemporary jewelry is a subject that appeals to collectors and traders alike, and Cartier sees it as a good fit for the online medium as well.

Yet however popular digital education has become, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, Cartier doesn’t see it as a replacement for traditional courses. “Gemology is something very practical. You need to see and touch the stones, to check with the loupe, to learn and see different colors. There is only so much you can do online,” he says.

As an entry to the fascinating world of gemology, the SSEF courses have much to offer, and they certainly spark a desire to go out and discover gemstones in a more tactile and direct manner.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2021. To subscribe click here.

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