It’s been a while since the blog was updated. As you can see, much has happened at Beyond4Cs.com since the last post in January. I was kept busy in revamping the website for a new face lift for the earlier part of this year. And during the month of February, I flew over to Hong Kong to complete a lab grading module for GIA’s diamond graduate program.
While I was in Hong Kong, I took the liberty to explore major retail areas and experience jewelry shopping in this emerging Chinese market. Besides attending the GIA course, my other objective was to pay a visit to my older brother who had been based there for work.
Let’s kick things off with an overview of the course I’m attending. The entire program constitutes of 3 modules during which, students have the duration of 1 year to complete in their own time. This program is made up of two online self study modules and one practical lab grading class for hands on experience.
For the lab grading module, you are given the choice to attend it any GIA labs around the world. The lab module takes places over 5 full working days and is intensively packed with practical sessions and back to back lectures.
Day 1 – Introductory lectures and theoretical lessons.
Day 2 – Theory and practical on grading color, fluorescence and cut.
Day 3 – Hands on session on clarity grading and identification of clarity characteristics.
Day 4 – Full grading practice sessions on 4Cs followed by lecture on fancy shaped diamonds.
Day 5 – 2 stone practical examination followed by lecture on synthetic diamonds and stimulants.
A typical class size consists of 20 people and the majority is made up of professionals from the local jewelry industry. Interestingly, most of these people already have years of experience in the trade. I found out later that most of them were either looking to enhance their knowledge or were sent by their companies to “upgrade” their skills.
Besides myself, there is only one other person (a local architect) attending this course purely out of interest. The demographics are mainly locals and I see a mix of both ladies and guys ranging from age groups between 25 – 58 years of age.
Due to the strict course rules, no photography was allowed inside the lab during lessons. This was a little disappointing as I wanted to share my experience and offer some sneak peeks into the course.
In essence, the course takes place in a seminar classroom with desks facing a projector screen. On each desk, everyone has an individual table-top microscope and a set of gemological tools like tweezers and pointers.
Overall, the lectures and theory parts of the course are pretty easy to grasp. If you had performed some prior self-study before attending the course, the theoretical lectures are going to be a walk in the park. However, I can’t say the same for the hands on session.
To me, the process of grading clarity is the toughest aspect of the entire program. It was only through the experience of this course that I realized how pampered we all are. For consumers who don’t appreciate how much skill and expertise that goes on inside the GIA lab, it is easy take a grading report for granted.
Don’t believe me? Try drawing all the inclusions onto a blank plot yourself…
The practical exam consists of grading 2 stones in full details (both proportions and finishing) within a timeframe of 2 hours. That equates to an average of an hour for each diamond. Stones were chosen and assigned at random. Amongst everybody in the course, we all had a common consensus – the hope that you won’t be the one receiving severely included diamonds.
Throughout my entire diamond and gemstone buying experiences so far, I had seen thousands of stones with different clarity grades ranging from internally flawless stones to included ones. I can honestly tell you that it isn’t hard to identify inclusions with the corresponding GIA report by your side. All it takes is a little experience and anyone can easily match the stone to the report under a loupe.
However, the opposite holds true when you are given a blank clarity plot with an unknown stone. Having to map out the different inclusion types and their corresponding locations is no easy feat with just a couple of day’s practice. And if you think that an hour’s time to fully grade a diamond might sound long, it isn’t.
And as luck would have it. I happened to be the only unlucky person who randomly chose 2 severely included I2 diamonds. Geez… I absolutely hate to map out a diamond with tons of inclusions all over the place. Not only is it easy to miss out on smaller details, it takes way more time to drawing them out.
And I’m not the only one who thinks in this manner. During our practice sessions, the general feedback on I1-I2 diamonds is that they pose a difficult challenge even to my fellow classmates who had years in the trade.
Luckily for me, I was able to draw upon my experiences of inspecting stones critically whenever I go jewelry shopping in Singapore. You see, way before I signed up for GIA’s diploma program, I had already gotten my hands wet in examining diamonds.
Before I started this website, the countless visits I made to the jewelers and the amount of sample stones I bought for self study was way beyond what you would have imagined. Even with limited resources and not having the luxury of working in a store, it didn’t stop me from learning everything I can about diamonds.
Here’s the knack I have. Whenever I inspect a diamond, I would make a note of the type of inclusions found and mentally sketch the locations at the back of my head. The rationale behind this was simple; if I shop for a diamond, I will make sure that the stone I’m looking at matches up to the one stated in the grading report.
Whether it is cut, color, clarity or even physical dimensions, I always make the effort to analyze these details just for fun. To me, it was like a game of challenging myself. Thereafter, I would always ask for the grading report to see and verify it against my assumptions. Of course, when I first started out, I wasn’t correct most all of the time. Overtime, this trained my eye and built up my expertise.
Much to the surprise of my course mates, I aced the class despite receiving one of the toughest set of examination diamonds. In a class filled with professionals who had been in the line for years, how could a simple (Quai Lo) gemstone collector outdo them?
Well, my secret is, there are no secrets. All you need is a keen eye for details, a passion for knowledge, consistent practice and the thirst for finding out why things work the way they are.
Come to think of it, I’m sure I might have made some jewelers upset because I usually spend more time examining diamonds and asking questions then making purchases. This experience that was built up over time did come in handy when test comes to crunch.
All in all, the trip was a very fruitful one. After spending a total of 9 days there, I had gained a better insight into the Asian diamond trade and also made friends with some local jewelers. In fact, the most enjoyable moments were the shared stories and pointers being exchanged with each other.
So, is Hong Kong a great place for diamond shopping for both tourists and locals alike? In my next post, I’m going to share first hand experiences and interesting findings I found out while visiting the local stores.