This was one of the first photos I took for the website I made for the store I worked at
My mom took this photo when she visited me at work — this was my office. I spent many hours here appraising jewelry, sorting diamonds, identifying gemstones, etc.
This is another shot I took — loved using props I found since the store I worked at had such a rich history
I dealt with a lot of beautiful jewelry during the 5 years I worked as an appraiser
My first “jewels at my doorstep” post but I just didn’t know it yet!
Probably my most-asked question I get in my DMs is “how did you become a graduate gemologist and appraiser?” A few years ago, I was always able to respond to questions like these, even if it meant a full-length paragraph response, but now that I am a full-time mom trying to navigate and balance a full-time blog as well, I sadly have thousands of unread DMs. I’ve decided to make some of my frequent questions into blog posts, and this is the first one.
So to start, I guess we would actually have to rewind to almost the beginning. Everything started when my family and I moved to Nashville back in the summer of 2008. The recession had hit and I was in a new city, where I knew no one, didn’t have a car, had $3,000 to my name, and a fresh masters degree in Science Education. That first week I attended a job fair for teachers and left in tears. I was unemployed for a few months and it was during this time that I really started to hone in on what my passion was — fine jewelry. I would sit for hours searching online for jewelry, whether it was learning about new designers, browsing for lockets on eBay, or teaching myself about antique jewelry, I would be at it 24/7. It became an obsession that I couldn’t turn off.
At the time, my boyfriend lived in San Diego, and I wasn’t able to talk to him much as he had a high-demand job. I remember sending him emails all throughout the day of cool jewelry I would find — my emails would be like “wow look at this awesome ring” and a very long hyperlink would follow. This would happen several times each day, and when I finally got to talk to him over the phone at the end of the day, he would be so exhausted from work he had to break it to me one day. He told me he didn’t have time to check any of my emails and that I should really consider starting a blog so that I could connect with other people that loved jewelry just as much as I did. At this point he figured he would set up the entire blog and teach me how to do it, and I would finally be occupied enough to stop sending the jewelry emails.
His plan worked because I was so into this new blog of mine called Gem Gossip. I eventually got a job as a full-time nanny, so my schedule went from jewelry 24/7, to now working from 8am-6pm and then Gem Gossip until I fell asleep. My blog readership began growing and I started to get into jewelry photography, experimenting with different cameras and my using own jewelry that I started to accumulate. I remember buying a FujiFilm which was BRIGHT red — bad idea for photographing diamonds. It always would reflect the color red into the diamonds and did not make for a good photo. I ended up taping the entire camera up with masking tape and cutting out holes for the flash and lens. It was a hot mess, but that camera took some of my best photos.
I planned a birthday trip to visit my boyfriend in San Diego and on my itinerary was going to the Gemological Institute of America. I had no idea that you couldn’t just drive there and walk around, so I was deflated after driving all that way only to be met by a big gate and security guard! So funny to think back on it now. Little did I know that wouldn’t be the last time I would be at GIA. The next time I saw my boyfriend, he visited me in Tennessee and I had a few jewelry stores planned to visit, and one of them was Walton’s Jewelry. I fell in love with the shop and all the antique jewelry they sold — I ended up buying a little pendant and writing about the whole experience on my blog.
Months went by and the owner of the store contacted me via email. He thanked me for saying nice things about his store and was impressed by my blog. He wondered if I could make him a website. I remember reading this email while at work after having a really rough day. I prayed and wished this email would turn into an opportunity.
So at this point I had my first jewelry-related job and I was SO excited. I started out by photographing a bunch of antique jewelry from the store — I was able to take thousands of dollars worth of jewelry home with me and I felt like I was in a dream. After a few months, I was asked if I could help out at the store on Saturdays since the holidays were around the corner and I happily agreed. At this point I was working Monday – Friday as a nanny, Saturdays at the antique jewelry store, and any downtime I had I was blogging. The website I created launched and I was really enjoying my time learning about antique jewelry. I ended up quitting my job as a nanny to work full-time at the jewelry store. Best decision I ever made.
At the jewelry store, I began to take on more and more tasks — for example, I was asked to type-up a big stack of appraisals since my boss would handwrite them and they needed to be typed and printed out. I remember finishing them in one day. I was like a sponge, absorbing everything my boss would teach me and being hyper-focused on any task given. My typing eventually turned into being taught how to appraise a piece of jewelry — I had learned the format of an appraisal, all I needed to do was fill in the blanks with real information. I started with measuring with a millimeter gauge, then learned the different formulas for estimated carat weight…so on and so forth. After a few months of one-on-one appraisal learning and doing them myself, we both realized the only piece that was missing for me was getting my graduate gemology degree from GIA (so I could identify any and all gemstones).
This led to me being officially enrolled in GIA’s distance learning courses, with the path of becoming a graduate gemologist. I flew through the first essentials courses and before I knew it, I was booking a trip out to Carlsbad for my first lab course. I took the Diamonds Lab first and loved the whole experience. My favorite memory was calling my parents and seriously contemplating on moving out there to finish my coursework full-time, but then I remembered the whole reason I was there was because of my job back home!
My next course I took was the Colored Stones class — this took me longer than Diamonds, as Colored Stones is more complex of a course (so many gemstones) and I was also going through a few things personally. Back at work, I was still appraising jewelry with the help of my boss and at this point I think I was also ordering things, managing the repairs and creating content for their website I made.
The last course I took was the Gem ID class — this is the coursework that teaches you how to physically identify gemstones and you are sent 20 stones per box. If I remember correctly, you end up identifying 400 gemstones total before you’re finished, then once you pass all that you can begin attempting your 20 stone exam. The Gem ID class was definitely the hardest part of the GG courses — I think it ended up taking me 3 1/2 years to complete all three courses and pass the exam. I took all three Lab courses at the Carlsbad campus and when I was ready to take my 20 stone exam, I scheduled to stay in Carlsbad for a full week and attempt the exam one time per day until I passed. I ended up passing on the 2nd day, so I had a few days of “vacation time.”
The 20 Stone Exam is another topic I get asked about a lot. It is definitely hard and it is more of a mind game than anything. Once you’ve gotten that far in with your studies, you should be strong enough to pass the test — however your brain starts to doubt and it usually comes down to a few stones that could either be one thing or another, so struggling on making a call between the two is usually where it can cost you. Not many people know this but in order to become a Graduate Gemologist you have to score 100% and get all 20 stones correct in order to pass. That means if you miss just one, you fail and have to retake the test. Just saying/typing that right now brings back some intense memories or getting SO nervous before my exams. I also remember when I passed I had such a high of emotions — being so proud, feeling like all my hard work has paid off, like I could conquer any goal. Good times.
Once I was officially a Graduate Gemologist, when I returned to work I was able to sign my own appraisals and my boss didn’t have to review every single one like he did before. This was when I was practically doing appraisal work from the moment I got to work until close — it was just me at my desk with a pile of jewelry, my microscope and gemology tools — no windows in my office or much of anything else.
After working there for 5 years, I was definitely burned out and craved creativity. At that point, I was taking on lots of new clients with Gem Gossip, having sponsored posts and writing part-time for LoveGold (remember LoveGold?). This was also around the time I was dreaming up my Jewelry Road Trip project, which required lots of travel, so it felt right that I moved on.
So there you have it — my story on how I became a Graduate Gemologist and appraiser. If you’re interested in this career path, I would suggest finding a jewelry store locally that you really love and hopefully they offer some sort of apprenticeship situation like I did. Taking classes at GIA is another thing I would recommend. Everyone’s career path is different and I could never have predicted mine — it sort of fell into place and was continually evolving year after year. As always, if you have any questions feel free to ask!