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By the time of his death, Eduard Josef Gübelin was recognised as perhaps the most important and influential gemmologist of the 20th century. He helped establish gemmology as a science and gave the industry one of its most important weapons against imitations and counterfeits. | Source: Gubelin
By the time of his death, Eduard Josef Gübelin was recognised as perhaps the most important and influential gemmologist of the 20th century. He helped establish gemmology as a science and gave the industry one of its most important weapons against imitations and counterfeits. | Source: Gubelin

Gemmologists who changed the game: Eduard Josef Gubelin

In the previous issue of Jeweller, we covered the life and times of mineralogist George Kunz. Approximately 20 years before the death of Kunz, Eduard Josef Gübelin was born in eastern Switzerland in 1913.

Like so many prominent gemmologists, Gübelin was an intelligent and inquisitive child. Born into a family of watchmakers, his father Eduard Gübelin Sr. was the owner of a store in Lucerne.

As an artist that specialised in fine watches, Gübelin’s father demanded a high standard in their practice. In 1923, Gübelin’s brother opened a small gemmological laboratory.

With a newly opened jewellery atelier, Gübelin wanted to ensure the legitimacy of all gemstones their craftsmen handled.

This modest gemmological operation was the foundation of the renowned Gübelin Gem Lab, which this year celebrated its 100-year anniversary.

Although Gübelin was always interested in the natural sciences, his original passions were in language and poetry. He was eventually persuaded to study earth sciences by his family as it was thought this would be more beneficial for the family business. 

"During his lifetime, Gübelin documented the inclusions of tens of thousands of mineral and gemstone specimens."

Gübelin completed his studies in Zurich and Vienna, including a PhD in mineralogy in 1938.

His first introduction to gemstone inclusions came from Professor Hermann Michel at the Institute of Precious Stones in Vienna.

Michel was a pioneer in gemmology and would become an important mentor to Gübelin, teaching him the significance of the diagnostic value of inclusions within gemstones.

Returning home to Lucerne, Gübelin served in the Swiss Army during World War II, while privately continuing his research of gemmology.

In the years that would follow, he was dedicated to continuing his education and completed studies with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, the German Gemmological Society, the Institute of Gemstone Research, and the Swiss Gemmological Society.

Pen to paper

In 1940, Gübelin published his first work on gemstone inclusions – an article on distinguishing Burma and Siam rubies in Gems & Gemology.

Colombian emeralds were of particular interest to Eduard Josef Gubelin.

This was just the beginning of an ongoing series of publications dedicated to sharing his ground-breaking research on gemstones and their inclusions, including the Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones, co-authored with John I. Koivula.

In 1953, Gübelin offered a new means of classifying inclusions in his work titled Inclusions As A Means of Gemstone Identification.

Gübelin described inclusions as either protogenetic (fully formed before the host mineral), syngenetic (formed during the growth of, and trapped by, the host mineral), or epigenetic (formed post-host growth).

His proposed classifications of inclusions were further developed in later publications and are now widely adopted in the gemmology field.

Trailblazer

During his lifetime, Gübelin documented the inclusions of tens of thousands of mineral and gemstone specimens.

He also created the first desk-model gemmological spectroscope, co-founded the International Gemmological Conference and the International Colored Stone Association (ICA), and worked as a laboratory gemmologist at the Gübelin Gem Lab.

Where Gübelin stood apart from many other gemmologists was his appreciation for inclusions. He dedicated his work to a feature of gemstones previously regarded as an unwanted blemish, and in doing so changed the science of gemmology.

Understanding inclusions plays a valuable role in not only in mineral identification but also distinguishing natural from synthetic stones and even a gemstone's country of origin. Gübelin knew this better than anyone.

To this day, the Gübelin Gem Lab is dedicated to ongoing gemmological research in his memory, and offers scholarships to students completing innovative projects worldwide.

Name: Eduard Josef Gübelin
Work: Gemstone Researcher
Born: 16 March 1913 Lucerne, Switzerland
Died: 15 March 2005 (Age 91)

 

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