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Influential Australian gemmologists: Corinne Sutherland, Geoff Tombs and Grant Hamid in 1980.
Influential Australian gemmologists: Corinne Sutherland, Geoff Tombs and Grant Hamid in 1980.

Gemmologists who changed the game: Serving an industry amid constantly evolution

Over the past six issues of Jeweller magazine, we’ve taken a closer look at the many gemmologists who have transformed the industry over the years.

In this issue, we will take a temporary break from biographical reflections on influential individuals and instead focus on the changing nature of the field.

Gemmologists are, in many ways, the ‘unsung heroes’ in the world of gemstones and jewellery. They are pivotal in an industry built on beauty, rarity, and value.

Contrary to popular belief, gemmology is not a recent development. Of course, gemstones in various forms have been used by humans as adornment and for displays of wealth since the beginnings of civilisation. The roots of gemmology as a scientific field can be traced, at a minimum, to the 1800s.

Serious formal education in the science of gemmology was documented in the early 20th century when the first courses in gemmology emerged through organisations such as the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, founded in 1908, followed by the Gemmological Institute of America, founded in 1931.

Since then, gemmological training institutions, including the Gemmological Association of Australia (GAA), founded in 1945, have increased worldwide, creating new generations of experts who serve as the industry’s backbone.

Some of Australia’s leading gemmologists include Bill Sechos, Terry Coldham, Grant Hamid, Kym Hughes, Jan Vlanzy, Grant Pearson, Garry Holloway and Francine Payette.

These scientists are building on the legacy of the founders of GAA – including Jack Taylor, Arthur Wirth, Sandy Tombs, and more recently, Geoff Tombs, Grahame Brown, Patricia Callaway, Pat Reis, Corinne Sutherland, Bob Bubeck, Suzette Fairley, and Des Bumstead.

New challenges
"Gemmologists trained by reputable institutions such as the GAA possess the technical skills needed to identify gemstones and understand their work’s ethical and legal implications."

In the past, the duties of gemmologists revolved around basic gemstone identification and distinguishing natural gemstones from their synthetic counterparts. However, as the industry evolved, so did the role of the gemmologist.

Today, they face increasingly complex challenges, from identifying newly treated gemstones to determining the quality of precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. 

To determine the value of gemstones, one must complete a valuation course available in Australia by the National Council of Jewellery Valuers.

With questions ranging from the authenticity of diamonds to the stability of treated gemstones, the expertise of trained gemmologists has become indispensable to the jewellery industry.

Increasingly, low-grade gemstones are being treated in various ways to increase their preserved value for sale. New treatments need to be detected and identified.

Organisations such as the GAA have been instrumental in providing comprehensive training programs, including diplomas in gemmology and practical diamond grading, ensuring that professionals are equipped to navigate the complexities of the trade. These complexities can vary from quench fluxed filled lab-created rubies to B” jade, which refers to jadeite bleached with acid and then impregnated with polymer resin.

Gemmology is a multifaceted science encompassing the study of various gemstones, ornamental materials, biological materials, and lab-created (synthetic) substitutes and imitations.

As technology advances, both in terms of the increasing array of imitations, synthetics, and treatments entering the market and the instruments needed to identify and describe these advances, so do the challenges faced by gemmologists. The importance of gemmological education cannot be overstated in an industry where confidence and knowledge are paramount.

Gemmologists trained by reputable institutions such as the GAA possess the technical skills needed to identify gemstones and understand their work’s ethical and legal implications.

In summary, gemmologists play a vital role in preserving the integrity and authenticity of the gemstone and jewellery industry. Their expertise, honed through rigorous training and practical experience, ensures that with confidence, jewellers can sell, and consumers can purchase – secure in the knowledge that these precious treasures are in safe hands.

More reading
Gemmologists stumped over insect trapped in opal
Famous gemmologist to tour Australian gem fields
The Colour Allure: Gemstones steal the spotlight
Hunting for Ruby & Sapphire: Through the mines of Pailin & Chanthaburi
Cracking the colour gemstone code


Kathryn Wyatt

Contributor • 

Kathryn Wyatt BSc FGAA Dip DT, is a qualified gemmologist, diamond technologist, registered jewellery valuer, educator and member of the Australian Antique & Art Dealers Association. For more information on antique and vintage jewellery courses, visit:

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