I recently completed another piece of my (eventual) Graduate Gemologist degree – I went to Carlsbad, California to the Robert Mouawad world headquarters of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and took the Colored Stones Gem Identification lab course.

I had no idea what to expect going into it.  I had already completed the graduate-level Diamonds and Diamond Grading and Colored Stones classes via distance education. They were challenging classes to say the least, but with a little discipline they were very doable. A lab class is a completely different animal as I soon found out.

I waited until summer so my family could go with me – since I had to rent a hotel room for 5 days, may as well make a vacation of it, right? As an aside, Carlsbad is a beautiful city – what I was able to see of it I loved (I will do a separate article in the future on “things to do in Carlsbad!”).  The weather was fantastic (in the 80s by the afternoon) and it is right on the Pacific Ocean – heavenly!

My first day on campus, I had to report at about 7:30, so I could be issued a security badge and fill out some paperwork.  I then walked down the hall to my class. On each desk was a microscope, and a whole pile of equipment I was not yet familiar with. (By the end of the week I could practically use each item in my sleep!). There was also a large, spiral-bound lab manual, a Maglite, a gem polishing cloth and a laptop bag with the GIA logo on it (that was a cool surprise!). Class was from 8-4 Monday through Friday, and this particular class was 5 days (or 35 hours). We started promptly at 8, and the instructors dove right in because there is a large amount of information that needs to be covered in a short time span. We had two instructors, which was invaluable, because once you have lab time, you might find you have a ton of questions. They were incredibly helpful. And with class holding up to 24 students, having two instructors was a luxury.

I freely admit that once I got back to my hotel on Monday afternoon, I was nearly comatose – I had so much information floating around in my head. Things got easier as the week progressed. I didn’t feel like I needed to do much memorization and studying at night because the lab manual gets used all of the time, but I did find it helpful to get up around 5 am every morning and do a review to get myself in the right mindset. I also was liberal with the Post-Its, which I found helpful for the final, as it was open book.

GIA has a beautiful campus and a fabulous museum to look around in while on breaks from class. There are also exhibits up and down the hallways. The campus houses the largest, most complete gemological library in the world, the Richard G. Liddicoat Gemological Library. GIA has a cafeteria that serves breakfast and lunch and is reasonably priced, so if you are staying in a hotel, you don’t also have to figure out how to pack yourself a lunch every day.

All week, we learned how to identify gemstones using very sophisticated equipment.  We learned how to use the lab manual to identify stones based on their properties. At first, this was very daunting, but after lots of practice it became a bit easier. The instructors want you to succeed, so they are extremely helpful. This class is designed to teach you to use the equipment you will need to complete the distance Gem Identification class. There were some people in my class who had taken the distance Gem Identification class first, and THEN the lab.  I would wholeheartedly recommend taking the lab class first – you really do need the hands-on training to learn to use the equipment at home.

At the end of the week we had a final. I can’t talk about what it covered, but it is designed to make sure you know what you are doing.  In the early afternoon, I learned that I had passed and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief (and if I’m honest, I did a little happy dance :).

This on-campus experience was incredibly intense, but I am so glad I took the leap of faith and got it done. It was incredibly rewarding.  I am looking forward to coming back for the Colored Stone grading lab and the Diamond grading lab at some future date. In the meantime, I am gathering up the energy to tackle the distance Gem Identification class!  I’ll keep you posted!