On the Fourth Day of Christmas…

… well, technically yesterday — the Third Day — the GIA gave to me…

a scholarship for 2016!

The e-mail came late yesterday afternoon, announcing that I had been granted some scholarship funding for the Graduate Gemologist program. I am already in the midst of my studies, but this means I can continue them and (hopefully) complete the program sometime in the coming year.

I am a little shocked, totally thrilled, and extremely grateful for the recommendations and support of my family and fellow industry members, all of whom contributed to the application effort.

Education and the pursuit of knowledge: what a wonderful gift to receive for the new year!

Adventures in Diamondland

Cue the horns, I have returned triumphant! The next step in my quest for personal edification is complete.

I spent a fascinating week at the GIA’s NYC campus to complete my Diamond Grading Lab, and while it was an extraordinarily stressful class, I’d give anything to still be sitting at my microscope using the tiniest ruler ever to calculate a diamond’s average table percentage.

The opportunity to advance my gemological studies with the most highly regarded institute in the country (and arguably the world) is of paramount importance to me. Obviously there is value in obtaining this degree in terms of respect from peers, but far beyond that is the total sum of skills and knowledge it imparts.


The absolute best part of completing this lab is the feeling of capability. I will need a lifetime of experience and practice, but at the very least I know I have useful skills to apply to my current work and into the future.

Surrounded by a wonderful group of people from all walks of life (the promised shoutouts: Sarah, Brianna, and Gracie, three fab women with amazingly bright futures), including my coworker/friend and ridiculously talented goldsmith Irene, this class left me happy and excited in a way I haven’t been for quite some time.

Photo credit to Sarah, bad editing job by me. We did it, ladies!

Show Me Your Creds


Did you cringe when you read that word? If not, yours are probably more than sufficient to command respect in your field (or you simply don’t have any need for them). If you did, then welcome to the club.

We all know that in most businesses, it’s not just who you know and what you’ve done that matters. From your hiring manager and CEO to your own client base, people will grant you an automatic jump in trust and confidence if they see some form of alphabet soup on your business card. Often these suffixes designate levels of education completed or certifications received, which do have a certain amount of credibility attached — a doctor without the MD just isn’t a doctor — but they are rarely proof of talent or ability.

Growing up in a heavily academic-oriented household, I have always been aware of a singular fact: your credentials may get you a seat at the table, but they won’t help you keep it warm. Everyone has a story about Dr. So-and-so’s total inability to fill out an intake form and write the proper dosage of a prescription despite thirty years’ experience, two doctorate degrees, and a wing in the new hospital named after him. Yes, we nod sagely, he obviously looks great on paper, but he doesn’t really have what it takes.

In contrast, I feel that the Dr. So-and-sos of the world are the exception that proves the rule. Going through the standard educational pathways shouldn’t be considered merely as minimum qualifications, but as a starting point to a greater discussion about knowledge, practical application, and person’s developing interest in a field or fields.

Obviously this topic is on my mind as I work to pursue my own degree pathway, but it also factors into my current position as gemologist-in-training. Customers will occasionally ask what the “AJP” after my name means, usually followed immediately with “oh, does that mean you’re a gemologist?” Alas, I tell them, I’m in the midst of my studies and training, but haven’t yet achieved the coveted Double-Gs. When friends or family are doing the asking, I go into greater detail about my passion for evolving an industry that is at times stuck in its own past, my interest in learning alongside the great tastemakers of the current age, and my desire to make positive contributions to the industry as a whole.

Phew. That’s a whole lot of lofty goal-setting to combine with a GG and a current full-time job. But as I inch my way there, I keep the thought of earning my chair — and keeping it warm! — forefront in my mind.

A Little Reminder

One of my primary roles here at work is to manage the inventory: accurate entry, tags, pricing, photographs, re-orders, show orders, invoice processing, etc. It’s a job that can be tedious from time to time (ahem, the Popular Bead Bracelet Brand era) but is usually rather interesting because it appeals to my inquisitive, detail-oriented brain and allows me to get my hands on every single piece of merchandise in the store as it arrives.

I also attempt what I call a self-inventory every so often, taking stock of my life and its various components and running down a list of places to improve, discard, or enhance. Recently my mind has been occupied with family, health, summer plans (golf lessons, new hiking boots), and of course my gemological studies. I tend to continue mulling over my educational material long after I’ve put it away for the day, which causes a disproportionate mental emphasis on the very technical details I’m currently learning. I end up totally engulfed in the bloodless and unromantic side of this industry, focusing all of my energy on numbers and figures and diagrams.

That’s great for test-taking and fundamental progress, but is ultimately useless in my day-to-day job until I work to distill it down into something I can use on the sales floor. I’ve been feeling waterlogged with minutiae, unable to climb onto solid ground from the watery bog of information overload.

So it was with genuine pleasure that I found myself on the business end of a diamond engagement ring sale just this week — and not a moment too soon.

The gentleman was polite and earnest; his female “helper” lived up to her job and was supportive but not pushy. We discussed settings & styles, diamond sizes & qualities, and priced out a few options. A brief lunch break on the sunny restaurant decks (them, not me) later, and a ring was born. Hooray!

This was not a “big” sale, or a tough one, or a thank-goodness-that’s-over interaction. The clean simplicity of selling a meaningful object to a happy and eager buyer was exactly the refreshing reminder I needed when terra firma seemed very far away. Clearly I required this experience in order to remember what we really do, what the purpose is behind all the numbers and calculations:

Joy. Happiness. Excitement. Love. Hope.

That’s our real business, our own small contribution to the betterment of the world. I am a facilitator, nothing more, as I gently nudge people toward an object that stands to represent all the best emotions we could ever want. And amidst the structure of carbon atoms and lengthy history of mining, I needed a little reminder about why I do it at all.

Spongelike: A Learning Addiction

I love to learn.

While not the most overused sentiment in history, it’s probably on the eyeroll-inducing list. Nobody likes a know-it-all, and that’s often the perception of someone who goes around declaring an undying passion for acquiring knowledge. It’s taken me years to get over that and embrace my addiction to learning, for which my parents deserve equal parts thanks and blame. (They’re both know-it-alls, too.)

When I first spoke to them after Vegas — at about 12:30am local time — they valiantly tried to ask the requisite travel questions. How was the flight? (Fine.) Are you sure you have everything? (Yes.) Are you hungry? Do you want us to stop somewhere? (Yes. No.) But once those pleasantries were safely out of the way, my father asked his favorite two-parter: How was it? Learn a lot?

I suspect neither of them are conscious of it, but the fact remains that nearly every experience I’ve ever had has been met with this question. Whether I spent a day at a symposium or summer camp, one or both would ask what I learned. Not if I learned — that was a given — but what parts of the day proved edifying (and, it was implied, worthwhile). This emphasis on treating life like a big open classroom has stuck with me over the years, and I’m now able to contain, spongelike, every droplet of experience and turn it into stored information for later use as knowledge, wisdom, or anecdote. Useful, no doubt, and probably the sole trait that prevents boredom from overtaking my life.

So I answered them as best my tired exhausted brain would allow, which involved a version of, Yes (yawn) Dad, I learned a lot (yawn), and it was an awesome (yawn) experience (double yawn). He took the hint, and I drifted off.

I think I’m finally ready now, as I settle back into the daily workload, inch my way toward my G.G., and return to normal sleep patterns, to give my parents the answer they deserve.

Mom and Dad, I learned more in this past week than in the last year. I observed different kinds of business being conducted by as many personalities as there are facets on a diamond. I watched hordes of people begin to glaze over as they paraded past hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise. Even the security guards appeared unfazed by day three. I talked with designers who are so devoted to their craft that they take a “five minute chat” and turn it into an hour and a half meeting. And some company representatives appeared to care so little, I wondered why they bothered to show up. I watched as some people warmly embraced the next big idea, new generation, novel trends. And some blatantly rejected the presence of women, of youth, and especially youthful women. I was ignored and dismissed by some, but welcomed, encouraged, and treated as a full equal by others. Disorganization was frustratingly rampant at times, and a clear, concise meeting was a refreshing change. I learned that it can be equally difficult to keep my mouth shut as to speak up, and that I should balance a gut feeling with my knowledge of social politics. I learned how fast and how long I can walk in heels in a freezing cold room while hungry, thirsty, sleep-deprived, and stressed… and that I can still function at a reasonably high level while doing all of that because I love it, it excites and drives me, and that I would do this all day, every day if I could.