As originally posted in the “The Jewelry Appraiser – a Publication of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers”
Growing up in the small town of Saint- Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec, I spent my youthful years often exploring the local mountain for seashell fossils laid down millions of years ago under a vast inland sea. The abundant natural beauty and geographical history of our local countryside provided the seed for what would ultimately develop into my career as a gemstone and jewellery appraiser.
Chatting with colleagues, I have learned that many of us drew on similar inspirations in developing our careers in the jewellery industry. A natural curiosity for and the appreciation of the beauty of the natural world has formed the grounding for many of our career paths. I never guessed that those early days collecting shell fossils would one day lead to my career in gemology and jewellery appraisals.
Of course, our careers never form a straight path and often go through many permutations. Along the way I have tried my hand at mineral collecting, lapidary arts and jewellery crafting. Saving enough money to buy my first faceting machine at the age of 14, I subsequently spent many hours fashioning the gemstone rough I had collected over the years. As a natural progression, my amateur jewellery making in our basement “shop” ultimately led me to an apprenticeship as goldsmith at a Montreal based atelier.
A taste for Gems
Not being fully satisfied with my training as a goldsmith and dreaming of a career inspired by the famed gemstone dealer Jean Baptiste Tavernier, I decided to change career paths. This decision started what would turn out to be an enduring connection with the Gemological Institute of America.
Initially registering at the New York GIA campus, on second consideration the lure of a sunny California winter won me over! Santa Monica bound, I was on my way, having enrolled in the GIA Jewelry Design program and Graduate Gemologist program. The experience of interacting with GIA and students from around the world, enthusiastically sharing our love of gemstones and jewellery left a profound impression on my life. Even after some 40 years since graduating I again felt the same camaraderie and enthusiasm this past fall while revisiting the GIA in Carlsbad to attend their 6th Symposium.
An appraiser is born
My dream of becoming a world traveling gem dealer did not however materialize out of my GIA experience. After graduating and spending time job searching in the Far East, visiting Tokyo and Hong Kong, I finally landed my first job in a roundabout way back in Calgary, Alberta. I was to manage a high end jewellery store while “acting” as their official jewellery appraiser. The learning curve was very steep indeed. It was a unique once in a life time opportunity that would ultimately lead me to opening my first appraisal business. As it turned out, good fortune sometimes comes out of hard times. It was the early 1980’s and we were about to enter a severe economic recession, particularly in Calgary, with its resource based economy. The jewellery firm that I was working for was barely staying afloat and was happy to make me a very generous offer to buy all their gemological equipment as well as offer me cheap office space. The recession launched my appraisal career!
Fast forward, late 1980’s early 1990’s. Having married and relocating to Vancouver, British Columbia, I sold my Calgary firm, International Gemological Laboratories and created a new appraisal firm, Imperial Gem Lab Ltd. At this time my focus was largely that of generating new business leads as I was starting all over again. Trying to reinvent, or should I say reinvigorate my career, I decided at long last to revisit previous investigations that I had made into professional appraiser and gemological societies such as the N.A.J.A., the A.G.A. and the A.S.A..
It was in my early professional years that I made myself somewhat familiar with these associations through visits to the Tucson Gem Show in the 80’s. At the time it appeared to me that membership was not worthwhile. The associations had few fellow Canadians members and I found that there were major differences between the appraisal professions in Canada verses the U.S.. Finally though, with my newfound interest in these associations I was about to learn the many benefits that I now enjoy by being a member. Benefits such as the use of online user forums, annual or biannual conferences, educational workshops and the recognition of being a professional in one’s field.
Becoming a Master Gemologist
Around this time I also enrolled in the Registered Master Valuer program, being offered for the first time in Vancouver, Canada by the Canadian Gemological Association. After 20 years in the appraisal business this was to be my first formal appraisal theory course and what an eye opener it was! It formed the initial foundation, along with my experience to qualify me for acceptance into the various accredited levels of the associations.
What had become a rather staid business for me was now invigorated. I again look forward to my regular trips to the Tucson gem show as well attending the JCK Las Vegas show. Joining the N.A.J.A. and other associations allowed me to learn and share so much from fellow appraisers and experts in each of their fields. The interaction with colleagues is what keeps my interest in our business alive.
Inspired to do my best, I continued to maintain my education in the gem and jewellery field by attending classes, workshops, and congresses both at home as well as in the U.S, Hong Kong and India. My education and experience has led me to attain a Senior Membership of the N.A.J.A. as well as other appraiser and gemological associations. I cannot stress how important being a member of these associations has been to me, both professionally and personally.
Looking forward, while drawing on past aspirations, I recently started to fulfil my dreams of world travels searching for gemstones. The lure of far off exotic places has resulted in some interesting visits to such gem producing areas as Morogoro, Tanzania, followed by a stay at the tsavorite Bridges Scorpion Mine in Kenya. Always on my bucket trip, my wife and I completed a fascinating trip to the famous German cutting village of Idar Oberstein and the year later I visited the jewellery factories of Jaipur, India. Encouraged by the N.A.J.A through Gail Brett Levine to write about my travels, I am hoping to continue the adventure for years to come!