Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gemologist Interview - Q & A with Gillian Griffiths, G.G.

Today begins my first post in a series of career interviews. My goal is to provide insight into a variety of careers from an insider's perspective. Today’s interview is with Gillian Griffiths, G.G.; Gillian is a gemologist and business owner. Her shop Goldadore.com can be found on Etsy. Gillian gives us an honest informative look into her career as a Gemologist.  Enjoy:

How did you get into gemology?
I’ve always loved jewelry, and I’ve always loved estate sales. One day I was at an estate sale looking at a ‘diamond’ ring and I remember turning it over in my hand wondering if it was a real diamond. At the time I was selling my small business and considering a new career, so it was really like a light bulb going off in my head! I decided to go back to school and become the person who could the difference between real and fake.

How long have you worked in this field?
I got my Graduate Gemology degree in 2002 and had been working in the business for about a year prior.

Why did you decide to start your own business?
When I first got into gemology, I knew that owning your own business was the way to go! It was always my goal. I just didn’t know how to make it successful. I spent years grading diamonds and directing the manufacture of many, many, many engagement rings. After having my daughter, I went back to work at my old job thinking everything would be the same as before my maternity leave. But it wasn’t. While I had been out, my assistant had been let go. Another employee had left. My workload had grown considerably. I constantly felt torn between work and home. I would be overworked at my job all day, and then would literally run to my car to get home for a few precious hours with my baby. It just wasn’t working anymore, so I left. Leaving my old job was just the push I needed to follow my dreams and start my own business.

Within six months, I started GoldAdore.com with Etsy. Really it was just very natural. I’m that same person standing at an estate sale with a diamond ring in my hand – but now I know exactly what it is, what it’s worth, and who would look fantastic wearing it!

What kind of experience and preparation helped you the most?
Obviously for a gemologist the Graduate Gemology degree is crucial. You can’t be a gemologist without the degree! But for starting my own company, the most invaluable lessons were the one’s I learned just working in the business for so many years. All that hands on experience with grading stones, jewelry, manufacturing, appraising, and dealing with customers, teaches you how to handle any situation.

What are your duties/functions/responsibilities? or What is a typical day like in your work?
My typical day is one big juggling act. With a two year old at home, my work schedule is dictated by playdates and nap times. I get up before dawn to get back to clients, check my shop, make sure all my shipping and orders are going out properly. In the mornings I take care of sizing’s, cleaning and repair new inventory, etc and going to the Post Office. Afternoon light is the best for grading (and how GIA sets their standards on grading), so in the afternoon I tend to do the bulk of the real gemological work – grading, photographing pieces, valuing, and listing. Then at night it’s more customer service – emailing clients, packing up the days orders. Oh, and I’m constantly buying. All day I’m looking to see what estate sales might be happening, talking with people who want to sell their jewelry for whatever reason, talking to other dealers about what they might have for me, scouting where there might be a jewelry auction, etc.

What do you like best about your work? I love to buy, and I love to sell.
And in between I love to appreciate the craftsmanship of the pieces I sell. There’s something really fantastic about finding a diamond ring no one’s worn in 50 years covered in 10 layers of dirt and bringing it back to life. I find it equally as rewarding to help someone find “the perfect ring” that they’ll wear for the next 50 years! Even if I don’t get the pleasure of wearing a lot of the fantastic items I see, it’s great to be able to be a part of such a happy occasion.

What is your biggest headache?
Problems. As good as you are, as honest as you can be, as high as you can hold your standards, some people just won’t be happy. I recently had client who purchased a band, and decided later she wanted the inside of the band inscribed. It was to be a wedding band for her son’s finance. When she got it back after the engraving, she claimed the inscription wasn’t readable. Well, the band was only 2mm wide, I made the engraving as big as possible, and I could read it just fine. It was exactly the same as the hundreds of other engravings I’ve done. But she was overly upset. I offered every remedy possible, from a full refund on the engraving, a refund on the ring and the engraving, I offered to pay ALL her costs associated with ring – shipping, gas, etc. She even took it to her local jeweler, who she admitted told her the engraving was just fine and total readable. But she refused to return the ring, and ended up taking a full refund on all her costs associated with the engraving, but she made it clear that nothing I did would make her happy. Which just makes me feel awful. I want all my clients to be ecstatic with the high quality of work I do. Luckily almost all do! At the same time, I think it’s important to remember that it’s just jewelry. The jewelry might be a symbol of love, marriage, a special event – but in the end it is just a symbol.

What are the important personal qualities or abilities necessary for a person to be a successful gemologist?
It really depends on what kind of gemologist you want to be. There are different career paths of this profession that will appeal to all. If you’re really outgoing, sales are perfect. If you’re more of an introvert, being a diamond grader would be a good choice. If you like travel and adventure, you can become a sourcer. Want to work with your hands? Become a bench jeweler. Creative? Jewelry designer. For me, the most important thing is to be a good multi-tasker, and to only accept the highest quality. At any time I have multiple orders/ clients/ rings / etc that I need execute perfectly. A small mistake to a jeweler, like sizing the ring to the wrong size, is really a huge mistake to the client – and just can’t happen. I’ve seen plenty of jewelers go out of business because they lacked that precision to detail.

How many hours do you work each week?
A lot. Every day. Seven days a week. Constantly pretty much. It’s a good thing I love it!

How do you stand out from other gemologists?
In the jewelry industry, just being a gemologist makes you stand out. Most people don’t realize that the vast majority of jewelers/ jewelry store employees in the US have no formal training whatsoever. So that lady standing behind the counter at Tiffany, telling a couple all about the four C’s and advising them on what diamond to buy, really has no qualifications to be giving such advice! I like to shop in other jewelry stores a lot - just to see what’s out there, what’s selling, what’s new and exciting. I almost never run into another gemologist. I also hold a few college degrees (go Hoo’s) and am rather un-corporate – so large employers like Zales or Robbin’s Bros. never would have been a good match for me!

For someone who is considering this field, what would be you advice?
Go for it! Especially for women. Even though almost all jewelry is produced for women, it’s still an industry run by men. There are fantastic career opportunities for women with a Graduate Gemology degree.

Are there any books you suggest reading, training courses that would be beneficial or professional organizations aspiring gemologists should consider joining?
The first thing would be to check out the Gemological Institute of America’s website (GIA.edu). They are THE institution in the US to get Graduate Gemology degree. You can even do some classes online these days!

How much can a gemologist expect to earn?
This really depends on where you live, and what career path you want to take. Intro level diamond graders make very little (25K) while intro level sales people in a big city can make quite a bit (50K-90K).

Are there any scams to watch out for (training, suppliers, customers)?
Yes, all the time! Constantly! We are dealing with diamonds, gold, platinum, etc. Everyone wants a little bit of everything – and there is a constant push and pull. You have to be a hard negotiator to be a buyer or salesperson. And while most people are honest, there are those who aren’t and it’s buyer beware. I think one of the reasons I have been so successful is that I am so honest! I give honest opinions on pieces of jewelry (wanted or not), I negotiate fair prices, and sell at equally fair prices. I stand behind each piece I sell, and try to make everything as transparent as possible.

How is the economy affecting your business?
Honestly, I don’t know. I only opened my shop in September with a few pieces, so the economy was already quite depressed. I can say that I’m very happy with my sales for far – I have over 60 items in inventory at any time, and this month have had over 40 sales. My revenue is up over 25% from February to March, which are traditionally pretty slow months in the jewelry industry. I can say that the smaller traditional jewelry stores are hurting. Without a change in business model, I think many won’t make it in the long run.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about yourself or your business?
Success doesn’t happen overnight. For me, it took lots of education, years of experience, and the constant support of my husband, family, and friends. I’ve found that the most important thing is to do what you love, and never compromise your values. I never really feel like I’m “working” because I adore what I do. And if a ring (or repair, or sizing, or engraving) isn’t good enough for myself, it isn’t good enough for my clients. I hope everyone loves my shop as much as I do!

Where can we find you?
My shop is http://www.goldadore.com/. Please stop by and say hello


  1. Interesting post. Am looking forward to meeting your women!

    How are you finding the "monitizing" of your blog? I noticed the DFC right away, as we are working with them now to unload ours, and have been interested in Square for work.

    How did you choose which ones you would "use"? Are you getting anything back?

    How about a post on the business of blogging?

  2. Nice interview - enjoyed reading.

  3. Webb,
    I am using Google Adsense for my ads. I believe the ads you see are based on search words used to arrive on my blog or your prior online activity, which is most likely being tracked. That probably explains why you saw an ad for something you’ve previously searched for. I haven’t pursued any additional monetization other than Adsense in awhile. I decided to focus on content and figuring out how to promote/inspire women for the time being. I did see a huge improvement in revenue after I added an ad to the top of my blog around the first of the year. I forgot what it is called tag ad or something like that. Despite seeing an increase in revenues I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon.

    I appreciate you telling me what you want to read. It is helpful. I know of a blogger I could ask to interview about the business of blogging and did send a couple feelers out for additional recommendations.

  4. Gayla,
    I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. I checked out your site, but couldn’t stay there too long because between your site and http://www.goldadore.com/ I suddenly want to spend huge sums of money on antique jewelry. If I had to do it over again I would definitely want an antique wedding ring.

  5. Thanks for sharing this information. I've really been thinking about becoming a gemologist in Orlando, but I was unsure about whether I would prefer to be an appraiser or source gemologist. Your blog answered a lot of my questions.

  6. Thanks Jake,
    Also check out this post on Babes & Bling's blog where she answers questions about graduate gemologist programs: