Part 1 – An Industry without Standards or Formal Education

Though diamonds and other gemstones have been collected and coveted for many centuries, it has taken almost as long for diamond cutters and jewelers to learn how to reveal a gemstone’s inner beauty.

As early as the 1300s, European stone cutters were changing crystals by polishing their faces so that no natural irregularities of the original crystal remained. While this type of polishing and cutting did allow light to reflect off the outer surface, the fire and brilliance remained hidden inside. Small changes introduced over the next few centuries made diamonds more interesting, but still hid the potential of diamonds to return light as we know it today.

As times and fashions changed, sparkly fashion accessories became all the rage, especially in 17th century Europe. Fashionable women actually preferred imitation stones as they sparkled more than the diamonds of the times; glass with silver paint on the back became a preference to actual diamonds or other gems.

As a result of the changing times, jewelers and gem cutters needed to find better ways to cut diamonds to keep up with the fashion trends. Diamond cutters in Europe, used different angles and a variety of facet arrangements to create the early versions of the brilliant cut.

However, for the next few hundred years, there was still no agreed-upon standard for evaluating the beauty of a diamond by its cut. Buyers had to trust the word of their jeweler or diamond cutter, whose knowledge of diamond quality and cutting standards may or may not have come from a reputable source. As a result, diamonds were regularly sold without standards to accurately evaluate them.

The lack of standards was apparent in early 20th century advertising which would often misrepresent the qualities of diamonds being sold. The Jeweler’s Circular-Weekly, a reputable trade publication, ran a series of articles on what quality factors a diamond should have. Articles such as these helped raise trade awareness and eventually public awareness that diamonds and diamond quality could be misrepresented to the public. Conferences were organized with well-known gemologists to address these issues. Yet, with no clear standard in the diamond industry, and no formal schools for gemological education, change and awareness came slowly

Recognizing the need for diamond and gemstone standards, the Gemological Institute of America was created in 1931. The creation of GIA would completely change the way both jewelers and the gem-buying public would think and learn about diamonds and other gemstones.

Coming up:
The History of GIA and the 4Cs of Diamond Quality – Part 2
Robert Shipley Becomes a Gem Expert