Gem workers, also known as precious stone workers, fulfill a pivotal role in the jewelry industry. The time-tested craftsmanship that precious stone workers laboriously produce can last for hundreds of years, placing gem workers among the most talented artists of all time. Other interchangeable job titles for gem workers include gemologist and diamond worker.
Gem workers are artists of the highest caliber who carefully create jewels of everlasting beauty through the use of time-honored techniques. But increasingly, modern technology is becoming an indispensable part of a precious stone worker's repertoire. Gem workers learn their craft through traditional apprenticeship programs that educate students about the same wisdom precious stone workers have deployed for millennia.
Similarly, gemology encompasses the science of precious stone formation and care. As such, gemologists closely resemble chemists who have a vast amount of knowledge of the chemical and physical properties of gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. This discipline differs from the field of geology, which encompasses the more general science of the history and formation of the planet.
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As touched upon previously, gem workers are specialized craftsmen who perform all of the duties necessary to create precious stones of everlasting beauty. The duties of gem workers depend on the work environment an individual chooses, but generally speaking, precious stone workers design, cast, cut, set, and polish gems.
The design portion of a precious stone worker's job description encompasses the most difficult aspect to teach. Precious stone workers must use their creativity on a daily basis in order to combine old-fashioned design techniques with the scientific techniques widely used today. This task is no easy feat, and the most successful and talented gemologists have discovered new and inventive ways to apply this creativity.
Cutting and setting stones consists of taking raw, recently mined precious stones and transforming these rocks into the sparkling, expensive items the general public recognizes. To a layman, an uncut gem is essentially unrecognizable when embedded in its rock medium. To gem workers, the same ordinary looking rock can be as exciting as the finished shiny product.
Polishing is another portion of a precious stone worker's duties. Depending upon the scope of an individual's work environment, polishing occurs in large manufacturing facilities or in small retail jewelry shops. In the past, polishing gemstones required mechanical devices, but today, computer-assisted design software gives precious stone workers another tool to use in order to refine gems infinitesimally, removing the most microscopic flaws.
Lastly, a gem worker's job duties may consist of old-fashioned salesmanship. Jewelry shops often employ gem workers to set and polish precious stones and to sell them to customers as well. Eventually, after years of study under a master gemologist, many precious stone workers open retail shops of their own, passing on their skills and knowledge to the next generation of gem workers.
Gem workers come from formal and informal backgrounds; so depending upon the level of technical expertise required to perform job duties, employers may require no formal education at all. The informal route follows the centuries-old apprenticeship model, but these career paths are no longer the norm. In a family-owned business the apprenticeship system allows gem workers to learn the fine details of the job from a master craftsman.
The formal education route follows a course very similar to other artistically focused vocational programs. The best gem schools in Canada and the United States offer both coursework and professional certification. The Gemological Institute of America, the American Gem Society, and the Montreal School of Gemology all offer vocational degrees in gemology.
Other qualities of a gem worker include the ability to work for long hours with very small objects. Patience is the hallmark quality of precious stone workers. Great eyesight is another good quality to possess in the field of gemology, but advances in technology have taken the stress out of locating the smallest gem flaws. Along with technical know-how, old-fashioned salesmanship is an often overlooked quality of the most successful gem workers.
A precious stone worker's work environment largely depends on the scope of a worker's job duties. For instance, precious stone workers who work in major manufacturing facilities may perform only one of the duties mentioned above. One worker may work exclusively on cutting stones from a rock medium, but the next worker may focus just on polishing.
According to the Gemological Institute of America, approximately one-third of all precious stone workers are self-employed. These experienced gem workers have a lifetime of knowledge at their disposal, and many precious stone workers opt to open their own businesses in order to share their talents with the world.
Entry-level gem workers can earn approximately $30,000 a year annually. These figures represent the average of all precious stone workers. Many self-employed gem workers actually earn more than workers employed at a manufacturing facility. The reasons for this disparity have to do with the entrepreneurial focus of the business of gemology as a whole. Once operating a business of their own, gem workers can earn upwards of $50,000 annually, and many lifelong precious stone workers earn much more.