I wasn't quite sure where to put this thread, and I'm also very aware that a great many of you hold the Pearl Diploma, so I must apologise if I am being repetitive. However, perhaps there are some newcomers who are wondering about the one day GIA Pearl Grading course, and whether it would suit them. I attended GIA London last Thursday so I thought I'd tell you about my day.
After a 4am breakfast (groan) I arrived at around 8.30am for a prompt 9am start. There were eleven of us in the class. I enrolled the day before and I believe I got the last available place. There was a good range of ages and backgrounds and the introductions were interesting. Two of the attendees were male, both being part of the larger GIA programme. The ladies were all jewellers, pearl jewellery makers and pearl sellers. As I mentioned in another thread, I was the only person wearing any pearls, which was so very disappointing.
From 9am to 12noon there were a series of lectures on the different types of pearls and an interesting video showing how molluscs are nucleated and harvested. It was obviously an overview and for most forum members this will be common knowledge. From 12 until 1.00pm there was a pearl grading lab. Each attendee would approach a table laden with packets of pearls and select a packet which is then signed for (I have to confess to rummaging for what appeared to the the 'easiest' ones). Upon returning to your workstation the pearls are observed under special lighting and remarks about the seven value factors (the basis of GIA pearl grading) are made on a 'pearl value sheet'. You can then check your answers against the sheet which accompanies the pearls. The process is repeated as often as possible within the hour. Some of the pearls we examined were donated to GIA by The American Pearl Company.
The afternoon session, 2pm until 4pm, consisted of further talks on Tahitian and South Sea pearls and a grading session from 3 to 4pm, this time on those pearl types.
The course certainly did highlight many things, namely that I have far less grading knowledge than I had realised! I often found it difficult to differentiate between 'lightly blemished' and 'moderately blemished' pearls. Pearls which I regarded as perfectly clean would indeed belong in the lightly blemished category on account of one minute surface dot. I was often confused with identifying overtone as opposed to orient, and often mis-used both terms. I really could have done with another three or four hours to practice and I'm not sure that I truly gained a feel for what I was doing, but it was fasincating nevertheless. Of course, grading is subjective, and few of us agreed on the grades! Grading Tahitian colour was particularly hit and miss, as we 'see' colours so differently to the next person.
Of course the GIA uses 'seven value factors' to determine pearl quality and value, and I have previously been used to the commonly used A-AAA system (and wild variations of that). The tutor was clear that no such system is ever used by the GIA and that these systems are all specific to the individual sellers. Certainly, when buying pearls, I make my decisions based upon good clear photographs and written descriptions.
I have seen that many pearls are sold as round, but in order to fall into that category, in GIA terms, they would indeed need to appear perfectly spherical to the naked eye. Many pearls which are sold as 'near flawless' would be graded as 'moderately blemished', and so on. It is a very strict system.
At the end of the day everybody received a rather nice letter of completion, which looks like a certificate, it's really quite lovely. And you are free to take your course booklets home with you.
As a nice aside, the day did yield a special moment. I had sat next to a wonderful lady for hours before overhearing her conversation with another student, chatting about her time in Yemen in the 1960s. It turned out she and I had both played together as tiny children in Aden whilst our fathers served within the British Embassy. Talk about coincidences.