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  1. #1

    Default GIA Pearl Grading Course, My Experience

    Hi Everyone

    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.

    Take care
    PG x
    Last edited by PGDesign; 02-16-2008 at 11:18 PM.

  2. #2
    jerin
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    Very interesting article on the GIA-grading course. Thank you very much.

  3. #3
    First-graft Pearl
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    Sounds very interesting, indeed! Congratulations!

  4. #4
    pattye
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    Hi PGx,

    Read your story with great interest, as I will be taking the Pearl Grading course in Portland on March 6th. I promise to wear some sort of pearls, as yet unidentified! I also plan to take the full pearl course upon completition of the revision (hopefully as soon as the end of this year).

    What a delight for you to reunite with a childhood friend, now, that is a rare and fortunate happening!

    Pattye
    so many pearls, so little time

  5. #5
    New Member
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    Hi PG,

    I took the Pearl Grading class last year. I enjoyed it thoroughly but much of it was review as, at that time, I had almost completed the Graduate Pearls course. The actual grading portion was not nearly long enough. I felt like I was dragging myself away at the end of class; I wanted to stay and continue grading! A two-day class would be much better.

    I agree with you completely regarding grading Tahitian pearls, the impression of colour is so subjective.

    All in all, it was a good experience for me.

    Serenity

  6. #6

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    I'm so pleased to hear from you all, I was hoping to gain others' impressions on the course. Pattye, you absolutely must wear your best pearls to the class!

    Serenity, I totally agree, a two day course (not necessarily on consecutive days) would be so much better.

    I hope some more forum members will chime in and tell us what they thought of the course, I'd be very interested to know.
    Last edited by PGDesign; 02-17-2008 at 10:05 AM.

  7. #7
    GemGeek
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    It was the very first GIA course I took. They designed it as a stand-alone course, so you get a lot of theory in the first part. It's a terrific course for someone who doesn't know a lot about pearls. It can fill in the gaps.

    They said their color grading was done by artists, but I was an artist early in my career and despite having what I consider an excellent sensitivity to color, I disagreed several times with their assessment of the color and found it baffling.

    Their classification of orient is very narrow. Using the samples of baroque freshwaters from the American Pearl Company, they said that orient is the kind of oil slick iridescence seen mostly in baroques and rarely in rounds.

    Rounds - yes, if it isn't perfectly spherical, they don't consider it round. In the marketplace, a pearl is round if it looks round and only has a slight variation that becomes evident upon rolling the pearl down a track. I.E., there is a small range before it is considered near-round.

    Okay, negatives out of the way, I think there is so much good in the class. I took it at the Carlsbad campus in two evenings, so we got to handle some pearls the first evening and continued on the second. Also, it's kind of a sensory overkill to try to take it all in, in one day.

    The akoya grading sample strands were very helpful and the materials, especially the pearl color chart, were great. You will leave the class able to classify pearls by the seven value factors. The problem is that vendors use their own standards. If everyone went with the GIA standards, then applying a quality designation to those standards (A-AAA) would be a no-brainer.

    Getting to paw a bunch of pearls was definitely cool.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by GemGeek View Post
    They said their color grading was done by artists, but I was an artist early in my career and despite having what I consider an excellent sensitivity to color, I disagreed several times with their assessment of the color and found it baffling.

    Their classification of orient is very narrow. Using the samples of baroque freshwaters from the American Pearl Company, they said that orient is the kind of oil slick iridescence seen mostly in baroques and rarely in rounds:
    Yes, that was absolutely what I found. I'm an interior decorator by trade and I have to be 'colour attuned' but there wasn't a single Tahitian or South Sea sample where I agreed with its 'official' colour grade. That said, the tutor didn't agree with a couple of them either, and it was agreed that this is the most subjective area, so I decided not to worry about it too much. It was great to play with the pearls though!

    I too was surprised at how apparently rare orient is by the GIA standard. Perhaps the term is widely misused. I have several strands at home which I am convinced have wonderful orient, but now I'm not sure what to make of them. Perhaps they just have a couple of nice 'overtones'. I'm going to photograph some pearls later in the week to ask for some opinions on this very point.
    Last edited by PGDesign; 02-17-2008 at 06:01 PM.

  9. #9
    pattye
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    Hi All--Just finished the course earlier today, and found all these previous comments to be accurate for my class as well!

    For some reason the instructor did not have us do introductions, however, found myself chatting with a lovely lady who works with Terry at The Pearl Outlet! She knows about us here at the forum, but with 5 kidlets doesn't have as much time to spend here as she would like!

    I did get in a plug for the forum at the end of the day.The take home materials and charts are great.I did feel freshwaters were shortchanged, with much emphasis on akoyas, but very little discussion of treatments specifically applied to them. I admit I am biased. No mention that freshwaters are now being successfully bead nucleated.
    I suspect they deviate little from the course as designed.No discussion of keishi (keshi) at all.

    The instructor did explain that the grading at GIA is done in a color controlled environment--by people screened to have very accurate color vision. That was one reason given for possible differences in how we saw the colors. I am not quite certain how to express that particular quality of one's "seeing."(However, Caitlin's daughter, Kether, has exceptional abilities to see colors and orient in pearls, etc, which was very useful to us in Tucson.)

    Also discussed the "revised" pearl course with the instructor; he sez because the information is being coordinated internationally, could be a very long time before it is ready. So I may just go ahead and take it now, before I am any more ancient, and purchase the revised books when they become available.

    What pearls did I wear?? Well, 2 long ropes of Oregon sunstone beads, one with keishi, the other with white fw. I need to photograph them for the show me thread.

    Pattye
    so many pearls, so little time
    Last edited by pattye; 03-07-2008 at 05:28 AM. Reason: keeps running text together and putting in astrisk, I could cry!

  10. #10
    GemGeek
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    That is so cool. Were Rick and/or Bonnie your instructors?

    Yes, GIA offers the new books at a discount after you've taken a course. That is what I will do when the new course comes out, but you can't beat the color chart handout they use now. The actual color board is soooo beautiful.

    Plus, when you get your Pearl Diploma, you will automatically become a member of GIA alumni and more opportunities open up.

    Cheers,
    Blaire

  11. #11
    pattye
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    My instructor was James Morse, GG. He was here for 3 weeks giving all kinds of other GIA courses also. I loved it when he said I was a GIA alumni now!!!

    I agree, the color chart is fabulous--and all was very worthwhile.

    Pearl Care:James suggested a "cigar humidifier" (not humidor) which I think holds those water loving gel crystals one moistens with distilled water, and they gradually release moisture for a month or so. That would go in the enclosed space with the pearls. Very similar to our members' suggestions. I will post this suggestion over in Pearl Care also.

    I "googled" cigar humidifiers and they are inexpensive and appear very easy to use.

    Pattye
    so many pearls, so little time

  12. #12
    Pearl Maven Senior Pearl-Guide.com Pearl Expert Caitlin's Avatar
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    Congratulations Pattye!
    I found you to be very knowledgeable about all kinds of gems and jewelry, findings, etc. as well as pearls, so I am glad you gave yourself some professional recognition!

    You are the perfect traveler for those gem trips too.........
    Caitlin

    How to hand-knot pearls without a tool

    My avatar is a Sea of Cortez mabe pearl. One of a pair of Mexican handmade earrings.

  13. #13
    pattye
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    I think I'm outta $$$ for the time being, and you know why, Caitlin!!!!

    Pattye
    so many pearls, so little time

    p.s. Thanks much for the generous compliment!

  14. #14
    GemGeek
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    Quote Originally Posted by pattye View Post
    I think I'm outta $$$ for the time being, and you know why, Caitlin!!!!

    Pattye
    so many pearls, so little time

    p.s. Thanks much for the generous compliment!
    Ruh Roh! I hope we get to see what put you over the limit...

    Caitlin's right, you are a very congenial companion. I hope we get together again soon.

  15. #15
    Third-graft Pearl Senior Guide Member Heidi's Avatar
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    Hello Everyone -

    I'm a longtime reader but this is my first post!

    This is a great thread. Thanks to PGDesign for sharing your experience and also to pattye (who is in my hometown, I believe) and the rest.

    I am considering the graduate pearls diploma from GIA. Since it's a stand alone course and I love pearls more each day I figure it will be enjoyable and useful. I will be fascinated to see how my career of color sensitivity training meets up with their classifications. I am also thinking about going through their entire graduate gemology course eventually...but pearls first.