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Hi all, here's a copy of my review of our very own Richard Wise' new
book for gem connnoissiours.
"Secrets of the Gem Trade"
by Richard Wise reviewed by Charles Lewton-Brain 2003.
292 pages hardcover, with120 color photos
Every goldsmith, jeweler, gemologist, gem lab, gem dealer and
gemstone collector needs a copy of this book around. Especially gem
collectors and connoisseurs, at whom the book is primarily aimed.
This very readable book represents the accumulated wisdom and
experience of a lifetime in the field, and especially a life
committed to examining and buying gemstones, as well as selling
them. The view is unique, and rich with examples and deep background
information. In fact the view is different than any other book in
the field. It is eminently practical and deals with the skills of
connnoissiourship, that is how to really look at and see a gem, what
the subtleties and conventions are. This view is one that people in
our field need to hear and take account of. The language used is
rich, flavored and interesting. Wise's strong personality comes
through clearly as does his logic as he questions assumptions,
institutions (gasp-even GIA at times) and invents new words and
concepts to make his points about evaluating gems. New ideas include
Daystones and Nightstones gems which truly work best under
different lighting conditions. And the idea of Crystal an older term
reintroduced, a term to evaluate a sense of clarity, transparency and
even 'glow' in a gem.
Real and apparent rarity are discussed at length and their
implications for gem prices. He makes a good case that the diamond
grading system's intention is to increase apparent rarity of diamonds
and is a handy marketing device in this regard for a monopolized
business whose gems are, perhaps, not so rare at all.
He's done a marvelous job of this first book, a monumental work, a
tour de force. There is a pleasant critique of the established
system, a clear independence of thought. All that and nice thick
creamy paper, excellent layout and binding too. There is a thoroughly
The book begins with a discussion of preciousness, history and
concepts. Market forces are discussed at length. Then issues of
connoisseurship are dealt with along with a really great overview of
theories and applications (for gem evaluation) of light, color,
dispersion, and cut. Buying advice and dealer's tricks are scattered
throughout the text, as are hints for strategic buying for the best
return. Gems and qualities ignored by the trade are pinpointed for
the canny investor and gem buyer to take advantage of. There are
astute statements such as "poor cutting is almost always the result
of a well thought out weight retention strategy".
And over and over there is detail about how to actually look at a
gem, what to see and how to appreciate it and value it. And how and
why the trade values one thing over another. Pithy shopping tips are
everywhere, such as always get the price stated before the pick, then
select, and if necessary remind the dealer of the tradition that once
given a price cannot be withdrawn.
There is great information about stars, catseyes, pearls and
diamonds. Colorless diamonds and their grading are covered in more
depth and more sensibly than I've seen elsewhere. There is good
information on gem treatments and how they relate to disclosure and
to the market. Really up to date information on new sources, and
newer gemstones spills from those chapters. Numerous gems are dealt
with in depth, from a buyers point of view.
This information is a great addition for the gemologist, whose
references are often theoretical or deliberately academic in nature.
There are some truly current comments on new diamond cut studies and
conclusions (there is no ideal cut!). Wise argues that there are in
fact an infinite number of ideal cuts for diamond if computer models
are used to vary proportions. He talks about recent changes in
thought on the value of blue fluorescing diamonds (its ok after all).
Areas that I think Wise misses on includes his approach to
synthetics, which barely rate comment, except with the caveat "to
have a gem report from a reputable gem lab accompany the purchase" or
"the dealer must state natural on the sales certificate", which is
fine given the viewpoint of the book but to my mind missed certain
information that might be useful to one buying gems, and to the
gemologist and goldsmith lessen the apparent value of the book a bit.
For instance there is no reference to synthetic moissanite or to
irradiated green diamonds in the section on green diamonds (yes I
know they were very rare). In yellow diamonds there is no mention at
all of the current crop of yellow synthetics which are coming in and
which beat the best natural ones for color and quality. Given the
amount of the rest of the valuable information in the book this is a
fairly minor quibble, but one that stuck out for me. Wise responded
that this was a conscious decision because of the numerous other
books available specializing in treatments and synthetics. He says "
In fact, any treatment of the issue is almost obsolete by the time it
is published, eg. deep diffusion, lattice diffusion, they don't even
know how the latest one is actually done. My objective was to deal
with just what you point out, connoisseurship and quality
My recommendation: Buy this book! It is an invaluable addition to
gemstone literature and a necessary part of the library of all
involved in the field. Wise is a renowned author, whose articles have
appeared in many magazines, including GIA's Gems and Gemology, as
well as having a retail jewelry gallery and store. This means that he
understands the goldsmiths point of view as well as the clients and
The book may be ordered from:
Charles Lewton-Brain/Brain Press
Box 1624, Ste M, Calgary, Alberta, T2P 2L7, Canada
Tel: 403-263-3955 Fax: 403-283-9053 Email: brainnet AT telus.net