Book Review – Secrets of the Gem Trade

This book review is by Charles Lewton-Brain for “Secrets of the Gem Trade: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Precious Gemstones” written by Richard W. Wise. The book, which contains the author’s vast knowledge of gem trade, is a treasure in itself.

Buy The Book Japanese Patinas Paperback: 274 pages
Publisher: Brunswick House Pr (January 30, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0972822380
ISBN-13: 978-0972822381
Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 7.5 x 0.9 inches

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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.

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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 respectable bibliography.

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.

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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 evaluation”.

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 collector.

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