Will a formal education in assessing diamonds make or break a business? Probably not, but the benefits go beyond grading expertise.
Basic grading classes teach the fundamentals of valuing diamonds, understanding the 4Cs, and using terminology and equipment. Still, much of this can be learned in the fi eld, so why are classes so imperative for non-graders?
While on-the-job training is essential, backing it up with education provides extra confidence, says Alethea Inns, director of gemology and education for the American Gem Society (AGS). “Understanding why diamonds got the grade they did is just as important for those that aren’t professional diamond graders.”
All along the pipeline
Brenda Harwick, senior manager of oncampus instruction at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), notes that grading courses offer “not only the ability to assess a diamond, but to understand and communicate in terms that are used throughout the industry.”
That universality has its own benefits, according to Jodine Perrin, director of education and training at the International Institute of Diamond Grading and Research (IIDGR). “The whole pipeline working together is fundamentally critical to the long-term longevity of the industry.”
Perrin believes the course can be particularly useful in retail, because the more a salesperson knows about a diamond, the easier it becomes to upsell.
And much of this information is not widely available outside a classroom. “The class spans so much information, chances are, no matter how long you’ve been in the industry, you’ll pick up information you haven’t come across before,” she says.
Taking it for the team
US-based jewelry manufacturer Stuller requires many of its employees to take grading classes, including its diamond QA department, sorters, and sales specialists.
“Our associates are often in conversations…describing a stone, the cutting process, or market availability issues that require a well-rounded understanding of diamonds and grading,” says diamond director Carl Lehnhardt. “A good grading education helps establish you as an expert.”
Jewelry retailer Signet also encourages classes, though it doesn’t require them.
“We know that strong diamond product knowledge increases confidence in selling…for our team members,” says David Bouffard, vice president of corporate affairs.
While it’s difficult to evaluate the proportion of the industry trained in grading, the GIA and AGS have students from a wide mix of industry sectors, and IIDGR — which launched classes in September 2017 — says roughly 85% of its students work in retail or as key account managers and senior-level executives.
HRD Antwerp estimates that approximately 10% of its students work for retail employers that require grading classes.
5 ADVANTAGES OF KNOWING YOUR PRODUCT
1. Dependability: Industry experts agree that grading classes provide consistency in terms of the ability to assess a diamond, as well as the terminology required in the field.
2. Trust: Knowledge builds confidence with customers. The more a retail associate knows, the greater their ability to answer tricky questions on topics such as treatments, synthetics and pricing — a major advantage in an environment where consumers know so much.
“If you can’t talk at the same level, the conversation becomes tricky, and you are on the back foot,” says Jodine Perrin of IIDGR.
3. Confidence: Familiarity is key at a new job. Coming in already knowing how to use common equipment such as loupes, tweezers and microscopes is highly advantageous, as is being armed with tips and techniques on estimating carat weight.
4. Knowledge: Being up-to-date on essential information about industry issues such as treatments, detection, synthetics and appraisal best practices adds to a company’s success.
5. Protection: Formal education is akin to an insurance policy, according to the GIA’s Brenda Harwick. It helps validate the gemological quality of the diamond listed on the certificate, and it prevents costly mistakes such as misidentifying or incorrectly pricing stones.
‘Sorting through the noise’
While such classes are not mandatory across the board, those in the trade see this changing, largely due to market needs. Public awareness of grading certificates makes it necessary to understand how to read a report, as well as how to assess a diamond firsthand, according to Harwick.
HRD Antwerp’s chief education officer, Katrien De Corte, says a recurring industry issue is a lack of knowledge among retail staff about subtle grading differences, which affects customer interaction.
Inns believes the proliferation of information online can be overwhelming for consumers, and that it’s the industry’s job to be correctly educated so as to “sort through the noise and create confidence in purchasing jewelry.”
Perrin agrees. With consumers becoming savvier, she says, retailers need to stay one step ahead. “As that pressure grows from a consumer perspective, so it should from an industry perspective, so that we’re always able to deliver to our customers.”
Thankfully, the option to train as a grader is available at any point in one’s career, whether as a segue to the grading field, a tool for better informing customers, or simply a way to improve knowledge, skills and confidence.
Image: iStock photo