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Studying gems

Hi all! I’m new to the lovely world of gemstones and I just started taking the mini courses. However one problem I have faced is even though there are images showing natural inclusions vs synthetic tell tales, it’s hard to really grasp the differences, such as air bubbles vs sharp crystal inclusions. So I thought maybe I should purchase some synthetic gems and some heavily or less than ideal cheaper natural gems, heated or unheated that no one wants.
Do you guys think this will help me in learning? If so, where can I find real natural unwanted gems? I read the threads on eBay and I saw lots of them are just glass…I would like a better source so I don’t confuse myself further.
So far I’m interested in emerald, sapphire, and spinel.

Thank you! Any suggestions or comments will be appreciated!


It sounds as though you need to take a gemmology course with. recognised qualification and one with a practical component where you can learn how to distinguish mined gems from synthetics, treated stones, paste and other simulants. I would recommend a Gem-A course or one from GIA. There may be others but those two organisations are certainly in the forefront of gemmology and will give you very good training which will pay off in the end. Please take a look at their websites. Good luck


I began my journey into the world of gems in much the same way you are beginning yours. If only I knew then what I know now and had ask this same question. If only it was as simple as what you are asking. A good beginning would be a Gem refractometer with 1.81RI oil and the ability to determine birefringence with a polarized filter. Refractive index and birefringence is the most consistent way to determine gem identification. GIA has a gem lab manual of the most common gems and their properties which is a great and necessary tool to help with gem identification. With these two tools you will be able to identify most gems and separate gems from gem simulants, synthetics are a little more challenging. A gem simulant is a gem/synthetic that mimics the appearance of another gem, however, it’s properties are different and sometimes it is a natural gem but can also be glass or plastic. A synthetic is a created gem that has the same properties as the natural gem and the most common method of separation is magnification. This is when you can get in to more expensive costing equipment as I have found at least 30 to 45X is necessary, however, at GIA 64X microscopes are what they use in course study. The second element of separating naturals from synthetics is knowing what your looking at and that can be a daunting task alone. GIA has a 3 book set of inclusions which is a $900 investment of about 2000 pages of inclusions and information on just inclusions, natural and synthetic and treated vs not. Another useful tool are LWUV & SWUV light sources which can be helpful as well.
You can begin by taking online courses from GIA via their distance education program which is how I earned my Graduate Gemologist degree and where I taught Gemology at GIA in Carlsbad, CA. These courses are fun, educational and something you can use in a personal capacity or a career that is endless and rewarding in so many different ways. Once you begin it is difficult to stop.
Hope this helps some,


Hi Hhtbka,
As I understand your question, you are not asking for an expensive course which might send you gems to evaluate or a summary of how to do gem ID, but instead just want to practice identifying natural vs synthetic inclusions. I think this is a great way to learn, as there are a number of these (and other) separations that need to be made via loupe or microscope inspection. The first thing I would do is to get a good zoom gem stereo microscope. You will find new models from China for sale and older B & L and American Optical models for sale also. About $350 would be my estimate of what one will cost. You’ll likely find a 7-30X model and for some separations you will need up to 60X, so you may need to purchase a 2X doubler or a set of 20X eyepieces to add to the 10X standard set. If darkfield lighting is not a feature of your microscope, you can use washers of some kind along with a suitable blackout sheet to create darkfield lighting. You’ll also need some LED lights on goosenecks for direct lighting from various angles above and below the gems. If the microscope you get doesn’t have a gem holder, you can get one on ebay and install it on the scope. Also get some “blue tack” to mount and move things around with, if needed. If you haven’t a microscope, use a loupe, but there are some separations that require the microscope…also, altho’ gem appraisers do have to use a pocket loupe alone to evaluate on occasion, looking at stones to evaluate cut and condition is something most easily done with a microscope.

I would pester my friends for jewelry to look at, but I think you can find small, included gems for sale at Gem Rock Auctions and there are filters to narrow your search down to small, individual stones…you may find other sites where you can buy such, too. I saw some small sapphires for sale for $30 or so each. You could also look for cheap facet rough. If you don’t see it listed, you could query the dealers, as they often buy parcels and cull out the junk and might be happy to sell you some.

While there are some sources of good photos on line, if you want to see all the inclusions, the three volume set by Koivula and Gubelin is the go-to source for original picutures. These volumes are very expensive, but you could probably get them (one at a time) through interlibrary loan for free and look thru them. Some of the earlier editions or other books by K & G might be had cheaper…Lidicoat’s old Handbook of Gem ID also has some photos in it and might be available cheap, IDK.

The synthetic vs natural differentiation is the real tough nut to crack in gem ID and I congratulate you for wanting to tackle it head on. And, while there are other ID helps (such as UV response), the use of the microscope is the royal road to conquering this particular conundrum.


Hi I have just finished a pracrical gemmology book for the novice and can send you via email if interested free of charge. It is to be uploaded onto the internet in a few weeks time. Contact me (Adrian Ryder) at Adrian

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If you are looking to purchase known naturals at a reasonable price, try looking at the parcel deals available on JTV. These are fairly inexpensive, and will give you practice in identifying inclusions, as well as some gemstone identification experience. Once you have that, you can start looking at their synthetics, and move on to higher risk/reward purchases from

You really need a microscope to tell the difference. I just finished my gemmology diploma and for the first couple of months I had no idea the microscope they gave me didn’t work… And I was like everything just looks like bubbles… and not much better than a loupe. Once it was discovered my world changed.

But yes… you’re not going to learn everything you need to without looking at actual gems. Diagrams and the actual inclusions do look different.

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Look for damaged gems. They may have a chip out of them or be scratched. They are cheap to purchase.