Interview With A Graduate Gemologist
When you’re looking for an engagement ring, you want to make sure you are buying from the best. After all, this is a ring you and your partner will treasure forever! In the Greater Toronto Area, East End and West End there are many options out there, so it can be difficult narrowing down what you want and where to find it. One thing is for sure: you want high-quality jewellery that you can afford and that you both will love.
So, in search of expert advice for married couples-to-be, we interviewed Graduate Gemologist Justin Church from Waterdown Goldsmith. This top-rated business is owned by Principal Goldsmith Joan Kirby and offers an unparalleled passion for jewellery along with knowledge and experience. They help clients find and custom design the piece that is perfect for their fiancé, with their budget and ideas incorporated at every stage. It is also just a short drive from Toronto.
But wait- What is a gemologist? What sets this Ontario jewellery company apart from the rest?
In order to give you plenty of understanding before you choose your engagement ring or wedding jewellery, we asked Justin Church (JC) to give us all the answers you’ll need about the business, and how to find pieces that will be perfect for your big day…
Background of the Business
Q: Tell me more about the background of Waterdown Goldsmith?
JC: Waterdown Goldsmith is a combination of a few things. We are a working and teaching goldsmith studio. Most jewellery stores are geared towards retail sales. They have showcases full of inventory, and the sales associate’s job is to sell it. We have a different model in here.
When a customer walks into Waterdown Goldsmith, whether it’s for a custom piece of jewellery, a repair, or an appraisal, we do our work onsite and tailor it to your unique design or jewellery needs. We design our stuff right here and the goldsmith is working right in front of you.
Q: How many years have you been in business?
JC: Joan has been here for 25 years, and has owned it for 10. June 1st, 2018, was her ten year anniversary of ownership. (Her daughter Kristen Kirby also works here and studied Jewellery Methods at George Brown College. Evidently, she inherited her mom’s passion!)
Q: Then, there are the dogs! (Coco “Official Greeter” and Tara “Greeter in Training”) How often are they in?
JC: They’re here five days a week! Weekends are busier, so they stay home on those days. We also do classes and workshops on Saturdays.
All About Gemology
Q: Tell me about yourself Justin: What do you do here?
JC: I’m what’s called a Graduate Gemologist (G.G.) from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). What I do is identify, grade, and evaluate diamonds and coloured stones. That’s my trade. I’ve been doing it for 12 years. At Waterdown Goldsmith, I also do appraisal work, insurance consultations, and manage all watch repairs. I’ve been working here for 4 years. I came in here to do appraisals like I do for 11 other businesses. We developed a great relationship. Now, this is my home base! I’m actually a separate business called Tangible Assets, but we work in synergy all the time.
Q: So, what does a Gemologist do?
(Broad Definition: According to Wikipedia, Gemology is the science dealing with natural and artificial gemstone materials. It is considered a geoscience and a branch of mineralogy. Some jewellers are academically trained gemologists who are qualified to identify and evaluate gems).
JC: As a Gemologist, part of my job is to act as a buyer and a broker, not just for Waterdown Goldsmith, but other members of the jewellery trade as well. That means sourcing diamonds and coloured stones. For example, if we have a customer walk through the door looking for a diamond that is 1.00ct in size with of a specific quality there are thousands of quality combinations a diamond can be. It’s my job to determine what they are looking for, what their budget is, then source what they are looking for at the best possible price. That can mean having my contacts in Belgium or Thailand or Sri Lanka send me product of coloured stones or diamonds.
Q: Is it true that Russian and Belgian Diamonds are the best?
JC: High-quality diamonds are cut in Russia, Belgium, and Israel. Though, there are great diamond cutters in every cutting centre in the world. Historically Antwerp, Belgium is the most well-known diamond trading centre in the world. However, the majority of commercial-quality stones are cut in India. The majority of the diamonds that you will see in the market are cut in India.
When you come into Waterdown Goldsmith, we are going to source the stone you want, and not just one. We will give you options and then help you build a custom ring around that stone.
Designing Your Custom Ring
Q: When a client walks in here, what should they expect from that experience? What are the steps you’re taking with them?
JC: There are three starting points.
One: They come in with the design in mind.
This is the most common. They’ve been on their fiancés Instagram or Pinterest. They come in with four or five pictures and ask, “Is this an engagement ring?” “I’m looking for a ring – what am I looking at?” “What are the prices?” We tell them what we think is a great choice, based on budget, and we also tell them that we can take portions from each ring and make it into one custom ring. Generally, this is the first starting point.
Two: They have a budget.
They ask “What is the biggest, best rock I can get in a ring for this price?” It’s great when these clients come in because technically we are wholesalers. I’m brokering from overseas, and Joan works and creates the rings right here, so we tend to cost a lot less.
Three: They know THE Diamond.
They’ve been online, they’ve done their research on diamond quality – they looked at the education for Cut, Clarity, Carat Weight. They know they need a VS2 clarity, E colour, excellent cut because it’s what they’ve educated themselves to consider as the best. From that point on I will then I tell them that they can go down to SI1 and to the naked eye, you will not see the difference but it will cost less. Each diamond has a life of its own.
For example: He has a budget, but his budget is flexible – size is important to him. We will show him a selection of diamonds available to look at on a one-on-one basis. So, I show him various options. Using a combination of the quality of the stone and the size of the stone I hit both his price point and specifications spot on. Then he could decide if it was worth the extra money to get a higher quality 1 carat or a very slightly lower quality 3/4 carat.
Q: What’s next?
JC: Once they’ve decided what they want from a stone perspective, if we don’t have a design idea already (from a magazine, Instagram, or Pinterest), we’ll start the design process. That includes the metal colour, which will depend on A – what type of stone or setting, and B – the budget. This dictates whether we want to do platinum, 18k white or yellow, 14k white or yellow, and so on. When we have that nailed down, we guide the client in the design process. We have our own design program where we show them what can be done. We ask if they want to get more creative, or whether they want traditional and classic.
From there, once we have an idea, we select a stone and carve a wax model. Once the wax model is done, we’ll call the customer and have them come in and look at it.
Q: What is a wax model?
JC: The wax model is the final step in the design. The wax model is actually used to create the mould for the rough ring. So, your approval is final here. We take that approved wax model and cover it in a plaster type material, through a process of heating we melt the wax out and end up with a mould. Then, using centripetal force we inject molten metal into the mould and once it cures we have the rough ring.
Q: What is the rough ring?
JC: The rough ring looks very archaic, it has casting skin on it, it’s unfinished, it’s heavier than the final product will be. What we’ll do from there, once we cut it off from the casting tree, is we’ll start the finishing process. This is a series of tumbling, filing, and sanding. Then we end up with the desired creation!
Q: Is this all done in-house?
JC: The majority is done in-house. The one thing we do outsource is the casting, simply because we have customers walking right into our workspace. Casting involves a lot of heat, ventilation, and fumes, so we have a company that we work with very close by who takes care of our casting.
Q: Are the clients involved in each process?
JC: Clients can be involved as much or as little as they want! We do try to streamline as much as possible, meaning if we were to show them each and every step, it would take significantly longer to create from start to finish. Usually, our timeline is 3-4 weeks. We offer courses as well. In a wax carving course, you get to carve that wax by hand yourself. Of course, we offer guidance every step of the way. (See their classes and workshops here).
Q: Is the workshop more popular for engagement rings or wedding bands?
JC: Wedding bands – this is so popular with couples who want to create their bands together. It would be too complicated to carve an engagement ring without any prior knowledge.
All About Diamonds
Q: You’re a Certified diamond grader and check every diamond. Tell us a bit about that industry.
JC: Yes, here at Waterdown Goldsmith we handle the whole spectrum of the jewellery process. I started out as a diamond grader under a school called HRD Antwerp, Belgium. Day one of my diamond grader apprenticeship I was put in an office at an empty desk, given a pair of tweezers, a loupe, a gauge, and a diamond shovel and then given a parcel filled with diamonds. What I was supposed to do was grade each one for its colour, clarity, and cut and divide them into size categories. By the time I walked out of there, I could barely see and had a massive headache, but I fell in love with it right there and there!
What a Diamond Grader does falls under two categories – a rough diamond grader and a polished a diamond grader. I can do both but I’m primarily working with polished diamonds. It’s also an industry of trust and if you break that trust, you never get it back. It’s a small industry so we all know one another.
Q: Do your rings come with free professional cleaning?
JC: Absolutely. And not just our rings. You can bring any of your jewellery and we will clean it at no extra charge.
Q: What if a stone falls out or comes loose?
JC: We always, always, always stand by our work. If we’re uncertain about something we won’t let it walk out the door. So, if something were to happen and it somehow slipped through all three sets of our eyes, we would obviously fix it with no extra cost to the customer- as long as there’s no damage to the ring done later, like from someone grinding it against a wall and scratching it.
Q: Do you recommend insurance for an engagement ring? If so, what insurance do you recommend?
JC: Good question, and one I get quite a lot. It depends on the customer, how they are currently insured, and how much risk they’re willing to take. With any piece we sell we give you an appraisal for insurance purposes. It’s a description of the item with two pictures and a retail value. It’s the price you would expect to pay in the current market if you went into an average jewellery retailer for a new ring.
You can send a copy to your insurance company and add it to your homeowner or renter insurance. If it’s lost or stolen you just have to pay your deductible. They would likely have their own preferred vendor quote to replace the item which will most likely become the pay out value.
Q: How do you handle diamond certification?
JC: Diamond certification is an ever-evolving thing within our trade. When I sell a diamond I prefer to have it graded by a third party. As a diamond grader, I can pick up an uncertified diamond and tell you exactly what it is. However, as somebody who is also selling diamonds it’s not appropriate for me to grade it. It’s best to sell stones that have been pre-certified by a trusted independent gemological laboratory such as the Gemological Institute of America, where I went to school. World-wide they are known as the reputable laboratory. There are other great laboratories, like International Gemological Institute. Locally, we have a company called GS Laboratories. All of their graders are GA certified. They are not GIA, but they do have very high integrity standards and they’re ISO certified.
The import process includes diamond certification. Any diamond I sell will already have a certification, an actual certificate that you get with your ring.
Q: Do you mark the integrity of the precious metal in the engagement ring?
JC: Yes, we do. Here in Canada, we have strict standards in order to protect the purchaser. As a manufacturer, if we create a ring in 14k, it will say 14k within the shank of the ring. It’s a stamp that we actually hammer into the inside after it is cast.
Q: What are your policies around warranties and returns?
JC: We never leave a customer hanging. Also, we are not an estate jeweller, and we do not sell on consignment. Everything we sell is our product that we sell new. As long as you have a receipt we will obviously stand by and guarantee our work. If your partner doesn’t like the ring, we will redesign it, and you pay the difference for whatever the changes are (more metal, more diamonds). That is a good benefit.
Advice Before You Buy
Q: What would you say are the most important things a client should consider when selecting their ring?
JC: #1, Quality. This comes from the experience of working with Waterdown Goldsmith and seeing the merchandise that has walked through the door that people have bought on cruise ships, at discount jewellery places, and we see it fall apart. Or, when we have to resize the piece and when Joan heats up the ring it starts melting. It’s the second or third biggest purchase that you’re going to make. (So, choose quality).
Q: Any major red flags that should tell you to walk away from a ring?
JC: How well the salesperson knows the product! If a sales associate has to read off the tag verbatim to tell you about the piece that could be a concern. Smaller independent shops that do most of the work know the quality of the product and they’re not going to sell you sub-standard because it will come back and bite them. Bigger box stores sell mass-produced product that may be made somewhere not as reputable. Their goal is to sell as much as possible. Do your research.
A red flag for me recently in the trade is grading reports from a laboratory called EGL, European Gemological Laboratory. They have been debunked since they’ve created fraudulent reports and over-graded diamonds. For me if I come across an EGL stone my customer wants, I make sure I broker that stone uncertified and recertify it with a proper grade before it goes to the customer. Now, a lot of jewellers will take advantage of this; buying the stone at a discount and increasing their profit by not re-certifying it.
Q: Is there a commonality you should see with jewelers? How do you know if what they’re telling you is BS?
JC: There should never be anything to hide. You should always be able to touch the product, see the product and they should be able to answer every question that you have honestly and straight-forward. If they don’t know the answer, they should say so and get you that information. Buy what you want. Don’t let a sales associate push you into something you don’t want. We need to have that trust established. Establishing trust is the #1 thing. Here, we will sell you exactly what you want. We will create what you want instead of just pushing what’s in a showcase.
Why Waterdown Goldsmith?
Q: What sets you apart?
JC: There’s a number of things – You can walk into our shop and see us actually creating the product on the premises. It’s all done right here. You know where your product is coming from. You can come in here and watch stuff being created. It’s local. The fact that we’re the producer, and I’m close to the source of diamonds and gemstones, you are paying close to wholesale, if not wholesale.
Q: What should someone expect to pay for an engagement ring?
JC: Everyone’s design is unique. We’ve made engagement rings for $1000 up to $65,000. I previously worked for a company in Toronto, where we imported diamonds from Russia and distributed Canada-wide. We did have a private buyer who bought a single diamond for close to $1 million dollars.
Q: How much could they save?
JC: We’re very fair. It doesn’t take much for a customer to walk in here and then go somewhere else to get another quote to understand how much they’re saving. It will vary by product.
Q: What do your clients love about you most?
JC: 100% it is our shop environment. Because we are not a traditional jewellery store and you can walk in, you are greeted by two dogs, we have Joan and Kristen out on the bench forever producing jewellery, it creates a relatable experience. Also, people like the fact that we teach classes and keep everyone involved in the process. We’re not sales driven. We’re production and quality driven. We get a lot of positive feedback on the feel of our shop!
More info: Walk-ins are always welcome. As long as you come in Tuesday to Friday 10am-5pm or Saturday 12-5pm we will be here to help you.
We hope this information will help you on your path to finding a beautiful engagement ring or jewellery piece for your wedding.
You’ve done your research into gemology as it applies to engagement rings and wedding jewellery, and have seen what this unique business can offer you that’s different from the box stores. So, you’re well on your way to finding the perfect ring- just like you found the perfect partner!