Reviews

Book Review: Secrets of the Gem Trade, Second Edition

Tao Hsu
December 1, 2017
Secrets of the Gem Trade Book Cover
By Richard W. Wise, hardcover, 404 pp., illus. publ. by Brunswick House, Lenox, Massachusetts, 2016, $99.95.

The gem and jewelry industry is still extremely secretive, even in our fast-paced digital era. In both the first and this second edition of Secrets of the Gem Trade, Richard W. Wise targets trade secrets that almost all beginners and consumers would like to peek into. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Mr. Wise shared both his knowledge and life experience with his readers in this marvelous work. 

Since Wise was not born into the trade—he started out as an apprentice goldsmith, becoming a well-known gem businessman—his personal experience will echo with many readers of this book. His book has been expanded since the first edition was published in 2002. The second edition builds on the author’s research and personal excursions to gem sources, manufacturer hubs, and major markets around the globe. This effort is well reflected in the sophistication of content in many chapters. Wise incorporates important, newly discovered gem sources, including East African ruby deposits. Wise also provides updates on sources that used to be important but have since been exhausted. As a result, the author almost completely rewrote the ruby, sapphire, and spinel chapters in order to deliver the most updated information to the readers. 

Wise also added chapters on jade, natural nacreous pearls, conch pearl, demantoid garnet, peridot, moonstone, and sunstone. There is also an introduction to go together with each of the above gems (with the exception of demantoid garnet). A new introduction of blue white diamonds was also included with this update. I paid special attention to the new jade chapter, as Wise went to China’s jade manufacturing centers to experience their treatment of this gem in person.

The first seven chapters of the book introduce the essentials of connoisseurship. The discussion begins with the history of the precious gem concept and the modern concept in comparison. Then it moves to the address several pillars of the modern gem and jewelry industry including grading standards, color description, grading special cases, gemstone enhancement and an overview of new gem sources. Beginning with chapter 8, each chapter deals with one specific gem variety. For gems falling into the same group, the author also provides an introduction before providing an in-depth look at each material. For example, there is an introduction for pearls which is followed by four separate chapters devoted to different varieties. 

While this book can be used as a gemology textbook, it is also quite different than those traditionally used for this purpose. The order of the chapters on individual gem varieties follows the alphabetic sequence rather than mineral classification. This makes it a lot easier for readers with no mineralogy background to navigate. Second, the author uses understandable language, rather than scientific terminology, to deliver the message to readers of all different levels and interests. When explaining concepts, personal understanding is always described to add the author’s personality to the content. For instance, in the “Rethinking of 4Cs” chapter, the author explained the standardized 4Cs and then added his own 5th C, “crystal,” an interesting concept that people won’t be able to find in gemology textbooks. Last but not least, this book is well illustrated with breathtaking images and deliberately designed graphics, an aspect that is often lacking in conventional gemology textbooks. 

Readers will not just learn the essential concepts of modern gemology, but will also get a better understanding of the gem market. Additionally, the author also uses his own experience to tell the readers what is the best way to learn the gem trade, giving and what “homework” they need to do before going out to buy. It is a good read for people who are currently outside of the trade but want to step in. It is also an excellent review for those who are already experienced in this trade. The second edition of Secrets of the Gem Trade is definitely one of the best comprehensive gemological publications you can find today. 

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