This question came up recently at the Blount County Arts and Crafts Guild meeting. It was a way for the group to reconnect with members old and new after a summer hiatus. This summer I was fortunate enough to attend a week long workshop at Wildacres retreat in North Carolina and I took the Gem Identification and Appreciation class taught by Ben Smith, F.G.A.

At the end of the week, each class had a representative speak to the whole group of attendees to share with everyone what the class was about. A couple of folks asked for a copy of my remarks, so I thought I’d share them here as well.

As my class representative, here’s what I had to say:
“Who doesn’t love a mystery? Science is the way we solve the mysteries of our surroundings and it is in our nature to satisfy our curiosity about the shiny sparkly things we call gemstones. Ben Smith taught us that gemology is the science we use to identify these shiny sparkly things. We learned how to use the tools of the trade when solving the mystery of a gem: dichroscope, polariscope, microscope, refractometer, leverage gauge, scales, and ways to measure specific gravity. We were then each challenged to solve a mystery of our own by using these tools, reference materials, and deduction to identify our assigned stone.

Everyone’s success is a tribute to the teaching skill, vast knowledge and patience of our instructor Ben Smith. Ben’s instruction also covered how synthetic stones are made, tradional and current industry trends in synthetics and treatments, gemstone care, simple home tests for fakes like glass or dark blue synthetic spinel, and additional instruments like a “black box”, moissonite tester, and diamond tester.

Here are some comments from fellow classmates:
· Exceeded expectations of what we thought we learn and absorb in this time span
· Lots of fun
I personally got reacquainted with my scientific side and discovered I can get lost inside a stone when looking through a microscope.

Most significantly, we were privileged to take part in this particular class which marks the end of an era for this group. Many, many thanks to Ben Smith.”

The last remark is a reference to Mr. Smith having resolved to make that class, (his 55th session!) the last one he will teach.

I would like encourage anyone interested in the lapidary arts to consider taking these classes offered by the Southeast Federation of Mineralogical Societies, who conduct four week long retreats per year at two locations. As a member of the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society, I was able to spend a wonderful week of learning, meeting other attendees, eating very well, and relaxing in a remote mountain environment. There were about 60 participants in nine classes. The instructors are top notch, the setting is incredible, and the value is beyond belief! For more information about the classes, go to

If you would like more information on how to become a member of the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society, I invite you to attend the upcoming Gem, Mineral and Jewelry show hosted by the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society. This annual event will be on October 16-18, 2009. For more information, visit There will be plenty of folks there to talk to about what we do and how to become a member. If you’ve got kids who are interested in rocks, this is a must see event! (and kids under 12 attend free!)