Interview with Julia Griffith of The Gem Academy
Gemology is a fascinating science, and staying up to date on gemstones and their technologies is an important part of being in the jewelry industry. For this blog post, I wanted to highlight Julia Griffith, a gemologist and content creator well known from her experience as an instructor at Gem-A, The Gemmological Association of Great Britain. She graciously accepted my invitation to be featured on Jewels of the Trade, and I hope you enjoy her story as much as I do.
I hope this interview will inspire you to check out her Lab Grown Diamond Course, her podcast, Youtube Channel, and of course her Instagram!
JOTT: Hi Julia! Thank you so much for letting us feature you on Jewels of the Trade. Can you talk a little bit about your background and what you do?
Julia: Hi, I’m honoured – thank you for having me.
Sure – I’m a gemmologist. Like most people that stumble across this niche, I became addicted to learning about gems. There is so much to know and I immediately had an affinity for passing on to friends and family every new thing that I learnt about them.
I did a short stint in retail and again found that all I wanted to do was talk about the gems. I was exceptionally lucky that I was asked to join Gem-A, the oldest education association in the world, in 2013 whose core aim is to teach gemmology.
I worked as a primary tutor for Gem-A for about 4.5 years, before I got the itchiest feet to go travel. I took off to Australia to dig for gems myself and learnt a huge amount about the geology of secondary gem deposits and also about the rarity of these treasures as a good gem specimen is really hard to find!
I found such freedom with travelling that I never returned to a full-time position. I work contracts, perform guest lecturing and I’m still an online tutor and examiner for Gem-A.
Most excitingly – I have just started my own online gemmology school; The Gem Academy. This new education platform is designed to take a gemmologists knowledge deeper into the (even more niche) topics within gemmology.
JOTT: Australia! What an amazing experience! How did this opportunity arise? How long were you there? Where do you plan to travel to next?
Julia: This opportunity was self-created. I chose Australia as I knew many gems come from this country, and that fossicking (the collection of gems) is a common past-time. I was there for 6 months in total. I joined a lapidary group, where I learnt to facet and cab gems. This group also took me on my first fossicking trip, which was to Agate Creek in Queensland. I went on more trips with locals from the Cairns area, including a short trip to hunt for rock crystal quartz and a longer trip to O’Brien’s Creek to look for topaz.
I fell in love with the Sapphire Gemfields in New South Wales, where I rocked up to volunteer at a gem fair, and ended up living in a local’s caravan for nearly a month, whilst I dug for sapphire in many of the local peoples sapphire claims. I also visited a number of other locations, such as Lightning Ridge, Ivernell, Emmaville, Torrington and Glen Innes.
I would love to travel more. I know there are so many places to visit in the U.S.A, so I’d love to do a road trip there. Sri Lanka has also been on my dream-list, and to be honest, I would return to Australia – a piece of my heart was left there and I’d love to reunite with my gem friends.
JOTT: Do you recommend travel for other jewelry professionals? Do you think travel could help professionals at the retail level?
Julia: I recommend travel to everyone! There is an incredible sense of freedom and peace when you feel like you are exactly where you need to be, and when there is nothing else to do but explore. Travel also comes with going to events, tradeshows and conferences. It’s amazing what you learn and who you meet just by showing up. I’ve befriended people from all over the world by traveling to such events, and so I would recommend all industry professionals to get out there.
JOTT: What inspired you to develop such a comprehensive online course on Lab Grown Diamonds?
Julia: Diamonds are my thing. I LOVE diamonds. There isn’t a more fascinating and impressive material on this planet and, so, for my first course; diamonds were the obvious choice. Right now, the “hottest topic” within jewellery retail is the trend of laboratory-grown diamonds, but, for many jewellery professionals; the separation of these laboratory-grown diamonds from natural diamonds is a confusing and intimidating reality. It was the perfect topic to choose.
Knowledge brings power and confidence over topics that are daunting at first. When I started writing the course, I didn’t know how detailed and interactive it would become. I’m very proud of the product I’ve produced. It goes more in-depth than any other course available and is full of videos, animations, infographics and summary “cheatsheets” to make the information accessible and easy to digest. I figured that if I relate to the way the information is delivered; then like-minded people would too.
My launch in December went down better than I could have wished, and I’m loving working with all the new students of The Gem Academy. I couldn’t be more grateful for all the early adopters that jumped aboard this new educational experience and I am very excited for the journey ahead.
JOTT: Who is the Lab Grown Diamonds course for? Would it benefit professionals working in retail?
Julia: Yes it would. The course, The ultimate online course on laboratory-grown diamonds, is made for people in the gem and jewellery trade.
It is particularly good for graduate gemmologists, jewellery valuers, buyers, dealers, cataloguers, retailers, gemmology students, and anyone who wants to gain in-depth knowledge about laboratory-grown diamonds, how they are made and how to identify them.
A lot of the feedback states this course is a great progression after gemmology qualifications offered by other educational institutions.
This course takes the information given in other gemmology and diamond courses and expands it to cover all aspects of laboratory-grown diamonds in terrific detail. All my students will be exceptionally well versed in this topic by the end. The information is as up to date as it can be and students get access to the information for life, including all future updates so their knowledge will always be on point.
I’m already starting to get the reputation that the course is delivered in a simple entertaining way without shying away from the more complex topics. I make my students think, which is a very effective learning style and graduates of the course can be very proud of their achievements as they will be incredibly knowledgable on laboratory-grown diamonds after they complete the course.
All this being said, the course does not assume any knowledge. Everyone has different backgrounds and a different base understanding, so, the course starts with the basics and builds up to the more complex topics so that no student is left behind. I have had a few complete beginners on the course and they’ve given great feedback and, of course, learnt a lot. There is a tutor/peer forum so it’s easy to ask questions, and my students know they can email me directly at any time.
JOTT: You used to be a Gem-A instructor. Can you talk a little bit about how that helped you with your career? Do you recommend Gem-A education for professionals?
Julia: It helped me massively. Ridiculously so.
I was invited to join Gem-A at a temporary library intern for 3 months… they didn’t know I could teach and, to be honest, neither did I. But after assisting with one lesson, I was soon asked to join the teaching team full-time and was given my first ever diamond diploma class 4 months later.
I was a good teacher, my students did very well. Several won special Gem-A examination awards, which is fantastic, and it was such a pleasure to work with others that shared my passion. I started teaching 8 years ago and, oh my – the things I’ve learnt from this profession! I thought I knew a lot back then, but it’s so true what they say; teaching is learning. I continue to learn something new every day.
I would recommend gemmology diploma courses to everyone that wants a base of gemmology and gem testing practices. Everyone needs that core foundation of knowledge that is scientific and reliable, and from here they can specialise and flourish with continued education and career experience. A lot of us start our professional journey with these gem and diamond diplomas, and I very much appreciate where I came from and the path it has put me on.
I was lucky enough to study the Gem-A diplomas alongside an HND diploma in gemmology offered by The School of Jewellery, at Birmingham City University. This meant full-time gem studies, which is a privilege to do as most programmes are part time. The HND diploma and Gem-A diplomas were my original structure and syllabus for gemmological learning and has served as my fundamental core ever since. There is so much more to learn and understand in gemmology that this has led to much research, which has helped me in my aim to be a go-to gemmology educator and lecturer.
JOTT: You’re reaching out to other professionals in the industry via a YouTube channel and podcast. What kind of content can we expect to see coming from you in the future?
Julia: Ah yes! I apologise now for the big rest period in these activities recently. Anyone who has a youtube or a podcast will know… creating content takes up so much time and energy! Even a “quick” 5-minute video can take all day to create. Now that I have some big projects out the way, I have created more podcasts and YouTube videos – so please follow @thegemshow_podcast and @thegem_academyfor sporadic doses of gem knowledge!
With all my work, my target audience is people that work in the field; gemmologists, valuers and retailers… I like to pick topics that offer new accessible information to the online gem education space. A “niche within our niche”.
JOTT: What are your goals for The Gem Academy? What kind of classes can we expect to see in the future?
Julia: My goal is to create a platform that is the go-to place for jewellery professionals that want to build on the knowledge that they have. I plan on creating many more courses. Each one will have a specific focus that many would consider to be “pain points” – topics that requires extra attention and lots of practical examples. I want my work to be valuable and truly helpful in advancing the knowledge and experience of those working within our industry.
We appreciate Julia so very much for the interview and look forward to following her successes with her venture: The Gem Academy. If you are interested in Julia’s Lab Grown Diamond course, don’t hesitate to read about it here!
Here are some links to help you connect with Julia and deepen your gemological understanding: