Perry's is proud to have 12 GIA Graduate Gemologists on staff, along with seven other employees currently enrolled in GIA classes. We employ at least one GG in every single one of our divisions, from Administration to Appraisals, Sales, and Custom Jewelry and Repair. No other jewelry store in North Carolina can match such an impressive team
GIA, or the Gemological Institute of America, is THE training authority in the American jewelry industry. To earn a Graduate Gemologist degree from the GIA, you must complete and pass five course studies and three lab classes, and then pass a comprehensive final exam. While you do earn a certificate of completion after each class or lab, you must complete and pass all eight (earning eight separate certificates) to earn the degree of Graduate Gemologist.
A prospective GG can earn this degree in two ways. He or she may enroll in a 6 month course at either of the GIA's US campuses in New York, NY or Carlsbad, CA, or complete the courses at his or her own pace through a distance education program. Distance students must still travel to a GIA campus to complete the required Lab courses.
On-campus tuition costs approximately $19,150, while distance education tuition costs approximately $7,830. These numbers do NOT include books or travel and living expenses.
Earning a Graduate Gemologist Degree from the GIA requires a very serious investment of both time and money. Only those who are truly serious about their jewelry careers go for a Graduate Gemologist Degree. Perry's is extremely proud to employ so many with such a deep commitment to the jewelry industry.
Our GIA Accredited Staff:
- Heather Anderson
- Gene Balius
- Janet Bazzone, GG
- Tamrah Bordini, Gemologist
- Brian Filer, GG
- Farjia Fulton, Graduate Diamonds
- Kathleen Gold, GG
- Marian B. Holt, GG
- Julie Lopett, Graduate Diamonds
- Deborah Lowry, GG
- Jennifer MacLeod, GG
- Mike McChesney, GG
- Holly Nester, GG
- Lea Koonce Ogundiran, GG
- Thomas Organ, GG
- Hadley Perry Pacheco, Graduate Diamonds
- Sherry Shifley
Janet's story: I became interested in gemology when, after my husband generously gave me several pieces of jewelry with colored stones, the cheapskate in me decided to learn to cut gems. Surely I could get more interesting rough gemstones and make them beautiful myself for much less money… True AND False.
I came to Charlotte, NC and took a three week course in gem cutting. When I came within hours of buying a bus ticket home and trading my car for a 75 carat Aquamarine, I realized that I should perhaps learn more about the gems I had learned to cut. I drove home and immediately signed up for the GIA Graduate Gemologist course of study.
I bought faceting equipment, and gemological equipment and went to work as a manager of a small jewelry store.
I was motivated to finish the course quickly as I was promised a substantial raise upon completion. To get the work done, I had to get up at 3:30 AM to study before getting the kids ready for school, and then off to work myself. I drove to Harrisburg, PA for my diamond lab, and I took the other labs plus the pearl course in Columbus, Ohio. My proctored exams were taken at the local library or a small notary’s office nearby.
I was never interested in coins until I met Perry’s senior numismatist, Steve Statland. Steve opened up an interesting, historical world for me through coins. I have never had a memory for history, but through the coins I find something tangible that links us to our history. I collect ancient Sicilian coins and pre-Colonial U.S. coins. Presently I am working through the American Numismatic Association’s School of Numismatics Diploma Program.
Tamrah's story: I first fell in love with the jewelry industry while working part time at a jewelry store my first year in college. I was studying fine arts in school and a designer in the store gave me research materials and helped me write a paper on jewelry as an art form. The following year I began a 2 year apprenticeship in jewelry design and fabrication. Then life happened. I transferred to another university, got married, traveled, etc., until a couple years later I found myself back in FL in need of a job and hopefully a new career.
I took a job with a family friend who dealt in art and estate jewelry. He really became a mentor to me and gave me an appreciation for the vintage and antique pieces of jewelry. He taught me how to evaluate pieces for authenticity and market value. When he saw how much I loved this part of the business he encouraged and helped me begin the GIA course work. I took all the classes correspondence through the mail and later online when it was offered. (At the time they were sending diamonds back and forth through the mail. I was so nervous I would lose one.) I was fortunate to be working in a jewelry store while taking the courses and would quiz myself with the diamonds in our inventory.
I had finished the diamonds courses and had just started the colored gemstones when my husband and I decided to move to Charlotte, NC. I completed the final 20 stone exam after about 2 years here. After 8 years at Perry’s I am still excited about the business, learning, and seeing new (old) things every day.
Brian's story: My career in the jewelry business began in 1980. At that time I worked for a chain store, being promoted to manager and eventually district manager. I was never asked nor encouraged to begin any formal GIA training. I decided that if I were to remain in the jewelry business as a career that I should study to become a Graduate Gemologist, so I signed up for the Diamonds and Diamond Grading courses in 1988.
At that time you could enroll in the GIA course via correspondence and GIA had what they then called a doorstep program wherein they would travel to cities throughout the US for students to complete their lab requirements. I completed my Diamonds and Diamond Grading course work and then completed my Diamond Grading Lab in Philadelphia, PA.
For a while I worked as Jewelry sales Representative traveling the country. I also relocated a number of times while looking for a company I could be proud to work for within the jewelry business. So as life got in the way, I would complete a course then put it off for a while until I could take another one.
After completing all of my required course work, I still needed my Colored Stone Grading and Gem Identification labs to gain my Graduate Gemologist degree. I began working for Perry’s in 2000 and Mr. Perry advised me that it was important to him that I complete my degree. I traveled to Washington, DC to complete my final labs, thereby receiving my diploma in May 2001. Beginning to end it took me 13 years to become a Graduate Gemologist.
Kathleen's story: My first exposure to GIA was from the owner and my immediate supervisor while working for the Jeweler in my home town beginning in 1983. He was a GIA Gemologist (the only one in town) and he encouraged me to begin my Diamond Grading classes to enhance my diamond selling skills and assist him with the Insurance Appraisals. I started taking my classes through distance education via the mail. There were no internet luxuries. Since then I've worked for companies with and without GIA influence and every course I have taken has helped me wherever I was. Available time and money along with life itself has had me stopping and starting my studies with the Gemological Institute over the years. Along with the regular Gemological studies, I have taken additional classes through the Gemological Institute such as Counter Sketching, Pearl Identification Lab and Fracture Filling of Gemstones courses.
Within the last 4 years I have finally completed all of my lab work needed for the designation of Graduate Gemologist, which includes the title of GIA, Graduate Diamonds. While traveling to both Raleigh, NC and New York City to complete my lab work I have also completed a 40 hour course for Watch Valuations and Fundamentals through the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors in Pennsylvania where I had the opportunity to evaluate pocket watches from the 1700s and early 1800s.
My many years of working with Graduate Gemologists and jewelry have helped me tremendously with all of my courses. The final Gemological Course I am currently taking includes identifying 500 gems stones and I am just over half way through. Identifying 20 stones at a time, learning what to look for, and making the final call all comes down to the last 20 stones for which you must identify all 20 correctly in order to finish. So, it is not the 480 stones I have to identify now week after week that keep me up at night but the final 20, the finish line, the light at the end of a 29 year long tunnel, that can’t come too soon and terrifies me all the same. Wish me luck!
Note: Kathleen passed the 20 Stone Exam and received her Graduate Gemologist Certificate in April 2013. Congratulations, Kathleen!
Marian's story: I started my "career" in the jewelry business in 1972 by joining a family-owned jewelry store (Schiffman's) in Greensboro, NC at the beginning of my first year in college. I stayed with the company for the next 6 years before taking a teaching position and moving away from the industry. In 2009, I decided to pursue a lifelong dream of obtaining my Graduate Gemologist diploma and at the same time was offered the chance to join the team of professionals at Perry's at SouthPark. I am presently in my final course of the GIA Distance Education program, Gem Identification.
Note: Marian passed the 20 Stone Exam and received her Graduate Gemologist Certificate in August 2013. Congratulations, Marian!
Deb's story: In August 2007, at the age of 56, I enrolled in the Gemological Institute of America’s Distance Education Program with the goal of obtaining the Graduate Gemologist designation. As a full-time 40 hours weekly employee, I devoted Saturdays and Sundays to course study. All course work is home study and tests are completed and faxed or emailed to your Instructor.
One of the first courses I completed was “Diamond Essentials”. The 4 Cs (cut, clarity, color, carat weight) are learned as well as selling techniques. I believe this course equates with the Diamond Council of America’s “Certified Diamontologist” designation, offering the very basic fundamentals. More advanced course work must be completed to grade diamonds, determine the facet arrangement, average girdle diameter, total depth percentage, average table measurement, table percentage, crown height percentage, girdle thickness, etc.
Lab Classes are necessary to obtain Diamond, Colored Stones, Pearls, and GEM Identification Graduate designations. As GIA conducted “traveling labs” during my course study, I drove to Harrisburg, PA for the Diamond Lab; Atlanta, GA for Pearls Lab and Colored Stone Lab; flew to San Diego and drove to Carlsbad, CA for the GEM ID Lab (GIA has since discontinued the traveling classes and now you must attend at NYC or Carlsbad). The Carlsbad Campus is wonderful and in a beautiful setting! Weekend study worked well for all of the prerequisite classes leading up to GEM ID, preparing to begin identifying gemstones sent in boxes of 20 each (25 boxes for a total of 500 stones).
GEM ID must be completed in 24 months. I determined that I could complete a box of 20 stones in two weeks, so this was the schedule I set up with the GIA Stone Library. Gemological equipment necessary for GEM ID was: microscope, polariscope, refractometer, spectroscope, color filter, and dichroscope.
A series of tests is done on each stone for proper identification: general observation (color, transparency, cut, phenomenon, polish luster, heft, is the stone assembled?), fracture, fracture luster, cleavage, refractive index, birefringence, is the stone singly or doubly refractive?, optic character, pleochroism, inclusions, absorption spectrum. A worksheet is completed for each 20 stone set, showing tests completed to determine identification. Worksheets are faxed or emailed to your instructor for grading. Incorrect stone IDs must be corrected and entire worksheet re-sent. Identifying stones is a labor intensive process, as it took me (initially) 20 – 25 minutes for identification per stone.
Not having the luxury of owning all of the expensive gemological equipment, I would arrive at work one hour early each day to ID stones and work 4 -5 hours on Saturday and Sunday (all off the clock). On one stretch, I was at Perry’s for 40 days straight!
After successfully identifying the 500 stones, I was ready to attempt the 20-Stone Exam, the last hurdle in the coveted Graduate Gemologist designation. For this exam, there are no “mulligans” or “do overs." All 20 stones must be correctly identified. 20 out of 20 to pass.
In October, 2009, I drove to Atlanta, GA to take the exam, as GIA was conducting Labs there for a month, and exams could be taken after daily classes. The 20-Stone Exam has a time limit of 6 hours for completion and may be divided into two 3-hour sessions if you like, one per day. I chose to take the exam in two days. I started off badly, dropping stones, having difficulty focusing the microscope, being in strange surroundings.
After two unsuccessful attempts at the exam, I decided to re-group and try again at a later date. Several more attempts were unsuccessful, and the 24 month period for course completion was running out. I requested and received a one time only six month extension. Several more unsuccessful attempts placed me in the Remedial Program to identify more stones sent by GIA. My six month extension ran out, but my instructor said if I requested another test within a one month period, I would not be dropped from the GG program. I was taking the exam once a month at that time.
Finally it was my “last chance”, I had taken the test so many times, my extension had expired, and if I didn’t pass on this final attempt, I would have to re-take the class ($1,800).
Initially, I had taken the exam in two 3-hour sessions. Because I was using a Proctor and test time was during the Christmas holidays, I chose to take the exam in one 6-hour sitting. I was certain that I would have the repeat the course, so I just “went for it." I completed the exam in approx. 4 hours and felt good about the outcome. Several weeks later, I received a phone call from my Instructor. I did not think that he would call to tell me I didn’t pass. I was correct. I had FINALLY passed the exam! I received my diploma in January, 2012. I was 61 years old.
Obtaining the Graduate Gemologist designation was the hardest, but most significant and rewarding accomplishment in my life. I love my job at Perry’s Fine, Antique and Estate Jewelry and am in my 9th year at this fantastic company!
Mike's story: I realized that after 20 years of teaching and making jewelry I needed to expand my knowledge of diamonds and gemstones. I completed all three of my lab requirements in Dallas, Texas. Over the following 18 months I completed the course work. I took my final lab tests in Atlanta. I passed my final written exam in the fall of 1998 and received my Graduate Gemologist diploma in January 1999. This gave me the depth of knowledge to improve the quality of my work and appraisals. Everyone in the jewelry field should complete their Graduate Gemologist training.
Holly's story: My first experience in the jewelry industry started when I was 21 years old selling jewelry at a local mom and pop store in Miami, FL. My biggest customers were my parents, who annually exchanged “important” presents at Christmas since my mother’s birthday was Christmas Eve and her mother’s was Christmas Day. This is also why they named me “HOLLY," even though I was born in November.
I learned from an early age the bargains to be found at the local monthly antique show and flea market where I purchased my first important piece of jewelry, a heavy rose gold charm bracelet that I still have and often wear. Although my formal studies were in a completely different field, my passion for bargain-finding and especially jewelry shopping never diminished. When my father, who manufactured industrial diamond items, passed away in 1982, he left a substantial collection of gem quality diamonds behind that he had “invested” in.
They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so in 1983 I opted to seek out a formal education with the Gemological Institute of America, first concentrating solely on diamonds, in order to handle my family’s newly discovered “investments” in these beautiful sparkling gemstones. I learned enough to start selling the gems to friends, associates, and acquaintances as beautiful engagement rings at rock bottom prices since they were free to me.
Life and studies brought me away from jewelry for a long time until I got divorced in 1989 when I was forced to sell the biggest diamond my father had left me in order to get back home to my family. Selling a diamond can be a very emotional experience, especially if you don’t want to, but you have to so I can relate to the many customers of ours who are in this same position. At least I (and they) had something to sell.
Back at home, divorced and starting all over again. I had always heard that to be truly happy in life you have to love what you do for a living. I have also heard people on TV talk about loving what they did for a living so much that they would do it even if they didn’t get paid, so I asked myself: what would THAT job be for me? The answer was jewelry! So I dove back into my gemological studies.
In 1992 flew out to Tucson AZ to take GIA’s practical diamond exam and attend the annual gem shows. What an experience that was! I sat for over 3 hours looking at my first stone; a ¼ ct. round brilliant cut VVS1 diamonds with a single pin point inclusion. There had to be more! They wouldn’t give me a diamond with only ONE inclusion; especially on my first stone. We only had a diamond cloth to clean the stone so I was sure there must be more that I just wasn’t seeing. Eventually the instructor came over to me wondering why I was still on the first stone. She asked me what I could see in the stone so I put a single dot on the page. She told that was all there was. Heck I saw THAT in the first ten minutes!
We broke for lunch and I had a rare hamburger from the concession cart outside… big mistake! That night, as I was watching the movie Goodfellas on TV for the first time (a major event in those days of network programming), I was sudden taken very ill with food poisoning. Needless to say I got no sleep and no studying done. My nightmare continued throughout the next day as I attempted to finish my practical diamond exam. Still feeling ill I was forced to lie down on the floor in the back of the thankfully darkened room when not running out to the public restrooms. Hours went by with little progress on the diamonds being made, but I had to finish since I still didn’t own my own microscope.
I had 45 minutes left in the exam day with 3 more diamonds left to grade. The instructor told me I would never make it. That was all I needed to hear. I finished all 3 stones in time and got my highest scores on those stones, higher than any others I had done before. It taught me to trust my gut instinct and go with my first impression. I realized that I was good at this IF I didn’t over think it! A lesson I am still trying to keep in mind every day.
Lea's story: I grew up in the Mid-West, but always had a keen interest in history, antiques, jewelry and auctions. I was not quite sure what to do with this passion for stones and auctions. While I was in college, I became friends with a jeweler, who was studying to be a psychologist. He suggested that I follow my heart and go to GIA. I took his advice and enrolled in the GIA residency program in New York City. The program took six months full time to complete. It was thrilling to do the residency program in New York, because 47th street (The Diamond District) was literally out our back door as well as all the auction houses’ jewelry viewings on weekends. As if that were not enough, you have access to some of the greatest museums and jewelry stores in the world. GIA has since moved to a different location within the city of New York.
Tom's story: My journey into the jewelry industry started out working in a 3rd generation family jewelry store. They instilled upon me the importance of having a Gemological degree and what it would do to help my career. I had a true passion to become a Master Jeweler and started working toward that goal in 1998. For four years I used all of my vacation time to attend lab classes in Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Atlanta and spent a thousand plus hours reading lessons, taking quizzes and grading box after box of gemstones until every stone was correctly graded and identified in order to complete all course work. All I can say is it was a hard journey but totally worth it in what it has done to help me be the best jeweler/master goldsmith that I can be.