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Vault Peeping: Behind the Scenes With an IGR Gemologist


I was happy to hear from the team at International Gemological Reports (IGR London) recently, and for a couple of reasons. One is that the boutique London-based diamond and gemological laboratory was founded by Black private jeweler and industry luminary Thelma West (we highlight one of her outstanding diamond rings here), and the other is that the lab is entirely run by women. Both aspects make it a welcome anomaly in our white- and male- dominated jewelry industry.

And when IGR offered me a chance to connect with its lead gemologist, Zhanna Beissekova—and see some of the most unique pieces she’s been tasked with evaluating—I was of course delighted.

“Every time we get a new delivery, I feel overwhelmed with excitement, like a kid in a candy store,” says Beissekova, who received her certification at the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (aka Gem-A). “I’m very passionate about geology and gemology. Time flies when I examine gemstones and explore the hidden world of a stone.”

Beissekova’s grandparents were born in Kazakhstan, a country rich in natural resources, and were involved in the mining industry. Her grandfather’s stories set in mining cities helped inform Beissekova’s interest in geology and passion for the Earth’s most precious mineral treasures.

Today, from her IGR perch in London’s Soho district, she and her team issue reports and certificates that authenticate a variety of items, from important loose stones to finished jewelry. Both types of documentation create transparency and security for the buyer, whether it’s a consumer or a dealer. The process usually takes three to five working days; clients who need reports in a hurry can request express service for an additional fee.

Some pieces, like the ruby brooch up top, and the antique pearl necklace and watch ring below, are sent to the lab for an insurance valuation, a service offered to both jewelers and private clients. “The value we provide is not the resale value but the replacement value [in the event of theft, loss, or damage],” says Beissekova. For the most accurate assessment, she adds, most insurance experts recommend that high-value acquisitions be re-evaluated approximately every three years.

Other pieces, like the Alice Cicolini ring below, require Beissekova to provide a jewelry report that will accompany the piece when sold (the jewelry report is meant to be a passport detailing a jewel’s unique characteristics).

Increasingly, such documents are becoming a very helpful resource that retailers can provide with a purchase; obviously it’s a way to unequivocally communicate the authenticity of a jewel, but it might also tacitly, subtly help justify the price it commands.

IGR Alice Cicolini ring
Alice Cicolini Jodhpur Miniature Leaf ring in enamel and gold with 3 ct. emerald. “The ring exhibits [the U.K.-based contemporary designer’s] inspiration from the jewelry of the maharajas,” says Beissekova. “The ring as a whole is a pretty piece of art, enameled with a leaf motif design and featuring an emerald of exceptional color.”
Here are a few more glimpses of the jewels that have landed in Beissekova’s office of late.

IGR Paraiba tourmaline
Electric blue Paraiba tourmaline weighing 11.45 cts. Says Beissekova: “This stone is of an exceptional color and clarity, which is quite uncommon, and was in the lab for a detailed gem grading report for [London]-based jeweler Catherine Best. The striking neon blue colors are incomparable to any other gemstone. Making them even more special is their single source: the Paraiba region in Brazil.”
IGR Antique pearl necklace
Antique pearl necklace with clasp accented with old cut diamonds and cushion-cut aquamarine. “This antique necklace from Hancocks London is a beautiful, historical piece of jewelry that’s impossible to forget.”

IGR Watch ring set
DeLaneau watch ring with 7.6 cts. t.w. round brilliant diamonds and 6.5 cts. t.w. carved emerald leaves. Says Beissekova: “This beautiful piece is truly unique, being the only one of its kind to have been manufactured and sold anywhere in the world! Not something we get to see often, so as you can imagine there was a lot of excitement about this when it arrived in the lab from [London] jewelers Rich Diamonds.”
Top: Ruby and diamond brooch with 34.95 cts. t.w. square and rectangular rubies, 2.73 cts. t.w. central diamonds, and 2.23 cts. t.w. diamond leaves. “We love brooches and get to see our fair share in the lab,” says IGR gemologist Zhanna Beissekova. “Not only is this one a striking design, but it also showcases wonderful craftsmanship. Upon closer inspection of the brooch we discovered wonderful details, the most memorable being that all the rubies had to be cut from the same rough to not only match in color but for every stone to fit perfectly together—like a jigsaw puzzle.” (All photos courtesy of IGR London)

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Amy Elliott

By: Amy Elliott

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