AGTA GTC Lab Hires Three Gemological All-Stars

The American Gem Trade Association’s Gemological Testing Center laboratory has hired three internationally acclaimed gemologists: Dr. Lore Kiefert, formerly of the Swiss Gemmological Institute laboratory; Richard W. Hughes, noted sapphire author and enhancement expert formerly with Pala International; and John I. Koivula, GIA’s noted inclusions expert, author, and former chief gemologist.

The three join laboratory director Ken Scarratt, also a highly regarded gemologist. Scarratt was instrumental in uncovering the beryllium treatment of “padparadscha-like” diffusion-treated sapphires and was first to notice the newest and most unusual heat treatment from Sri Lanka.

AGTA executive director Doug Hucker cites “tremendous growth in demand for the services of the AGTA [GTC],” as the reason for expanding the lab’s staff. This increasing demand “required a greater capacity to examine and report on the large volume of stones being submitted, and in an effort to realize this capability, the GTC has searched the world for the best that gemology can offer.”

“There’s going to be a lot more work,” says Hughes, who notes that many dealers want to send goods for identification but can’t afford a long turnaround time. “Once the backlog is gone, we should have the turnaround time for most stones be a couple of days at most,” he says. At present the wait time for gem identification is seven to 10 days, but in the past, it’s been up to six weeks for one stone. “Our number-one goal is to get that turnaround time down.”

Koivula and Hughes will remain on the West Coast, but all stones will be submitted to the New York lab and shuttled to the California office, which won’t be a walk-in laboratory. “These guys need peace and quiet,” Scarratt explains. He agrees with Hughes that the system will dramatically improve turnaround times, allowing the lab to “handle a lot more than in the past.”

“I am looking forward to it,” says Koivula, who’s eager to return to the front lines. “I like being at ‘the mine face,'” he says. “Each time you open up that paper, you don’t know what you’re going to encounter, and then you have to figure out what it is. Now that’s fun!”

All-Star Team

Dr. Lore Kiefert is an expert in both colored-stone identification and origin determination. She was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and began studying mineralogy in 1981. In 1987 she obtained her master’s degree with a thesis on the distinguishing characteristics of sapphires. She joined the SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute as assistant director in 1994.

Kiefert earned a Ph.D. in Australia in 1996, on the composition of desert dust, and her FGA early in 1998; she was appointed director of the SSEF colored-stones department in 2000.

Kiefert has lectured throughout the world and contributed to the “Handbook of Raman Spectroscopy” and the “Handbook of Raman Spectroscopy in Art and Archaeology.”

Richard W. Hughes, a fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, is an authority on ruby and sapphire. His first book, Corundum (1990), was highly regarded, and his self-published book, Ruby & Sapphire (1997), has become a standard. He also has authored dozens of articles.

Hughes is a native of the United States, but his interest in gemstones was ignited in Asia, where he has spent considerable time. He graduated from Bangkok’s Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences in 1979 and joined its staff shortly after. He was later appointed executive vice president, a position he held for a decade, and helped the institute blossom into a leading facility for gemological education.

Hughes has traveled worldwide searching for gemstones, and his laboratory experience encompasses all gem materials.

John I. Koivula has spent 44 years studying and photographing the microworld of gemstones. He started in the mining industry as a field geologist for Cominco American and then worked for the Gemological Institute of America, finishing his 29-year career as chief research gemologist.

Koivula has published more than 800 articles and notes on gemstone inclusions and related topics and has authored, co-authored, or contributed to several books, including The MicroWorld of Diamonds and the upcoming Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones: Volume 2.

Koivula holds degrees in geology and chemistry; is a G.G., C.G., and an FGA; was awarded a fellowship in the Royal Microscopical Society; and serves on the executive board of the International Gemmological Conference group.

He is an honorary life member of the Finnish Gemmological Society and the Gemmological Association of Great Britain and was named by JCK as one of the 64 most influential people of the 20th century in the jewelry industry. Honors include the Robert M. Shipley Award and Richard T. Liddicoat Journalism Award from the American Gem Society, the Scholarship Foundation Award from the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies, and the Antonio C. Bonanno Award for excellence in gemology from the international Accredited Gemologists Association.

The GTC has also hired a new control-team member, Hpone-Phyo K. Nyunt, who joined the lab in December 2004. He’s a native of Myanmar [Burma], and his family has a history in gemstones and jewelry. Nyunt came to the United States in 2001 and studied computer and electrical engineering at Northern Illinois and Columbia University. He is an experienced customer-support assistant and proficient in domestic and international shipping, data entry, and inventory control.

For more information regarding the AGTA GTC, call (800) 972-1162 or visit