Book Reviews


Gems: Their Sources, Description & Identification, 5th edition, by Robert Webster; revisions edited by Peter G. Read. 1995. 1,072 pages. $120. (JCK Data Center AU-052) To order call (617) 928-2500.

During one of his rare visits to the United States, Robert Webster made a presentation at the Museum of Natural History in New York. His short, stocky build was accentuated by bulging pockets packed with copious notes in which he logged every old and new scrap of information about gems he could find. The result of his efforts — Gems: Their Sources, Description & Identification — set a standard that was unparalleled for its time.

The content of the original two-volume set reflected a depth of reporting and understanding that made this work one of the most important references for anyone interested in gems. Surprisingly, this monumental undertaking, although reflecting the observations of many, was the singular effort of one dedicated individual, Mr. Robert Webster. It is important to reflect on both the man and the task in order to gain a clear perspective of the current edition.

One thing is certain in this explosive information age: it is impossible for any one person to keep pace with the exponential growth of knowledge. To explore all the horizons of the gem sciences with the intensity of Webster requires a well-organized entourage of specialists who are committed to exploring science without trade bias and informational prejudice.

Herein lies one of the singular limitations of the latest edition. Although it attempts to maintain the original favor of Webster’s objectives, it is still behind the times, despite its fifth editions status.

There is no question that for many this text will remain the epitome of gemological reference material. But although it had the opportunity to establish a new, significant leadership status, it unfortunately lost sight of Webster’s original focus and fell short of its mark of excellence.

Critical issues like enhancement interpretation, gemstone origin detail, colored stone grading and a more prolific use of color are conspicuously absent. These aspects of gemstone understanding are vital to the future of the gemstone industry. Because of the controversial nature of some of these areas, we unfortunately see a decidedly European viewpoint which commonly reflects the CIBJO party line.

To his credit, the author solicited help from specialists to contribute and review specific areas of the original text. Several sections have been expanded to include more recent information, most notably the section on instrumentation. This development is of critical importance, especially to the professional gemologist, since it reflects the survival path through the gemological process. Techniques both old and new have been added, from Hodgkinson’s no-equipment visual optics to infrared spectroscopy, an increasingly useful tool in the laboratory.

Unfortunately, some of the other sections were developed by individuals who apparently lack a working knowledge of applied gemology. In some cases even basic issues like the limited interpretation of the usefulness of fluorescence in identification and origin determination procedures are a skewed view of how they function in a working laboratory.

There is no doubt that this text is still the king of the gemological hill, and that the expanded version has benefited from the input of others in the field. In the final analysis, this is still the best we have and it is an essential tool for every working laboratory. Potentially, the next edition will reach a more significant plateau and rekindle the original spirit of Webster. — C.R. “Cap” Beesley, president, American Gemological Laboratories, New York, N.Y.; JCK Book Judge.


Revere on Goldsmithing: Project Five: Hollow Wedding Band, by Alan Revere. Videotape. 81 minutes. $49.95. (JCK Data Center PA-005) To order call (800) 844-9442.

This is the fifth in the ambitious series of step-by-step, professionally oriented goldsmithing training videos by Alan Revere. If you are serious about learning jewelry making, you should get this tape.

Tapes in this series offer a number of firsts in the jewelry-goldsmithing field. They are about education, not entertainment. They are serious, step-by-step, slow-paced, careful tutorials. You can follow along (stopping and starting the tape) and make the object — something that not all teaching videotapes allow.

Project Five teaches how to make a hollow-formed band ring. The camera work is good; you feel you’re seeing the work from the same angle as Revere. There is a sensible logic to the working method and organizing hints, such as measuring and making the draping tools. The emphasis on measuring is excellent. Revere uses wax sheet as a model to demonstrate how to better understand the metal flow that occurs when shaping sheet.

If you are going to use this tape as a training method, I have some suggestions:

1) Watch it through once with great concentration to study tools needed, tool usage, hand movements (notice that torch movement), controls, bracing methods, positioning of hands and tools and working pace. You can learn a lot from the bench and tool set-up. As you watch, takes notes. Treat it like going to school.

2) Watch the tape again and make the piece along with it, stopping and starting the tape as necessary. Give yourself a day for this the first time through. If you really want to learn, then make the same ring again four times, taking notes on improvements every time. If the results all look the same, you are doing very well and can give yourself a gold star. If you use the tape for self-education, I recommend also getting the rest of the set for consistency, as well as Revere’s book Professional Goldsmithing. — Charles Lewton-Brain, FGA, Lewton-Brain/Fontana Center for Jewelry Design, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; JCK Book Judge.


The Technique of Master Gem Polishing, by Gerald L. Wyoff. 1994. 311 pages. 182 black/white illustrations. $24.50. (JCK Data Center JR-007) To order call (717) 741-2469.

This is a comprehensive overview of the techniques, tools and knowledge needed to apply a fine polish to all types of gemstones. The major sections include gem polishing theory, polishing techniques, equipment you can make, special polishing procedures and equipment and tools. The topics of each section are thoroughly discussed in an easy-to-read, conversational manner. The book also is packed full of tables, list, charts and appendices containing valuable information.

The book is designed for lapidaries (faceters, cabochon cutters and carvers), but there also is information for the beginner. Lapidaries definitely would refer to this book when they have a question or need an idea for tackling a tough polishing problem.

The book does have a few drawbacks: poor illustrations, several typographical errors and a lack of organization. But I would buy it for my lapidary library. — Roma Strong Zanders, TIMIO 24k Custom Designers, Tempe, Az.; JCK Book Judge.

Copyright © Cahners All Rights Reserved. JCK (Jewelers’ Circular Keystone) is a publication of Cahners Business Information.