Editorial: Certified Confusion

The confusion created by the use of the term “Certified” in the jewelry industry

If you “Google” the term “GIA Certified Diamonds” you will get over 500,000 page results. This is but one example of what has become a major issue in today’s jewelry industry regarding the use of the term “Certified”.

Based on conversations I have had with consumers in my 45 years in this business, the consumer perception of the term “Certified” means something that has been officially accredited for quality. In fact, before we really get to the heart of this thing, let’s look at what the Oxford Dictionary has to say about the term “Certified”:

Certify: (often as adjective certified) Officially recognize (someone or something) as possessing certain qualifications or meeting certain standards.

I think the key term here is “Officially recognize.” In other words, the certification comes from an “officially recognized” organization or entity with the standing to offer a “certification” of someone or something.

Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that to award a title of “certified” the entity offering the certification must have four elements:

  1. Official standing within the given subject or industry to bestow a certification,
  2. A certification process by which the person or thing is tested and certified,
  3. A formal examination protocol that must be met by the person or thing in order to achieve the level of becoming “certified”.
  4. A guarantee by the certifying body that the person or thing has followed the certification process and passed the required examinations.

Let’s apply this directly to the jewelry industry in perhaps the most well-known arena, diamonds.

According to the Blue Nile® website page: Diamond Certifications, Blue Nile sells Certified Diamonds. I quote: “Blue Nile Diamonds Are Certified.” The Blue Nile site continues to extoll the virtues of the GIA Diamond Grading Reports, under the heading that Blue Nile Diamonds Are Certified.

But there is a problem: The GIA does not certify diamonds. In fact, just the opposite. Direct from the GIA website:

“A GIA Report is not a guarantee, valuation or appraisal, and GIA makes no representation or warranty regarding its Reports….” GIA Website

Based on this statement alone, the GIA Diamond Grading Reports fail to meet our element #4, since the GIA specifically states the GIA Report is not a guarantee. But let’s go one step further. Here is a section from the GIA limits of liability statement regarding its reports:

(1) GIA AND ITS EMPLOYEES AND AGENTS SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY LOSS, DAMAGE OR EXPENSE RESULTING FROM ANY ERROR IN OR OMISSION FROM THE REPORT OR FROM THE ISSUANCE OF OR — USE OF THE REPORT OR ANY INSCRIPTION, EVEN IF THE LOSS, DAMAGE OR EXPENSE WAS CA– USED BY GIA OR ANY OF ITS EMPLOYEES

The GIA does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of their Diamond Grading Reports, even if their own employees made an error. Therefore, we have a diamond seller claiming to offer “Certified Diamonds” by the GIA, and yet we have the same GIA stating that they offer no guarantee, and the result is they do not “certify” the diamonds they grade.

Can you see how consumers are confused by this?

Let’s take this one step further and compare this “Certified” term that is also creating confusion in the gemology education field. The two most often confused:

AGS Certified Gemologist and IGS Certified Professional Gemologist.

These are gemological titles offered by two well respected organizations, but here is the problem reported by consumers: If the American Gem Society Certified Gemologist is for the Americas, is the International Gem Society Certified Professional Gemologist the international version of this certification? Is the IGS certification equal or better than the AGS title?

Once again, we will apply our Four Steps of Certification.

    1. Official standing within the given subject or industry to bestow a certification,

American Gem Society: established in 1934 “is a nonprofit trade association of fine jewelry professionals dedicated to setting, maintaining and promoting the highest standards of ethical conduct and professional behavior through education, accreditation, recertification of its membership, gemological standards, and gemological research.” AGS Website

International Gem Society: was established on the internet in 1998 by an individual claiming the gemological title of International Master Gemologist (IMG). (Editor’s Note: I could not find anywhere in the world that this title exists in order to confirm the claim).

    1. A certification process by which the person or thing is tested and certified.

American Gem Society: requires a person have a recognized gemological diploma, and requires “advanced studies in diamonds and colored gemstones. A CG also demonstrates mastery of diamond, gemstone, and precious metal testing procedures.” AGS Website

International Gem Society: From the IGS website “The course is self-study. This means that all of the material is online and available in the Reference Library, and the burden is on the student to learn the material.” IGS Website

It should also be noted that it appears that the IGS has no actual courses, but students read the articles written by the above mentioned founder as the education process.

    1. A formal examination protocol that must be met by the person or thing in order to achieve the level of becoming “certified”.

American Gem Society: As a former AGS Certified Gemologist, I can tell you the examination process for the AGS Certified Gemologist title is extensive, and requires both written theory exams and extensive practical examinations graded by a board of AGS professionals. Also, from the AGS Website: Our members must adhere to the American Gem Society’s code of ethics and are required to re-certify their title or designation each year.

International Gem Society: After students read the founders published articles, they are required to… “(1) Pass three 100-question written exams with a score of 87% or better. The student may retake the tests an unlimited number of times until they pass each one. (2) Thereafter, they must also pass a practical exam which requires identifying and grading 10 gemstones…..”

  1. A guarantee by the certifying body that the person or thing has followed the certification process and passed the required examinations.

American Gem Society: Upon completion of the required protocol, the AGS awards the title of AGS Certified Gemologist, with the diploma signed by a bevy of well-established industry professionals.

International Gem Society: Upon completion of their program the IGS awards the title of IGS Certified Professional Gemologist. Based on the available information this is now signed by the new website owner. I could find no gemological credentials listed for this person.

Clearly, there is a significant difference between the gemological substance and standing of the two entities, and yet they both offer their own versions of the terms “Certified” and “Gemologist” in bestowing their titles.

Confusing? Absolutely.

Can each legally call their title: “Certified”? Yes.

Are these two programs on par with each other? A realistic evaluation says, no.

Are the titles of Certified Gemologist and Certified Professional Gemologist potentially confusing to consumers? The answer is, yes.

I could go on about this but I think you get the point. There are some organizations out there using the title of “Certified” quite legitimately and with good foundation and purpose.

There are other organizations out there throwing the term “Certified” around simply because consumer perception is a title of “Certified” requires some kind of legal standing in order to be used. Which, of course, is not the case.

The use of the term “Certified” is very confusing to consumers, and the industry for that matter. It is yet another reason why we need a set of uniform standards for this industry, and an oversight body to enforce those standards.

Until we have that, terms like “Certified” will continue to be used to confuse and cajole consumers into thinking something is indeed “Certified” …. when, in fact, it does not meet any formal criteria for a certification.

Or in the case of GIA Certified Diamonds, I will leave you with this quote from the GIA website:

“As a protection to the public and GIA, the Report, the name, trademarks, service marks and logos of Gemological Institute of America, Inc., may not be used in whole or in part for purposes of advertising, publicity or promotion, and the Report may not be referred to as a guarantee, valuation or an appraisal.” GIA.edu

I think the GIA needs to place a call to Blue Nile and read this paragraph to the Blue Nile folks…along with the 500,00+ others on the internet doing the same thing.

In the end, there is no such thing as a “GIA Certified Diamond”.

Any time you read the word “Certified” in connection with the jewelry, gemstone or gemology industry, please use caution, read carefully and apply the Four Steps of Certification above.

Robert James FGA, GG
President, International School of Gemology