A peep into the precious industry of gems and jewellery

Friday June 14 2019

Samson Mwangi

Samson Mwangi to pursue a course in gemmology, which is the study of precious stones. PHOTO | COURTESY 

SAMWEL OWINO
By SAMWEL OWINO
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The influx of fake gems in Kenya motivated 40-year-old Samson Mwangi to pursue a course in gemmology, which is the study of precious stones.

It is a unique field, but for those in it, the rewards are quite satisfying. 

To succeed, however, one has to be good in geology.

Mwangi is the first born in a family of four, he told myNetwork that his interest in precious stones developed due to his family’s involvement in the gemstones business. Charles Mwangi, the chairman of Kenya Chamber of Mines, is his father.

Mwangi studied 1,000 different varieties of precious stones during the four-year university course, and is now the director at Scotney Castle Mining company. He says that Kenya is very rich in minerals, producing an average of 5.2 tons of gold every year with the help of about 100,000 small-scale miners from Western Kenya, Nyanza and parts of the Rift Valley.

For him, stakeholder participation is urgently required so that the Mining Act 2016, which requires any investor wanting to join the industry to first obtain a consent and enter into a binding agreement with individual landowners within the area of interest, be amended because it is expensive.

He is also proposing that royalties on gold trading be untaxed to make the industry more attractive to potential investors. The setup of an internationally acclaimed gold refinery, he says, will put Kenya on the global map for the right reasons.

In simple terms, What is gemmology?

Gemmology is the study of gemstones or precious stones.

Were did you study? What motivated you to study this course?

My family trades in gemstones, so while helping out in the business, I realised that there were so many fake gemstones in the market. I developed an interest because I wanted to know more about the subject.

I studied at the Gemmological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad, Carlifornia.

What does gemmology entail and how long is the university course?

I undertook the Graduate Gemmologist (G.G.) and Accredited Jeweler Professional (A.J.P.) comprehensive course. It covered in-depth study of diamonds and 1,000 different varieties of stones and jewellery. My accelerated course took one year. I graduated in September 2002.

This course comprehensively expanded my knowledge of diamonds and coloured stones, as well as the technical expertise and practical skills required to evaluate gemstones using the 4Cs (colour, clarity, cut, and carat weight).

While studying abroad, what were your best moments? What difficult moments did you endure?

The university was located in a scenic place in North San Diego County. The weather was good throughout the year and I made many friends who I am still in close contact with. The final exam, however, was quite difficult because I had to get 100 percent accuracy on all the stones I was tested on.

I was tested on 20 random stones that were picked out of the 1,000 we studied during the course.

Which institutions in Kenya offer this course and how many qualified gemmologists do we have in Kenya?

At the moment, there is no local institution that is offering gemmology as a course of study. The National Mining Institute was to be established in 2013 to build capacity and address the existing gaps in terms of developing skills locally. This institute was also to offer technical training of skilled personnel such as gemmologists, mining engineers, geologists, geophysicists and metallurgists. Also, it was to undertake innovative research on the extractive industry. Sadly, it remains a white elephant, yet the lack of proper training in gemmology is what has  slowed down growth in the mining sector over the years.

I know of only three people who have been to Carlsbad campus like me, where long distance learning is also offered.

The qualified gemmologists I know in Kenya are Antony Zagoritis and Marvin Wambua.

Which opportunities exist for one qualified in this field?

It is a wide field and gemmologists can get gainful employment in different areas depending on their areas of specialisation. For instance, they can work in offices dealing with gemstones, in gemstone identification laboratories, in sales and marketing of gems, in jewellery making, as experts of identifying gemstones or in gemstones mining.

Most offices dealing with gems are located at Rehema House on Kimathi Street in Nairobi.

Does this career pay well?

Depending on the job description and country of residence, the monthly salary for a qualified gemmologist at entry level is Sh200, 000. The remuneration also depends on one’s level of experience. You can earn up to Sh700, 000.

Tell us about your experience working in Homa Bay and Migori.

I first went there four years ago. I was working with small-scale miners to ascertain gold contents in gold tailings, which are the waste materials left over after the valuable fractions of gold have been extracted.

The local miners were very keen on learning new ways of harvesting more gold. I advise them to invest in locally made crushers, as these will grind the gold-bearing rocks more easily. After the gold has been crushed to powder, they mix it with water, and the slurry is then passed through a shaker table which will separate the actual gold from other unwanted particles.

How can one tell if the gold is real?

First, seek the services of an independent laboratory. The lab attendants will use an analyser that will determine the percentage of gold contained in the sample. Other traditional methods include acid tests done on the sample.

What is your advice to young people interested in gemmology?

There are resources available online where they can research and study gemmology. More information on scholarships and internships can be found on www.gia.edu.

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