Kim Rix, the Gemstone Detective shares her secrets

Looking for a holiday gemstone souvenir? Before you reach for your wallet, reach first for one of Kim Rix's handy pocket-sized 'Gemstone Detective' guides.

Australian opal

Ever been tempted by little piles of shimmering gemstones when on your travels to exotic lands? Focussed on gem-stone buying hotspots, Kim Rix the 'Gemstone Detective' offers savvy advice on what to look out for when buying gemstones abroad. Kim's tips will guide you to buying wisely so you don't come home with coloured glass or stones that have been tampered with to render them near worthless.

Star rubies, such as this one from Sri Lanka, are highly prized thanks to their crystal structure that produces this distinctive play of light.

Tell me how you came to write this series of books?

I am a professional photographer and gemmologist trained at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).  I am based in East London, where I live with my husband and from my extensive travels I have gathered a vast amount of the best local knowledge from my world-wide contacts. 'Buying Gemstones and Jewel in Sri Lanka' was my first book in the 'Gemstone Detective' series with further editions that cover the world, Australia, Thailand, Myanmar, India and the USA.

Natural unheated tanzanite in a rich shade of blue, like this 29.23-carat stone in Doris Hangartner’s collection of unique gems, is incredibly rare. 

What gemstones are unique to specific destinations?

There are countries that produce gemstones that are completely unique to that region and they can only be found in that one place in the world. For example, tanzanite (above) can only be found in a six-mile stretch of earth in the Merelani hills of Tanzania; a special type of disaspore named zultanite (now known as csarite) can only be found in the Anatolian mountains of Turkey an  Larimar is only sourced in Dominican Republic. Australia has a unique range of opals, some specific to a region.

Read more about opals here. 

Opal is found in a matrix that surrounds the silica crystals that have been formed 70 million years ago when heavy rain flooded the Australian earth leaving behind silica deposits that were subsequently slowly baked in the heat of the sun.

What stones should I buy where?

There are places in the world renowned for producing the finest quality gems in the world and you may have visited them already but not scratched the surface of this incredibly fascinating side to your holiday destination. For example, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is recognised for producing the best clarity rubies in the world, Kashmir for the ultimate ‘velvety’ sapphires and Colombia’s emeralds are highly prized. You may love jewellery and gemstones, own a diamond or two, or covet a bright red ruby, but once you delve into the world of gemmology, from the mining to the creation of magnificent pieces of jewellery, you will never look at that ring or necklace in quite the same way again.

Is it always best to buy in the country of origin of the stone?

Interestingly, even if particular gemstone originates from one country, or is known for being the crème de la crème of their type, it doesn’t mean to say that this is the best place to buy them. It’s well known in the gem industry that the closer to the mine you are, the more likely you are to come across expensive fakes and imitations. Why? Because unscrupulous tricksters living close to the mines have come to know the gemstones intimately, and have learned how to replicate the gemstone to make it look convincingly real. It can be very tricky to tell the difference, unless you know what you’re looking for. Even the most experienced gemstone professional might find it difficult to tell the difference between a fake and a genuine stone, it just shows how clever at making the fakes those swindlers are.

Are some places better than others for buying gemstones?

Take Thailand, for example. It is one of the world’s most important sources of corundum, the mineral from which sapphire is formed. However, you’ll have a huge choice of gemstones to choose from as Thailand imports gems from all over the globe and is a world centre for gem cutting and polishing.  My opinion is that you are better off buying a Colombian emerald from Thailand, for example, where it will certainly be cheaper. That said, because Thailand is a country at the centre of the gem trade, it suffers from its fair share of fraudsters too, so you still must have your wits about you and ask the right questions and get the right certification.

Likewise, you will find a huge range of gemstones in Sri Lanka. As well as being a beautiful country for a holiday it offers gem-lovers stunning sapphires, moonstones, spinel, zircon and many more, but again, it suffers from its fair share of charlatans, so be extra careful and use some common sense. Trust your instincts and if something appears to be too good to be true, it usually is so best to walk away.

Note: Kim Rix’s Gemstone Detective Guides are available to buy online and in all good bookshops as paperback pocket guides and e-books, as well as via her website:

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