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AGS Laboratories: An Industry Revolution

By John Carter, CGA, Jack Lewis Jewelers

Over the years, I’ve worn various hats while connecting with members of the American Gem Society (AGS) community. Initially, it was as your Conclave Chair, then with the high honor of AGS President, and most recently as the Chair of the AGS Laboratories Advisory Committee. Each of these roles has been very special to me. Serving on our AGS International Board of Directors will always be listed among the professional accomplishments I am most proud of.

AGS Laboratories will also always hold a place in my heart because it is the very reason I joined the Society in the first place.

As a young diamond professional, I was drawn to cut grade and selling the most beautiful diamonds I could find. I owed this much to my customers. Within a few years of its founding, it was very clear to me that there was something exceptional about a diamond if it obtained the coveted grade of AGS Ideal®. I wanted to be a part of an organization that did something as bold as revolutionizing the way diamonds were cut worldwide.

John Carter, CGA

John Carter, CGA, Jack Lewis Jewelers

Yes, that’s correct. What this laboratory accomplished was nothing short of a revolution within our industry. AGS Laboratories was the first grading laboratory to offer an overall cut grade report and, ultimately, light performance. In a very short time, some visionary suppliers began to recognize this importance and that it could tell a very specific story that directly benefited the customer. Once the spark was lit and these standards spread, an AGS Ideal® became the pinnacle…a true symbol of optimal performance.

After a few years, other very worthy laboratories came in and told a similar story, but our proportion-based system laid the foundation that eventually led to the light performance system that we know today. To this day, the highest compliment a diamond can be paid is for it to receive AGS 0® or AGS Ideal® for light performance.

And while this journey for AGS Laboratories has been a glorious revolution, we find that for our mission to continue, we needed help from the name we’ve all come to know and trust. GIA (Gemological Institute of America) will take up our cause from here. How fitting is it that AGS Laboratories’ legacy should wind up in their very capable hands?

Robert M. Shipley founded Gemological Institute of America in 1931, and why he had this epiphany is unknown. However, here is an explanation from GIA’s website:

“Imagine yourself in his shoes: You are a successful businessman with the intrinsic charm and charisma of a great salesman.

“You have created a group of highly successful and well-regarded jewelry stores and are convinced you know all there is to know about gems—until two of your best customers challenge you and reveal your lack of expertise. Standing in his shoes, how would you feel?

“Probably just as Robert M. Shipley did: humbled. And even though his lack of expertise was typical for U.S. jewelers in the mid-1920s, those soul-searching encounters ultimately spurred him into changing the gem and jewelry industry.”

Shipley went on to change the world, and he started by changing his industry. GIA was born out of the mind of a man who saw a need to organize chaos.

Just three years later, he saw the need for another organization. While GIA would focus on the necessary education and nomenclature our industry needed to maintain consistency, AGS would be the conscience of our industry and unite the most ethical businesses with the glue of consumer protection.

His goal was to create an organization that could help protect the jewelry-buying public from fraud and false advertising. Today, we’re all proud to say we live that vision in how we conduct ourselves in our dealings with the public and one another.

Not only do we share the same founder, but our missions are similar, aren’t they? We want to avoid consumer confusion through our joint missions of education and ethical standards. GIA and AGS are sibling organizations that not only share the same founder, but also the same ideals.

A few years back, during my induction as President of the American Gem Society International Board of Directors, I urged our membership to support AGS and GIA in any way they can. I told the AGS community at the Nashville Conclave that our organizations stand (and have always stood) for so much more than just three letters. Back then, I had no way of knowing I would write to you about this transition today, but it is so fitting that they should take the baton from us now.

The research of our Lab, built out of a need and absolute dedication to our consumers, will now find itself led by Susan Jacques and her team, which is comprised of the finest minds in the world of gemology. Every single AGS member and supporter of our Lab should be so proud on this day, as we know our Lab’s legacy will live on in the thoughtful care of GIA.

While this transition may be bittersweet for some, it is also a chance to say “thank you” to AGS Laboratories.

AGS Laboratories, not only did you spark a revolution, but you also changed diamonds and how we buy them forever. This transition ensures that your hard work and contribution to the never-ending cause of unlocking a diamond’s optimal beauty will live forever.

I, for one, cannot wait to see where the GIA team takes us from here.