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First Person Online: A gem of a hobby

Gemological training caught Nashville banker’s fancy

First Person Online: A gem of a hobby
 
 
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Every banker knows the 5 Cs of credit. But CEO Deborah Cole may be the only one who also knows the 4 Cs of diamond grading: Color, Clarity, Cut, and Carat weight.

Cole also could tell you things you never even knew there were to know about evaluating pearls and colored gemstones such as rubies—and some of the myths about them. For instance, you do not use your teeth in testing pearls. And while a diamond will scratch glass, an encounter between a hammer and a diamond will go badly for the jewel. Besides holding a business doctorate and being president and CEO of the nation’s oldest continuously operated minority-owned and operated bank, Cole is a graduate gemologist, accredited by the Gemological Institute of America.

When she’s working at her alternate calling, you won’t find Cole far from her “loupe.” This is the eyepiece used for a close look at stones. It’s essential, she explains, “unless a stone is outrageously bad.” Evaluation requires study with the right tools and a trained eye.

Gemologists learn their craft both at the Institute, based in Carlsbad, Calif., and via a combination of distance learning and hands-on training conducted in cities around the world. Cole became interested in her unusual avocation when she met jeweler Chuck Koehler in Nashville, home to her Citizens Savings Bank & Trust Co. “I like jewelry,” says Cole, “and I wanted to know something about what I was buying.”

Cole opted for a multi-year regimen of distance learning and periodic trips for live training, explaining that she couldn’t just stop work: “Hey, I had to pay the bills.” She learned not only the evaluation skills a gemologist must have, but jewelry repair technique. Beyond technical skills, the training covers other factors, such as the sources of various jewels. “The history of so many of the stones is fascinating,” says Cole. She compares her viewing of the Hope diamond at the Smithsonian a couple of years ago to seeing the Mona Lisa.

Cole’s bank maintains a general community banking mix with a specialty in church lending. Gemology doesn’t enter into her daily work: The bank does not accept jewelry or gemstones as collateral. Instead, she uses her skills at jewelry trade shows and similar events, working with jewelers she’s come to know. One proud moment was when she thought she had detected that a stone billed as a diamond wasn’t one—and had her evaluation confirmed.

Regarding gemstones, Cole has her own preference: “They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but colored stones are so beautiful—though I wouldn’t turn down a diamond.” Among her own collection, Cole’s favorite piece remains a ring given by her late husband: a diamond with two rubies, Cole’s birthstone, on either side.

By the way: Should you meet Cole, don’t ask her to evaluate the engagement ring you or your spouse are wearing. She’ll simply say, “Treasure whatever he gave you.”

About that “perfect” stone…
Has anyone ever flashed what they said was a “perfect” or “flawless” diamond or other precious jewel before your eyes? Chances are it wasn’t even a real stone, says gemologist-banker Deborah Cole.

Cole explains that such fine stones wouldn’t stay such fine stones for long if subjected to the knocking about that anything mounted on a human hand takes. Truly “perfect” or “flawless” stones spend most of their time in vaults or safe deposit boxes, according to the banker.

So what exactly has been flashed before your eyes?

“Many wealthy people have paste models made of their expensive stones,” explains Cole.

What is “paste”? Essentially a type of glass that is mixed wet, hence the name. Cheaper pastes may be molded into shape, while costlier types might be cut, much like real stones, to create facets to reflect and refract light.

Don’t let on. Just smile and say, “How lovely.” 
 
 
  

Tagged under Community Banking,

Steve Cocheo

Steve Cocheo’s career in business journalism has taken him to all 50 states and nearly every corner of banking in institutions of all sizes. He is executive editor of ABA Banking Journal, digital content manager of ababj.com, and editor of ABA Bank Directors Briefing. He coordinates the popular Pass the Aspirin and First Person features and wrote the booklet series Focus On The Bank Director. He is the only journalist to have sat in on three federal banking exams, was a finalist for the Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards, and a winner of multiple awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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