AsiaLounges: Hi Billie, thank you for being with us today! We appreciate you taking time off of your schedule to explain us a bit who you are and what you do. Tell us about yourself, Lotus Gemology, and the team behind it.
E.Billie Hughes: Lotus Gemology is a Bangkok-based gem testing lab that my parents and I founded together in 2014. I had just finished studying gemology, and they are both gemologists with decades of experience. We had all just completed our book Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector’s Guide in 2013 and were ready for a new project.
We had a vision for how a lab could issue reports and we didn't think it was being served in the market, so we decided to open Lotus and do our own thing.
AsiaLounges: What is the philosophy behind Lotus?
E.Billie Hughes: People across societies and cultures, throughout history, have appreciated gems with a great sense of wonder and awe. I think a lot of us in the gem trade feel this connection to gems, and yet many lab reports didn’t really communicate this in a way that resonated with the end user.
What we wanted to do at Lotus was to create labs that would celebrate the beauty and rarity of each stone we tested. We wanted to create a report that would be worthy of the beauty of the stones, and put the focus on what makes a stone exciting and romantic. When we issue reports, we try to provide the information that we would want if we were purchasing a gem for ourselves.
Asialounges: Since you're opening up to the subject of reports, can you tell us more about the services Lotus offers to their clients?
E.Billie Hughes: At Lotus we offer reports on ruby, sapphire, and spinel, which are our specialty.
We offer two sizes of report. The smaller one is our standard, softcover report. This provides details about the identity, enhancements, color type, and origin of a stone, where applicable.
We also have a larger hardcover report. This was designed to help the end user learn more about gems. These hardcover reports are over 10 pages and are highly customizable. They have all the basic information that the softcover has, but with the addition of pages going in-depth into the origins and other aspects of the gems. For example, the origin page changes depending on what the stone’s origin is, and will provide a map as well as a photo of the locality. In fact, most of these photos are taken from our personal collection.
We’ve been able to do some really special hardcover reports. In some we’ve provided inclusion photos of the subject of the report. In others we show the stone from rough to cut, showing the gem photographed from rough, then preform, then cut stone. In really special cases I’ve even photographed the stone while it was being cut. It’s really cool to be able to show the journey a gem takes from its origins into the market, and it provides some of the context around what makes a gem so special. It’s a rare glimpse into the story behind the stone.
Our reports also come in different colors. Our gold report is reserved only for natural, untreated stones. Stones that have been enhanced get a silver report. Recently we’ve introduced the new black report, which is primarily reserved for synthetics. While clients can choose whether to do a hard or softcover report, they do not get to choose the color.
AsiaLounges: As an active team of dealers in the market we keep on hearing rumors of fake or falsified lab reports. How do you guys deal with that? How can your client figure out whether or not a report is genuine?
E.Billie Hughes: The easiest way to verify a Lotus report is by doing a report lookup on our website. Our reports come with a report number and PIN, and by inputting these numbers into our report lookup page, clients can check if the data matches. This lookup also provides clients with a PDF (R.N. Asia Lounges issues a Jpeg version of all reports featuring both report number and PIN code) of the report.
If you ever have any doubts, feel free to give us a call or email and we’ll be happy to help.
AsiaLounges: Can you tell us more about the lab business in general? Tell us of your routine works as well as the different activities you and your teams are involved in to?
- What does stone testing involve?
E.Billie Hughes: We do a number of tests to learn more about each stone. These tests vary depending on the needs of each individual specimen.
First and foremost you have to identify the stone. Clients also need to know what enhancements, if any, have been performed. Additionally, nowadays many clients want to know what a stone’s origin is, and want to have a color type, which is a generalized color guideline.
The essential information on a report first and foremost has to identify the stone. This means weight, measurements, information on cutting style, and a photo of the stone should all be included on the report.
We also do basic gemological tests to determine identity and treatment. This can include collecting data on the refractive index, UV fluorescence reactions, and other properties of the stone. We also examine the stones with high magnification under the microscope, which is the most important piece of equipment in the lab.
Additional advanced testing is used by many labs, including ours. This can range from taking infrared spectra, Raman spectra, and doing chemical analysis of the stone.
A lab report is not about the results of any one specific test. Rather, it’s assessing at the evidence from different tests, combined with the observation and experience of the gemologist, that makes for the most accurate report.
(R.N. For those of you who'd be interested in knowing more about gem testing, processes or instruments, here is a selection of articles from Lotus Gems that should help you take your first steps in that direction.)
- Do you publish any of your work?
E.Billie Hughes: Yes! Our biggest news right now is our new book. In 2017, we’re publishing Ruby & Sapphire: A Gemologist’s Guide. It’s a new edition of our 1997 classic Ruby & Sapphire. This book is geared towards gemologists and other professionals in the field, and will be the most comprehensive text ever written on the subject. From information on history, to color and optics, to crystallography, to treatments and synthetics, and origins, it’s all there. We’ve done a huge update, with hundreds of new photos (including lots of inclusion photos from every major origin in the world), and the book weighs in at over 800 pages so it’s going to make for some serious reading.
It’s actually the companion volume to Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector’s Guide, which was published in 2013. The Collector’s Guide is more a guide for how to appreciate and select ruby and sapphire like a connoisseur. It teaches readers what to look for in separating fine ruby and sapphire from low quality material, and gives a great overview of ruby and sapphire sources around the world, including lots of beautiful pictures of top gems and the places they hail from.
We also have many articles about gemology which can be found on our website, many of which were originally published in academic journals and trade publications.
- Tell us more about research. Why is it so important for a lab to be at the forefront of research and how do you do it?
E.Billie Hughes: Research is important for two reasons. First, our field is relatively new so there is a lot that we still don;t know. Two, there are constantly new discoveries being made that we have to keep track of. Between treaters testing out new techniques and dealers going around the world to buy from miners who keep discovering new deposits, there is a lot of new information to follow.
Many people think of research as something that happens in the lab, but in gemology, research actually begins further from home. Because gems are so portable, we need to gather specimens at the source. Thus, our research begins in the field, and we often collect samples from the mining site. For example, our most recent research trip was a journey to Madagascar in August. There, we were able to see mining at the site, and collect and purchase samples at the source.
We take the specimens back to the lab where they are added to our research collection for future study.
AsiaLounges: At this point, I think our readers get a better understanding of how important a lab job is to our industry but, in your opinion, what makes Lotus Gemology such a special lab? How is it different from other labs?
E.Billie Hughes: For one, we’re the only lab in the world that specializes in just ruby, sapphire, and spinel. We’ve written the most comprehensive books on the subject, and have several decades of combined experience with it. By narrowing our focus, we can stay as up to date as possible, and tailor our research and publications to this segment of the market. We’re a small company; we can’t do it all and we recognize that. By specializing, we put our experience and expertise to the best use.
I also think what sets us apart is our passion. We are excited about gems, and our reports communicate that love to the end user. It’s all about helping them appreciate and understand these stones that they’re collecting.
AsiaLounges: In a fast evolving market, and knowledge driven industry such as yours, how do you see the lab business evolve in, say, the next five to ten years? Do you imagine it change in any dramatic way? If yes how?
I think in some ways we are seeing more sophisticated instruments and equipment and that’s going to have an impact. At the same time, it’s not going to replace important basics like the microscope.
Also, even though the equipment is becoming more advanced, they keep discovering more mines and new origins, which further complicates things. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. If anything, I see it getting more complicated. As always, new treatments will also be developed, so the labs will have their work cut out for them in detecting treatments. I do think it will be interesting to see how consumers react to this. I think the push for more natural, untreated stones is one sign of how consumers will be dealing with treatments in the future.
We’ve seen lab reports become more important to sales in the last few years and I also think this will continue.
AsiaLounges: Before we let you head back to the microscopes, how can our readers follow Lotus' news and publications?
E.Billie Hughes: We provide a lot of free articles on our website that you can check out, as well as our Hyperion inclusion search engine.
The best way to see what’s new with us is to follow us on Facebook.
AsiaLounges: Where can clients submit a stone if they want a Lotus report?
E.Billie Hughes: Our main office is in Bangkok, Thailand, and this is where we do our testing. Most of our clients submit their stones in person here in Bangkok. We also have a take-in window in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and we get regular shipments from them. Clients abroad can also ship items to us via secured services like Malca Amit or Ferrari.
45/1 Silom 19, Suite 411
+66 (0)2 117 3616
No. 46 Abdul Caffoor Mw.
+94 112 577 885
Thank you very much Billie for your time and explanations about the lab business. Next week you will be with us again to talk this time about your passion, the very reason behind Hyperion: Photomicrography.
Stay tuned Loungers, we don't always get to hear what an Award winning, Internationally acclaimed star has to say about her very art!
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See you soon in the Lounges,