Chris Hoffman, one of Rio Grande’s resident gemologists, has worked alongside jewelers for most of his adult life. When he was 19, he answered an ad in the paper for a jewelry salesperson.
“I didn’t know about anything, but the guy hired me,” he says, “My very first sale was a pair of garnet earrings, but I had no idea what kind of stone it was.”
That job awakened his passion for gemstones. “I wanted to further my education in this field, so I paid for the diamond courses through GIA,” he says. The more he learned about being a gemologist, the more curious he become.
He moved to Albuquerque in 1991 and started in Rio Grande’s customer center—close to the jewelry industry but not quite close enough to the gemstones. He worked in the customer center for about 10 years before making the transition to the gemstones department.
There are two graduate gemologists in Rio’s gemstones department, and they each know the inside of a gemstone like the back of their hand. They work closely with Rio’s customers to find the perfect stone.
When Chris receives a phone call or email from a customer with a gemstone request, the excitement of a treasure hunt takes over. He has a new mission—find the perfect cut, clarity, carat, size, and price. The hunt can take as little as 24 hours or as long as three weeks, depending on the rarity of the stone and its characteristics.
One phone call for a stone can lead to ten or fifteen out-bound calls back to the customer. “It really involves digging in and asking the right questions—size, shape, color, cost. By the time I send the stone, it’s no stress—all the work has already been done,” Chris says.
Chris loves how animated jewelers are about finding the perfect match for their piece. Gemology is a science, but being a gemologist is passionate work. “It’s strange because I’m always in my little cubicle staring at my computer screen and talking about gemstones, but gemstones are very emotional,” Chris says. “It can be easy to think of it as a simple commodity, but that emotional contact and touch that we put to customers when we get that right stone for the right person … it’s really neat.”
Chris’s most memorable stone involved finding a stone for a customer whose wife had to stop playing piano because of her arthritis.
“She was feeling really bad about it since she couldn’t play anymore,” says Chris.
“We found a black onyx in the shape of a grand piano, and we did a piece of white onyx with little black pieces to make it look like keys on a piano. On top of that was a bar setting for diamonds.
The following February we were at the Tucson Gem show and this guy walks up to me and says, ‘Somebody told me you were Chris.’ He shows me the ring, introduces me to his wife … It was really quite nice. Those kinds of things are neat.”
Next time you need the perfect diamond or gemstone for a piece, give Rio’s gemologists a call. They’ll make it their personal mission to find just the stone you need.