LIFETIME INTEREST: Rod Brightman examines a gypsum crystal cluster. Rod's gem expertise is available free at Gemfest.
LIFETIME INTEREST: Rod Brightman examines a gypsum crystal cluster. Rod's gem expertise is available free at Gemfest.

Precious hobby became a career

GEM expert Rod Brightman never thought his hobby would become a career.

Working in and teaching gemmology for decades has dimmed none of his passion for fossicking, finding, swapping and testing gems and minerals in his retirement, or wanting to share that love with the next generation.

Rod started his working life as a geologist and entered study at the Gemmological Association in Sydney in the late 1970s simply so he could identify some of his own finds. However, having topped Australia in the practical test, he found himself running a diamond-grading laboratory, before moving on to teach gemmology full-time in Canberra.

These days Rod is one of the prime attractions at Toowoomba's annual Gemfest.

In fact, his skills are so in demand he has to limit the number of pieces each person can bring him to test. Queues form from the moment he starts until the doors close.

So what do people bring him?

"Some people bring things they've found that they want identified, and others have rings or necklaces they've inherited or bought overseas and they're not sure what they are,” he said.

"I don't do valuations, just identify them.”

Sometimes the news can be good, but often the jewellery pieces are synthetic or fake. A lot of poor quality stones or fakes were brought back, for instance, by the soldiers who served in Afghanistan, causing a lot of disappointment. Synthetics, Rod explained, developed as a result of the Space Race. New transparent materials were created to which colour could be added and which, to the untrained eye, looked as good as the genuine naturally occurring gem. These days that technology has been further improved, making it even harder to tell the real from the man-made.

The difference, Rod said is you could get a good quality $2-300 synthetic ruby for instance, whereas the real thing would cost $2-3000.

"Most people wouldn't pick the difference,” he said. However Rod is not always the bearer of bad news.

He recalls one man who brought in a badly damaged ring he had inherited from his aunty, which he thought was probably only of sentimental value. It turned out to be a four-carat Ceylon sapphire(famous for its colour), worth about $4-5000.

The man had it re-cut and made into a beautiful piece of jewellery.

There's no single test to ascertain what sort of gem you have (or don't), with everything used from a simple 10x magnification hand lens to a microscope, refractometer and spectroscope, and in some cases, even more specialised equipment. Rod's services on the day are free. but if you want to know more, you can take his yearly introduction to minerals and gems class at U3A.

"It's a great hobby that can last you from childhood to retirement and beyond,” Rod said.

"We get a lot of kids in at Gemfest - they love the rocks and minerals and crystals and it's a great thing to get them outside and interested.”

Gemfest, run by the Lapidary Club, is now in its 37th year and offers jewellery of all price ranges, precious gemstones in the rough or cut, bead supplies, crystals, minerals and fossil specimens from around the world, as well as Australian opals, pearls, carvings and ornaments .

You can even make your own unique piece by purchasing a setting, a precious-cut gemstone and have it set while you wait.

There will be almost 30 traders inside the hall, and another 35 outside, as well as food stalls.

Gemfest runs at Centenary Heights High School, Ramsay Street entrance, from 9am-5pm Saturday and to 3pm Sunday, October 21-22. Adult entry is $5 and children (under-13) free.

To find out more, call Riki on 0458 728 649 or go to www.toowoomba lapidaryclub.org.


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