Photomicrography of Gemstone Inclusions

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John Koivula wrote an award-winning article, "Photomicrography for Gemologists," which was published in the Spring 2003 issue of Gems & Gemology.* An excerpt appears here:

Without photomicrography, gemology as we know it would be virtually non- existent. The photomicrographer explores the surfaces and interiors of gems with a microscope, and prepares images that record and convey information that is normally hidden from view. Today, nearly all professional gemological researchers take and publish their own photomicrographs. When researchers report the identifying features of new synthetics, treatments, and natural gems from new geographic localities, they include photomicrographs that are instrumental to the jeweler/ gemologist in identifying these new materials. One needs only to look through issues of Gems & Gemology, or any of the other various international gemological journals, to see how dependent gemology has become on these illustrations of the microscopic features of gems. Via the printed page, these photomicrographs instantly update the reader.

Although the basics of photographing through a microscope are easily learned and applied (see, e.g., "Photomicrography.…," 1986-87), high-quality photo- micrography is an art- science that is never fully mastered. It only continues to improve over time with much practice, great patience, and at least some imagination. A gemological photomicrographer must understand a subject in order to bring out or highlight any significant details, and to know how the subject will appear on film. That is the science (figure 1). Artistry, however, requires that those details be presented in an eye-pleasing photograph, since along with durability and rarity, beauty is one of the primary virtues of any "gem" (figure 2).

It is neither possible nor feasible to own every beautiful or scientifically interesting gem encountered. With the ability to take photomicrographs, however, one can document any notable or educational micro-features. Over time, it is possible to create a visual media library that can be used as a reference and documentation source in gem identification situations. Such a library also can be employed as an independent image resource for lectures and other presentations, and, in the case of certain beautiful photos (figure 3), even as an inspirational form of aesthetically pleasing natural art.

In the pursuit of photomicrography, the cleanliness and stability of the microscope are critical, and the effects of light on the subject inclusion must be fully understood in order to determine what method(s) of illumination will yield the most useful photographic image. In addition, specialized techniques can save film and time while producing top quality photomicrographs. Although some of these techniques are usually mastered only through decades of experience, it is never too late to start learning and refining what you already know. This article discusses these various factors and techniques, such as the importance of a properly prepared microscope and photographic subject, as well as the control of vibrations and the factor of time itself. It also examines several methods of illumination adaptable to a standard gemological microscope. It is intended not only to introduce readers to gemological photomicrography, but also to show them the possibilities offered by this always interesting and often beautiful realm.

The entire article can be downloaded here courtesy of the GIA.
(© 2003 Gemological Institute of America, all rights reserved).

Koivula, J.I. "Photomicrography for Gemologists," Gems & Gemology, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 4-23.

- John Koivula was recipient of the inaugural Richard T. Liddicoat Journalism Award in 2003 for this article; in 2004 Gems & Gemology was honored with NAPCO's "Gold Ink Award for Scientific and Technical Journals," which was presented to the GIA and Fry Communications. This issue featured the cover photo and lead article by John Koivula.



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