Valuing what comes from deep within the earth

David Levison, Owner, Jeweler and Gemologist, Levison’s Jewelers and Gemological Laboratory Service, Miami, Florida

Article | Miami, Florida | 10 January 2022
David’s training at the Geological Institute of America has prepared him for a career to grade diamonds through an analysis known as the 4 C’s which stand for cut, clarity, carat weight and color. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
For more than 130 years the Levison family has been dazzling customers with their jewelry. Their first store opened in 1888 in Albany, New York and is now in its third generation of family ownership.

David Levison, owner and gemologist at Levison’s Jewelers and Gemological Laboratory Service is based in Miami, Florida. He speaks to us about the family business his grandfather started and gives us a crash course on how to a grade a diamond.

“This is a Gemological Institute certificate that comes from the laboratory where we all studied to be gemologists,” says David, who is a gemologist graduate from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad, California. The GIA is the leading institute on diamonds, pearls and precious stones, and the certificate provides a gemologist with recognised skills to analyse and assess the authenticity of diamonds and gem stones. “I’ve been doing this for over 40 years!” he proudly exclaims as he displays his certificate.

“The GIA invented the scale for grading diamonds known as the 4 C’s which stand for cut, clarity, carat weight and color,” David mentions as he looks at the diamond through his loupe-a magnifying glass used to examine and measure precious stones. “The loupe has a 10-x magnification which the GI specifies as the rule,” he indicates, while now placing the diamond under a microscope for us to see its qualities.

Growing up in Albany New York, David wasn’t that interested in the jewelry business as both his dad and grandfather were. He did however have a keen interest in geology and rock formations. “I liked geology a lot when I was a kid. In Albany where I grew up there are these formations called dykes and sills that are natural to that area and I was always fascinated by them,” he excitedly recalls.
David’s training at the Geological Institute of America has prepared him for a career to grade diamonds through an analysis known as the 4 C’s which stand for cut, clarity, carat weight and color. ILO Photos/ John Isaac

“And there were also garnets. These little red semi-precious stones which were all over in Upstate New York. I found it so amazing that nature produced this stuff,” he says with a wide grin and sparkle in his eyes.

Despite his excitement and enthusiasm for geology, Levison first ended up working as a mechanic and carpenter in Detroit. But fate would lead him back to his love for rocks and to his family roots in jewelry.

“One freezing cold winter, I was reading the paper in the pouring rain, and in the corner of the paper it said how much gold was selling for every day. I monitored the price and it was going up by $20 to $30 a day, which was way more than I was making for one day’s work. I called my dad and said ‘Pop, I have some money and want to invest it in gold,’ and he says, ‘Good boy, good idea,’ and two months later the price doubled.”

After the price doubled his instinct was to sell the gold. One month after he sold it the price dropped back to its original price. “My dad called me up and asked me how I knew that was going to happen, but I told him I didn’t and I just got lucky and he says, ‘You want a job? I could use some luck,’ so I went to gemology school and then ended up here.”

In discussing the science of gemology and what it takes to be a gemologist, he shares that the trade is different from being a jeweler. He also reveals that it is a growing profession and one that continues to increase in importance. “The number of students enrolling in gemology school increases every year, and there is a demand for it globally. It’s a valued trade all over the world.”

The business of selling and buying gemstones is a very personal one which requires trust between the buyer and the jeweler. Throughout history the value of gemstones have been used as currency particular when people are fleeing violence, war or persecution. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
For centuries jewelry and gemstones have been a safe investment and have provided much financial security, particularly for people who have had to flee countries due to instabilities and conflict.

“Whenever there is a problem somewhere and you have to leave, you can’t take large bundles of cash or real estate, but you can literally escape with gemstones in your pocket and that can support you for a couple of years. And they are always translatable and appreciated all over the world,” he emphasizes, adding that gemstones can be described as “a portable bank.”

Technology he says is very much a part of the gemstone and jewelry business, but he doesn’t think it will ever replace the need for human workers. “There’s machinery that will create the cut of a diamond right on the spot, so it doesn’t need me to do this. But I don’t see how we would be replaced, because somebody still needs to fill out all the paperwork and interface with clients, as it’s a very people-oriented business that is based on trust,” he remarks.

In response to being asked what work means to him Levison puts his loupe down, looks up and says, “Well by definition I have failed because it’s not work for me, it’s a passion.” He adds, “There’s no day that’s exactly the same as the last, as you illuminate this science to people. And it’s a wonderful experience seeing everyone’s face light up when they get to look at the natural wonder that exists inside gemstones.”

Taking us through the dazzling and exciting process of how a diamond is graded and putting us to the test to describe our findings, Levison congratulates us, chuckles and jokes, “You’ll get your diploma in the mail.”