Earlier this year, my husband and I were on vacation in San Diego and I took the chance to visit the GIA (the Gemological Institute of America), something that had been on my wish list for quite some time. Their headquarters facility, which houses their lab (where they do diamond grading, gemstone certification, pearl classification, etc.), school, museum and library, is located in Carlsbad, about an hour or so north of San Diego. The GIA is right on the coastline, beautifully situated a little bit up on a hill with unobstructed views of the ocean.
The museum is open to anyone who wants to visit, and they offer tours every weekday. You have to call at least 24 hours ahead to sign up, but I recommend calling at least 48 hours in advance (when I called the day before I wanted to visit, they were already booked for private tours, so I signed up for one two days later).
It’s not huge, but very interesting, and a fun visit if you’re into gemstones. Make sure to bring your ID – you won’t get in without it. The guard at the entrance to the parking lot will take it and run a check (it seemed like a pretty thorough one, he was gone for quite a while).
Once you’re in, you enter the huge lobby with floor to ceiling windows with gorgeous views of the ocean and a few glass cases with gemstones, etc (my favorite was the one with tiny pieces of stones in every color you can imagine – so pretty, and educational too!). (Click on the photos to see them larger)
We were a group of around 8 (from mixed backgrounds; two were scientists, others “just” gemstone fans like me, some in the business of making and selling jewelry, etc.) who met up with our charming guide Peggy. Peggy started the tour by taking us outside to show the enormous 1-ton Swarovski crystal octahedron (the largest in the world) in the “Tower of Brilliance”, which apparently glows like magic in the sun (unfortunately we didn’t get to see that; it was cloudy when we were there) and told us a bit about the background of the school.
We then went back inside and went from a giant 800 lb piece of rock crystal quartz (4.7 feet high!) with spectacular rutilation to the cafe/museum part, and then for a walk through the school, where gemstone, diamond and mineral exhibits are mounted on the walls all around.
The tour took about 1 ½ hours, and we both really enjoyed it. I knew much of what was covered already, but my husband learned many new things, and we saw a lot of gorgeous gemstones. If you’re in the area and are looking for something different to do one day, I highly recommend it!
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