Fake emerald discovery led to gem of a career

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 March, 1998, 12:00am

While working as a jewellery designer in the New York store, Macy's, Celenia Chiu Veng-si stumbled into the science of gemology. She suspected a customer's brilliant green and incredibly costly emerald from Colombia might be fake, and discovered after sending it to the Gemological Institute of America that it was. 'I didn't ask how much it cost,' she says. 'I didn't want to break her heart.' The 32-year-old is now education manager with the worldwide organisation's Hong Kong branch, teaching the industry and public about precious stones. She is married and lives near Hunghom.

What's on your mind? I'm very excited about the opening of the institute's new campus in Tsim Sha Tsui. People from all over the world came to the opening on March 25. It was a milestone for the institute and an important milestone in my career. There are more things I can explore now, and I can transfer my experience to our new students.

What new design trends are emerging in jewellery? It has become more interesting. Minimalism is in now, people care about quality rather than quantity. In terms of gems, of course everyone has a budget but when they had money they would go for the volume. Now, with similar amounts of money they get better quality, or even smaller stones. Also, these days the trend is in pearls - South Sea pearls. Everybody is looking for pearls.

The Consumer Council said some people spend $100 on a ring containing $2 worth of gold. Is design really worth that much? It's not good for consumers obviously. But hopefully with the stones, they would be told what it is worth. If I was a consumer though, I wouldn't expect that amount of gold in something like a wedding card. For that price, I think you can only expect a very small amount of gold.

Have you ever seen gemstones at their original source? When I was young I visited an emerald mine in Colombia, and held a big piece of emerald inside the mine. My father was born in Panama, and speaks Portuguese and Spanish, so we travelled to Portuguese-speaking countries. It's a shame because I was so young at the time that I don't really remember what the emeralds were like. Otherwise I could have nagged my mum to get something!