Gübelin (Est. 1854 – ) It is the rare business whose contributions to its industry rival the products it makes. Gübelin is such a company.
Established in 1854 in Lucerne, Switzerland, it remains a family enterprise and carries forward a legacy whose beginning coincided with advances in technical, medical and economic conditions that re-made the world.
Jakob Josef Mauritz Breitschmid opened his watchmaker’s shop on Pfistergasse in Lucerne in 1854, six years after the Constitution of 1848 established Switzerland as a modern state. In a short time, with his business a success, Breitschmid took on an apprentice named, Eduard Jakob Gübelin who was a Paris-trained journeyman.
Breitschmid was a dedicated watchmaker and a man in touch with the times who was open to new ideas. The Berne Post Office archives show that it was Breitschmid who installed the first telephone sets in Lucerne. After Eduard Jakob Gübelin became associated with Breitschmid’s business, Gübelin married his employer’s daughter, Berthe and eventually bought the business in 1899.
Prior to the change in ownership, Breitschmid and Gübelin moved the shop to a location where nobles and aristocrats were known to stroll so as to catch their attention. Meanwhile, Eduard Jakob and Berthe had a son, Eduard Moritz who married Maria Schriber in 1912. He took over the business from his father in 1919.
Eduard Moritz and Maria produced a family of seven of whom Eduard Josef Gübelin (1913 – 2005) – the oldest son – was destined to give the family name its lasting reputation and status.
By 1923, Eduard Moritz had expanded the business to create a jewelry division and opened an “in house” gemological laboratory. Eduard Moritz was the pioneer of inclusion studies, a field which completely changed modern gemology.
With the introduction of the first truly synthetic gemstones and cultured pearls near the beginning of the 20th century, the jewelry industry needed a reliable and trustworthy method for identifying these materials. Eduard Moritz received his gemology training from Professor H. Michel in Vienna. Charles Salquin, an employee of Gübelin was also trained by the Professor.
Gübelin equipped himself with everything he needed to open a gemological laboratory that was equal to the most advanced gem labs of the time. E. M. Gübelin’s son, Eduard Josef became a leading figure in this new field of gemology and was later recognized as one of the world’s most renowned gemological specialists.
Eduard Josef’s devotion to the study of gemstones and his work in gemstone inclusions resulted in great advances in the world of gemology. He traveled to many mine localities, created new gemological instruments, published continually and worked to promote gemology whenever and wherever possible.
In 1924, the House Gübelin opened a branch on 57th Street in New York to which the Gübelin parents traveled several times. When the stock market crashed in 1929, it was the same year in which the company celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Even after the crash, the family’s father, Eduard Moritz made and continued to make courageous decisions that helped promote the development of the company. For example, in the midst of the crisis periods, he expanded. The creation of new Gübelin boutiques in several Swiss cities contributed greatly to the House’s success. In 1931 there was a Gübelin boutique in St. Moritz and in1932 a branch opened in Zurich that his son, Eduard Josef, helped to create.
During the years after World War 1, Eduard Josef had studied mineralogy in Zurich. During the same period, Eduard’s brother Walter graduated from the School of Watchmaking making the two brothers – with their knowledge of watchmaking and gemology – perfect complements to one another. The good relationship between the brothers and Walter’s decision to follow in his father’s entrepreneurial footsteps provided Eduard Josef with the opportunity to procure a space where he could devote himself intently to his scientific and academic training.
He finished courses in art history, literature and ancient languages. In 1936, he began studies with ETH Zurich’s practical fieldwork in Ticino. This served as the basis for his early publications. In the winter semester 1936/37, which he spent in Vienna at the Institute of Gems, he studied gemology under Professor Hermann Michel, who, a decade earlier, had taught his father Eduard Moritz.
This study period in Europe was followed by a stay in New York, where Eduard Josef wanted to improve his English and his sales skills. He also contacted the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to sign up for exchange training.
His months-long stays in America allowed him to travel to Los Angeles where, in 1939, he successfully passed the examination as a Certified Gemologist (CG) of the GIA. He was only the second European to achieve this. After receiving his diploma, he returned to Lucerne to join the family business. Shortly after his return, he married Idda Niedermann.
At the 1939 National Exhibition, the Gübelin family presented unconventional creations that opened new paths. During the Second World War, Josef Eduard served as an army intelligence officer in the field and at the Army’s Message Center at Lucerne’s Hotel Schweizerhof not far from where the House of Gübelin had its operation. Even during the Second World War Eduard Josef’s research activities continued. At this time, his scientific work focused increasingly on the field of inclusions in gemstones and their importance in the identification of a stone.
Eduard Josef was an important pioneer in the science of evaluating precious stones. His intent was to be able to distinguish counterfeit from genuine gemstones. To better examine the various inclusions in gemstones, he developed several research instruments. By 1940, at age 27 years, Eduard Josef increased his work and research on inclusions and began to publish his findings.
His first article in the Gems and Gemology Journal appeared under the title, “Differences between Burma and Siam rubies.” More than twenty scientific contributions by Eduard Josef Gübelin appear in scientific journals between the years 1940-1945. Many of his published reports also appeared in the journal Gems & Gemology issued by the Gemological Institute of America.
In 1942, after a controversy among Swiss jewelers, Eduard Josef established a Swiss Gemological Society. In his roles as member and scientific advisor, he conducted an annual gemological training course and published more works on gemstones.
In 1944, before the end of the War, Eduard Moritz opened the still existing Gübelin branch in Geneva. In 1945, Eduard Josef received the Swiss Gemological Society’s Diamond Certificate.
That same year, Eduard Josef’s father was diagnosed with an incurable illness. After successfully managing the company for 26 years, Eduard Moritz died at the unexpectedly young age of fifty-seven. Commemorative writings and obituaries including one in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, hailed his achievements and reputation.
After their father’s passing, Eduard Josef and Walter Gübelin took over the company’s management. Walter supervised the watchmaking portion of the business while Eduard was responsible for gems, adverting, and communications.
In the postwar period, Gübelin workshops were expanded and the gemological laboratory refurbished. New creations were introduced not only in the field of watches, but also in the field of “Haute Joaillerie” (current jewelry) that would become over the next several decades one of the company’s priorities. Even ultra-slim pocket watches were manufactured in the Gübelin workshops.
Simultaneously, research into gemstone inclusions continued unabated. When, in the 1920s, Eduard Moritz first looked at a stone through a microscope, Gemstone Research was still largely undeveloped and inclusions in the stones were thought to be an undesirable flaw or error which reduced their price.
Through Gübelin’s groundbreaking research and his photomicrographic work, gemological experts gradually recognized the value of the inclusions. Today, inclusions in gemstones are important indicators of their identity. They provide information about the natural or treated condition of a stone and its geographical origin.
Eduard Josef Gübelin began his focus on this research during World War II with the publication of his research results. After the war he continued his studies intensively. His growing reputation in the professional world garnered many titles and awards.
In 1946 he became a member of the Gemological Association of Great Britain. In 1948, he received the Gemological Institute of America’s honor of “First Research Member GIA” and 1952 became a member of the German Gemological Society.
In the same year he was a co-founder of the International Gemological Conference. In his 1953 book Classifying Gemstone Inclusions, he suggested classification of mineral inclusions. This classification system divided inclusions into further categories depending on whether the inclusions in a gem existed naturally or if they emerged through a jeweler’s handing of them.
If a gemstone is altered by artificial treatment and, for example, intensified in its color or perfected in its evenness – this must be declared in order to be completely honest with potential buyers. To combat trade deceptions, methods and instruments are necessary to clearly determine any traces of artificial treatments.
Gübelin’s findings on gemstone inclusions and their classification contributed, among other things, to treatments and documentation. His proposed classification became more important as more diverse treatment methods for refining colored gemstones were introduced and made it more difficult to identify deceptive gems.
As part of his research activities Eduard Josef Gübelin developed (in the 1940s and 1950s) a number of different instruments for the study of gemstones. Some of them were his own inventions, while he developed others in collaboration with the German company Zeiss. These were derived from existing instruments by improving and/or modifying them for Gübelin’s purposes.
During the 1960’s, acceding to pressure from the Christie’s and Sotheby auction houses, Gübelin began to produce reports on major stones being offered at auction. Soon the lab was servicing the entire gem and jewelry industry. The Gübelin Gem Lab has become one of the world’s most respected gemological laboratories and today the Gübelin .classification system is known worldwide and widely recognized within the industry.
Eduard Josef combined his passion for gemology with his commitment to the family business. For the House’s one hundred year anniversary in 1954, he organized numerous events and celebrations including commemorative jubilee decorations and shows in Lucerne, Zurich and Geneva.
These also promoted findings in gemology and gems for which he had built up public interest through his commitment and promotion. In the US, the organized 1954 cocktail parties in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Detroit, and Chicago were celebrated with a total of approximately 10 000 customers during the anniversary year.
From the 1960’s on, the company’s reputation moved steadily upward. A series of creations from Gübelin received prizes. An important platform for Gübelin, his research, and his company occurred at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Here new creations were presented to the general public that simultaneously promoted interest in gems and gemology.
Over the years, Eduard Josef offered hundreds of lectures before both experts in the field and the lay public. In addition to the semi-annual and yearly events like the International Gemological Conference or the Annual Meeting of the Swiss Gemological Society, Eduard also appeared as a speaker at the International Gemological Symposium of 1981 in Los Angeles, at the American Gem Society conclave in North America, the CISGEM Gemologia in Milan and/or at meetings of the Gemological Association of Great Britain.
Also, Eduard Josef made numerous trips to areas known for their gemstone deposits. During many of his adventurous trips to distant places, he documented his research through photographs and film footage.
Over fifty years, he visited hundreds of gemstone localities and trade centers. These worldwide trips allowed Eduard Josef to expand not only his wealth of practical knowledge but also to establish worldwide contacts. During his travels Eduard often wrote letters to the company, in which he described the country, sheep, animals, populations’ clothing and eating habits as well as the arduous journeys to the mines.
Among the fruits of these travels was the creation in 1988 of a world map of gemstone deposits that, in 1992, was published for the fiftieth anniversary of the Swiss Gemological Institute. It shows over 750 gemstone deposits worldwide.
On the back of the map are 65 photos printed by Eduard Gübelin that describe the gemstones and mines and are supplemented by descriptions of the stones, mines and farms. Versions have been published in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. The world map of gemstone deposits received great international acclaim.
Even after his official retirement in 1976, Gübelin continued his research and remained an active figure in the field of gemology. Meanwhile, the family operation continued under the supervision of his brother Walter Gübelin until 1988 when Walter’s son Thomas Gübelin took over.
Since Eduard Josef had set up his laboratory next to the Gübelin Gemological Laboratory plus maintained another lab at his home, he could continue to lead his projects seamlessly. With age, he reduced his travels, but still attended conferences and symposiums.
In 2004, at more than 90 years of age, Eduard Josef participated in the 150th anniversary of the family business. For the anniversary, the House of Gübelin presented a new jewelry collection and a unique watch. On March 15, 2005 Eduard Josef Gübelin died – one day before his 92nd birthday. He left behind five daughters and several grandchildren and great grandchildren many of whom remain associated with the business.
Today, the head of the company is Thomas Gübelin. Thomas continued the traditions established by his father, Walter, and consolidated the company’s position as a Swiss family-run enterprise for Swiss and foreign clients.
He expanded the company’s range of services which cover each individual jewelry item and the entire range of watches made and offered by Gübelin. Service has always been one of the company’s strengths. Thomas Gübelin is the sixth generation of the Gübelin family to operate the business. Already, two of Thomas’ children, Raphael and Sara, work for the company.
In addition to Gübelin’s product achievements, Eduard Josef’s lifelong study of gemstone inclusions altered the science of gemology. His work laid the foundation for microscopic identification of precious stones of all kinds and garnered an International reputation in the field of gemology for his scientific work and remarkable gem collection.