Mixing science and romance
Mequon firm’s equipment gauges diamond’s value

By Dave Fidlin - News Graphic Correspondent

April 1, 2014

A machine that uses ion-beaming technology, background, can engrave words and phrases. Randy Wagner is the CEO and president of Mequon-based GemEx Systems Inc.
Photo by Mark Justesen

MEQUON - As he sits in his office and explains the technical details of diamonds, Randy Wagner shares props and periodically gets up to draw diagrams on his whiteboard. Through his latest entrepreneurial venture, he has gained in-depth knowledge of one of the most expensive pieces of jewelry.

But Wagner, president and CEO of Mequon-based GemEx, didn’t always aspire to be working around diamonds. Wagner has a background in electrical engineering - an almost ironic field of expertise for someone in a business synonymous with romance.

As a person who enjoys inventing, Wagner in the mid-1990s had a pivotal role in creating an electrocardiograph instrumentation machine that has been used in doctors’ offices. After a few years, however, he decided to sell the invention and attached business and move on.

GemEx has been situated, quietly and unassumingly, in a business park on Mequon’s southern end since the company’s founding in 1998. But the company has a worldwide presence because of the company’s proprietary equipment and relationships with global companies.

“We’re unlike anything else out there,” Wagner proudly proclaims as he explains GemEx and its services.

Wagner established the 16-year-old business with company vice president Kurt Schoeckert.

The company’s mission has been straightforward from the beginning, Wagner said. He aspires to bring a more precise approach toward appraising a diamond’s value. The long-held method, he asserts, is subjective.

“We have been working to bring a scientific approach to the diamond world,” he said. “We’re a small, but widely used company.”

He explains to a reporter the basics of diamonds - including the fine art of diamond cutting and the challenges of mining the natural formation - Wagner said the true value is traditionally found in the brilliance of a particular diamond.

“When you have a diamond, you want it to look good,” he said.

In the past decade-and-a-half, GemEx has been working with diamond distributors across the globe. The company has developed 270 patented machines that examine a diamond’s brilliance, fire and sparkle on a five-measurement scale system.

Only 15 of the machines are in the U.S., Wagner said. The remainder are at facilities across the globe.

Wagner said GemEx does not make its profits from the machines themselves, but the reports generated by the machines, which, in turn, are analyzed and given a certification from the company.

“What’s been happening is retailers are starting to want GemEx reports to back up a diamond’s quality,” Wagner said.

With many people purchasing a diamond once - or, at most, a few times - in their lifetime, Wagner equated it to purchasing a home or vehicle. “It’s an investment, and a worthwhile one,” he said.

GemEx entered a new chapter in its history recently when a new customized system developed by Wagner and Schoeckert hit the market and has been used by jewelers.

Using ION beaming technology, GemEx has developed a system that will engrave images and phrases into a diamond. The customer’s customized photo or word can be viewed through a microscope-type object.

The engraving is traditionally done through customer requests, with jewelers intercepting the details to GemEx.

Wagner said the customized images have proven popular among customers interested in ensuring the diamond in their possession is indeed the one purchased initially. It is an anomaly, but Wagner said there have been instances of jewelers swapping out diamonds that are being resized.

In the near future, plans call for GemEx to create an app that would allow the owner of a diamond to view the image or phrase through his or her cell phone, rather than a standalone machine.

“This is something that’s still in development,” Wagner said. “But we have prototypes out there.”

Wagner said GemEx will continue to grow and evolve into the future. Although the company’s home base is in the U.S., Wagner said the company has, and will continue to, conduct the majority of its business in other corners of the globe.

The company has 16 employees. Wagner and Schoeckert frequently visit trade shows across the world to display their invention.

“This is a very small community,” Wagner said. “We’ll see a lot of the same people at the different shows.”