By Brian Bossetta
Bill Boyajian, former president of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), recalls an event at which three of the institute’s most notable luminaries —Richard T. Liddicoat, G. Robert Crowningshield and Bert Krashes — were present. “The three of them were standing together and this prominent jeweler I was talking to said, ‘Look at those three guys. Giants. They helped make this industry great.’”
Perhaps no other name is more associated with the GIA than Richard T. Liddicoat, known throughout the industry as the “father of modern gemology.” In 1940, shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s subsequent entry into World War II, Robert M. Shipley Jr., the GIA founder’s son and army reservist, volunteered for active duty, leaving his post as GIA’s director of education and research. To fill the position, the GIA founder needed a “temporary” replacement.
According to William George Shuster, author of Legacy of Leadership, a comprehensive history of GIA, Liddicoat, who already held a master’s in mineralogy from the University of Michigan, was working on his Ph.D. at the university at the time. He was approached about filling the GIA position by one of his professors, whom Shipley Sr. had contacted in his search. Even though Liddicoat had never heard of GIA, he jumped at the chance.
Liddicoat joined GIA as assistant director of education in 1940. But his career, like Shipley Jr.’s, was interrupted when he left in 1942 to serve in the U.S. Navy, where, according to Shuster, he was assigned, because of his science background, to the California Institute of Technology to learn meteorology. He served on the USS Wasp as a naval aerologist, rejoining GIA after the war. Shuster writes that Liddicoat’s fascination with minerals began in college when he took a geology course to satisfy a science requirement. Later, according to Shuster, the opportunity to “work with beautiful gemstones” had “great appeal” to Liddicoat.
The year 1947, according to GIA records, marked a milestone for the institute, the publication of Liddicoat’s Handbook of Gem Identification, an in-depth text on gemology based on his groundbreaking work on colored stones. Numerous editions later, it is still considered one of the leading textbooks in gemology. Liddicoat also co-authored The Diamond Dictionary, published in 1960 and The Jewelers’ Manual, published in 1964.
In 1952, Liddicoat succeeded Shipley as the institute’s executive director and in that same year, became the editor-in-chief of GIA’s quarterly journal Gems & Gemology, a title he would hold for 50 years. Another of Liddicoat’s landmark achievements, the development of GIA’s International Diamond Grading System,TM based on Shipley’s 4Cs — cut, color, clarity, carat weight — was introduced in 1953. It remains the industry standard.
In 1977, the Smithsonian Institution named a new mineral, liddicoatite, in his honor. According to a 1977 publication of American Mineralogist, the primary journal of the Mineralogical Society of America (MSA), liddicoatite, a rare mineral belonging to the tourmaline group, was discovered in Madagascar and is known for its unusually high calcium content. A very colorful mineral, often multicolored, liddicoatite is found in a range of hues, including green, pink, red, purple, blue, brown and white. The mineral’s beautiful symmetrical color zoning, according to the MSA publication, is liddicoatite’s most striking feature.
Liddicoat served as GIA’s executive director — the title would be changed during his tenure to president — until 1983. After stepping down for health reasons, he was elected chairman of GIA’s board of governors, where he remained until his death in 2002.
G. ROBERT CROWNINGSHIELD
What has propelled GIA to its current status in the jewelry industry perhaps more than anything else has been its research laboratory. For more than half a century, G. Robert Crowningshield was the face of that lab. During his tenure at GIA, he revolutionized gemology and pioneered methods for not only grading the quality of gems, but for detecting counterfeits.
Crowningshield enrolled in GIA after serving as a naval officer in World War II, during which time, according to Legacy of Leadership, Crowningshield’s passion for gems took root. Assigned to a U.S. Navy troop transport, Crowningshield read books on gems and, while at port in Calcutta, learned about assessing the quality of various gems from native dealers selling their goods to American sailors. On board, Shuster writes, Crowningshield would advise his fellow shipmates looking to buy gems and even designed gold settings for gems they purchased.
But it was Crowningshield’s love of sapphires, Shuster writes, that led him, indirectly, to GIA. While docked in Ceylon — now Sri Lanka — a country known for its sapphires, Crowningshield visited a jewelry store in Colombo, the capital city. As fate would have it, the owner of the store had studied at GIA and suggested Crowningshield do the same.
Taking the retailer’s advice, Crowningshield, after his discharge from the service, enrolled in GIA in 1947. In 1950, he became the director of the institute’s New York laboratory, serving in that post for more than two decades.
According to GIA records, Crowningshield’s first industry-changing accomplishment came in 1956 when he helped develop the spectroscope, an instrument he used to detect yellow irradiated diamonds. It gauged not only a diamond’s color but its authenticity as well. In 1957, Crowningshield started a column, Gems & Gemology’s “Lab Notes,” in which he published more than a thousand briefs over a period of 40 years.
Later, in the 1970s, when General Electric developed a method to manufacture gem-quality diamonds, Crowningshield was the first gemologist to publish scientific work on lab-grown stones, according to GIA.
Crowningshield died in 2006 at the age of 87.
One of the first students to sign up for a new series of three-week resident classes in New York City, Bert Krashes went on to become one of its most notable instructors and pioneers. In 1949, after serving as a bombardier in World War II, being shot down and taken prisoner of war — for which he received the Purple Heart — Krashes registered for classes being taught by Liddicoat and Crowningshield.
As described in Legacy of Leadership, Krashes had developed his fondness for the jewelry industry while working a second job at a jewelry store to earn extra income. After becoming a jewelry salesman, he learned about GIA through a colleague. As a student, Krashes stood out to such a degree that in 1949 Liddicoat offered him a full-time position as an instructor and gemologist.
Along with Crowningshield, Krashes would lead GIA’s New York laboratory to the position of global standing it holds today. The two men also contributed to Liddicoat’s diamond grading system. As Shuster points out in Legacy of Leadership, much of the work Krashes did in the New York lab alongside Crowningshield involved gemological research, tracking trends and identifying synthetic and imitation gems and pearls.
In addition to helping establish GIA’s New York school, laboratory, gem identification and grading services, Krashes also was known for taking GIA’s educational services on the road as “traveling classrooms” to jewelers across the country. He brought GIA knowledge to — as Shuster describes it, the “mom-and-pop jewelers” — traveling as far as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and into Canada.
In 1977, Krashes was named vice president and director of the Gem Trade Laboratory in New York. He was also a member of GIA’s board of governors. In 1998, after 49 years of service to the institute, Krashes retired. He died in January 2014.
Article from the Rapaport Magazine - April 2014. To subscribe click here.