GIA Earthquake: Boyajian Steps Down, Baker New President

The 20-year career of Bill Boyajian as president of the Gemological Institute of America came to an abrupt end in May with his resignation after a meeting of the board of directors. Boyajian is the most high-profile casualty of the diamond-grading scandal that has tarnished the image of the venerable grading laboratory.

GIA’s senior vice president and general counsel Donna Baker will serve as GIA’s acting president until a permanent replacement is found. The board has formed a special committee to search for a permanent president, said board chairwoman Helene Fortunoff, adding that Baker is a candidate for the permanent position. The search process is expected to take three to six months, said chairman Ralph Destino. (See page 37 for Baker’s bio.)

Boyajian himself wasn’t implicated in any violations of GIA’s policy, and a GIA statement said Boyajian will stay on as a consultant to ensure a smooth transition. Sources said the board grew unhappy with Boyajian’s response to the grading scandal, with most favoring a stronger, more change-driven approach.

His last day will be July 30, exactly 20 years after he was named president. Boyajian, who was hired at the Institute as a staff gemologist, has been with GIA for 31 years.

In a letter to GIA staff, Boyajian said: “I have worked at GIA for over three decades, most of my adult life. I take immense pride in what we’ve accomplished as a truly global team. Moreover, I have enjoyed every day of this journey with some of the finest people I have ever known at my side.

“However, I now find myself at an interesting crossroad in life, both personally and professionally. My heart is being pulled in a new direction, one that seeks a variety of challenges both emotionally and intellectually. … It saddens me deeply to leave GIA. But thanks to you, I can leave knowing that GIA and its mission are in good hands.”

Boyajian became interested in the jewelry business during his college days while working for Belkeith Jewelry Co. in his native Fresno, Calif. Three weeks after receiving his Bachelor of Arts in economics, he began gemology classes at GIA and never left.

GIA president Richard T. Liddicoat hired Boyajian in August 1975 as a staff gemologist, and then instructor. Liddicoat eventually promoted Boyajian into management. In 1986, at the age of 34, he was named president.

During his tenure as president, GIA grew in size and stature. Among other milestones, Boyajian spearheaded GIA’s move to its headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., in 1996; hosted International Gemological Symposia in 1991 and 1999; and expanded GIA’s campuses to 14 schools globally.

Boyajian’s career began unraveling more than a year ago when dealer Max Pincione filed a lawsuit against GIA claiming that payments were made to the GIA Laboratory in New York to have a diamond/platinum ring and a pear-shape pendant upgraded. In early November, following an internal investigation of the charges, GIA announced that it had fired four employees of the New York lab for unspecified violations of its Professional Ethics and Conduct Compliance Statement.

Ralph Destino, the former board chairman, was brought in as chairman, a position above president. Almost immediately, there was speculation about Boyajian’s future. Several Internet commentators loudly—and sometimes venomously—called for his head. But he hung on, and some insiders were convinced he would be there for the GIA Symposium this summer.

Destino said the Institute is now “opening a new chapter” and hopes any past problems are behind it. “We have a fantastic team in place,” he said. “We are moving forward and not dwelling on yesterday.”