Obituary: Charles W. Fryer, 74, Noted Gem Expert

Charles W. (“Chuck”) Fryer, a former director of the Gemological Institute of America’s Gem Trade Laboratory, noted gem identification expert, and longtime contributor to GIA’s quarterly journal Gems & Gemology, died of a heart attack on Jan. 3 in Los Angeles. He was 74.

Fryer was associated with GIA for 27 years. He joined the institute in 1966 as an instructor but soon became a mainstay of the Gem Trade Laboratory (GTL). He served for 14 years as director of the lab, first in Los Angeles and then in Santa Monica, before retiring as director of gem identification in 1993.

Fryer, who was born in Springfield, Mo., had a lifelong interest in gems and minerals. After completing his service in the U.S. Army in 1952, he worked in San Diego and enrolled in GIA under the G.I. Bill. He also became an accomplished lapidary. He earned his Graduate Gemologist diploma from GIA in 1963 and received his FGA diploma (with distinction) the same year. Fryer attended San Diego City College from 1963 to 1966 while managing a local business that sold jewelers’ supplies, lapidary equipment, and gems. As a charter member and president of the San Diego Gemological Society during those years, he presented lectures and helped encourage the study of gemology in the area.

Throughout his career with GIA, Fryer was recognized as one of the world’s most knowledgeable gemologists. His articles on gem identification appeared in Gems & Gemology, Journal of Gemmology, and JCK. The landmark articles he co-authored tackled some of the key challenges in gemology over the last two decades: identifying synthetic amethyst, gem-quality synthetic diamonds, and clarity-enhanced diamonds.

GIA president William E. Boyajian recalled Fryer’s many contributions to the institute, especially during the Gem Trade Laboratory’s developmental years. “Chuck was an invaluable member of the laboratory in several positions, and his work was instrumental in advancing both the lab’s capabilities in identification and the institute’s growing reputation as the industry leader in laboratory services.”

In addition to his regular responsibilities at the institute, Fryer was called on to act as an expert witness in gem identification for court cases throughout the United States. In 1981, at the request of the Colombian government, he traveled to Bogotá to authenticate a collection of emeralds and gem-encrusted religious artifacts.

Even in retirement, Fryer continued to serve GIA and gemology with his work as editor of the “Gem Trade Lab Notes” section of Gems & Gemology until 1997, and as a consultant and member of the journal’s editorial review board until his death.

Boyajian recalled Fryer’s dedication to GIA and gemology. “Chuck was steeped in the gemological tradition, and he was tireless and unselfish in his efforts to contribute to the progress of GIA and the gem and jewelry industry in every way that he could. He was likewise a wonderful friend and mentor to the many gemologists he trained, and we shall miss him greatly.”

Fryer is survived by his wife, Jan, formerly head of accounting at GIA; daughter Kahlee Brighton; sons Michael, Russell, and Fraser Macfarlane; and six grandchildren. A memorial service for Fryer was held in Santa Monica, Calif., on Jan. 7.