William “Bill” Heher (pictured), a globe-trotting colored stone dealer who headed the Rare Earth Mining Co. and served as a director of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), died on Monday. He was 72.
Heher began his career as an earth science and biology teacher in Connecticut’s public schools. According to a profile in AGTA Prism, Heher first became “hooked” on gemstones during a hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, where he came across “a beautiful parcel of gems.”
“He bartered for them with the little money he had and carried them to the top and back,” the publication said. “When he arrived back in the U.S., he showed them off to friends and family, and after a week, the parcel was sold.”
In 1968, he founded Rare Earth Mining Co. (originally known as Bill Heher Fine Gems), which has since serviced some 5,000 companies and worked with more than 300 materials. The gem business took Heher all over the globe, often with his family in tow.
“Traveling to more than 30 countries has been one of the greatest rewards, as I became rich in friendships and culture,” he told Metalwerx in 2019. “Most of the source countries that I visit have small-scale mining operations and dealers who are eager to share their knowledge and inventories with me. I’ve become a man of many couches.”
In 2013, JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky called Heher’s wares at the AGTA GemFair “a mesmerizing selection of minerals that offered a powerful comment on the earth’s gemological bounty.”
In 2016, Heher was elected to AGTA’s board of directors, which was “one of his crowning achievements in life,” according to Prism, adding that the sale one of his favorite gem collections sometimes brought him to tears.
“The adventure of this business never gets old,” he told Metalwerx. “I would never retire. There are too many rocks to find.
“My personal collection of stones is remarkable. I visit the safe from time to time and the collection of favorites is in the thousands of individual wonders….
“I really believe stones have an intrinsic power over people. I can’t help but smile and laugh when I view them. While very few people have ever seen the collection, their universal commentary is always shock that the earth has so many beautiful occurrences.”
William Heher is survived by Cynthia, his wife of 38 years; sons Curtis, who now heads gem business, and William; and five grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held on Sunday. Details can be seen here.
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