Robert Crowningshield, 87, Gemological Pioneer

Robert Crowningshield, a legend in the field of gemology revered for his pioneering work in many areas of gemological research, died Tuesday night after a long illness at the age of 87.

Crowningshield was a former vice president of Gemological Institute of America and one of the two founding leaders of the GIA Laboratory in New York in 1948. Crowningshield helped establish GIA’s reputation as one which, as he said, “could not be ‘had’ for any amount of money. Confidence in our reports skyrocketed.”

He, is a legend in the field of gemology and is revered for his pioneering work in many areas of gemological research—most notably spectroscopy. His extensive list of “firsts” includes groundbreaking findings in the spot method of refractive index determination on Rayner and similar refractometers, spectroscopic recognition of treated color diamonds, a comprehensive study of gem-quality synthetic diamonds, and another on dyed jadeite. He also has extensive expertise in nomenclature and is widely recognized for his contributions in that field, which include an acclaimed 1983 treatise, “Padparadscha: What’s In a Name?”

Crowningshield is widely admired by friends and colleagues for his eloquence and charm as a speaker, lecturer, and author.

“He taught us how to look for the truth, and to find the core qualities in both gemstones and in people,” said Tom Moses, vice president of GIA Laboratory and Research, one of his closest friends. “He was an important man in our field, but he was also our friend, our teacher, and one of our leaders. He was brilliant. He was kind. He was a true gentleman. We will all miss Bob deeply,”

GIA, in a statement, wrote: “Leaving behind significant and far reaching contributions in the field of gemology, Robert Crowningsheild will be missed most by those privileged to know him for all that he was – his humanity, humility, passion, generous spirit, inquisitive mind, and quest for perfection. For all that he was, and all that he did, he will continue to impact our lives and for this we are deeply grateful.”

“Bob Crowningshield was personable, well-liked, an extremely intelligent man, with a love for gemology and gemstones,” added Gary Roskin, JCK senior editor, who is a longtime friend and former colleague when they both worked at GIA. “He was genuinely interested in what anyone had to tell him, and was open and candid with his gemological knowledge in return. He wore a magnificent cat’s eye chrysoberyl, had a wonderful contagious laugh, and he made a mean martini.”

Eric Emms of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain wrote in an email to colleagues: “A sad day for us as the last great classical gemmologist passes away. Re-read his papers in G&G over the decades to gauge his huge contribution to gemmology. Requiescat in pacem.”

He helped develop and teach the GIA diamond grading system, now the standard system worldwide. Along the way, he shared his wealth of practical experience in hundreds of articles, lectures and industry presentations. Crowningshield’s prodigious body of published work over five decades, much of it published in Gems & Gemology, GIA’s scholarly journal, included landmark articles on his discoveries and more than 1,000 entries in the “Lab Notes” section alone. He has also been published in many popular periodicals in the trade press, including Lapidary Journal and JCK.

Crowningshield served as the United States delegate to the International Gemological Conference and the International Precious Stones Conference. He has attended and addressed literally hundreds of audiences at events such as AGS Conclaves, state conventions of retail jewelers, and GIA Alumni Association gatherings.

Crowningshield was the recipient of many prestigious industry awards including the American Gem Society’s Robert M. Shipley Award (1983), Modern Jeweler’s Lifetime Achievement Award (1995), and the American Gem Society Lifetime Achievement Award (2003).

In recognition of Crowningshield’s immeasurable contribution to the science of gemology, GIA in 1997 formally named its research facility the G. Robert Crowningshield Gemological Research Laboratory.

“Acknowledged as one of the finest gemological research centers in the world, it continues the tradition of scientific advancement begun by Crowningshield in areas of gem identification and detection,” GIA said. “It also continues to build a vast compendium of gemological information on more than 100,000 gemstones in a growing database that began with Crowningshield’s own hand-drawn spectrographs of thousands of gemstones he personally identified.”

Prior to joining GIA, Crowningshield was in the Navy. In 1942 he was assigned to a troop transport which landed in Australia, where he picked up a few books to read – on gems. Then on subsequent stops, in India and Ceylon, he learned more about gem qualities and began collecting gems. Right before the end of the war, Crowningshield told the story of how he learned of GIA –  Crowningshield was the ships navigator when the ships captain hadn’t picked up a gift for his wife yet, so they pulled into port in Colombo, Sri Lanka. There he met Sardha Ratnavira, a graduate of GIA’s very first residence class. He interested Crowningshield so much that when he was discharged from the Navy, he immediately drove from San Diego to Los Angeles, met Liddicoat and Shipley at GIA and as he puts it, “My life was sealed.”

More information on Crowningshield and his career will be updated on JCKonline.com.

JCK archives, GIA statements, and the book, Legacy of Leadership: A History of the Gemological Institute of America, contributed to the story.