GIA Chairman Richard T. Liddicoat Jr. Dies at 84

Richard T. Liddicoat Jr., the much-honored “father of modern gemology” and chairman of the Gemological Institute of America, died July 23 at his Santa Monica, Calif., home following a battle with cancer. He was 84.

A gemologist, educator, scholar, and trade industry leader, Liddicoat was a leading shaper of today’s gemological profession and had enormous influence on development of the domestic and international gem and jewelry industries.

GIA announced July 24 that it would host a memorial service on Aug. 24 at its Carlsbad, Calif., headquarters to “allow his friends and colleagues from all avenues of life and all parts of the world to join in this special celebration [of the life] of this remarkable man.” The event was expected to be attended by a Who’s Who of the trade.

Tributes. Within hours of Liddicoat’s death, GIA alumni, students, officials, and staff—as well as jewelers, gemologists, gem dealers, trade leaders, and others in the industry—were mourning his passing and paying tribute to him.

GIA president William E. Boyajian called him “a man of monumental stature [whose] contributions on behalf of jewelers, gemologists, and the consuming public have changed the course of history [in the jewelry industry].”

Matthew A. Runci, president and chief executive officer of Jewelers of America, called Liddicoat’s contributions to gemology and the fine-jewelry business “unrivaled by anyone in the industry.” Former GIA president Glenn Nord said Liddicoat had “set the highest standards of achievement and integrity for everyone at GIA as well as for the entire industry.”

Douglas Hucker, executive director of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), said, “I don’t think I have ever known a man or woman of such remarkably low-key demeanor who could provide such leadership and command such respect.”

Ruth Batson, interim chief executive officer of the American Gem Society, noted that Liddicoat’s “knowledgeable and dedicated service to the jewelry industry is legendary,” while AGS president Bill Farmer said Liddicoat had been “the living embodiment of gemology.” In 2001, AGS honored Liddicoat—who had attended almost every AGS Conclave since 1940—with its AGS Lifetime Achievement Award. In his honor, AGS observed a moment of silence at this year’s event on July 30, and showed a short video of his accomplishments.

At GIA’s Carlsbad headquarters, staff, students, and friends held an impromptu afternoon gathering the day after his death to talk about the man known to so many as mentor, friend, teacher, boss, and “Mr. GIA.” Longtime GIA staffers shared memories of him and his effect on their lives, noting that almost to the end he was deeply interested in and actively involved with GIA and the gemological community.

In a special July 24 edition of the online newsletter GIA Insider, Boyajian noted that, thanks to Liddicoat’s contributions, “Gemology, once a trade, is now a respected profession [and] a science in its own right. For many of us, Richard Liddicoat’s greatest achievement was his personal influence on the professionalism and ethical standards of the international gem and jewelry industry.” His legacy, Boyajian said, “lives on in every student who ever took a GIA course, in every staff member he guided and supported.”

‘GIA’s man.’ The man known affectionately to generations of GIA students and staff as “Mr. L” and “RTL” came to GIA quite by accident. In 1940, GIA founder Robert M. Shipley Jr. wrote to a few GIA supporters and advisors, saying that he needed a temporary replacement for his son Robert Jr., then GIA director of research and education, who was going into military service. GIA consultant and mineralogy professor Chester Slawson of the University of Michigan suggested to his young graduate school teaching assistant, Dick Liddicoat, that he might want to consider the job.

Liddicoat had never heard of the then small institute in California, but “the idea of [studying] gems and [living in] Los Angeles had appeal,” he said later. He joined GIA on June 28, 1940, and, except for military service in World War II, remained at GIA for the rest of his life. Soon recognized at the school and in the industry for his geniality, hard work, and professional commitment, Liddicoat became Shipley’s right hand in running and representing GIA. He succeeded him in 1952 as executive director when Shipley retired.

Building on the foundation laid by Shipley and GIA’s early staff, Liddicoat and his handpicked team saved GIA from possible failure in the early 1950s and oversaw its development and growth during the 1960s and 1970s into the jewelry and gem industries’ own college and research leader.

He was appointed president in 1970 by GIA’s board of governors. In 1983, following a heart attack, Liddicoat became chairman of the board of GIA and turned over the daily administration to a new generation. He was named lifetime chairman in 1992.

Liddicoat’s strong influence continued through his chairmanship and advice to GIA officials (he had an office at GIA’s new Carlsbad campus), and his unflagging interest and intimate involvement with GIA and its activities.

Contributions. Liddicoat’s contributions to gemology and the gem and jewelry industries are numerous. Here are a few:

In the early 1950s, he created the GIA diamond grading system, today used universally to describe, grade, and evaluate diamonds. He was the early director of GIA’s New York operations; engineered the 1948 purchase of the Gem Trade Laboratory, the foundation of GIA’s laboratories and research services; and led the overhaul of GIA’s home study courses in the late 1950s and ’60s to bring diamond education and practical gem training to grassroots jewelers.

He was chief editor for 50 years of GIA’s Gems & Gemology, the industry’s leading journal and a major influence on gemological thought and study. (Earlier this year, the journal published a special tribute to his life and achievements entitled “The Ultimate Gemologist.”) His writings include the industry-standard Handbook of Gem Identification as well as hundreds of articles in various publications, and he co-authored The Jewelers’ Manual and The Diamond Dictionary.

Liddicoat oversaw the development of GIA’s resident training programs and launched the overseas GIA classes that led to today’s international network of GIA campuses. He also was instrumental in the development of what is now the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library and Information Center at GIA, the world’s largest and most important repository of gemological literature.

Under Liddicoat’s leadership, GIA grew from a tiny California home study school and New York office into an internationally respected leader in gemological education and research. During his 62 years at GIA, he still found time to teach thousands of jewelers, gemologists, and industry leaders in sessions here and overseas, including the GIA-run educational sessions at scores of AGS Conclaves. His legacy includes a staff of GIA managers and teachers who have trained generations of students in the ethical, practical approach to gemology advocated by Liddicoat.

When Robert Shipley Sr. retired, Liddicoat paid tribute to GIA’s founder by saying that the effect of his work would last for centuries. The same is equally true for Liddicoat. The legacy of this humble, genial scholar and great gemologist will continue to influence and affect gemology education and research throughout the world for countless generations to come.

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