Robert Crowningshield, a legend of gemology revered for his pioneering work in many areas of gemological research, died after a long illness at the age of 87.
Crowningshield was a former vice president of the Gemological Institute of America and one of the two founding leaders of the GIA Laboratory in New York, which was established in 1948.
“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.”
Crowningshield was best known for his work in 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 wrote an acclaimed 1983 treatise on nomenclature titled “Padparadscha: What’s in a Name?”
He was the recipient of many prestigious industry awards including the American Gem Society’s Robert M. Shipley Award (1983) and the American Gem Society Lifetime Achievement Award (2003). In 1997, GIA named its research facility the G. Robert Crowningshield Gemological Research Laboratory.
Prior to joining GIA, Crowningshield was in the Navy. In 1942 he was assigned to a troop transport that landed in Australia, where he picked up a few books to read—on gems. He learned more about gem qualities during subsequent stops in India and Ceylon and soon began collecting gems.
Just before the end of the war, Crowningshield’s ship made port in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he met Sardha Ratnavira, a graduate of GIA’s very first residence class. The gemological discussions that ensued were a career tipping point for Crowningshield. 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 put it: “My life was sealed.”