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Diamond Portraits: Richard T. Liddicoat, Jr.

Richard T. Liddicoat, Jr. is commonly known in the diamond industry as the Father of Modern Gemology. He created and defined the modern diamond color scale D-Z, established many of the diamond grading standards used today, and introduced many diamond testing innovations. 

Born in in Kearsarge, Michigan in 1918, his father was a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, and both of his grandfathers were miners from England who immigrated to the US in late 1800s. They encouraged him to explore his surroundings and instilled in him an interest in geology.

He earned his bachelor's degree in geology in 1939 and a year later already earned a master's degree in mineralogy, both from University of Michigan. Upon getting his master's degree, he joined the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) as Assistant Director of Education. Years later, he said that he expected to work in geology at a remote mining site. "The idea of working with gemstones in a terrible place like California really had some appeal," he said.

A year after joining GIA, Liddicoat was named Director of Education. A year later, he joined the United States Navy, and served during World War II, from 1942 to 1946. Upon his return, he was named GIA's Director of Research and started work on Handbook of Gem Identification, the seminal guide to grading precious gems.

Liddicoat continued climbing the corporate ladder, and in 1952 he was appointed Executive Director of GIA as he continued his research on diamonds. The following year, Liddicoat introduced the GIA diamond grading system – the famous 4Cs of color, clarity, cut, and carat. With that innovation, he broke with the tradition of how diamonds had been graded until that point in time. No longer A, B and, C to denote top color, mid-range, and low color. Instead, he introduced the groundbreaking color grading system used to this day. To distance the system completely and separate it from the past, the top color is graded D to avoid any confusion.

The new grading system for white diamonds was viewed favorably by many in the diamond trade who knew they needed more information to better price their diamonds. With education considered its main mission, GIA taught its hundreds of students the new grading methodology, and many of them sought to formalize the grading results. And so, GIA started issuing GIA Diamond Grading Reports in 1955. Today, it is difficult to understand how the diamond industry operated without the standardization that the GIA grading reports brought to modern trade. It could be argued that it was actually the grading reports that modernized the trade. With it, traders speak a unified and specific language that is both detailed and easy to understand. The finer breakdown of color steps allowed traders to agree more easily on the characteristics of a diamond and therefore its pricing. The impact on the diamond industry is that pricing is fairer too.

His contributions to gemology did not end there and were far reaching in other aspects of the gem and jewelry trade. Under his stewardship, GIA developed grading tools and offered them at reasonable costs to those who needed them. He launched GIA's Gems & Gemology magazine and was its editor for many years. Liddicoat also authored three books on gemology, including a dictionary of diamonds.

His thirst for knowledge was not just knowledge for self, but also stemmed from an understanding that knowledge should be spread as far and deep as possible. That was one of his guiding principals at GIA and why he expanded the institute's library and opened it to the entire trade, why he formed and supported industry magazines, expanded and deepened the GIA's course offering and eventually turned it into the leading global authority on diamonds and the de facto standard for the diamond industry.

In 1977, in recognition for his contributions to gemological knowledge and education, the National Museum of Natural History named a new gem species of tourmaline in his honor: Liddicoatite. In appreciation of his contributions to the GIA, a life-size bronze statue of Liddicoat by Michael Clary was placed at the entrance to GIA's headquarters in Carlsbad, CA in June 2000. The following year, he received the AGS Lifetime Achievement Award.

Liddicoat died of cancer at his home in Santa Monica, California on July 23, 2002. In honor of his thirst for spreading knowledge, the American Gem Society (AGS) has formed the Richard T. Liddicoat Journalism Award to honor journalists who have made exceptional contributions to the understanding of gemology. 

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