Robert M. Shipley

The GIA-a Treasure Trove of Gemstone Knowledge

There is so much traffic on the information highway, it can often feel like an aggressive blur. But there many sources of highly valuable information and enlightenment that we can take advantage of, and hopefully don’t miss. In the gemstone galaxy, the Gemological Institute of America is one of these valuable institutions.  Established in 1931,  GIA is the world’s foremost authority on diamonds, coloured stones, and pearls. A public benefit, nonprofit institute, GIA is the leading source of knowledge, standards, and education in gems and jewellery. If you are unaware of them and you are a gemstone fan, you are really missing out.

In addition to professional education, training and grading services, the institute provides a wonderful treasure trove of gemstone information and history to the general public of gemstone enthusiasts. The locations of GIA are in the US, the UK,  a museum located in Carlsbad California, as well as the online education websites.

The institute was founded by Robert M. Shipley (1887-1978), a charming and successful jewellery store owner in the 1920s, who after being challenged by two of his best customers, revealing his lack of gemstone knowledge was spurred to act in a way that would affect the whole industry.

Before this chapter, Shipley lost the jewellery stores in divorce and headed to Europe to recuperate from burn-out. In London, he completed the Great Britain National Association of Goldsmiths gemological correspondence course, the base for his transformation from jeweller to teacher and gemology expert.

Shipley returned to the US in 1929 and sought to rectify the lack of knowledge as well as that of other jewellers and to establish a standard of authenticity industry nationwide. The first step, as to establish a ‘preliminary course in gemology’ in Los Angeles. He took the show on the road and in a grassroots campaign via road trips across the nation, he tirelessly promoted the professionalization of the industry, through the education of his peers. Training certified jewellers he succeeded in establishing a public trust in the industry that was not there before.

“Like the physician, the architect and the engineer, the gemologist must complete prescribed studies and examinations in order [to be] of exceptional service to the public [in] the new profession of Gemology,” Shipley said. GIA

In 1953 the GIA established the diamond grading system known as the ‘Four Cs’, for cut, clarity, colour and carat weight.


This would become the “seeds” of the what the GIA has become today and as importantly the foundation for the standards of the Jewelry industry worldwide allowing customers to have knowledge and faith in what they are buying.