Robert M. Shipley Sr. (1887–1978)
Shipley began his career as a retail jeweller in Wichita, Kansas. Although he cultivated the image of a gem expert, several embarrassing episodes revealed his lack of training. Divorce and the failure of his business during the mid-1920s sent him in search of a new life in Paris studying art. There he met his second wife, Beatrice, who introduced him to the right people and got him a job as a museum lecturer. At the same time as he discovered his love of teaching, Shipley enrolled in gemmological correspondence courses offered by Great Britain’s National Association of Goldsmiths.
Inspired by the NAG courses and painfully aware of how little most retail jewellers knew about gems, Shipley returned to the United States with a vision: professionalising the jewellery trade through education. GIA was the first organisation of its kind in the United States. While travelling across the country to promote GIA courses, Shipley also established the Institute’s laboratory and instrument services.
In 1934, Shipley founded the American Gem Society as a professional guild of knowledgeable jewellers. That same year he established Gems & Gemology, GIA’s journal of gemmological research. Shipley retired in 1952, but his far-reaching vision would influence future generations of gem and jewellery tradespeople.