In 2009, GIA bestowed its highest honor, the Richard T. Liddicoat Award for Distinguished Achievement, on longtime chief research gemologist John I. Koivula. The award was based on his contributions to gemology as a photomicrographer, researcher, author, and speaker. Koivula’s impact on the field, particularly in the microworld of gemstones, cannot be overstated.
Koivula spent his childhood in eastern Washington State collecting minerals, amassing a large collection of specimens with inclusions. As a teenager, he wrote to Dr. Edward Gübelin, sending along his first photomicrographs and beginning a collaboration that would culminate in the three-volume Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones. After earning degrees in mineralogy-geology and inorganic chemistry, he worked for Cominco American as an exploration geologist before joining GIA in 1976.
Through his work in photomicrography, Koivula revolutionized the world of gemology. He introduced cutting-edge techniques into his research, including the use of fiber-optic illumination, a technique that has become commonplace in gem labs around the world. During the late 1980s and early ’90s, he and colleague Robert C. Kammerling conducted groundbreaking research into glass-filled diamonds, helping the diamond industry understand this unstable clarity enhancement.
During his time at the Institute, Koivula has lectured extensively at trade and scientific conferences around the world. A prolific writer, Koivula is the author or co-author of over 800 articles on inclusions, microscopy, and gem identification. Sixty-four of his articles have been published in Gems & Gemology; of those, 16 received the journal’s Most Valuable Article award. He also served on the G&G editorial team for over 25 years. Koivula’s photomicrographs have placed in the Nikon Small World photography competition several times, including first place in 1984. A special exhibit of his photomicrography was held at the Rome Civic Zoological Museum in October 2004. In addition to his work on the Photoatlas series, he has contributed to numerous other books. His own MicroWorld of Diamonds, discussing natural and synthetic diamonds, simulants, and enhancements, was published in 2000.
The gemological industry has recognized Koivula’s contributions to the field by awarding him the AGS’s Robert M. Shipley Award (1996) and the AGA’s Antonio Bonnano Award for Excellence in Gemology (2001). He was also the first recipient of AGS’s Richard T. Liddicoat Journalism Award in 2003. He is an Honorary Lifetime Member of both the Gemmological Association of Great Britain and the Finnish Gemological Society. In 1999, JCK named Koivula to its list of the “64 Most Influential People in the Jewelry Industry in the 20th Century.”
In accepting the Institute’s Liddicoat Award, Koivula said, “Gemology is a great profession. I would be doing this anyway even if I was not paid, because this is what I love to do.” John Koivula’s passion opened the doors for researchers and enthusiasts alike to appreciate the relevance of inclusions and the importance of photomicrography to modern gemology.
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