William Hanneman, a Gemologist Who Made His Field Affordable, Dies at 93

GradingJan 05, 2021

William Hanneman, a Gemologist Who Made His Field Affordable, Dies at 93

A pillar of the community, he used his chemistry degree and analytical mind to teach himself gemology and then create a line of affordable instruments.

Dr. William Hanneman, known for his many contributions to gemology including creating a line of affordable instruments, died last month at the age of 93. He is pictured here at left with his friend Alan Hodgkinson, also an award-winning gemologist.
Monterey, Calif.—Dr. Walter William Hanneman, the gemologist known for sharing his knowledge and helping make gemology accessible to all, died Dec. 12 at his home in California.

He was 93.

Hanneman, who was known as Dr. Bill, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

He then worked as a research analytical chemist for several major corporations, including the DuPont Research Lab, the Standard Oil/Chevron Refiner, and the Kaiser Center for Technology.

His father was an avid lapidarist and introduced Hanneman to gems and minerals at a young age, kicking off a lifelong hobby of gemology, according to his online obituary.

Hanneman’s early endeavors in education would later lead to a mission to make gemology affordable to anyone who was interested.

In the mid-1960s, he decided he wanted to learn gemstone identification.

But, after being told about the prerequisite classes and their associated costs, Hanneman rejected that path, opting instead to teach himself through popular books on the topic and his advanced degrees in chemistry.

He felt his 40 years of experience qualified him to examine gemology from perspectives far different from those of the traditional industry schools and called himself the world’s foremost S.O.G.—Self Ordained Gemologist.

As a champion of aspiring gemological students, Hanneman believed anyone with an interest in learning about gems should have the opportunity to do so.

Using his analytical mind and chemistry background, he set out to create an alternative and affordable path to gem identification, creating his own line of instruments under his name, Hanneman Gemological Instruments.

These instruments are still used worldwide.

Hanneman also authored numerous articles and books in his efforts to make gemological information accessible, including “Pragmatic Spectroscopy for Gemologists,” “Diamond Cut Grading Simplified,” “Naming Gem Garnets,” and his signature book, “Guide to Affordable Gemology.”

He also shared his knowledge openly through lectures, seminars and workshops, inspiring generations of gemologists and gemological enthusiasts.

In a Facebook post, gemologist and author Antoinette Matlins called him a “brilliant gemologist, a man who gladly shared of his knowledge and talent, a warm supporter of the Accredited Gemologists Association—and how many of us have the little practical gem tools he created and gave to AGA members—and simply a wonderful, talented, loving, thoughtful man who loved life and did what he loved throughout his own.”

The AGA honored Hanneman in 2018 with its Antonio C. Bonanno Award for Excellence in Gemology, and the International Society of Appraisers gave him its Industry Service Award for contributing to the advancement of the appraisal profession. 
“The AGA was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. William Hanneman, recipient of the Antonio C. Bonanno Award for Excellence in Gemology,” Donna Hawrelko, former AGA president and close friend of Hanneman, said on behalf of the AGA in a statement sent to National Jeweler. 

“Dr. Bill, as he was affectionately known, was a generous, brilliant scientist, author, and inventor of affordable equipment for the gemmologist. (He) was always willing to share his vast knowledge with students, gemologists, and scientists alike. He will be deeply missed by everyone who had the privilege of knowing him.”

Outside of gemology, Hanneman was an avid fly fisherman, an area in which he also made contributions. 

He created the “Hanneman Common Cents System,” an objective system for the relative measurement of rod action, power, and frequency, which was published in RodMaker Magazine and Tenkara Angler magazine. 

He also wrote a book called “What Trout Actually See.” 

Hanneman was preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Margaret Marie (Lynch) Hanneman; his parents; his sister, Katharine Hanneman Schoenberger; niece Susan Schoenberger Spencer; and two sons-in-law, Cliff Tipton and Steve Jack.

He is survived by his four children: Kathleen, Bill, Patricia, and Judith (Peter); his granddaughter Deirdre (Shane); three great-grandchildren, Shane, Kylie, and Tyler; niece Barbara; and nephew Peter.

In keeping with his wishes, no service is planned. Rather, his family encourages raising a glass to toast a life well lived.
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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