Heritage Series: Sir James Walton, The Royal Surgeon

If you have had the chance to visit us here at Gem-A HQ, you may have had the opportunity to see the Sir James Walton Library, which is one of the largest collection of gemmological books in Europe and holds some of the greatest works in gemmological science, including Walton’s Practical Gemmology. But did you know that for the majority of his life Walton was a decorated medical professional and a surgeon to royalty?  

Sir James Walton was the President of the National Association of Goldsmiths 1953-55 and served as the Gemmological Association’s Chairman in 1955, following a long illustrious medical career. Walton was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons among his many qualifications, and was established both as an Officier de la Legion d’Honneur, and a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O) which recognises personal service to a reigning monarch of the United Kingdom.


Sir James Walton

READ MORE: Heritage Series: The Trailblazing Efforts of Robert Webster

Born in 1881, James Walton was elected to the staff of the London Hospital in 1913, where he worked for 33 years. During the First World War, Walton was a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). Walton was stationed at the 2nd London General Hospital and served as a surgeon to the Empire Hospital specialising in diseases of the brain and spinal cord, and in WWII he was a Brigadier in the Army Medical Department.

In 1930, Walton was also appointed as surgeon to the Royal Household of King George V, and served through both his reign and those of his sons Edward VIII and George VI, until 1949. During his dedicated service he was official surgeon to Queen Mary from 1936-49, and it was through their shared enthusiasm for gemmology that Queen Mary honoured the Association by visiting the Gemmological Association’s Exhibition in 1951 at Goldsmiths’ Hall.

Queen Mary, Sir James Walton, and President Dr Herbert Smith
at the 1951 Gemmological Association Exhibition


Dedication in Walton's Practical Gemmology

READ MORE: Speaker in the Spotlight: Q&A with Dr Eloïse Gaillou

After an illustrious career, serving as President of the Association of Surgeons and the Medical Society of London respectively, Walton began his well-earned retirement in 1946, where he entered the fascinating world of gemmology.

While his investigation of gemstones was an enjoyable hobby, by Walton’s very nature this hobby developed into an intensive and specialised study. Despite not having the traditional background of most gemmologists, Walton mastered the subject of Crystallography and became a recognised authority on precious stones in the UK, accumulating in his book Practical Gemmology.


Dedications to B.W. Anderson and to Dr Herbert Smith by Sir James Walton in his 'Practical Gemmology'

Described by Robert Webster as ‘a valuable contribution to gemmology’ (JoG 1953 Vol.4.No.1), Walton’s book addressed an important gap: he had noticed that there was not a book aimed at the new or amateur gemmologist who did not have (or necessarily need) a scientific or geological background:

‘The majority of books are written in technical language and are interspersed with many mathematical proofs and equations from which they [non-specialists/hobbyists] shrink with aversion if not with horror.’

Walton aimed to gather ‘an account of the scientific principles upon which the subject of mineralogy is based’ but to ‘divest it as far as possible of all mathematical considerations, to present it in the simplest non-technical language…so that it may be of easy understanding even to those devoid of all scientific knowledge.’

READ MORE: Leading the World's First Gemstone Testing Laboratory: Gem-A's Basil Anderson

That being said, Walton’s book is of incredible scientific value, and included unpublished material by Basil Anderson and CJ Payne, who supported this important project that created an essential book for those who approached gemmology out of inquisitive enthusiasm. In 1947 Walton was also appointed the first curator of the Association’s collection of gemstones.  


Sir James Walton

Upon his death in 1955, a vast collection of Sir James Walton’s books and stones were generously bequeathed to the Association, and are now housed in the Sir James Walton library at Gem-A HQ London. So when you next visit us at Ely Place, please ask to visit our exquisite library and immerse yourself in a part of Gem-A history and Walton’s living legacy.


The Sir James Walton Library at Gem-A HQ London

If you would like to join us in celebrating 110 years of gemmology education click here and register for the Gem-A Conference 2018.
If you are a Gem-A Member or Student you will have received an email to book member or student rates, if you haven't received it please contact membership@gem-a.com.

Cover Image: Photograph of Sir James Walton from the Gem-A collection. All Image Credits: Gem-A.


An Exploration of Amethyst in Antique Jewellery

An Exploration of Amethyst in Antique Jewellery

In his second of a series of Gemstone Conversations columns for Gems&Jewellery, jewellery historian and valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV considers how amethyst has been used by jewellery designers throughout history.

Read more


Getting to Grips with Multi-Coloured Gemstones

Getting to Grips with Multi-Coloured Gemstones

Many of us marvel at the feat of nature that is the multi-coloured gemstone. Here, Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG takes us through the basics of three popular multi-coloured gemstones and explains how they can be identified.

Read more


Gem-A at Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair 2019

Gem-A at Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair 2019

Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair is only a few days away and we are getting very excited to meet visitors and colleagues from the jewellery and gemstone industries, and of course be dazzled by the many gemmological marvels that will be on show at this world-class event.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Sapphire for Those Born in September

Birthstone Guide: Sapphire for Those Born in September

Legend describes sapphire as a stone of honesty, trust and prosperity, bringing inner peace and protection to its wearer. Here, we consider the many facets of the September birthstone...

Read more


A First Time Visit to Intenational Jewellery London 2019

A First Time Visit to Intenational Jewellery London 2019

Gem-A’s communications assistant, Olivia Gillespie, reflects on her first experience at one of the UK’s biggest jewellery trade shows, International Jewellery London.

Read more


Gem-A at International Jewellery London 2019

Gem-A at International Jewellery London 2019

International Jewellery London is just around the corner and all of us at Gem-A are hugely excited for what promises to be a scintillating showcase of jewellery and gemstones! Take a look at some of the exciting activities and events we have planned for this year's show...

Read more


Buying Guide: Which Gemstones are in the Beryl Family?

Buying Guide: Which Gemstones are in the Beryl Family?

Gem-A gemmology tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG takes us through the variety brilliantly coloured gems belonging to the beryl family.

Read more


Understanding Red Beryl

Understanding Red Beryl

Gem-A is pleased to have some fascinating red beryl specimens in the historic Gem-A Gemstone & Mineral Collection. Here, Gem-A senior gemmology tutor Rona Bierrum FGA DGA EG, explores what makes this rare member of the beryl family so special.

Read more


Famous Gemstones: The Star of India Sapphire

Famous Gemstones: The Star of India Sapphire

Look at any list of the top 10 most famous gemstones in the world and you will undoubtedly come across the Star of India. Here, we find out more about this incredible star sapphire and discover its fantastical history, which reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie.

Read more


The Gems&Jewellery Autumn 2019 Issue Has Landed!

The Gems&Jewellery Autumn 2019 Issue Has Landed!

We are pleased to announce that the Autumn 2019 issue of Gems&Jewellery magazine is now available to Gem-A Members and students in print and online.

Read more


Understanding Spinel: The Alternative August Birthstone

Understanding Spinel: The Alternative August Birthstone

The varied hues of spinel have been admired for hundreds of years, but this gemstone only recently found its place on the list of ‘alternative birthstones’. Here, Lily Faber FGA DGA EG explores the alternative birthstone for the month of August and some of its synthetic counterparts.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Peridot for Those Born in August

Birthstone Guide: Peridot for Those Born in August

Those born in August have vibrant green peridot as their birthstone. Lily Faber FGA DGA EG delves into this zesty gemstone to find out more about its physical properties and fascinating history.

Read more