After nearly six years of restoration work, the American Museum of Natural History’s Halls of Gems and Minerals in New York will reopen on 12 June. One of the main attractions will the Star of India, the world’s largest known gem-quality blue star sapphire at 563 carats. Another stunning piece back on display is the 100.3 carat DeLong Star Ruby from Myanmar.
“These are among our most impressive and well-known stones,” the museum’s curator George Harlow told Bloomberg. They gained greater fame after they were part of a jewellery heist in 1964. The Star of India and the other stolen gems worth over $400,000 were found in a Florida bus terminal locker. The museum had to pay a ransom of $25,000 to get the DeLong Star Ruby back, and raised the funds with the help of John D. MacArthur, who later established the foundation which awards the well-known “genius” grants.
The new gem hall at Museum of Natural History is in the same place as the old one, “but it feels bigger, because there was a lot of space lost because of deep cases,” says Harlow, explaining the idea behind the renovation was to make the exhibits more attractive to visitors. It was last renovated in 1976. In 2014, the museum commissioned design firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates to work with the exhibition department to rethink, reorient and rearrange the space for the 21st century. Now, the 11,000 sq.ft Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals are ready to reopen to the public on 12 June.
The permanent exhibition cases hold about 5,000 specimens. But Harlow has a tip: “You need a little flashlight,” he says. “A lot of (minerals) want to be looked at as if the sun were behind you—gems want to be seen that way. So I tell everybody, ‘Bring a light, and your phone isn’t going to be good enough’.”
The focus is also on the evolution of minerals and how they came into being, with the displays split into five to highlight the conditions needed for their formation: igneous, pegmatitic, metamorphic hydrothermal and weathering.
For the first time, the museum has installed a special gallery for non-permanent shows, and the inaugural exhibition, titled “Beautiful Creatures”, is curated by jewellery historian Marion Fasel. Most of the jewels in this show have been loaned by individuals.
They include a Cartiér snake necklace with 2,473 diamonds that total a staggering 178.2 carats. A stunning serpent choker from Joel Arthur Rosenthal is another reminder that everything you see in the display cases, with the right artistry, can be turned into some of the most coveted, valuable objects on the planet.