How do gems & minerals become a part of our history? In cultures around the world, articles of jewelry are prized not only for their intrinsic value but also as precious cultural artifacts. From the crown jewels of European kingdoms, to the Imperial Regalia of Ethiopia and the Holy Sword, Crown Jewels, and Mirror of Japan, these items often symbolize legacies of power. As a country without a history of monarchy, the United States of America has no regalia, but the nation is nonetheless rich in national treasure. As proof, one need look no further than the vast holdings of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex, which belongs not to royalty, but to every American citizen.
More than 175 years ago, patron James Smithson hoped to enrich the scientific and cultural development of the United States with an endowment for a public institution of learning and research. The resulting Smithsonian Institution has grown into a wondrous and comprehensive group of 21 museums and the National Zoo. As a mineralogist, Smithson would surely have been delighted to learn that his namesake institution curates one of the premier collections of gems and minerals in the world. Housed within the National Museum of Natural History, the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals is a magnificent treasure trove of more than 600,000 geological specimens.
The Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals
Visitors to the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall enter a grand, softly-lit space with glowing exhibition cases, drawing the eye from specimen to fascinating specimen. Of particular interest to any gem-lover: these hallowed halls are home to over 10,000 dazzling gemstones. Through the displays, curators guide visitors on a journey through time, both on the awe-inspiring scale of geological forces and through the resplendent history of gemstones in jewelry. Behind the scenes, the museum hosts a world-class mineral research wing, as well as the Gem Vault, a protected space to secure the collection’s highest value jewels and new additions.
The Hope Diamond
When 17th-century miners unearthed the 45.52-carat blue diamond in the Kollur Mine in what is today India, the world had never before seen a blue diamond. The diamond passed from owner to owner and across continents before the English banker Henry Philip Hope acquired it in the early 1800s. Thereafter known as the Hope diamond, the jewel became closely linked with tragic developments in the lives of those who possessed it. Its exquisite beauty, however, is beyond debate. The Hope Diamond’s rich and distinctive blue hue results from the presence of boron in its crystal structure. A stately antique cushion cut flaunts the gem’s clarity and vivid color. For all these reasons, the enigmatic Hope Diamond stands out as a centerpiece of the Smithsonian’s jewel collection.
The Logan Sapphire and More Gem Highlights
The collection’s extraordinary jewels include many other well-known and historical gems. For example, the Logan Sapphire, one of the world’s largest faceted sapphires, calls the museum home. It weighs in at an astonishing 423.99 carats and displays a luxurious deep blue color and fabulous clarity. Fabulous fancy yellow diamonds gifted by museum-namesake Janet Annenberg Hooker, sparkle alongside the stunning DeYoung red, and pink diamonds. Storied vault treasures include a diadem and necklace gifted to empress Marie-Louise by Napoleon, which flaunts 263 luxurious carats of diamonds. They keep company with a pair of Marie Antoinette’s earrings, whose intricate 18th-century design details and lavish use of diamond reflect the monarch’s notorious opulence.