National Gem Collection – Some Old & Some New – Jeffrey Post

Dr. Jeffrey Post, curator of the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection provided an insightful presentation of old and new acquisitions to the collection.

The gems and minerals galleries of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History are among the most visited museum exhibits in the world, attracting more than five million visitors every year. The National Gem Collection was created in 1884, and is renowned for both the number and scope of mineral specimens and gemstones. The Hope Diamond being the iconic center piece of the gallery and the most popular museum object in the world.

How does the Smithsonian add to the collection?

No Tax Dollars are spent on acquisition of items for the collection, everything comes from private sources.

Gifts are the main source of specimens, but while gifts are a great way to grow a collection it sometimes grows in unexpected ways. As gifts to the nation it is unlikely any would ever be sold, but rather offered to other Smithsonian branch museums. Not all gifts are accepted, as not every piece has a story to tell within the gem gallery. But a place for these gifts can often be found in other museums which can properly tell their story fully.

Recent gifts include the Dom Pedro Aquamarine, the largest faceted aquamarine, weighing 10,363 carats. The Dom Pedro exists today at
the Smithsonian Institution because of one thing PASSION.

The passion of a gem dealer, the passion of a creative gem artist, and the passion of a serious gem collector. This type of passion combined with the story and the desire to preserve and share the wonders of nature is what the National Gem Collection is all about.

Endowments provide on-going funds each year that allow for directed expansion of the collection as specimens can be searched out
and purchased to fill in or expand specific areas of the collection.

In 2005 a gift from The Tiffany & Co. Foundation established an endowment for the acquisition of important gemstones for the collection in its name as part of the museum’s National Gem Collection, known as “The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Collection.” This endowment enables acquisition of gemstones that may come along only once in a lifetime.The gift will help maintain the National Gem Collection’s position as one of the world’s great repositories of rare gemstones well into the future.

Dedicated to inspiring people of all ages to understand the natural world, you have to grab their attention with a piece of jewelry or gemstone, with the purpose of bringing them to the wonder of the mineral specimen which formed in the earth. While visitors may come to see the Hope Diamond  rather than to see a bunch of rocks, most visitors end up spending the majority of their time in the minerals gallery.

The Smithsonian Institution gem and mineral collection consists of over 10,000 gems and 350,000 mineral specimens, used for scientific research, education programs, public exhibitions, and loaned to scientists around the world for research projects. Images, stories and histories are being updated and uploaded to web pages on an on-going basis, so if you have not visited lately you need to go now: http://mineralsciences.si.edu/

Something Old included the Clagett Bracelet, Conchita Sapphire Butterfly and Cullian Blue Diamond Necklace to name just three. Each with a rich history and back story available at http://geogallery.si.edu/index.php/en/gems/highlights

Something NEW discussed recent acquisitions available at http://geogallery.si.edu/index.php/en/spotlight/new-acquisitions.
It is amazing to see the wealth of information and images available via the Smithsonian websites.

The lecture ended with the iconic center piece for the gallery the Hope Diamond. In 1958, Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond
to the Smithsonian Institution, where it immediately doubled the attendance to the Gem Collection. Jeffrey Post shared on-going scientific investigations of both the history and composition of the Hope Diamond.

History – 1668, French gem merchant, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, sold a 115-carat blue diamond to King Louis XIV of France.

Recut in 1673 resulting in a 69-carat stone known as the “French Blue.”
Cut and original mounting on a Royal Staff backed in Gold would have displayed a Blue Diamond with a Gold Sun in the center. Louis XIV was the Sun King.

Stolen during the French Revolution in 1792, it was recut again, and reappeared in London as a 45.5-carat blue diamond in 1812.
King George IV of England had pocession of the diamond around 1821.
After George IV’s death in 1830, the diamond was purchased by a London banker and gem collector, Henry Philip Hope, whose name it bears today.
After many more changes in ownership it was purchased by Harry Winston in 1949 and in 1958 was donated to the Smithsonian.
Computer graphics show the current Hope Diamond would still display a Blue Diamond with a Gold Sun in the center if backed with Gold.

Composition – The Blue color comes from traces of Boron Ions, less than 0.6% per million. The Hope Diamond phosphoresces RED under ultraviolet light, a unique attribute which may help ultimately determine the source of this diamond. Was it really India?

It was a very well received lecture and the DCGIA members thank Dr. Post for sharing with us – Let’s go to the museum!

Meeting Summary – Charles Marts Secretary DCGIA

 

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