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Gem Halls Get a Repolish

A $30-million redesign will put gems and minerals in the spotlight.

By Carol Besler

Gemology is about to get a lot more attention in New York City.

The gem halls of the American Museum of Natural History are undergoing an extensive, two-year, $30-million renovation that will transform them into a gleaming showcase for the museum’s collection of 105,000 minerals and 5,000 gems.

Rendering of the mineral formation zones. Courtesy of Ralph Appelbaum Associates

The American Museum of Natural History was founded in 1869, and minerals and gems were among the first exhibits. For years, they were scattered in exhibits throughout the museum – which now consists of some 45 rooms of exhibits. In 1976, the Guggenheim Hall of Minerals and Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems opened, providing a central location for the collection. It was divided into the two halls – one for gems and one for minerals, over a total of 11,000 square feet.

The two halls currently form a cul-de-sac, but after the renovation they will be linked to a major new facility at the museum, the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation, via what the museum calls a “Crystalline Pass.”

Rendering of the south entrance of the new Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History. Courtesy of Ralph Appelbaum Associates

The redesign of the gem and mineral halls is part of a multi-year project to restore and conserve the Northwest Coast Hall of the museum, and is on target to be inaugurated in 2019 as part of the museum’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

The revamped space will include redesigned exhibits to tell the story of how the earth’s 4,500 mineral types were formed and how scientists classify them. Among the exhibits will be some of the museum’s famous gems, including: the Star of India, the world’s largest and most famous blue star sapphire; the 632-carat Patricia Emerald, a rare example of a large, uncut, gem-quality emerald; the Subway Garnet, a nine-pound almandine garnet unearthed during a sewer dig on New York City’s 35th Street in 1885; and the largest topaz ever found, a 596-pound crystal from Fazenda do Funil, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

The mineral hall’s latest acquisition is a 12-foot tall amethyst geode, which was unveiled during the announcement of the renovation in September. Collected from the Bolsa mine in Uruguay, it weighs more than 9,000 pounds, and will be displayed near another, nine-foot-tall geode.

Amethyst Geode. © AMNH/D. Finnin

In the mineral hall, a systematics display wall will showcase the classification of minerals, and a new fluorescence and phosphorescence gallery will exhibit a massive panel of fluorescent rock from the Sterling Hill Mining Museum of Ogdensburg, NJ, which glows in shades of orange and green under ultraviolet light.

The Fluorescence and phosphorescence gallery rendering. Courtesy of Ralph Appelbaum Associates

The new halls will be called the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, in honor of these two long-standing museum supporters and volunteers. Roberto Mignone is a museum trustee and Allison Mignone is vice chair of the museum’s campaign. The new halls are being designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.

Rendering of the new Hall of Gems at the American Museum of Natural History. Courtesy of Ralph Appelbaum Associates

George E. Harlow, curator in the museum’s Division of Physical Sciences, and curator of the Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, explains some of the logic behind the update. “Forty-plus years ago, when the current galleries were designed, scientists had not yet begun to explore the concept of mineral evolution.

Today, we work within a different framework, where much of the diversity of minerals on our dynamic planet is directly connected to the evolution of life,” he explains. “Our new exhibits will allow us to tell how the story of minerals is linked with their natural environment and biology on the one hand and with culture and technology on the other.”

Top image: Rendering of the new Crystalline Pass, which will connect the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals with the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation. Courtesy of Ralph Appelbaum Associates



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