If you grew up in New York City, you probably attended at least one school trip to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Maybe it was a fifth grade trip with a school bus full of excited classmates, or a trek on the subway with a friend to complete your high school science homework. AMNH is always there, right across from Central Park, but it’s easy to neglect it as you get older. Well, let’s fix that. Who’s up for a field trip?
Since I’m a gemologist, let’s visit two of my favorite parts of the museum, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals and the Morgan Memorial Gem Hall. Both are located in a darkened part of the museum with very little overhead lighting, allowing you to really focus on the gems and minerals under their own spotlights. So forgive some of the dark photos!
One of the first specimens on the way to the Hall of Minerals is this amazing stibnite, which is the largest on public display in the world. It weighs almost half a ton, and was found in the Wuling Mine in southeastern China. If you are familiar with hematite, stibnite looks a lot like it in person, but has a lighter, almost blue-grey color.
Right near it is this amazing ammonite shell. Ammonite was a marine animal that went extinct around the same time as dinosaurs did, 65 million years ago. The incredible iridescent effect on the shell is created naturally over the course of millions of years due to high temperatures and high pressure. The colors are so beautiful in person — lots of orange and green!
Along the sides of the Hall of Minerals are some huge gems, like this amethyst. Doesn’t the display look futuristic, as if this amethyst is getting ready to travel to space?
In a nearby display case is an excellent array of opals from Ethiopia. This grouping showcases the various colors of opal so well. It’s also great to see pieces that are still surrounded by some of the host rock. The photo doesn’t show it well, but the middle white opal in the front row is incredibly sparkly. They all show such beautiful play of color!
Let’s move into the Hall of Gems. The pieces in this room are predominantly faceted and polished gems, which is a great transition after seeing so many gems in their more natural form. There are several walls just like this one which display varieties of a particular species of gemstone. Think of it like a family tree. In this photo it is the species beryl, with plenty of aquamarine, morganite, and other colorful variety examples. One of the other displays shows rare and unusual gems — such a great way to see items up close that, unless you’re a gemologist, you don’t normally get to view!
When I was there, a group of elementary school kids with their teacher piled into the Hall of Gems room, suddenly excited after what appeared to be a collective tired slump. All of the kids were frenetically looking on the walls to find their birthstones. Nothing like some gems to get people excited, young or old!
A great reason to visit AMNH on your own is to see some of the gems that I couldn’t get good photographs of (the dark lighting is great for ambiance, but not so great for catching the gemstones on camera!), like the Kazanjian Red Diamond, which at 5.05 carats is one of three red diamonds in the world known to exceed five carats, or the Star of India, which at 563 carats is the world’s largest blue star sapphire. There is also the Patricia Emerald, which at a whopping 632 carats is considered one of the greatest emerald crystals in the world.
A funny moment occurred at AMNH as I walked through the gift shop to the exhibit, as well as on the way out through the same route. The most popular spot in the gift shop was, hands down, the big box of dyed rocks. Maybe it’s the bright colors or the smooth feel of them in your hand, but people were crowded around, small black velvet bags in hand, fervently choosing their favorites from the bunch.
If you saw my teaser of this on Instagram and guessed correctly where I was, congrats!
Well, that ends our tour of the American Museum of Natural History. What was your favorite gem? Have you been there on a school trip as a kid too? Are you excited to go back now and see more of the minerals and gems on your own? I highly recommend it!
P.S. Although I mention the American Museum of Natural History plenty in this blog post, I was not paid or perked to write about this exhibition. I am simply a lover of gorgeous gems!
All photos were taken by me.