Gem show dazzles visitors


Visitors to the San Diego Natural History Museum’s new exhibit “All That Glitters: The Splendor and Science of Gems and Minerals,” will go beyond the ‘bling’ to see gems and minerals as very rare and ancient by-products of the forces that have created the landscape, including San Diego’s.

The project, developed and designed by museum staff, will remain on display through April 2012.

In addition to highlights from the museum’s own collection, the exhibition includes an assemblage of gem specimens and jewelry designed by houses such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels, as well as items on loan from private collectors and such institutions as the American Museum of Natural History, Gemological Institute of America (GIA), Harvard University Mineralogical Museum, Newark Museum, and the Smithsonian.

The displays showcase classic workmanship and signature elements related to specific styles and time periods. Exquisite gem carvings include a Faberge grey chalcedony pig with diamond eyes, a jellyfish opal brooch by Mauboussin, and a never-before-seen collection of 13 butterfly brooches set with rare gems like alexandrite, Mexican fire opal, pearls from Baja California, topaz, rainbow moonstone (transparent labradorite), sapphire, and more.

One of the signature pieces in the exhibition is the Aurora Diamond Butterfly of Peace, created as a symbol of the soul and of positive transformation by diamond dealer Alan Bronstein. Natural fancy-colored diamonds are so rare that it took 12 years to amass the 240 diamonds, paired for color and size, in this arrangement. In daylight-equivalent lighting, the diamond butterfly shows hues of yellow, orange, pink, blue, green, and violet. Under long-wave ultraviolet light, many of these diamonds exhibit the phenomenon known as fluorescence.

A special case spotlights benitoite, the California State Gemstone. This dark blue gem is extremely rare, found only in San Benito County.

A giant periodic table reveals what elements comprise which gems, and that the diamond—perhaps the most coveted gem of all—is the only one made from a single element (carbon).

In addition, gems made from minerals will not be the only stars of the exhibit. Organic beauties, such as pearls, jet, ivory and coral will also be featured, including a piece of amber (fossilized tree sap) containing an ancient cricket suspended in time.

Installed to look like a rocky outcropping in the local hills, the “Fantasy Gem Pocket” exhibit is a dramatic cavelike space where visitors will explore the 4x4 Gem Pocket embedded with gems native to San Diego County, including quartz, tourmaline, blue topaz and pink kunzite, and orange garnet.

If you go

  • Exhibit: ‘All That Glitters: The Splendor and Science of Gems and Minerals’
  • Where: The San Diego Natural History Museum, 1788 El Prado, Balboa Park
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
  • Tickets: $10–$16
  • Contact: (619) 232-3821,