Smithsonian Institution
Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

A Capital Idea

The capital city of the United States is a popular destination for tourists, scholars, politicians and history buffs alike. From a range of actions which shaped our young nation centuries ago to more recent events covered around the world, Washington D.C. is rich with legends and lore. However – while the city may be top of mind as a seat of government – there are museums, memorials and parks which are also worth seeing, including a venue which should excite every diamond and gem fan in the world.

Smithsonian Institution Elephant
Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a standalone, one-of-a-kind experience. Widely known for expositions which include archeology, ancient civilizations and the world’s oceans, “fan favorites” shared on social media tend to include the Phoenix, the North Atlantic right whale, an array of dinosaur skeletons, and the hall of fossils.

Smithsonian Institution Whale
Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

Stairway to Treasures

Just upstairs, on the second floor, you’ll find one of the venue’s most visited items. The world-renowned Hope Diamond is a 45.5 carat blue marvel that’s been visited by over one-hundred million (100,000,000) people since it was donated to the museum by Harry Winston. That legendary blue diamond – which also glows red with phosphorescence when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, is easily the most discussed “rock star” in D.C. Not simply for it’s unique size and beauty, but also for its interesting checkered past, which we’ll save for another day.

Hope Diamond
Photo credit: Smithsonian Insider

All told, there’s a whopping 20,000 square feet devoted to the earth’s rocks and minerals in the museum. You will find reproductions of four real American mines, an interactive meteorite display, and a 3-D model of one crystal of salt (1.5 billion times actual size). Yet in the midst of all this there is more.

The National Gem Collection

The Hope Diamond is not the only gemstone of note on the premises. True gem lovers will seek out the 168 carat Mackay emerald and diamond necklace and the massive Carmen Lucia ruby. In fact there are over 10,000 gems in the museum – making it one of the largest displays in the world.

Smithsonian Institution Emerald
Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

The collection features jewelry pieces crafted for famous individuals throughout history: Marie Antoinette’s diamond earrings, Marie Louise’s Diadem, and the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, a gift from Emperor Napoleon to his second wife – the afore-mentioned Marie Louise. This necklace marked the birth of their son Napoleon II in 1811. It consists of 234 diamonds and 28 old-mine cut diamonds which suspend a fringe of alternating pear shape and ovals.

Smithsonian Institution Napoleon
Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

Don’t miss the Maharaja of Indore’s necklace which began as a set of of antique-cut diamonds interspersed with emeralds in two strands. After it was initially crafted, upper chains containing modern brilliant diamonds were added. In total, 374 diamonds and 15 emeralds make this piece something to command any diamond and gemstone lover’s attention.

Smithsonian Institution Necklace

Certainly the Cartier-designed Bismarck Sapphire Necklace, the Burmese Ruby Bracelet and the Logan Sapphire are all worth visiting – and you will still be barely scratching the surface of the wonderful things available to the gem lover in this fantastic display.

Smithsonian Institution
Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

Save a Date

So the next time you visit Washington D.C. make sure the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and the National Gem Collection is on your list. Admission is free, the Museum is open 10am-5:30pm every day except Christmas. Enjoy this incredible collection of gems and gemstones available 364 days a year – to all of us.

For more information you can visit the website: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/visit

John Pollard

John Pollard is an educational consultant and subject matter expert for diamond producers, grading laboratories and jewelers in the USA, Europe and Asia. He has lectured for JCK Las Vegas, IGI workshops in New York, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, the American Gem Society in Washington D.C., GIA's Alumni Association and other industry organizations.

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