Most gem collectors and jewelry enthusiasts won’t need a specific reason to make a day of visiting the American Museum of Natural History’s newly renovated Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, but the advent of a new special exhibition might compel you to go sooner than later.
“Garden of Green: Exquisite Jewelry from the Collection of Van Cleef & Arpels” opened just this month, with 44 jaw-dropping jewels on display in the museum’s Melissa and Keith Meister Gallery through January 2024. As you might glean from the exhibition title, the element that unites the pieces is the color green—as in, emeralds, jade, malachite, green chalcedony, chrysoprase and peridot. The jewelry exhibits are grouped by gemstone type; when you step into the gallery, a small, velvet-dark space, it’s like you’ve landed in a jungle thick with vegetation, where each display case is like a mini oasis, the green gems as lush as rain-soaked monstera leaves.
The other thing that unites the exhibits is the fact that they all hail from the atelier of heritage French jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels. That means you can expect designs that capture nature’s lightness, proportions, creatures, and colors with the highest level of craftsmanship, ingenuity—and an undeniable sense of joie de vivre.
More specifically, for example, you’ll see playful animal designs—mice and baby bird brooches with chrysoprase bellies—created in the 1950s and 1960s; a silk Art Deco evening bag accented with a clasp set with jade and rose-cut diamonds from 1927; zodiac-themed pendants and an Alhambra necklace in malachite; and a green chalcedony bracelet from the 1970s that loops around the wrist like a leafy garland.
And you likely have never seen peridot looking so unbelievably luxe: One case houses a multi-piece suite comprised of 132 peridots and 580 diamonds artfully arranged to suggest garlands of leaves and flower petals.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the largest case gathers magnificent examples of Van Cleef & Arpels emerald jewelry. Two standouts from among the 12 pieces on view include the Quatre Chemins necklace from 2019, which features 27.79 cts. t.w. Zambian emeralds, and the Cydonia necklace and earrings set from 2009, which is inspired by the branches and flowers of a quince tree (900 emeralds total in these two if you’re counting).
According to George Harlow, curator emeritus of the museum’s Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals:
While the most well-known green gems are emerald and peridot, Garden of Green brings additional green stones, with their beautiful, diverse shades, into the spotlight. Green stones and minerals owe their unique colors and patterns to various causes—malachite from the copper in its chemical composition, and peridot from the minor quantity and ionic charge of iron in the stone—and each specimen in this exhibition is a beautiful example of the amazing products of natural Earth processes.
Since you can cover the extent of this exhibition fairly quickly, you can easily combine your visit with a more comprehensive tour of the Gem Halls at large. Should you find yourself hungering for more “green goddesses” start with the Patricia Emerald, a 632-carat emerald crystal that was discovered in 1920 in the Chivor Mine in Colombia and is world-famous for its vibrant color and large size and a behemoth beryl from the Bumpus Quarry in Maine—and that’s just for starters.
One last tip for when you go: Enter through the AMNH’s Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation (entrance on Columbus Ave) and take a minute to appreciate the Yurman Family Crystalline Pass (yes, that’s Yurman, as in David Yurman) on your left as you walk into the Gem Halls. The 19-foot-long installation recreates a section of clear crystals from a remarkable, 70-foot-long mineral vein found in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. It’s the perfect amuse bouche before the more colorful main attractions.
Garden of Green: Exquisite Jewelry from the Collection of Van Cleef & Arpels” will be on view for a limited time through January 2024. All photos courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels.