The London Museum of Natural History’s new permanent gallery, The Vault, which opened in late November, brings together crystals, gems, rare metals, and meteorites. Alongside the museum’s permanent collection are loans from private collectors, including the Aurora Collection of fancy colored diamonds, on loan from diamond collectors Alan Bronstein and Harry Rodman.
The Aurora Collection is a world-class assortment of 296 naturally colored diamonds, weighing a total of 267.45 cts. For many years, it was on display at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.
“Gems like these were not meant to be imprisoned in a dark underground safe for the momentary pleasure of a few eyes,” says Bronstein. “The true value of a collection is sharing it with as many people who are interested, to experience nature’s diversity of expression. It’s thrilling to think that the collection will be seen by the 3.6 million visitors that come to the Natural History Museum each year.”
“Each colored diamond tells its own story, giving us insight not only into its formation, but also to the deep earth processes that took place when the gem was formed,” writes Alan Hart, curator of minerals at the Natural History Museum. “For example, yellow diamonds are due to the presence of nitrogen in the structure, and green diamonds owe their color to natural radiation damage. It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to display this unique collection of exceptionally rare gems at the museum.”
Oscar-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren attended the grand opening of the new hall and viewed the Aurora Collection. Mirren and fellow film actors Camilla Rutherford and Catherine Bailey were among the stars at the launch of The Vault.
This is not the first European visit for the Aurora Collection. It was on display in 2005 as part of the Natural History Museum’s Diamonds exhibition.
“Gemstones, meteorites, and metals have been treasured since the beginning of human history,” says Hart. “The Vault is a showcase of the most rare, scientifically unique, and culturally historical examples from our national collection, together with some private loans.”
Other gems in The Vault include the Devonshire Emerald, one of the world’s largest uncut emeralds. It weighs 1,383.95 cts. and comes from Muzo, in Colombia. Pedro the First, Emperor of Brazil, gave it to the sixth Duke of Devonshire in 1831.
The Star of South Africa was purchased by diamond cutter Louis Hond. The pear-shape diamond weighs 47.69 cts. It was sold to the Earl of Dudley, whose wife, the Countess Dudley, wore it as a hair ornament surrounded by 95 smaller diamonds. It’s now mounted in a 1910 Cartier pendant.
The permanent collection includes the Heron-Allen “cursed amethyst.” Legend says the stone was looted during the Indian mutiny in 1855 and brought to England by an officer of the Bengal cavalry who mysteriously lost his health and his money. After receiving the amethyst, the officer’s son suffered such ill fortune that he gave the stone to a friend, who then committed suicide, returning the stone to the officer’s son in his will. Heron-Allen received the amethyst from the cavalryman’s son in 1890, and he too suffered misfortune. His daughter donated the stone to the Natural History Museum along with a letter he wrote warning anyone against handling it.
Also on display are an extraordinary pink morganite from Madagascar, a rare orange padparadscha from Sri Lanka, and a 1,700 ct. topaz. Another item in The Vault is the Nakhla, a rare Martian meteorite that people in Egypt witnessed falling to Earth in 1911. It’s one of less than 70 known specimens in the world. For more information, visit www.nhm.ac.uk.