Growing up the daughter of a geologist meant many summer road trips to geologically fascinating destinations and a heap of mineralogical lessons once we set up camp. Most of my friends thought this was a boring waste of summer vacation, but I always thought of digging up fossils or identifying quartz specimens as a mysterious treasure hunt.
As an adult, I find a similar thrill when visiting gem and mineral collections at museums. And as a copywriter for Rio, a healthy curiosity about gemology is a boon to my job function. So when planning a short vacation to D.C. to visit friends, I made sure my itinerary included a stop at the Smithsonian. The Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals at the National Museum of Natural History to be specific. To really get my geology geek juices flowing, Rio Grande Coach Mark Shipman and Supply Manager Becky Scheffler helped connect me with the curator in charge of the mineral collection, Dr. Jeffrey E. Post, for a personal tour. Squee! I could barely contain my inner geo-treasure hunter from taking over and running laps around the office at the prospect of a tour led by a master mineralogist in an exhibit of 3,500 specimens.
Of course, things didn’t quite go as planned. My arrival and stay in Washington, D.C. coincided with the landfall of Superstorm Sandy. Luckily, I and everyone I was staying with fared well during the storm (albeit a bit delayed in our return to New Mexico), but my personal tour with Dr. Post didn’t happen. Sigh. I did, however, still manage to get the Smithsonian before the storm shut the museum down and walk among the massive mineral collection.
Let me just say: Wow. The exhibit contains wall-to-wall gems and minerals in shapes and colors I didn’t even know were possible in nature. The museum houses specimens in various forms from totally raw to jewelry-quality cuts and even complete pieces set with exquisite stones.
The first room of the exhibit featured jewelry pieces from various royal affiliation throughout history, among them the diamond earrings of Marie Antoinette and the diamond- and emerald-set Spanish Inquisition necklace.
My husband was captivated by the sheer size and clarity of a 12,555 ct. faceted topaz on display across the room from the famous Hope Diamond. I couldn’t stop staring at the pearly luster of the moonstone and labradorite—my favorite feldspar! I felt inspired by the beautiful variation in the mineral beryl (which comes in shades of pink, red, yellow and even colorless) and the relative rarity of spessartine (a member of the garnet family that often features a rich orange hue). If I were a bench jeweler or a designer, I would have flipped out my sketchbook and started planning my next piece…or ten.
The “Nautilus” pendant by Thomas Dailing, which won the Grand Prize in the Saul Bell Design Award competition in 2008, wasn’t on display, but it is among the hundreds of finished pieces within the collection.
If you aren’t able to make it to the Smithsonian, you can view the Gem Gallery online. We all got into the jewelry business for love of beauty (in one form or another), and this collection is jammed packed with incredible wonder.
My time at the Smithsonian was short due to super-storm Sandy, and I’m admittedly bummed I didn’t get to see the exhibit through the guided eye of Dr. Post. But the storm only kept me from a tour—many businesses and the livelihoods of jewelers, artisans and craftspeople were more directly impacted.
Rio Grande supports the CERF+ (the Craft Emergency Relief Fund and Artist’s Emergency Resources) and the fine work the folks there do to help artists recovering from disaster. The aftereffects of super-storm Sandy are still being felt, and any continued support to CERF+ (as easy as donating your sweeps!) can help folks still in need.
Have you seen something incredible while on the road? Tell us about it and share the inspiration!