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The fascinating journey of precious stones at the Museum of Natural History

From the depths of the earth to the world of luxury jewelry, the National Museum of Natural History invites you to discover the world of “precious stones” in a fascinating exhibition of the same name. In fact, since the opening of the event, a profusion of carats has been dazzling and attracting the visitors crowding the dark halls of the Grand Gallery of Evolution. A total of 360 minerals, gems and art objects from the museum’s prestigious collection, as well as 250 fine jewelry creations belonging to Van Cleef & Arpels, partner of the exhibition, have been brought together and make this event a successful one, which surpassed the 10,000-visitor mark just two weeks after its opening.

True to the museum’s motto, “Amaze to Educate,” the strength of this exhibition lies in its original approach, which brings together mineralogy, gemology and jewelry. The tour offers a scientific and aesthetic stroll that guides the visitor through the path of the mineral, from its formation to its use in jewelry. “The beauty of natural history is an inexhaustible source of wonder. This emotion makes it possible to approach knowledge in a different way and to implement in our memory the facts that science shows us,” explains Bruno David, the museum’s president.

The beginning of the exhibition deciphers the extraordinary history of the formation of the Earth and the natural phenomena from which minerals arise, from the first diamonds crystallized in its depths 3.3 billion years ago to the marine oysters secreting pearls 50,000 years ago, to then look at the fascination they exert on mankind, who has been shaping them for millennia.

The second part of the exhibition highlights the metamorphosis of minerals into gems and precious stones by presenting each species from three different perspectives (raw minerals, shaped gems, jewelry pieces), thus offering a constant perspective of nature at work.

Finally, the exhibition sheds light on the importance of the role played by Paris, a place of historical, scientific and artistic knowledge, in the advancement and dissemination of knowledge in mineralogy up to the present day. Display cases mark out the route, allowing visitors to admire, among other rarities: a 90,000-year-old shell found in Algeria and considered to be one of the three oldest jewels in the world; L’Occitane de Sabine, a 99-gram gold nugget found in the Black Mountain; and the restoration of Jean Vendome’s astonishing Arbre aux tourmalines, a work of art at the crossroads of jewelry, design and sculpture.

Until June 14, 2021, you will be able to discover a wonderful variety of unique pieces, evoking a thousand-year-old history between innovation, technique and poetry, rich in information and bewitching in beauty. Before heading to the exhibition, here are five discoveries that we have made among all those that punctuate the tour.

Pierres précieuses

The Great Table of the Orsini

Exceptional in its delicacy and splendor, it is one of the flagship pieces of the exhibition. Offered to Cardinal Mazarin in 1659 by the Orsini princes, before later joining the possessions of the French Crown, this table, whose decoration evokes the themes of war and peace, is an archetypal diplomatic gift. Composed of a Carrara marble built with semi-precious stones, it brilliantly illustrates the use of gems in the decorative arts.

Jean Vendome

As the first jeweler to use visible natural minerals, Jean Vendome has inspired an entire generation of creators by taking risks to design extraordinary creations. Three years after his death and with 30,000 creations in his possession, the Armenian designer, close to artists such as Braque, Cocteau and Dali, is considered a pioneer of contemporary jewelry.

Pierres précieuses

The diamond helps make a discovery

This well-known gemstone was the first to illustrate the natural phenomenon of pressure that affects the structure, texture and appearance of minerals. It is this same pressure that will determine the hardness and brilliance of the diamond, which is the hardest natural material on the planet.

Fancy diamonds

Did you know that colored diamonds are not just diamonds? Indeed, whatever their hue, these colored variants called “fancy diamonds” come from chemical elements present in tiny quantities and integrated as they grow. For example, nitrogen will give a yellow color and boron a blue hue. Amethyst, on the other hand, owes its purple color to iron atoms that have been irradiated by neighboring minerals. Similar mechanisms are at work and explain the formation of sapphire, topaz and many other gems.


Pierres précieuses

A ruby red city

Mogok, a remote and distant town in Burma, is prized for its ruby production. This hard-to-reach ruby valley occupies an exceptional geological position due to the collision – still active – of India and the Asian continent that began fifty million years ago. This natural phenomenon has created from the depths of the earth a mineralogical zone of prodigious richness containing some of the most beautiful rubies in the world, with a homogeneous color and exceptional quality.

“Precious Stones”: September 16, 2020 to June 14, 2021

National Museum of Natural History, Grand Gallery of Evolution

36, rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, Paris 5e