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From a raw mineral to a finely cut gem

A gem is a very rare and very ancient by-product of the forces that shape our landscape. By the time a gem is ours to enjoy, it has a geological history almost too grand to imagine. They captivate us. We delight in their beauty. We assign them tremendous value and meaning.

Ancient to modern jewelry

The impulse to adorn ourselves is ancient. The oldest pieces in the All That Glitters: The Splendor and Science of Gems and Minerals  exhibition date to around 500 B.C.; the newest was made in 2009. The more the designs have changed, the more it seems they stay the same.

The 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond, the largest rough diamond ever discovered, was found in 1905 at the Premier Mine, in South Africa. It was presented to King Edward VII of England in 1907. Thomas Cullinan, then chairman of the Premier Mine, presented this  Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace  to his wife, Annie, to commemorate the discovery of the Cullinan rough and his subsequent knighthood.

The necklace is Edwardian in style and has a detachable double-ribbon bow motif with dangling pendant that holds the  Cullinan Blue Diamond , a 2.60-carat oval brilliant. The necklace is made of 9-karat rose gold with silver top, set with 252 round colorless diamonds and 9 blue diamonds. In 1992, the necklace was acquired by Stephen Silver, of Stephen Silver Fine Jewelry, from the family of Thomas and Annie Cullinan, and generously gifted to the National Gem Collection in 2010.

A replica of the Victoria’s Secret Very Sexy Fantasy Bra  by Pascal Mouawad that is on loan courtesy of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The “real” piece was modeled by Heidi Klum at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2003. The replica at the Museum is made of cubic zirconia and silver.

Gem specimens and jewelry by famous designers  such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier and  Van Cleef & Arpels are on loan from private collectors, and  Harvard University, the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, the American Museum of Natural History, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) , and the  Newark Museum .

An exhibit of  stunning award-winning jewelry by designers on the cutting edge of the jewelry design and gem cutting worlds are perfect examples of creative inspiration and innovation. Each year, there are numerous competitions sponsored by trade organizations worldwide for jewelry design, metalwork, and lapidary arts. Winning designs launch new trends and raise the bar on manufacturing excellence.

Nature in Design

Gem carvings include a Fabergé grey chalcedony pig with diamond eyes, a jellyfish opal brooch by Mauboussin, and a never-before-seen collection of 13 butterfly brooches set with rare gems.

Balboa Park Carousel Egg

The Carousel Egg

A miniature replica of one of Balboa Park’s most beloved attractions—the carousel outside the San Diego Zoo—inside a bejeweled enamel egg. Each hand-carved animal depicts one of the actual 56 that revolve on the real carousel. And, yes, it really plays music.

Flor de Lise 

This crystal is regarded as one of the world’s three best rubellite specimens. All three came from Brazil’s famous Jonas Mine, which produces unique cranberry-red rubellites. So valuable are these rare, near-perfect stones that the miners who extracted them guarded the treasures with the help of poisonous snakes. True story or not, these rubellites are indeed spectacular.


Intarsia boxes  

The technique of creating a design using inlaid polished stones or other materials is called intarsia.


 Several cultural mythologies have endowed gemstones with specific associations or meanings. As the new discipline of archaeology bloomed in the 19th century, these mythologies were rediscovered. From them grew our modern idea of birthstones.