If there’s one educational attraction in New York City that nostalgic American Museum of Natural History visitors hold dear, it’s the institution’s dazzling collection of rocks and minerals. Following an extended closure for a complete renovation, the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, whose new name pays tribute to the longtime AMNH supporters, has reopened with a glamorous new look and engaging scientific displays. The 11,000-square-foot spaces showcase about 5,000 specimens from 95 countries. Alongside the exhibits, which are designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates together with the museum’s vice president of exhibitions, Lauri Halderman, and curator of minerals George Harlow, are guides to enlighten visitors on mineral diversity and new findings on formation.
“The Gems and Minerals Halls are some of the most beloved halls at the museum, and the specimens shine in this new display, which features dramatic lighting,” explains Harlow, who has over 40 years of experience as a planetary sciences curator at the museum and is a professor at its Richard Gilder Graduate School. “The section of the museum that houses the Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals had long been a cul-de-sac that could be entered and exited only from the south end. Now, the Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals is linked to the new Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, allowing visitors to circulate with greater ease and less congestion.”
Among the brilliant new exhibit highlights are a 3,000-pound block of iridescent green and blue labradorite, two towering amethyst geodes, a slice of a fossilized metasequoia tree dating back 33–35 million years, the legendary 563-carat Star of India sapphire and a luminous gallery featuring a vast panel of rock aglow in brilliant orange and green. Additionally, the halls’ first temporary exhibition space, the Melissa and Keith Meister Gallery, will showcase Beautiful Creatures, a celebration of stunning historic and contemporary jewelry inspired by animals with pieces by Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels.
Revamping the halls and their exhibitions was not only important to the American Museum of Natural History, but also to its generations of visitors. “Minerals and gems have been part of the museum since it opened in 1869 and are among the museum’s best-known halls,” says Harlow. “The new halls feature favorite items along with spectacular new acquisitions and present them with the latest in scientific thinking. The redesigned exhibits tell the fascinating story of how about 5,000 different types of minerals arose on our dynamic planet, how scientists classify them, some of their role in life on Earth, and how humans have fashioned them into gems and used them throughout history for personal adornment, tools and technology.”