How One Collaboration Is Trying to Bring More American Gems to Museums

SourcingJan 24, 2022

How One Collaboration Is Trying to Bring More American Gems to Museums

“American Gemstones” wants to raise appreciation of the stones, and those who mine and cut them, even more.

This group of stones came from the Sunstone Butte mine in Oregon.
New York—It’s a popular time for American gemstones, but there’s one project aiming to raise the appreciation of the stones, and those who mine and cut them, even more.

A member of the trade who has worked with miners and lapidaries for years got the ball rolling on the American Gemstones project, though he has opted to leave his name out of it so the work and artists involved can speak for themselves.

His goal is to bring the American miners, cutters, and designers who work with stones sourced stateside into the limelight by creating museum-worthy collections and getting them into permanent displays.

He has gathered material from mines including the Sunstone Butte mine in Oregon, the Reel Mine in North Carolina, the Hogg Mine in Georgia, and Hallelujah Junction, Nevada, to name a few.

Lapidaries involved include Darryl Alexander, Derek Katzenbach, Ryan Anderson, Dalan Hargrave, Aaron Sangenitto, and Naomi Sarna, among others.

Most of the pieces gathered for the collaboration feature unique cuts and styles, and are one-of-a-kind artistic creations crafted by American lapidaries just for the project.

But to allow for a fuller appreciation of all kinds of American stones, the collection also features some traditional cuts. They are typically round, concave-cut faceted stones not cut by American artists—an exception made to allow for a wider range of stones in the group.

Some, meanwhile, are surprising examples of commercially cut stones, such as faceted opaque opals, produced through the collaboration to experiment with and provide additional education on the versatility and visual impact of such faceted gems.

These cut and carved amethyst and smoky quartz stones came from Hallelujah Junction, Nevada.
These cut and carved amethyst and smoky quartz stones came from Hallelujah Junction, Nevada.

Playing a big part in the project now is the University of Arizona’s new Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum, connected through Somewhere in the Rainbow’s Shelly Sergent, who serves on the museum’s board and has placed several hundreds of pieces on display there.

The gem and mineral museum has a case specifically for the American Gemstones project, which the latter has dubbed the Legacy Collection. It currently focuses largely on American sunstone.

Importantly for the project, the case is a permanent and rotating display. So, while it’s filled with sunstone now through early 2023, it will then switch to showcase quartz, then opal in 2024, followed potentially by sapphire and tourmaline. 

The team behind the project is also building on jade, agate, and other North American gemstones, with a preference for representing gems with some form of commercial production, though they’re also considering series like fossilized materials, metallic gems, and antique glass.

And since education goes hand-in-hand with showing gemstones, it’s also a big focus for this project.

Take, for example, what they did with an 810-carat rough “sherry” topaz from the Rise Above Mine in Colorado to demonstrate a characteristic in some gemstones. 

They cut the rough into two pieces.

Darryl Alexander gave one piece a fantasy cut. It’s being called “Now You See Me…” 

The other piece was intentionally left out in the sun, and, after two days, the color had changed. Darryl’s son, Nick, then took that piece and also gave it a fantasy cut; it has been dubbed “… Now You Don’t.”

The pieces not only show beautiful craftsmanship but also provide a real example of what can happen to light-sensitive stones for those at the museum. 

 Related stories will be right here … 

American Gemstones has also donated stones to the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals just outside of Portland, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the Smithsonian, the last of which helped kick off the concept originally in 2013.

There will also be a display at the upcoming Pueblo Gem & Mineral Show in Tucson.

To help raise even more awareness for the collaboration and to bring education about the stones to the fore, American Gemstones also launched an accompanying Instagram account and website. The latter features stunning shots of the stones in its collection as well as plenty of pertinent and fun information about each or their overall gem species or variety.

Each stone also has information on where it has been donated; those still looking for a permanent museum homes are listed as “unassigned.”

The hope, after all, is that the collaboration will grow to include even more mines, artists, and museums to better represent what American gemstones and those who work with them have to offer.

Anyone interested in collaborating is encouraged to reach out via the website or Instagram
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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