By Brecken Branstrator

One of my favorite field trips of all time was when I went to the gem mines in Hiddenite, N.C., in elementary school, about an hour-and-a-half west of where I grew up.

According to its website, Hiddenite currently is the only emerald mine in the United States open to the public for prospecting. On our field trip, we got to go sluicing and creeking, and I was in heaven.

(North Carolina, in case you didn’t know, is one of the notable states in the country for the variety of gems and minerals that can be found there. Hiddenite gems even made a few appearances at the exhibit I’m going to talk about in this blog. Well done, Tar Heel State).

Last fall, I was at lunch with an industry friend and he mentioned how he wanted to go to the gem exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History here in New York because he had never been.

I had heard of it before but wasn’t completely sold on its existence. I’m a huge fan of that museum and have been a handful of times since I moved here; I had no idea how I would’ve missed that in my adventures.

Mineral Hall
The inside of the mineral hall. Photo credit: ©AMNH/R. Mickens

We were finally able to set up a time when we could both go, so I met him there one afternoon and, sure enough, we made our way, very excitedly, to the exhibit tucked away at the back. Boy, were we geeking out.

The exhibit is divided into two parts--the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals, a collection of hundreds of mineral-bearing specimens from around the globe; and the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems, a collection of precious and ornamental stones featuring both uncut, rough pieces and cut, polished gems.


Just one small part of the many, many minerals on display. Photo credit: ©AMNH/D. Finnin

The minerals were fascinating, but it was the gem part that I really loved. Star sapphires, an amazing orange padparadscha sapphire, and many of the major colored gemstone families displayed in every hue and variation available, to give you just a glimpse of what we saw.

Star Sapphires

No caption needed for this one, right guys? Check those bright purple beauties left of center. Photo credit: ©AMNH/R. Mickens

It also had a 5.05-carat red diamond on temporary display, which we all know is super rare. Only three 5-plus-carat red diamonds are known to exist, according to the museum.


Beryl, in every color you could ever want it. Photo credit: ©AMNH/R. Mickens

Both halls were awesome and I loved it, but the only drawback is that it looks like it’s been decades since they were updated. Though the museum had gem and mineral collections long prior, this particular exhibit was created in the 1970s, and it looks like it’s been untouched since then.

With plush carpeting, wood paneling and dim lighting, my friend and I both were lamenting the lack of an atmosphere that would really let the gems shine the way they should be. I hope the museum gives it an adequate renovation sometime soon and puts the money into making it look like the asset that it is.

That being said, I still absolutely loved it. If you haven’t been already, please take my recommendation and go visit this exhibit the next time you are in New York City. Rock hounds are sure to love it.

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