By Brecken Branstrator
The renovation of the gem and mineral halls at the American Museum of Natural History will include a redesigned gem gallery, featuring a case containing the museum’s most precious gems.
New York--The gem and mineral halls at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History will soon be getting a facelift.

The museum announced Monday morning that it will undertake a complete redesign of the halls, transforming the 11,000-square-foot space into a “gleaming showcase” for the world-renowned collection.

Construction will begin when the current halls close on Oct. 26.

The American Museum of Natural History is home to about 105,000 minerals and 5,000 gems.

The specimens there have been displayed in several different galleries over the years. Until 1974, the J. Pierpont Morgan Memorial Hall of Minerals and Gems on the 4 floor was the primary display area. Then in May 1976, the current Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems and Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals opened on the first floor.

Now, the exhibits will be renamed for Roberto and Allison Mignone, longstanding supporters of and volunteers at the museum.

The redesigned halls will aim to tell the story of how the different types of minerals arose on the planet, how scientists classify them and how humans have fashioned them into gems and used them for personal adornment, tools and technology throughout history, curated by George Harlow, who also serves as curator of the museum’s Division of Physical Sciences.

“Forty-plus years ago, when the current galleries were designed, scientists had not yet begun to explore the concept of mineral evolution,” he said. “Today, we work within a different framework, where much of the diversity of minerals on our dynamic planet is directly connected to the evolution of life. Our new exhibits will allow us to tell how the story of minerals is linked with their natural environment and biology on the one hand and with culture and technology on the other.”

The Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals will feature new large-scale acquisitions, like the 563-carat Star of India sapphire and the 632-carat Patricia emerald, as well as pieces from the collection that haven’t been on display for decades.

Other elements currently planned for the new halls are a “Crystal Garden” main exhibition area with large-scale specimens from around the world and zones that highlight a variety of processes and environments that shape mineral formation; a gem gallery with a case featuring the museum’s most precious gems; a case dedicated to the minerals of New York City, including the “Subway Garnet;” a dedicated space for temporary exhibitions; and a fluorescence and phosphorescence gallery.

Harlow also told press Monday morning that they’re hoping to add birthstones to the museum’s display and a section that looks at the process of taking a mineral from rough to polished gem.

And where it previously formed a cul-de-sac in the museum, the exhibit now will have a passage to the new Center for Science, Education and Innovation to allow for the better flow of museum guests.

To celebrate the redesign, the museum unveiled one of the new halls’ featured specimens, a 12-foot-tall amethyst geode, which was recently acquired from Uruguay and which will be on temporary view in the museum’s Grand Gallery through the 2017 holiday season.

The museum said the piece, which will be a centerpiece in the new halls once they are open, is among the largest amethyst geodes in the world.

The renovation of the Halls of Gems and Minerals, designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, comes as part of a series of physical and programmatic enhancements to the historic parts of the museum as it gets ready to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2019. The Halls are expected to open that year.

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