Rare Jewels in Deutsch Gallery Opening
A pair of diamond earrings once worn by Queen Marie Antoinette of France are among several rare jewels being loaned by Washington’s Smithsonian Institution to the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park for the opening of its new Deutsch Gallery and “Gemstones and Their Origins” exhibit Friday.
The new Deutsch Gallery, which is sponsored by Alex Deutsch, the Deutsch Foundation and the Weingart Foundation, will include a variety of displays that will complement exhibits in the adjacent Hall of Gems and Minerals and together they will house one of the finest displays of gemstones in the United States.
Marie Antoinette was noted for her extravagances and fondness for expensive jewelry. She reportedly was wearing the earrings when the royal family’s carriage was stopped at Varennes as she and King Louis XVI were attempting to flee France during the Revolution in 1791. They were arrested.
The earrings, each containing a 36-carat pear-shaped diamond, were said to have been taken from her. The king was executed on the guillotine Jan. 21, 1793. Marie Antoinette was imprisoned and charged for treasonable acts against France. The following October she met the same fate as her husband.
Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Postum (later General Foods) fortune, purchased the earrings in 1928 and they were donated to the Smithsonian in 1964.
Also loaned by the Smithsonian for the opening of the museum’s new gallery is an emerald-cut diamond of 127 carats found around 1755 in Brazil and later acquired by the prince regent of Portugal and known as the Portuguese Diamond. It is one of the largest diamonds on public display in America. The Smithsonian also loaned a deep blue star sapphire, the Star of Bombay, that weighs 182 carats and was bequeathed to the institution by the late silent screen star Mary Pickford.
The new exhibit and gallery, in addition to its display of rare gems, shows how various gems were formed, mined and finally polished and faceted. Large maps pinpoint where gems are found throughout the world.
“The earth is a dynamic laboratory,” Anthony R. Kampf, the museum’s curator of minerals and gems, wrote in an article with Peter C. Keller in a recent issue of Terra, a museum publication. “Ever since the Earth’s beginnings more than 4 1/2 billion years ago, the geological forces have been at work, not only reshaping the Earth’s surface, but also transforming the minerals within. Minerals are continually being created and destroyed in a never-ending cycle. Today we are aware of more than 3,000 different species of minerals, each with its own unique characteristics. Yet, of these only about 70 are grouped in the very special class we call gemstones.
“Historically, gemstones have been used principally for personal adornment. This usage has determined their necessary attributes: they must be beautiful, durable and rare. A gemstone’s beauty enhances the appearance of its wearer. A gemstone must be durable to withstand the rigors of wear and to be passed from generation to generation. And for a gemstone to be valued and sought after, it must be rare and difficult to obtain. . . .”
Kampf picked up a large blue topaz from a tray of gems on his desk, studying its brilliance. “Visitors will be able to view firsthand some of the rarest varieties of gems such as rubies, emeralds, diamonds, sapphires and other valuable stones,” he said. “We also have one of the largest collections of natural gold to be seen anywhere. The showcases will contain a dazzling array of colors.”
A special invitational showing for 700 guests will be held at the museum tonight. Highlighting the evening will be a $75-million collection of gems loaned by New York’s Harry Winston’s Inc., the internationally famous jewelry house. A fashion show featuring elegant gowns by designer James Galanos will be an additional feature of the evening.
Included in the Winston collection will be one of the world’s most famous diamonds, “Star of the East.” This 94.80-carat diamond was once owned by King Farouk of Egypt and by socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean who often wore it on the same necklace as the Hope Diamond. It is now valued at $12.8 million.
The Winston collection will be on view though Sunday. The gems from the Smithsonian will be displayed until mid-May.
The Natural History Museum is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Monday. Admission is $1.50. For youngsters from 5-17 and seniors, the charge is 75 cents.