Grainger Hall of Gems

Category: Exhibitions

Exhibition Summary

Included with Basic admission

All ages

Included with Basic admission

All ages

About the Exhibit

Celebrate precious stones in every form.

A visitor favorite since the museum opened in 1921, the Grainger Hall of Gems has a history older than the Field Museum itself. 

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Tiffany & Co.’s gem collection captivated viewers from all walks of life. When the exposition closed, World’s Fair President Harlow Higinbotham purchased the entire collection and donated it to Chicago’s then-new natural history museum.

Today, the Grainger Hall of Gems is more stunning than ever. Our collection has grown to include more than 600 gemstones and 150 pieces of antique and contemporary jewelry. (Several pieces were donated by Chicago philanthropist Thuy Ngo Nguyen, who visited often and would offer her stunning baubles to the museum on the spot!)

Each display features a gem in its three stages of transformation: raw crystal, cut and polished stone, and mounted jewel in a finished ring, brooch, or necklace. 
 

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Natural crystals of heliodor from the Zelatoya Vata mine in Tajikistan. The largest crystal is 68 mm long.

John Weinstein

“Sunlit Diamonds and Fringe,” a heliodor pendant designed by Ellie Thompson of Ellie Thompson & Co., features an 8.3-carat centerpiece heliodor stone from Tajikistan. It is set in 18-karat yellow gold with 100 small diamonds and 14 smaller heliodors.

John Weinstein

See a stunning display of hundreds of precious stones in raw and cut form, plus eye-popping jewelry.

Exhibition highlights:

  • Tiffany & Co.’s stunning Sun God Opal
  • An ancient Egyptian garnet necklace more than 3,400 years old
  • A Chinese jade ornament thought to have been carved about 600 years ago
  • A 97.45-carat imperial topaz, the largest owned by any museum in the world

What is a gem?

Not every sparkling stone is technically a gem. While there are no hard-and-fast rules, a stone must possess three qualities to be considered a gem.

Beauty

Experts judge gems according to exacting scales that measure color, clarity, carat (weight), and cut (how well a gem’s shape and faceting reflect and absorb light).

Durability

Stones are ranked according to the Mohs hardness scale, with diamonds scoring a perfect 10. (The next hardest stone, ruby, is four times less durable than diamond—but still comes in at a 9.)

Rarity

A stone becomes increasingly precious with decreasing availability, both in nature and in the public marketplace. The difference between precious and semiprecious stones depends mostly on availability and market conditions.

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