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A New Arrival Joins the Smithsonian Gem Hall


Courtesy of Cindy Chao

Every two to three years the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., introduces a new addition to its vast permanent collection. On March 5, it will induct a high-style stunner: the Art Jewel 2009 Black Label Masterpiece Royal Butterfly brooch by jewelry artist Cindy Chao.

Though the museum focuses on raw materials, the piece—composed of 2,328 gems (77 carats in total), including sapphires, rubies, tsavorite garnets and fancy-colored and regular diamonds—represents the educational power of a finished object. “Our primary mission is as a gem collection,” says Dr. Jeffrey Post, curator of the Gems and Minerals Collection. “But as most gems eventually are set in jewelry, and that is how they are donated to us, we are fortunate to have a collection that represents many great designers and design periods.”

The brooch, the first gift by a Taiwanese designer, joins items from the likes of Cartier, Tiffany, Harry Winston and Paula Crevoshay. Chao’s Black Label Masterpiece line is capped at just 36 pieces per year, and the Royal Butterfly—which changes colors when viewed under ultraviolet light—is a perfect combination of beauty, technical skill and hidden fascination. “That is what we want objects in our collection to do,” says Post. “Tell our visitors stories that will delight and inspire them.” Constitution Ave. NW; 202-633-1000; mnh.si.edu.

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