Raw beauty at the Mineralogy Museum of Mines Paris - PSL

By Sandrine Merle
Part of the "Jewelry Collections of the World" series, in partnership between L'ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts and The French Jewelry Post


Raw beauty at the École des Mines Museum of Mineralogy

Where do diamonds, turquoise, emeralds and opals come from? What did they look like before human hands fashioned them into jewels?  This is the story told by this utterly charming museum.

The moment you step inside, you’re struck by the beauty of these raw minerals, extracted from the very depths of the Earth. Looking at these perfectly geometric or bizarre face-like shapes, changing or even fluorescent colors, vaporous textures, it beggars belief that Nature alone is the source of such miracles. The irony here is that aesthetics has never been the museum's objective. Its creation in 1794 was in fact linked to that of the École des Mines: housed in the same mansion overlooking the greenhouses in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, it was intended to "contain all the products of the globe and all the products of the Republic". Iron and/or copper oxides, flints, meteorites, gold, sulfur, diamonds, etc. formed an "inventory of the Earth" designed to train teachers and students, as well as for geological prospecting. 

Billions of years ago...

Displayed in 19th-century Hungarian oak showcases, the minerals are now mostly classified by chemical family. Let their beauty, their formulas, their colors and their origins transport you to different realms: South Africa and Brazil for diamonds. Zambia and Colombia for emeralds, or Sri Lanka and France for sapphire.  The museum allows us to go further and understand how they were formed. "A mineralogist never looks for copper, gold, emeralds or diamonds (which are too small), but for the rock that contains them," explains Museum Director Éloïse Gaillou. We thus discover a ruby from Vietnam crystallized in white marble, a sapphire in metamorphic rock and a diamond from the Premier Mine (South Africa) in kimberlite, along with the rock that transported it to the surface of the Earth. The sample that testifies to this today, still trapped in its gangue, is extremely rare. 

Why one stone and not another?

All the minerals on display are first and foremost considered scientific subjects. Of the 100,000 in the collection, few are actually destined for the jewelry industry. "The mineralogist's view is not the same as that of the gemologist, who selects stones for the jeweler. For the former, the crystal must first be well formed. For the latter, the crystal must be of gem quality - in other words, of incredible color and transparency, which is actually quite rare. Hardness is also essential to enable the lapidary to transform a stone into jewelry", explains Éloïse Gaillou. The spectacular aragonite with its white tentacles and Brazilianite, which breaks into a thousand pieces at the slightest touch of the lapidary, will never end up in a jeweler's shop. Nor will the metallic beauty of pyrite, which degrades easily, and gives off a whiff of sulfuric acid to boot. 

How do you make a gem out of a rough cut?

Rough tourmaline, peridot, tanzanite and amethyst crystals are rarely mounted in jewelry; designer Jean Vendome was one of the few to do so in the 1950s and 60s. All the jeweler's skill, virtuosity and intelligence are called into play: the stones must then be polished, cut and faceted by a lapidary with the aim of achieving the perfect color and brilliance – witness some of the amethysts and emeralds that adorned the Crown Jewels. This marvelous Mineralogy Museum, virtually unchanged since the 19th century, tells the story of how humanity regained mastery over Nature.


Visit the Museum's collection at L'ÉCOLE Asia Pacific

Exhibition "Journey with Minerals" in Hong Kong 
presented by
L'ÉCOLE Asia Pacific, School of Jewelry Arts 
Supported by Van Cleef & Arpels

20.07.2024 - 31.10.2024
510A, 5F, K11 MUSEA, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Free Admission, 1pm - 7pm daily

Read more about the Museum on the French Jewelry Post: "10 Must-see Stones at the Mineralogy Museum of Mines Paris - PSL"