Smithsonian gems on display in Elmhurst

When you're talking gems, the term "phenomenal" refers to the dazzling optical effects on display when the light hits certain stones just the right way.

Star sapphires, cat's eye beryl and opal are considered phenomenal gems, said Dorothy Asher, director of Elmhurst's Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art.

"When you look at an opal, you can see all these shimmery colors in it," Asher said.

Several examples of phenomenal gems are among the 12 pieces on loan from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History included in a traveling exhibit that opened Wednesday and continues through March at the Lizzadro, 220 Cottage Hill Ave.

"Most of the pieces are either donated or gifted to the (Smithsonian) museum," said Asher. "We're a Smithsonian affiliate."

Asher said she worked with Smithsonian gem curator Russell Feather to select the pieces visitors will see in the "Smithsonian Gems" exhibit. Several are the work of famous American designers, such as Harry Winston of New York and Tiffany and Company.

"All the pieces are unique from each other," she said.

There's a brooch featuring diamonds and opals, by Colorado Springs designer Susan Helmich, that's called "Midnight Dreamscape."

An opal necklace featuring stones from Idaho and named "Majestic Northern Lights" is included, as are pearl earrings, named "Southern Charm" because they were inspired by wrought iron gates in Charleston, South Carolina, from Atlanta designer Brenda Smith.

Asher said another of the impressive pieces is fashioned from a stone known as adamantine pearl and placed in a setting with 52 diamonds.

"This is actually not a pearl. It's a diamond that's been polished to look like a pearl. It's a pretty big piece. It's a Harry Winston," she said.

Asher said the exhibit is intriguing even to the uninitiated gem enthusiast.

"If you have an interest in jewelry, or if you have an interest in historical jewelry or in gem stones, or even if you don't know anything about gems, most people spend an hour and a half here," she said.

The museum also has permanent exhibits showing off jade carvings, mosaics, cameos, rocks and minerals and a museum shop where carvings, jewelry, rocks and minerals are available for purchase.

Admission to the "Smithsonian Gems" exhibit is free with museum admission.

This gold necklace, called "Majestic Northern Lights," is from Bob and Susan Thompson from Opal Mountain Mines Inc. of Spencer, Idaho. They donated the necklace to the Smithsonian in 2005 and it's included in a traveling exhibit that runs through next March at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst. Courtesy of Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art
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