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Gemmae

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Created with the Natural History Museum

Millions of years ago, deep below the Earth’s surface, a magical process started.

Hot molten rock, or magma, carries a vast mixture of different chemical elements, the ingredients needed to grow gem minerals. Over eons, with the right combinations of temperature and pressure, and with enough time and space to grow, these elements crystallise into gems of otherworldly beauty and allure.

It takes millions of years for these newly formed crystals to come within our reach. As the Earth’s plates collide to form vast mountain ranges, gems are pushed closer to the Earth’s surface. As these mountains are then slowly eroded by changing weather, gem crystals are revealed, waiting to be discovered.

Growing in almost every colour imaginable, and with varying clarity from pristinely clear to marbled with inclusions, it’s not hard to see why these natural wonders are so enchanting. They intrigue us, are coveted by us, and have inspired legends of their power for millennia.

Mineral crystals have also inspired artists to capture their ethereal beauty. The self-taught artist and mineralogist François Louis Swebach Desfontaines (1749-1793) produced a series of exquisite watercolour drawings on paper. Swebach’s aim was to create 10 colour plates, each accurately depicting 16 mineral specimens. However, his work was cut short by the French Revolution. Fortunately, his plates survived the turmoil and copies are now held by the Natural History Museum, alongside its Mineral Collection of around 185,000 specimens, including 5,000 gemstones.

It’s these incredibly detailed drawings that in turn inspired the creation of a mineral themed bouquet in a collaboration between Arena Flowers and the Natural History Museum. Deriving from the Latin name for both gems and buds, we proudly present the ‘Gemmae’ bouquet, featuring seven astonishing blooms representing seven unique gems.

October’s birthstone tourmaline, from the Sinhalese word ‘tourmali’ meaning‘mixed coloured stones’, is known for its variety of colours. It even occurs with multiple colours in a single gem. Its vibrant, single-colour pink stone known as Rubellite is matched in our bouquet with the cerise ‘Country Blues’ rose. Spirals of petals echo gleaming light shining through the clear fuschia crystal.

The ‘Macaron’ germini bears similarities with rose quartz. This rare macrocrystalline quartz comes in a variety of colours from soft pink to peach, and it’s the gently pink-peach variety that matches this delicately hued germini. This gemstone has been revered for millennia, and beads of rose quartz found in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) date back to around 7000 BC. In the middle ages, it’s understood that rose quartz was used in potions for healing, and the germini mirrors this believed power, as it has symbolism in strength.

Pale blue delphiniums look like sunlight on rippling water, so it’s easy to see why aquamarine was the influence for this flower in the mineral bouquet. Aquamarine is a variety of beryl, and the element iron creates variations in colour from blue to green, which is understandably why its name is derived from the Latin for ‘seawater’. This connection to the ocean is so strong that the gem was given to sailors to protect them from the sea, as it was believed the crystal would cast a net of good luck upon the bearer.

Another variety of beryl, morganite, is formed in similar conditions to aquamarine. However, the pink hue in morganite comes from the presence of manganese instead of iron. Its most desirable colour is bubblegum pink, the same delicate hue found in the pink lisianthus used in the bouquet. The Lisianthus flower was believed historically by some to represent truth.

The refreshing lime alchemilla in this bouquet is an homage to the birthstone of August, peridot. One of the oldest known gemstones, peridot has been mined for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians held peridot in high regard, recognising it as the ‘gem of the sun’. The alchemilla was also considered sacred by people in the Middle Ages. Dew drops would be collected from its leaves and used in potions. There is another key similarity between the stone and flower: peridot is one of only a few gemstones that are known to have formed in space, and one of Alchemilla’s common names is ‘Stellaria’ - a derivation of the Latin word for star.

The lilac campanula is amethyst’s colour-sake in the Gemmae. The bell-like campanula, from which its name is derived, is a classic English garden flower in a similar way the amethyst is a classic and much-loved gemstone. Amethyst’s appeal dates back to the ancient Greeks, and at one time only royalty could possess the much beloved crystals, because they were so rare.

Finally, perhaps the rarest crystal to inspire the Gemmae is erythrite. You’d be forgiven for not knowing this rose coloured mineral, as erythrite only forms in small crystals called cobalt blooms. These florets of erythrite can form in round clusters, very similar to the dainty wax flower blooms in the Gemmae.

© The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2022. All Rights Reserved. 
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