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Dame Helen Mirren launches the Vault

29 November 2007

Dame Helen Mirren attended the launch of the Natural History Museum's dazzling new permanent gallery, The Vault, yesterday.

Is the Heron-Allen amethyst cursed?

Is the Heron-Allen amethyst cursed?

Along with other special guests, Dame Mirren marveled at some of nature's most unique, rare and valuable gems, crystals, metals and meteorites. The collection has been brought together in the Museum's first new permanent gallery in five years.

The rare delights will inspire both fashionistas and fans of gemstone geology.

'Gemstones, meteorites and metals have been treasured since the beginning of human history,' explains Alan Hart, minerals expert at the Museum.

'The Vault is a showcase of the most rare, scientifically unique and culturally historical examples from our national collection, together with some private loans.'

'All of them are here because they are exceptional and tell a unique story.'

Objects tell a story
The Latrobe nugget

The Latrobe nugget

Each object in The Vault has an intriguing story to tell. From a cursed amethyst, a rare Martian meteorite, one of the world's largest emeralds, and probably the world's most impressive crystallised gold nugget, there is plenty to dazzle visitors.

Studying minerals

'Mineralogy is the study of minerals and forms the bedrock on which the other sciences depend. Our Earth is essentially a mineral crystalline sphere that orbits our sun each year, and on which all life depends.'

'We use minerals every day in a huge variety of ways. For example, our food is preserved in cans made of steel and lined with tin, while rare metals like tungsten, when used in bulbs, provide us with light.'

Museum Mineralogy Department

Scientists in the Museum's Mineralogy Department study minerals, rocks and meteorites to understand natural processes. Research goes from pollutant dispersion to understanding the tectonic processes that shape the Earth.

'We look after one of the world's finest mineralogy collections here at the Natural History Museum, collected together over more than 250 years,' says Alan.

'The specimens in The Vault have been carefully chosen for their beauty, rarity and history, each one having a story to tell of collection, exploration and science.' 

The Vault is free and stays open late on the last Friday of the month in the Museum's After Hours .

Join the curators who look after The Vault in a Nature Live event on 30 November at 12.30. After the event, come on a tour of the exhibition itself.

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