Discover the stories behind some of nature's most rare, unique and valuable treasures in the Museum's permanent gallery. The Vault contains a dazzling collection of famous diamonds and the finest gems, crystals, metals and meteorites from all around the world. Enjoy some of the highlights in our slideshow.
Must-see: The Tissint meteorite from Mars and the Medusa emerald.
The Vault is located at the far end of the Minerals gallery in our Green Zone on the mezzanine gallery of the Hintze Hall (formerly the Central Hall).
This rare Martian meteorite comes from a shower of stones that fell to Earth near the village of Tissint in Morocco in July 2011. It weighs 1.1kg and is the largest meteorite from Mars in the Museum's collection. To minimise contamination the meteorite is stored in a desiccator, which keeps it dry and in a low-oxygen environment.
This one-of-a-kind emerald has been dubbed the Medusa. Its unusually large and strongly-coloured crystals were 'frozen' inside quartz rock. It was discovered in a mine in Zambia in 2008 and it took a team of experts several months of delicate work to reveal its beauty. This is the emerald's first public display in Europe and it will be on view in The Vault for 12 months.
The Koh-i-Noor diamond was once the world's largest diamond (the size of a hen's egg). We have 2 replica versions on display - the 1849 version acquired by the East India Company for Queen Victoria, and the 1852 version which was re-cut under Prince Albert's order to increase its sparkle, but resulted in a two-fifths reduction in its size to 105 carats. The real Koh-i-Noor is in the Tower Of London where it forms part of the Crown Jewels.
The Aurora Pyramid of Hope is a world-class collection of 295 naturally coloured diamonds. Only one in 10,000 gem-quality diamonds is coloured. The colour comes from tiny amounts of elements other than carbon or from defects in the diamond structure. This private collection took 25 years to bring together.
The Latrobe nugget is named in honour of Charles Joseph Latrobe, the Governor of the State of Victoria, Australia, who was visiting the McIvor mine in 1853 when it was discovered. It is small compared with other finds, but the Latrobe nugget is one of the largest and finest groups of cubic gold crystals in the world. Only a handful like this have been found.
© Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees
The Devonshire Emerald has 1,383.93 carats and is one of the biggest and most famous uncut emeralds in the world. It originates from the mines of Muzo in Colombia and was gifted to the 6th Duke of Devonshire in 1831. A small piece of the original limestone it grew in can still be seen at the base.
Known as the purple sapphire, this amethyst was looted during the Indian mutiny in 1855. Everyone who owned it since has suffered disaster and misfortune. When Edward Heron-Allen, owner of the stone from 1890, discovered its sinister history, he declared it 'cursed and stained with blood' and locked it in a bank vault with instructions that it not be opened until 33 years after his death. Heron-Allen's daughter donated the stone to the Museum with a letter he wrote warning anyone against handling it.
The Nakhla meteorite from Mars fell to Earth in 1911, witnessed by people in Egypt. It is a stony meteorite that contains greenish-coloured crystals and has been invaluable for scientific research. Clay minerals found on this specimen prove that water once existed on Mars - and water is essential for a planet to sustain life.
The Esquel pallasite is a stony-iron meteorite embedded with beautiful gem-quality olivine crystals. This is a slice of the meteorite which was found in Argentina in 1951. The olive-green crystals are a form of magnesium-iron silicate.
The Dar Al Gani meteorite, found in Libya in 1998, comes from the Moon. It is thought that asteroid collisions broke it from the Moon's surface and it was then captured by Earth's gravity. Lunar meteorites are very rare. There are only 18 known lunar meteorites on Earth.