gemstones & meteorites highlights of halls 1-5


Frossnitzalpe, Tauerntal, East Tyrol. Dimensions of the sample: 5 x 5 x 4 cm, Inv. No. G 5126.

The bornite deposits of the Frossnitzalpe are among the most interesting cleft mineralisations of the Alps. The crystal pictured here measures 4,3 x 4,0 x 3,5 cm. A particularly rare feature of this sample is the 5 mm large gold nugget on the side. The piece is certainly one of the best specimens of its type in general, and of bornite in particular. The deposit was discovered at the end of the 19th century and was exploited. No new discoveries have been made.


Beresowsk, Urals, Russia. Dimensions of the specimen: Approx. 36 x 21 cm, Inv. No. A.d. 26

Crocoite, a lead chromate, occurs in particularly fine and large crystals in Tasmania and in the Urals.


Schneeberg, Saxony, Germany. Length of crystals: about 1 cm.


Knappenwand, Untersulzbachtal, Salzburg. Dimensions of the specimen: Approx. 15 x 6 cm, Inv. No. A.J. 135.
With the Knappenwand ("Miners' Wall"), Austria is in possession of one of the most significant epidote deposits in the world. In the crevices and ravines of the mountain area, unusual amounts of green-black, very shiny and large crystals were found, often bizarrely intergrown. The site, discovered in 1865, was subsequently commercially exploited.


Leckbachrinne, Habachtal, Salzburg. Dimensions of the crystal: Approx. 6.5 x 5.5 x 4.0 cm, Inv. No. L 5801.
Phenakite, a beryllium-aluminium-silicate was fairly recently discovered also in the vicinity of the emerald deposits in the Habachtal. The sample is very similar to those from the deposits in Takowaja in the Urals. The crystal shown is one of the largest found in the Leckbachrinne. Some of these phenacites are more or less yellow-brown in colour and approach gem quality


Persia. Dimensions of the object: Approx. 25 x 20 cm, Inv. No. J 4887.
The piece, worked in the form of a talisman portraying happiness and success, was a gift to Emperor Franz Joseph I from the Persian turquoise cutter and merchant, Mehdi Gassem, from Mashhad, in 1915. The turquoise is the size of an ostrich egg and is surrounded by a broad, richly decorated gold setting, topped with the Imperial Crown. The flaws almost inevitably present in stones of this size are masterfully disguised by golden letters and figural depictions. On the gold setting there are many small turquoises as well as a hymn of praise in Persian characters to the Austrian Emperor: "Oh Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, protector of the law, may God protect you! We Muslims pray devoutly to God: Give him your support and him make victorious!"


Leckbachrinne, Habachtal, Salzburg. Dimensions of the crystal: Approx. 3,5 x 2 cm, Inv. No. A.a. 6913.
The first reference to the emerald deposits in the Habachtal dates back to 1797 and was recorded by the Mining Expert at the Imperial Court in Salzburg. The large crystal pictured here is one of the most beautiful from this deposit and came into the possession of the Imperial Mineralogical Collection in 1874 as a gift from A. Rueff of Salzburg.


Alabaschka near Murzinka, Urals, Russia. Dimensions of the specimen: Approx. 20 x 13 cm, Inv. No. F 4319.
The light blue, totally clear topaz crystal is grown on a group of smoky quartz crystals. Alongside, there is also platy albite ("cleavelandite") and mica to be seen. Specimens from this deposit rate among the most aesthetically beautiful of this mineral species.

diamond in kimberlite

Du Toits Pan, South Africa. Dimensions of the crystal: Approx. 1 x 1 x 1 cm, Inv. No. e 1975.
The octahedral diamond crystal shown has about 10 carats. The specimen was a gift from Mr. Richard Drasche von Wartinberg to the Imperial Museum in 1880.


Urals, Siberia, Russia. Dimensions: approx. 12 x 10 x 8 cm, Inv. No. A.i. 731.
This nugget is probably the second-largest of its kind and weighs 6,2 kilograms. The object comes from the Russian Prince Anatoli Nikolajevich Demidov who owned several mines and who presented it as a gift in 1859 to the Director of the Mineral Collection

gold nugget from the urals

This gold nugget weighs 548 grams, comes from the gold-rich sands of Miask in the Urals and was a gift presented by Czar Nicholas I to Emperor Ferdinand I in 1836 (Inv. No. A.i. 739). The gift included several other valuable objects representing a selection of Russian minerals and rocks. This collection was subsequently donated to the Mineral Collection.


Takovaja, Urals, Russia. Inv. Nos. A.J. 484 and F 9122 (ring).
The most significant piece among the collection of ring stones is the cut and polished alexandrite depicted here, which comes from the emerald deposits of the Takovaja (Tokovaja) in the Urals. The stone weighs 12.78 carats (approx. 2.56 grams) and is remarkable for its intensive change in colour from green (in daylight) to red (in artificial light). It has no inclusions and is perfectly cut.


Pala, California, USA. Dimensions of the sample: 18.5 x 16 cm, Inv. No. J 3775.
Tourmaline is the name of a group of boron-containing complex silicate minerals that are relatively common in some rocks, even though only rarely with gemstone quality. This impressive tourmaline specimen, acquired by the Natural History Museum in 1913, comes from the Tourmaline King mine, Pala District (Southern California). Both South California and Brazil furnish the most beautiful tourmaline crystals in the world.

bouquet made of gems

Maria Theresia, co-regent in the Habsburg dominions, shared her husband's interest in the sciences. She presented Franz Stephan with the wonderful bouquet of precious stones, which is justifiably considered as the founding object of the precious stone collection of the Viennese Museum. 761 variegated stones and 2,102 diamonds were used in the assembly of this bouquet of jewels - representing a bouquet of flowers, along with diverse artistically reproduced insects, leaves of silk, contained in a vase of rock crystal. Maria Theresia is said to have put this bouquet in the Emperor's Mineral Cabinet one spring morning (FITZINGER, 1856). Traditionally, it is alleged that this is Viennese work; it is ascribed to a Viennese jeweller, Michael von Grosser. However, there is some evidence that the bouquet originates from Georg Gottfried Lautensack, a jeweller from Frankfurt and that Goethe in his youth was already intrigued by the manufacture of this objet d'art (NIEDERMAYR, 1989). Taking historical developments into account, which are dealt with in Goethe's fourth book: "Aus meinem Leben" (From my life), the bouquet must have been almost completed by the year 1763. The Emperor's son, later to be Emperor Joseph II, was crowned King of the Germans in Frankfurt in the year 1765 and died in the summer of the same year



An ordinary chondrite (L5), which fell on 9 June 1866 in the Ukrainian Carpathians. With a mass of almost 300 kg, this piece remained for a long time as the largest known stone meteorite.




A carbonaceous chondrite (CO3), which fell on 23 July 1872 in France. The main piece weighs 47 kg.




A basaltic achondrite (eucrite), which fell on May 22, 1808 in Moravia, Czech Republic. Carl von Schreibers immediately travelled to the site of the fall of this stone shower and returned with a large number of pieces as well as a map showing of the sites where the individual pieces had fallen. This particular piece is covered with a shiny black fusion crust (surficial melting caused by entry in the earth's atmosphere).



cabin creek

Iron meteorite which fell on 27 March 1886, in Arkansas, USA. It is a perfect exemple of an oriented meteorite and is regarded as one of the most “beautiful” meteorites in the world. A few years after its fall in 1886, it was generously donated to the NHM by the factory-owner Albert Mayer von Gunthof.




Iron meteorite from Zagreb, Croatia. Displayed is the main piece of the fall of 26 May 1751. On request of Emperor Franz I Stephan it was transported to Vienna and placed in the imperial treasury. It was then transferred in 1778 to the Natural History Cabinet and became, together with the Tabor meteorite, the foundation of the meteorite collection.




One of the most spectacular recent meteorite falls; an ordinary chondrite (H6), which fell on 9 October 1992 in New York, USA; before it smashed through the trunk of a parked car in Peekskill, a huge greenish fireball was witnessed by thousands of people across the East Coast of the USA. Video recordings of its descent have allowed scientists to calculate the meteorite's flight path.




Martian meteorite which fell on 3 October 1815 in France. The Chassigny meteorite is the first Martian meteorite that has entered meteorite collections, in 1815-1820s, even though its Martian origin was only recognized in the 1980s. The displayed piece is the second largest known worldwide.




The displayed 3 kg stone of the Tabor meteorite, that fell in 1753 in Czech Republic, is the largest piece of this fall. The Hraschina and Tabor meteorite were the foundation objects of the Vienna meteorite collection.




A martian meteorite (shergottite). Fell in the Oued Drâa valley, near Tata, Morocco, at ~2 am on 18 July 2011 after observation of a bright fireball. The displayed sample (908,7 g) is the largest known almost fully encrusted, single stone of this fall.



fossil meteorites

The displayed two samples are fossils of meteorites that fell about 470 million years ago, in today's Sweden. Most of the meteoritic material has been replaced by other minerals, whilst the original shape of the meteorite has been retained; all that remains of the original meteoritic material are tiny crystals of the iron-chromium-oxide mineral chromite. Similar samples are on public display only at two other institutions worldwide.






Do you want to know more about the meteorite collection and meteorites in general?


Brandstätter, F., Ferrière, L. & Köberl, C. (2012): Meteoriten - Zeitzeugen der Entstehung des Sonnensystems / Meteorites - Witnesses of the origin of the solar system. Verlag des Naturhistorischen Museums & Edition Lammerhuber, 270 pp. (bilingual).