By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
In July, Raphael Gübelin and the House of Gübelin opened Gübelin Gem Museum to celebrate the Swiss family’s 169-year-old business devoted to the understanding of gems and the research of Eduard Josef Gübelin. Eduard is considered by many to be the father of modern gemology.
Based in Lucerne, Switzerland, the museum opened this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gübelin Gem Lab, established in 1923. Since the lab’s debut, it has pioneered projects and advancements such as its Academy (the museum will serve as its new home), Provenance Proof—the first blockchain for colored gemstones—and Gemtelligence, which employs artificial intelligence to analyze gemstones and strengthen lab results.
In its museum, Gübelin takes visitors on a journey through key moments in its history. One is the 1988–2007 period when Thomas Gübelin ran the House and expanded the company’s own collection of watches and jewelry; more than 50 of these objects are on display. Guests can also see 174 gemstones from Gübelin’s massive 28,000-piece reference collection, which form the foundation of the Gem Lab. Historical instruments are featured in another part of the museum, which was curated with help from jewelry expert Beatriz Chadour-Sampson, who has worked with other museums such as the Victoria and Albert in London.
“The museum combines innovation and tradition,” explains Gübelin, President and the sixth generation of the family at the helm. “It visualizes the House of Gübelin’s pioneering achievements—from its founding to the present and into the future. We wanted to create a place to inspire people and share knowledge in an exciting way. Edutainment has been central in creating the museum.”
Planning and construction took about two years, and AGTA asked Gübelin for a few more insights into its newest creation. He weighs in below.
AGTA: Who was involved in the planning and why?
Raphael Gübelin: The Gem Museum has been planned and curated by the House of Gübelin, collaborating with internal and external experts. In 2017, the Swiss National Museum arranged a huge exhibition in Zurich on jewelry, and Gübelin loaned jewelry, gems, and photomicrographs that gave insight into gems’ unique inner beauty. During this process, we met Beatriz Chadour-Sampson, who has been curating jewelry collections and exhibitions for decades. She was also familiar with our collection and archives and took great care to create an exceptional visitor experience. Edward Boehm, the grandson of Eduard Gübelin, also contributed to the conception and execution and contributed to some of the exhibits.
We worked with local Swiss architects and craftspeople for the renovation and building process. All the furniture, showcases, displays, and lighting were designed and created in Switzerland. For scenography, we collaborated with Swiss interior design firm Atelier Ingold Raschke, and international experts in the field of museums including Fissler & Kollegen, a company that specializes in mounting objects for display—including the settings for the reference stones, watches, and jewelry. For multimedia and interactive elements, we worked with Tweaklab, a Swiss company that has expertise in designing digital experiences.
AGTA: How did you decide which of the Gem Lab’s 28,000 stones would go on display?
RG: We curated a selection that includes several species, colors, and a glimpse of the vast universe of gems. Next to natural stones, you will see other gem material like synthetics and imitations. They can be rough or faceted, and every single one was selected for its individuality and beauty while keeping in mind how they would complement the whole. Each specimen individually has its own importance and story to tell, but when we see them all together, no matter how different they are and look, they come together as a whole.
The showcase design, meanwhile, is inspired by the hexagonal crystal structure of certain gems. To symbolize this shape, we carefully picked 174 specimens arranged that way that they recall this characteristic form.
AGTA: Is there a theme to the pieces in the watch and jewelry collection on display? How did you decide which watches and jewels to display?
RG: While the entire collection of my father, Thomas Gübelin, comprises several hundred pieces, the 50 selected jewels and watches speak to specific themes and stories. You will see early jewelry and focusing on colored gemstones as well as award-wining watches. For example, the pocket watches on the display tell the change of time from the 1910s to the 1980s. Given the museum is a living space, though, Gübelin will show more pieces from the archive in specially curated exhibitions. And next to the physical pieces on display, digital presentations offer additional information and a deeper understanding of items.
AGTA: Tell us about the new Gübelin Academy.
RG: A new Gübelin Academy classroom is inside the museum, which is the perfect setting for students to immerse themselves in the world of gemstones. The content of the classes becomes immediately tangible. Gübelin Academy courses are designed for all people who want to learn more about gems, jewelry enthusiasts, and professionals. Up to ten students at a time typically participate in a class, which reinforces an intimate personal learning experience.
AGTA: Tell us about some of the instruments on display and why they are important.
RG: The instruments on display illustrate the development of gemology. Some of them were invented or improved by my grand-uncle Eduard Josef Gübelin, a pioneer in gemological research. He was a scientist, an inventor, and a poet who was always looking for a deeper understanding of gems and was keen to share his passion.
Visitors will also see some instruments accompanying him on his travels around the world. He used some portable instruments for examining, measuring, and weighing gemstones. Guests will also learn about the Gemmoscope, a binocular microscope darkfield lighting he developed in 1942 to better observe and photograph inclusions. He also devised “wings” to stabilize the microscope, allowing him to comfortably rest his arms while viewing inclusions.
AGTA: Why else should visitors go to see the museum?
RG: Gübelin’s aim is to introduce people to the wonderful world of colored gemstones, so visitors will experience our philosophy, pioneering spirit, and immerse themselves in the inner and outer beauty of these treasures of nature. Gübelin wants to inspire and share our passion and knowledge with the public.
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