travertine vases

The Smithsonian Shop – A Natural for Shoppers

travertine vases

For lovers of gems and jewelry, there’s no place that’s more fun to shop than at the National Gem and Mineral Collection Shop in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

After you’ve spent as much time as possible looking at the Hope Diamond, it’s a kick to be able to buy a brooch modeled after the most famous blue gem in the world (below, $100). Or at least pick up the book ($14.99), which dispels the rumor that the former “Le bleu de France” is cursed…or does it?

If more modern jewelry is your preference, check out the collection by designer Charles Albert. As a boy in Northeast Pennsylvania, Albert became fascinated with fossils and minerals. Now working out of South Florida, Albert creates unusual pieces known for their creativity and beauty. I would kill for the Agate, Garnet, and Citrine pendant ($250) currently for sale. The staff informs me that stock changes frequently, so if this is your taste, jump on it.

A much less costly but equally intriguing item is the fossil known as Ammonite. Jewelry from this material is becoming increasingly popular. A small polished specimen is within most budgets ($10).

Also inexpensive are the pretty pink Salt Tea Candle Holders (below, $14). Each one is slightly different; they all give off a lovely glow when lit up. Caveat: don’t get them wet, or even damp. Not only will they start to flake, they’ll also lose color.

There’s a wide assortment of Travertine pieces available (opening photo), from different size vases ($35- $65) to colorful bowls ($48). This type of calcite features vibrant banding in interesting patterns. Travertine is also known as Mexican Onyx, Egyptian Alabaster, and Onyx Marble. It’s usually sold in a highly polished state; the collection in the Museum shop is hand worked by skilled craftspeople in Pakistan. Do not use microwave ovens or dishwashers on these pieces.

If you have kids with you, and they’re getting bored, head to the back of the store. Here they will find endless enjoyment in playing with the brightly hued Tumbled Stones, both natural and dyed ($5 for a small bag). The smooth texture makes them fun to play with, and they’re practically indestructible (the stones, not the kids).

Youngsters also love getting “real fool’s gold,” Iron Pyrite nuggets ($15.50). Although heavy, an arts and crafts maven could easily convert these into attractive shiny jewelry.

Children of all ages are captivated by Geodes. Most, but not all, of those featured here are Amethyst, and they are gorgeous. They range in size and price from those small enough to hold in one hand to those too large and weighty for one person to carry ($25-$1800). In my opinion, there’s not a room in any house that wouldn’t be enhanced by the presence of one or more of these natural objet d’art.

If nothing else, pick up one of the strikingly illustrated and highly informative books, which will help illuminate the experience of viewing this marvelous museum full of gems and jewelry.

All of the items featured are available at the

Michall Jeffers and her husband, photographer John Warner, enjoy chronicling their shopping expeditions together in her words and his images. Michall writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary.

Photo credit: John Warner

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