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Kunz was born in Manhattan, New York City, USA, and began an interest in minerals at a very young age. By his teens, he had amassed a collection of over four thousand items, which he sold for four hundred dollars to the University of Minnesota. | Source: Wikipedia
Kunz was born in Manhattan, New York City, USA, and began an interest in minerals at a very young age. By his teens, he had amassed a collection of over four thousand items, which he sold for four hundred dollars to the University of Minnesota. | Source: Wikipedia

Game-changing gemmologists: George Frederick Kunz

In the previous issue of Jeweller, we discussed the legacy of René-Just Haüy, the father of modern crystallography.

In this issue, we fast-forward 50 years from the death of Haüy to discuss a figure likely to be familiar with modern gemmologists and jewellers.

George Frederick Kunz was a renowned American mineralogist, born in New York in 1856. His humble upbringing saw him educated in public schools, until an acceptance at The Cooper Union in New York, a prestigious college that covers the cost of tuition.

Despite his admittance here, Kunz did not graduate with a degree and instead channelled his hunger for knowledge and passion for minerals into self-teaching.

Through his ventures exploring the geology of nearby regions and exchanging specimens with overseas dealers, Kunz had garnered a collection of more than 4,000 mineral specimens while still a teenager.

Weighing a total of two tonnes, his collection was sold to the University of Minnesota for $US400 in 1876. Many of these specimens remain in their collection today.

This would be the first of many notable collections put together by Kunz, one of the most famous being the Tiffany-Morgan Collection of Gems owned by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

L to R: Raw Kunzite mineral from Afghanistan;
polished Kunzite stone

At the age of 23, Kunz secured a position at Tiffany and Company as a gemstone expert before ascending to vice president. This was the first example of a jewellery retailer having a gemmologist on staff.

During his years at Tiffany, where he would work until his death in 1932, Kunz travelled the world gaining first-hand experience with important mineral and gemstone localities. This afforded him an unmatched knowledge of precious gemstones and their occurrences.

He served as head of the Department of Mines at the Paris Exposition in 1889, the Kimberley Exposition in 1892, and the Chicago Exposition in 1893, among others.

Assisting in the investigation of American pearls in 1892-93, Kunz even served as a special investigator for the US Fish Commission.

Discovery

Following his extensive travels and experiences within the world of minerals and precious gemstones, somewhere between 1902-03 a pink variety of the mineral spodumene was discovered in San Diego County, California.

This new pink gemstone was named Kunzite in honour of the now Dr. George Frederick Kunzm having earned honourary degrees from Columbia University (1898), University of Marburg (1903), and Knox University (1907) for his contributions to gemmology and mineralogy.

Shortly after this discovery, a known gemstone mineral was found to occur in a previously unknown attractive pink hue – beryl.

Kunz named the new variety Morganite, in honour of his friend and financier that arranged the purchase of the Tiffany-Morgan Collection of Gems for the AMNH – JP Morgan. Morgan was a lifelong financial contributor to the arts and sciences.

Pen-to-paper

Although minerals firmly held his heart, Kunz’s interests and community service extended further into other avenues of arts and science.

Throughout his life, he held membership at many non-profit interest organisations, and served as president and vice-president to the Museum of Peaceful Arts, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers.

This includes his position as president of the association responsible for introducing the metric system to the US, as well as his instrumental role in establishing the ‘carat’ unit of measurement, now used internationally.

Kunz was an avid author. He produced hundreds of articles on minerals and precious gemstones in his time, as well as well-known titles such as Gems and Precious Stones of North America, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, The Book of the Pearl: Its History, Art, Science and Industry, and more.

Name: George Frederick Kunz
Work: American Mineralogist
Born: 29 September 1856 at Manhattan, New York USA
Died: 29 June 1932 (Aged 75), New York USA

 
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mikaelah Egan

Contributor • GAA Editorial


Mikaelah Egan FGAA Dip DT began her career in the industry at Diamonds of Distinction in 2015. She now balances her role at the Gemmological Association of Australia with studying geology at the University of Queensland. Visit instagram.com/mikaelah.egan For more information on gems and gemmology ,go to www.gem.org.au

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