Gayle’s passion for gemstones progressed from a childhood infatuation with jewellery to the subject of her postgraduate studies: a Diploma of Gemmology and a Diploma of Diamond Technology. She joined the (then) Geology Department at the Australian Museum in Sydney, assisting with the mineral and rock collections and, in particular, curating the gemstone collection. (Gemstones have been part of the Australian Museum’s collection since the museum began, in the first half of the 19th century.)
“I first came to gemstones via an interest in antique jewellery, oddly enough. Later I wanted to know more about the minerals and rocks from which they came. Some geologists do it the other way around, starting with rocks and becoming fascinated by gemstones. People from many different walks of life are drawn to gemstones. When I was studying gemmology I was surprised by the number of dentists and doctors doing the course!” explains Gayle.
“When I joined the Australian Museum, the wonderful collection of rocks, meteorites, minerals and gemstones vastly expanded my interest in geology and gemmology. Coming from a natural history museum, I regard gemstones as a creation of the natural world, and I am always conscious of the scientific properties by which we identify them,” says Gayle.
Due to the dedication of the geological staff, the gemstone collection at the Australian Museum has grown and developed into the one of the finest public gemstone collections in Australia.
“About half the gemstones in the collection are from Australia and the others represent world localities. As a gemmologist, I was involved in the identification, acquisition, interpretation, display and security of the gemstones. I also conducted a gemstone identification service for the public,” says Gayle.
Gayle also highlights the important contribution that geological collections make to preservation, public education and research.
“Material is collected because it is deemed important and worth preserving for future generations,” says Gayle.
“Often, the mines and areas from which these materials came are no longer productive, so the material is part of our history. Displaying minerals and gemstones provides an educational and aesthetic experience for the public, which, in the case of a state museum, owns the collections and is entitled to access them,” adds Gayle.
“The research component is carried out by scientists, with some input from enthusiasts and volunteers. There is always more to be discovered about the formation of minerals, gemstones and rocks (or for that matter any other branch of nature). New methods of analysis provide ever-increasing knowledge about their chemistry and properties. Since museum specimens are usually recorded with a precise location, information on specimens can be linked to particular environments and comparisons made. At least one new gemstone has been discovered in material from an old collection!” says Gayle.
Dr Lin Sutherland, the co-author of the Rare Beauties prestige booklet, is one such scientist and researcher (specifically, a geologist). Originally Curator of Minerals, he later became a Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Museum. He is currently a Senior Fellow in Geoscience, one of his research topics being the formation of gemstones.
Gayle’s most recent museum project, before retiring in 2015, was the Australian Museum’s new gemstone display, in which the museum’s largest, most eye-catching gemstones are on view to the public.