Smithsonian Unveils Superb Lion of Merelani Gem

Spectacular Tsavorite Gemstone Goes on Public View in the National Museum of Natural History’s Gem Hall
April 13, 2023
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Large green gem on black background

Photo by Jeff Scovil, courtesy of Bridges Tsavorite

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History will unveil the Lion of Merelani, one of the most exquisite colored gemstones in the world, Thursday, April 20.

The glowing green gem is a tsavorite (the first "t" is silent), an exceptionally rare garnet predominantly found in a region straddling the border of Kenya and Tanzania. In 2017, an intense verdant crystal of tsavorite weighing more than 283 carats was unearthed near Merelani, an area of northern Tanzania known for its gem mines. The following year, world-renowned gem cutter Victor Tuzlukov shaped the rough stone into the vibrant Lion of Merelani, the world’s largest square-cushion cut tsavorite gem with 177 glimmering facets.

“This tsavorite is truly one of the most important colored gemstones to have been mined this decade,” said mineralogist Jeffrey Post, the museum’s curator-in-charge of gems and minerals. “A gem like this is one of Earth’s natural treasures and is an exciting addition to the National Gem Collection and to our public exhibition.” 

Post and the rest of the Smithsonian’s gem-collection team examined the stone up close at the 2020 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show and were astonished by its unprecedented size and quality. According to Post, faceted tsavorites over 10 carats are rare. The Lion of Merelani tips the scale at 116.76 carats, making it more than 100 carats heavier than the National Gem Collection’s current largest tsavorite jewel.

The Lion of Merelani has shattered several records. The vivid gem is the largest precision-cut tsavorite in the world. It is also the largest tsavorite gem ever cut in the United States. The historic cutting process was documented from start to finish for the world to see.

The gem is a gift to the National Gem Collection from Somewhere in the Rainbow, a privately owned gem and jewelry collection. With an emphasis on education, Somewhere in the Rainbow works with gemologists, gallery owners, museums and jewelry designers to preserve the rarity and beauty of the finest colored gems in the world. The stone is also a gift from Bruce Bridges, the CEO of the Bridges Tsavorite mining company that specializes in sustainably excavating vibrant gems in Eastern Africa. The Lion of Merelani honors his father Campbell Bridges, the famed geologist who discovered tsavorite in Tanzania in 1967. 

The Lion of Merelani will join several of the National Gem Collection’s sparkling treasures in the museum’s Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.

“We are confident that this great tsavorite will quickly become a visitor favorite, for its beauty and its well-documented story,” Post said. “It will be the iconic garnet in the National Gem Collection, the one that all other tsavorites will be compared to in the future.”

Members of the news media interested in attending the public unveiling April 20 are asked to contact the museum’s press office.

About the National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is connecting people everywhere with Earth’s unfolding story. It is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum on its website, blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Randall Kremer


Ryan Lavery


Jack Tamisiea


Note to editors: Images of the Lion of Merelani are available here.

National Museum of Natural History
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