Arts & Culture


Smoky Quartz

Natural History Museum Vienna
Natural History Museum Vienna

Morion. Large crystal cave. Uri canton, Switzerland.1868.

With a circumference of 112 centimeters and weighing 115 kilograms, this crystal is one of the largest ever recovered from the cavern at Switzerland’s Tiefen Glacier.

In 1867 climbers discovered an extensive quartz deposit in the granite cliffs of the Tiefen Glacier at an altitude of 3,000 meters above sea level. A year later, they returned with reinforcements, dynamite, and hammers, opening up a cavern filled with enormous smoky quartz crystals. They discovered huge quantities of dark crystals, many of them perfect, weighing between one and two hundred kilograms.The news of this sensational find spread like wildfire, and within eight days the cavern had been completely emptied. However, transporting the crystals proved much harder than finding them. They slid the lighter pieces down on the snow, whilst the heavy ones were roped down, packed into sacks and lugged down to the valley on carrying frames. The total weight of their booty was 29 tons! A particularly large crystal was despatched to Paris, where the Ministry of Education declined to purchase it. Subsequently the industrial magnate Max Machanek acquired this magnificent specimen and donated it to the collection of minerals in Vienna. In 1992 exploratory drillings were made in the cavern of the Tiefen Glacier in the hope of finding further cavities containing quartz deposits. Unfortunately this undertaking was unsuccessful. The sensational discovery of the smoky quartz crystals in this cavern was probably a unique stroke of luck.

Read more


  • Title: Smoky Quartz
  • Rights: (c) NHM (Lois Lammerhuber)

Discover more