Thursday, November 26, 2015 • 12:46

VC museum showcases gems desired by Chinese Empress

August 20, 2014
The last Empress of China never set foot in Valley Center or in the nearby community of Pala. But, after Tzu-Hsi died in 1908, it was revealed that her body was covered with hordes of gems and gemstones from local mines.

Some sources in China claim that nearly one ton of tourmaline from North San Diego County may surround her in a palatial burial tomb near Beijing. Her head rests on a tourmaline pillow.

To note this little-known past of the region's history, the Valley Center History Museum has expanded its "Gems of Pala" exhibit to tell the tale of a ruler who was obsessed with tourmaline, and imported enormous quantities for her royal collection. She ruled China for nearly 50 years until her death at age 73.

Already one of the most popular exhibits at the local History Museum, the newly-expanded display showcases samples of Pala tourmaline that Empress Tzu-Hsi ordered during her reign. For many years, Tiffany & Co. representatives were permanently based in the area to select the gems, and many Tiffany sales records are part of the Valley Center collection.

Along with samples of local precious stones, visitors to the museum will also see vintage photos of miners at work along with a variety of equipment used by miners to secure the gems.

The Valley Center History Museum at 29200 Cole Grade Road is open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission and parking are free. For more information, visit or call (760) 749-2993.

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