Rapaport Magazine

Decades of Style

A trio of exhibitions takes a new look at jewelry through the ages

By Phyllis Schiller
This coming spring and summer, vintage jewelry sparkles at three museums. Varying in size and approach, these upcoming exhibitions focus on the art — and science — of the creation of jewelry that stands the test of time. One reason, acknowledge the curators, is the design appeal of this very personal form of adornment.

At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, that appeal has been acknowledged by the appointment, in 2006, of a dedicated curator of jewelry and a new gallery devoted exclusively to jewelry. Yvonne Markowitz, the Rita J. Kaplan and

Susan B. Kaplan curator of jewelry, has seen interest in estate jewelry grow, something, she admits, which is fairly new for the United States, unlike European countries, “whose appreciation for great gems is tied to crown jewels. For us, the monarch equivalent would be Hollywood and the jewelry worn by the starlets of the twenties and thirties.” The interest in older pieces has grown in America, she says, “thanks in part to jewelry exhibitions that have brought fine designs to the viewing public.”

The Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery for Jewelry will feature rotating exhibits, the first of which will be “Gems, Jewels and Treasures: Ancient to Modern.”* Explains Markowitz, “It looks at the nature of gem materials, both precious and semiprecious, in different cultures and across time. It covers the jewels that have been considered symbols of wealth and power, and then we go into bling — because that’s what people want to see.”

The approximately 100 pieces to be shown “date from 2500 B.C. to something created in 2009 that has a very unusual stone in it. The span is 4,000 years — antique to modern.” Stand-out pieces include “ancient jewelry from Nubia, including a wonderful neck pendant that came from the burial of a queen; a necklace of beautiful

South American diamonds, worn by Mrs. Samuel Colts at her wedding in 1856 and a1905 British Arts and Crafts brooch by John Paul Cooper in high-karat gold with cabochon gemstones. Another special piece is a late-1920s American Deco brooch, once owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post, with high-wattage bling, featuring a center 60-carat carved Mughal emerald from the seventeenth century in a diamond and emerald mount made by American jeweler Marcus and Company.”

Innovation and Inspiration

Sarah Coffin, curator and head of the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and curator of the upcoming exhibition “Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels,”* has seen first-hand the growing interest in jewelry in terms of its design aspect. “As I traveled around the country and talked to collectors and looked at their collections, what fascinated me was that, almost to a person, their primary interest in the Van Cleef jewelry was clearly because of the different designs and the creative use of technical innovations such as the

Mystery Setting or the Zip necklace/bracelet.” The sense of joy or whimsy, the connection to nature as an inspiration or more exotic themes, she says, created pieces that are more than the sum of their parts, offering a “new design thinking that seems to be what drives people back again and again.”

“Set in Style” will showcase about 300 pieces — 60 percent from the Van Cleef & Arpels museum collection and the other 40 percent from individual lenders — that provide a “historic continuum” that looks at how the firm responded to various periods with both technical and design innovations. The exhibition, outlines Coffin, is defined in six sections: Innovation, both technical and stylistic; Transformations, jewelry that transforms itself — for example, from a necklace into a bracelet — as well as the transformation of the firm to include a home-based American design aesthetic; Nature and Exoticism as inspirations; Fashion, and how the jewelry designs connect to it, and Famous Personalities who wore this jewelry, “with an emphasis on Americans who were acquiring it, their taste and aesthetic,” such as Princess Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor.

Pointing out a star attraction, Coffin cites an extraordinary commissioned piece that the purchaser gave to his wife on the birth of their first child. It’s a bird (pictured on this page) holding a 95-carat yellow briolette diamond in its beak. A prime example of the firm’s “transformation” jewelry, the diamond can be worn as a pendant, the wings of the bird become earrings and the tail doubles as a brooch.

“Obviously,” sums up Coffin, “there will be a lot of bling appeal, but I hope people will come away with a new appreciation of the great degree of technical skill, as well as design sense, that went into these pieces.”

Art and Science

At the Bruce Museum, in Greenwich, Connecticut, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, Science Curator Gina Gould is parlaying interest in jewelry to entice visitors to an exhibit that combines art and science. “Bling: Its Origins, Its Impact”* focuses not only on beautiful examples, she explains, but on the “geology of jewelry. ”

The exhibit, Gould says, “is a celebration of artists over time who have been able to use what they find in nature to create adornments.” On display will be 20 works by modern studio artists, as well as 20 pieces of vintage jewelry. “Cutting-edge jewelry will be shown in comparison to vintage pieces,” Gould previews, which include ensembles of necklaces, earrings and rings with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires, dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Along with tracing the evolution, from natural state to finished product, of gemstones and precious metals, the exhibition displays “sustainable bling,” including pieces made from fossils, dendrites and meteoritic stones, even “zirconium clay, used with diamonds.” All of the artists share their process of designing and creating jewelry.

The exhibition, Gould says, focuses on the fact that we all want to adorn ourselves with these spectacular things. “And we’re talking about what it is that drives humans to pick and choose different things.”

*“Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels” will run from February 18 through June 5, 2011, at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City. “Bling: Its Origins, Its Impact” will run from July 16, 2011, to February 26, 2012, at the Bruce Museum, in Greenwich, Connecticut. “Gems, Jewels and Treasures: Ancient to Modern” opens to the public on July 18, 2011, and will run for approximately 18 months at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Rita J. and Stanely H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery of Jewelry.



Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2010. To subscribe click here.

Comment Comment Email Email Print Print Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Share Share
Comments: (0)  Add comment Add Comment
Arrange Comments Last to First