Jewelry is art and storytelling in its purest form. Each piece of jewelry has a story to tell.
It may tell a story about the person who is wearing it or the person who has worn it in the past. A story about the person who made it or the person who gave it to you… A story about a special moment, an important occasion, a unique memory… The stories waiting to be told are endless and anyone can get mesmerized by them.
It’s fascinating how humankind has loved to wear jewelry since the beginning of time, whether because of its history, meaning, power, or uniqueness. It has always played a great role in increasing our beauty and enhancing our looks, regardless.
Its uses and symbolism have evolved across time and space to become the industry we know today. Did you know that jewelry has grown 138% in value over the last decade – only outperformed by classic cars, rare coins, and fine wine? Its popularity, worth, and beauty are undeniable and that’s why jewelry-focused exhibitions hold the attention of so many museum-goers today.
If you are still wondering if Jewelry is an art form and capable of storytelling, some of the world's greatest museums listed below that house exquisite and priceless collections will help you make up your mind.
1. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City
This museum was founded in 1896 and it’s the only one in the US devoted to historical and contemporary design. Its collections and exhibitions explore approximately 240 years of design aesthetic and creativity.
When it comes to Jewelry, the Cooper Hewitt museum has held numerous exhibitions such as “Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection”. This collection of jewelry features nearly 150 brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and rings created by seminal designers from Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America.
The evolution of jewelry is reflected in all the works on view. It begins with mid-20th-century American and European pioneers, and it traces the evolution of jewelry up to the avant-garde developments of the 1980s and through to the most recent innovations. Designers are now exploring new creative territories through mastery of materials, innovative techniques, and conceptual inquiry.
2. Louvre Museum, Paris
The Louvre is the world's largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris. You must have heard of it for being the home of the Mona Lisa portrait painting, but it has so much more to it.
The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built in the late 12th to 13th century. Today it contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art: sculptures, paintings, drawings, and… jewelry.
One of the museum’s highlights is the royal collection, which also includes the French Crown Jewels. The spectacular 19th-century jewelry sets in the collection include a tiara that once belonged to Queen Hortense, Queen Marie-Amélie, and Isabelle of Orleans. It’s composed of a total of twenty-four sapphires, including ten very small ones, and one thousand and eighty-three diamonds.
3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents over 5,000 years of art from around the world. Although it’s set in New York City, millions of people also take part in The Met experience online. The museum was founded in 1870 and its statement of purpose is to collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures.
They have an expansive collection of jewelry objects from ancient times up until the present. More than 200 of these jewels and ornaments were featured in “The Body Transformed” exhibition, which focused on the meaning of jewelry.
This Byzantine bracelet is one of the pieces featured in the collection. Its origins date back to 500-700. This piece is elaborately decorated with gold, silver, pearl, amethyst, sapphire, opal, glass, quartz, and emerald plasma. The luminous beauty of pearls was highly prized in the Byzantine world.
4. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was founded in 1870. Today it is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world and its collection encompasses nearly 500,000 works of art. From ancient Egyptian broadcollars to contemporary jewelry, this museum has an outstanding collection of jewelry.
The highlight goes to the exhibition “Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen”. It presents designer gowns and exquisite jewelry from the 1930s and ‘40s - the most glamorous years of Hollywood film.
The style of some jewels in the 1930s and 40s have a mechanical, machine-like appearance characterized by repeating shapes. As an example, they featured this suite of jewelry by the Parisian firm Verger Frères. It’s made out of gold, diamond, and aquamarine and it was worn by Joan Crawford, an American film and television actress.
5. Museum of Arts & Design, New York City
Since the Museum of Arts and Design’s founding in 1956, it has mounted exhibitions that focused on the materials and techniques associated with craft disciplines.
As a way to present a stunning array of extravagant fashion jewelry, the exhibition “Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger” celebrates craftsmanship and creativity spanning five decades. Many of the works were expressly made to be worn with high fashion clothing by fashion designers such as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana.
This amazing poured glass, simulated pearls, rhinestones, gold plated, feathered necklace by Pablo Esteva is featured in the collection of jewelry.
6. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is the world's most popular natural history museum and is home to the largest natural history collection in the world. In 2016, with 7.1 million visitors, it was considered the eleventh most visited museum in the world.
The National Gem and Mineral Collection is one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world. It displays countless priceless gems - there are currently over 15,000 individual gems in the collection.
This 98.57-carat Bismarck sapphire was donated to the Smithsonian in 1967 by Countess Mona, and it's now on display in the Gem Gallery at this museum. It is mounted on an Art Deco necklace designed by Cartier in 1959.
7. Moscow Kremlin Museum, Russia
The Moscow Kremlin is considered to be a symbol of the Russian statehood and its architectural ensemble is included in the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Its history covers almost three hundred years and involves both periods of prosperity and periods of heroic struggle for saving national treasure.
This Upper-arm bracelet from The al Sabah collection dates back to the late 18th - early 19th century. Beautifully decorated with gold, diamonds, emeralds, and enamel, it’s one of the pieces featured in a remarkable exhibition, entitled “Exhibition Hall of the Assumption Belfry”, of approximately three hundred masterpieces of jewelry by Indian and European makers.
8. Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s leading museum of art and design. It houses a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. Their many national collections comprise furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, and, of course, jewelry.
This necklace and earrings are part of a larger set of jewelry. It is believed that the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his consort Joséphine gave them as a gift to their adopted daughter on her arranged marriage in 1806.
9. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
Other than jewelry, the J. Paul Getty Museum houses European paintings, drawings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and photography from its beginnings to the present.
The Collection of Ptolemaic Jewelry features this impressive gold diadem consisting of two leaf-shaped sides, each fashioned from a single piece of sheet gold and attached through two loops at the back. It is made out of gold, glass paste, bone or pearl, garnet, cornelian, and moonstone. People think it seems possible that the original owner was an elite of the exclusive circle of dynastic princesses, who served the queen in one of the royal cults devoted to her worship.
10. San Antonio Museum of Art, Texas
The San Antonio Museum of Art, founded in 1926, enriches lives through exceptional experiences with art. It has a collection spanning 5,000 years of global culture, and houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of ancient Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, and Roman art in the southern United States.
To honor the fortieth anniversary of the San Antonio Museum of Art in 2021, longtime supporters have promised the Museum their outstanding collection of silver jewelry. That’s how the exhibition “Exquisite Adornment” comes to life.
These earrings from Turkmenistan are part of that exhibition and date back to the late 19th - early 20th century. They are made out of silver and carnelian.