The Best Museums for Jewelry Lovers

By Sotheby's Museum Network
From prized royal crown jewels to cutting-edge contemporary collars, the art of jewelry design has captivated collectors for centuries.
The Austrian Imperial Crown Jewels, displayed in the Schatzkammer in Vienna.

In the past few years, a slew of jewelry-focused exhibitions held the attention of museum-goers; who can forget the show-stopping, gem-encrusted brooches of JAR at The Metropolitan of Art or the sumptuous Ancient Incan chest plates of Golden Kingdoms at the Getty? Fortunately, you don't have to wait for another temporary exhibition to come around. There are dozens of museums dedicated to the fine craft of jewelry making. Sotheby's Museum Network takes a look at just a few of the treasures within art museums around the world.

All That Glitters: Jewelry Collections Around the World

Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

The Cooper-Hewitt has a robust collection of jewelry and design objects in their Product Design and Decorative Arts department. In addition, the museum’s Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design department contains a number of jewelry sketches and preparatory drawings. The objects in the collection represent a diverse set of styles, materials and origins. Several related exhibitions have been held at The Cooper-Hewitt, including Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection, which focused on unique designs and materials from the mid-20th century to the present day.

Sapphire and diamond set of Queen Marie Amélie of France, bought back by the Louvre in 1985.

The Louvre

The Louvre has a notable collection of jewelry ranging from Near Eastern, Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian Antiquities into the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition to ancient objects, this collection features pieces owned by some of the most powerful families in France. One of the museum’s jewelry highlights is a necklace, earring and brooch set of diamonds and sapphires that once belonged to Queen Hortense, Queen Marie-Amélie, and Isabelle of Orleans.

Collar, 12th–14th century. Peru. Chimú. Spondylus shell and black stone beads, cotton. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Like the Louvre, The Met also has an expansive collection of jewelry objects from ancient times up until the present. One of the museum’s ongoing exhibitions, The Body Transformed, on view from November 12, 2018 through February 24, 2019, features a set of objects from the collection and focus on the meanings of jewelry and the significance it can possess. Highlights range from Byzantine bracelets from 500-700 to an Elsa Peretti necklace from 1973, as well as objects from many other time period and regions.

G. Paulding Farnham for Tiffany & Co., Renaissance revival neck ornament, 1900–04. Platinum, gold, enamel, diamond, ruby, emerald, cat’s eye, chrysoberyl, sapphire, and pearl.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

On view during the summer of 2018 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Past is Present: Revival Jewelry examined the trend of looking to the past for inspiration, a practice that became increasingly popular in the 19th century just as the archaeological excavations in places such as Greece, Egypt, and Turkey were getting underway and exposing a literal treasure trove of ancient jewelry to western eyes and luxury consumers for the first time. This exhibition showcased revival designs by all of the period's greats including Castellani, Giacinto Melillo and Eugene Fontenay. Highlights include a 1924 brooch, on loan from Cartier, paired with an Egyptian winged scarab (740–660 BC) with a similar design; an 1850s embellished gold brooch by Castellani; a Renaissance revival neck ornament (1900–04) designed for Tiffany & Co.; a 1980s Bulgari necklace adorned with Macedonian coins; and a 2002 Akelo pendant that emulates an ancient Etruscan granulation technique.

Gésine Hackenberg Kitchen Necklace, 2008, Belgian earthenware plate, polyamide thread. Museum of Arts and Design; Photo by Matthew J. Cox; courtesy the Museum of Arts and Design.

Museum of Arts & Design

This museum’s full permanent collection features pieces mainly from the modern era, but there are several current opportunities to view the Museum of Arts and Design’s most interesting jewelry objects. An ongoing exhibition, Highlights from the Jewelry Collection, features pieces by 84 artists in a variety of media which are presented in interactive drawers. In addition to this long-term show, in 2018 the museum displayed the exhibition From the Collection: GOLD, which explored the significance of the material for objects beyond jewelry such as religious icons and symbols of power, for example.

Interior galleries of the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva.

Patek Philippe Museum

Something for the boys... Although the museum is dedicated to the history of watchmaking rather than traditional jewelry, it is still a wonderful destination for the lover of luxury adornments. The museum is situated in a prime location in the heart of Geneva, occupying four floors of a historic building. The permanent collection and beautifully installed display cases document the evolution of the craft through one of the most impressive collections of watches - both by Patek Philippe and other artists. The collection is divided into two sections: The Antiques Collection, which features European works from the 16th - 19th centuries and The Patek Philippe Collection, which contains works by the designer from 1839 until the present.

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