Set in Style
A greater appreciation of the importance of jewellery within the decorative arts lies behind many recent museum acquisitions – but some superb examples continue to be overlooked
Diana Scarisbrick, Friday, 1st April 2011
The public’s interest in jewellery – both contemporary and antique – remains as strong as ever: crowds still gather around the windows of the shops on Bond Street and over a million people have now visited the William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum since its opening in 2008. The demand for knowledge has also been met by recent wide-ranging books.1 In the past six months alone there have been exhibitions on Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels in Paris and New York respectively, and on Napoleonic jewellery at the enterprising Diamond Museum in Antwerp.
In view of the proven public appreciation of jewellery as a major decorative art, museums now recognise that they have a duty to display and acquire it. This takes time, patience and money, for little has come down to us from the past. Although the various acquisitions reported in this issue are a positive step forward, there have nonetheless been many museum-quality jewels on the market over the past year or so that have been ignored and regrettably sold to private individuals.
In spite of its poor condition and high valuation of £3.85 million, the Staffordshire Hoard of 1,600 items of gold, silver and inlaid garnet horse-trappings and weaponry was rightly acquired for the nation, and is now on show at Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. However, a gold ring with fine inter- laced niello animal ornament exemplifying high-quality Anglo-Saxon goldsmith’s work failed to attract attention and went abroad (Fig. 1).2 A similar fate befell the best diamond ring ever to surface from 14th-century Plantagenet England. It bears an inscription sans fin loiaute (‘Loyalty with- out end’) and the initials V and A, which have been plausibly associated with Edward III’s close ally Jacob van Artvelde. Although no diamond ring in the UK’s national collections can compare, there were no takers when it was offered at the reasonable valuation of £30,000 and the owner sold it at auction for the more realistic price of £82,000.
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