This summer has been a weird one, to say the least. As a jewelry lover, you may be thinking: when is the last time I saw something sparkly? Luckily, AAJ has you covered for the best ways to fulfill your jewelry admiring needs. With museums and collections slowly starting to open back up, some of the best collections out there are available to visit, and others have created brilliant online resources for home browsing. Fancy a trip to the museum to gawk at some jewels, or want to sit on the sofa and take a virtual tour? Here's where to start.
The V&A, London
The Victoria and Albert Museum has one of the best jewelry collections in the world. The William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery contains over 3000 jewels from the collection, which mostly comprise of European pieces spanning from the Celtic to the Elizabethan to the contemporary age. The collection also contains drawn jewelry designs that are a great accompaniment to the jewelry itself.
Highlights: Queen Victoria's sapphire and diamond coronet designed by Albert in 1840, jeweled pendants that Elizabeth I gave to her courtiers, and pieces worn by Catherine the Great.
Current Situation: Although the museum is open for socially-distanced visits, unfortunately, the jewelry galleries are still closed. However, the V&A Collection Search is a brilliant and easy to use tool for finding pieces from specific ages. On top of that, they have some great videos online highlighting key pieces from the collection and explaining the history of jewelry.
Left: Enameled gold mourning pendant with amethysts, c. 1770-1790.
Middle: 1698 mourning buckle of gold, crystal, gold thread, and hair. The inscription commemorates Elizabeth Harman who died on 11 April 1698, aged 27.
Right: late 18th-century locket with gold frame and watercolor painted on ivory.
Photos: © The Victoria and Albert Museum.
The British Museum, London
The British Museum has a huge collection of jewelry ranging from 5000 BC to the present day. These are usually split into galleries sorted by age, so searching the online collection is a great way to see all their jewelry in one place!
Highlights: Ancient Egyptian and Medieval European jewelry, Scandinavian animal head brooches, Georgian mourning jewelry.
Current Situation: The British Museum is currently closed, and will open on 27 August with advanced booking and social distancing measures. Only select galleries will be open. For now, the museum's podcast, virtual tours through galleries, audio tours, and youtube channel are available online for a wonderful virtual museum experience. See the museum's blog post on how to explore the museum from home for more online resources.
Selection of mourning rings from c.1788 from the British Museum collection.
Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
The Fitzwilliam has a large collection of jewelry ranging from Ango-Saxon and Byzantine period to Victorian mourning jewelry to Art Nouveau. The collection is formed entirely of donations, so there is an interesting variety of periods and styles, reflecting the interests of the people who donated to the museum. The largest donation to the collection was from Mrs. Anne Hull Grundy, who was a benefactor to at least 70 museums in her day! 130 of her pieces are featured in the collection.
Highlights: An impressive silverware collection, early 20th-century allegorical jewelry, and rare mourning rings.
Current Situation: Open with timed ticket bookings in advance. Safety measures are in place. There is a fair amount of reading available on the website about their jewelry and silverware collections, but the collection search is currently offline for rebuilding. Probably best to visit in person for the moment.
1901 hinged enameled gold pendant, depicting pegasus drinking from the Fountain of Hippocrene, with a miniature of Edith Emma Cooper. Designed by Charles Sousy Ricketts, made by Giuliano.
Photo via Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
The Tower of London, London
The Tower of London's Jewel House contains the world-famous Crown Jewel collection. With over 23,578 gemstones, this is the perfect place for fans of all that glitters. The jewel collection has been hosted at the Tower since the 1600s along with the coronation regalia. This collection is diamonds, crowns and riches galore.
Highlights: St. Edward's Crown, Coronation regalia, the Sovereign's scepter and rod, the Imperial State Crown.
Current Situation: The Tower is open Wednesdays to Sundays, including the crown jewels. The website of the Tower also has a wealth of resources, reading, and photographs of the jewels to peruse from home.
The Sovereign Ring (gold, diamond, ruby, and sapphire) and Queen Adelaide's coronation ring (gold, silver, ruby and diamond). Both are 1831 pieces by Rundell & Bridge.
Photo: © The RCT.
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
The Ashmolean has the most important collection of finger rings in the UK, after the V&A and the British Museum, so is well worth a visit for ring lovers. The collection features a range of pieces from medieval to renaissance and baroque jewels. Moreover, the Ashmolean has one of the best English silver collections in the world. The silver gallery mostly features pieces from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
Highlights: Finger rings and silverware, Greek antiquities, mourning jewelry.
Current Situation: The museum reopened on the 10 August, and booking is essential before visiting. There are two online exhibitions available (not jewelry related, unfortunately), however, the online collection has a useful browse function that lets you feel like you're strolling through a gallery.
1714 Mourning ring for Queen Anne, with the monogram AR beneath a crown. Gold and Crystal.
Photo via The Ashmolean Museum.
The Ulster Museum, Belfast
Another museum that was a lucky recipient of Mrs. Anne Hull Grundy's patronage. The Ulster's collection of jewelry is primarily comprised of her donations. Containing work from the 16th to mid-20th century, many Irish jewelry makers of the Celtic revival are exhibited here.
Highlights: 18th Century paste and art nouveau jewelry, 19th-century Irish pieces, jewelry found from armada shipwrecks, some bronze age finds.
Current Situation: The museum reopened on the 30th of July and is available for prebooked slots. A small amount of information and images are available on the jewelry collection tab.
Pair of bronze snakes, each about 10cm in length. Thought to be a pair of earrings worn by Vikings.
Photo: © NMNI.
Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester
The Manchester Art Gallery has a fairly sizeable collection of watches, jewelry, and accessories from Georgian, Victorian, and Early 20th-century provenance. These can be viewed in conjunction with the gallery's costume collection, which makes for a full-on antique outfit experience. The gallery also features a number of fine art paintings, where jewelry plays a central role within the portraiture.
Highlights: Victorian watches, shoe buckles, and brooches. Costumes and paintings to be viewed alongside the jewelry.
Current Situation: The gallery website reads, charmingly, that 'Manchester Art Gallery's doors may be closed, but our art is still beating.' The gallery will open up for pre-booked slots on the 20 August. For now, their website and online collection search are well organized, informative, and user-friendly for a virtual 'day out' experience.
A coral parure by L.A. Gagliardi, c. 1860-1880.
Photo: © Manchester City Galleries.
Wolverhampton Arts Gallery, Wolverhampton
The Wolverhampton Arts Gallery, while their jewelry collection is small, is the place to go for those interested in steel jewelry. With 186 steel pieces, they also have Georgian belt buckles and accessories in their collection.
Highlights: Steel jewelry, shoe buckles, and other accessories.
Current Situation: The gallery opened its doors on the 8th of August with social distancing measures. The collection search is available online but slightly finicky to use. If you're into steel jewelry and nearby the area, it's probably a better idea to visit in person.
Steel-cut brooch with three-lobed design, c. 1700-1799.
Photo via Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
Still need more jewels to soothe your eyes? Head to Antique Animal Jewelry's Instagram for rare Georgian and Victorian pieces.