Our favourite jewellery museums
Following on from our favourite jewellery events, we have picked out our favourite museums to see jewellery in. These are a few we’ve enjoyed but there are probably many more so please add your suggestions in the comments.
We love the V&A’s jewellery gallery which houses one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of jewellery in the world. There are jewels from ancient times through an international selection of contemporary makers, telling a history of jewellery in Europe. The jewellery is displayed in a glittering grotto of a gallery which also features computer screens where you can look up pieces to learn more about them.
Well worth a visit if you are interested in the development of jewellery design or just want to revel in the glow of hundreds of gems. Check out the interactive collection to see more.
Part of the Birmingham Museum group, this intriguing tour through the city’s jewellery making heritage is housed in the old premises of Smith & Pepper jewellery manufacturing firm which ceased trading in 1981. This is a time capsule from the day they locked the doors with tools left strewn on benches; grubby overalls were hung on the coat hooks; and dirty teacups were abandoned alongside jars of marmite and jam on the shelf. Décor and working practices had changed little in the previous 80 years of the business giving a real insight into traditional jewellery manufacture.
The museum also has jewellery galleries and a shop featuring the work of contemporary Birmingham designers.
Whitby, in Yorkshire, is famous for the production of items in jet, so it is not a surprise that the local museum is home to one of the best collections of jet jewellery which was particularly popular in the Victorian era – although the collection covers some 500 years of jet carving.
The Ulster Museum in Belfast is home to the treasure from three of the 20 Spanish Armada ships wrecked on the north and west Irish coasts, including the jewels that were on board. As well as this extraordinary collection, the museum houses 18th century paste, the most complete collection of Irish 19th century jewellery, and Art Nouveau jewellery. The galleries also feature the work contemporary Irish jewellers.
There is jewellery scattered across the collections throughout this fascinating museum, showing how important personal adornment has been to every culture. Well worth a look is the gallery featuring artefacts from Sutton Hoo including jewellery and metal work featuring techniques that would be familiar to modern jewellery school students.
And if you can’t get there in person, take a look at this online tour to get a flavour of what is on offer.
At the time of writing the Design Museum has no jewellery exhibitions running, but this celebration of all kinds of design does run contemporary jewellery shows and designer retrospectives, so it is worth keeping an eye on its what’s on page.