Since Pearls are having a bit of a ‘moment’, it seemed a good time to search through the Designs collection for some interesting examples of jewellery design across the ages. There are about 3000 designs for jewellery in the Museum’s collection, and we’re particularly strong on nineteenth and early twentieth century examples.
As the ‘Pearls’ exhibition shows, jewellery isn’t simply designed to be beautiful; it also contains clues to all kinds of other social ideas and assumptions. For example, this design for a brooch by the firm of John Brogden shows the Victorian enthusiasm for all things Egyptian, inspired by contemporary archaeological excavations:
Design for a brooch by the firm of John Brogden, about 1860. Museum number E.2:484-1986 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Ancient Egyptian artefacts were highly prized and (like today) could be seen by the public everywhere from the British Museum to the banks of the Thames.
Another nice thing about designs is that sometimes it’s possible to make connections with similar (or sometimes even the exact same) objects in other parts of the Museum’s collection. For example, these designs for rings by Wendy Ramshaw…
Designs for rings by Wendy Ramshaw. Museum number E.1173-1978 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
… are clearly from the same series as these Space Age-inspired ‘pillar rings’.
Rings by Wendy Ramshaw. Museum number M.34-1982 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
As tempting as it is though, curating designs isn’t always about including the prettiest or most complete or even the most successful examples. Often what we’re trying to show is the process of design– the stages that designers go through between staring at a blank piece of paper and showing their work off to a client. We have examples of everything from rough sketches…
Jewellery design by Reinhold Vasters, mid-19th century. The discovery of Vasters’ designs proved that his pieces were 19th century forgeries of Renaissance jewellery rather than the real things. Museum number E.2873-1919 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
…to completely finished presentation drawings designed to wow a client:
Design for a pendant earring by Pasquale Novissimo, about 1880. The artistry of this design is such that there’s even a painted ‘shadow’ around the edge of the object– completely unnecessary from a design point of view but a pleasing touch for a potential client. Museum number E.198-2012 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
We’ve collected a selection of interesting designs in a Process of Design education box. This ‘jewellery box’, and many others, is freely available to everyone in the Prints and Drawings Study Room. Please click here for details of the Study Room’s opening times.