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In 1851 the Victoria and Albert Museum bought for £18 a bracelet by Froment Meurice of Paris which had been in the Great Exhibition. The Museum has continued to acquire jewellery ever since and now houses one of the greatest jewellery collections in the world with more than four thousand objects on exhibition.

The diverse displays include Indian Mughal jewels set with emeralds and rubies in the Nehru Gallery, as well as masterpieces in the British Galleries, which show the only surviving medieval English gold rosary, and, on loan from a private collection, the Drake Jewel which was presented by Elizabeth I to Sir Francis Drake. Most of the collection is on display in the Jewellery Gallery.

The Jewellery Gallery

The Jewellery Gallery centres on the last thousand years of Western jewellery, but also looks back to Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Winged tiara; crystal and chalcedony set in gold;
by Henry Wilson; English; c. 1908. (c) V&A
Highlights include:
• A presentation box made by Fabergé in St Petersburg for Tsar Nicholas II.
• The Londonderry Jewels on loan from the Marquess of Londonderry comprising a dazzling diamond corsage brooch made by Garrard of London in 1854, a yellow diamond which was a present from Tsar Alexander I, and regalia for the Order of the Garter.  

Detail of a coral and gilt
brass tiara; Italian;
c. 1850-60. (c) V&A
• Rare medieval ring brooches.  
• The Heneage Jewel, dating from 1595, with its striking gold profile of Elizabeth I.  
• A set of eighteenth-century diamond bows from the Court of Catherine II.  
• The Beauharnais emerald necklace which was given by Napoleon to his adopted daughter in 1806.  
• Renaissance and Archaeological style pieces from the nineteenth century by Froment Meurice of Paris, John Brogden and Giuliano of London and Castellani of Rome.  

• Art Nouveau pieces by the French jewellers Lalique and Fouquet.

• British Arts and Crafts jewellery by C. R. Ashbee, Henry Wilson and John Paul Cooper.

• Twentieth-century jewellery such as a neckpiece of brass spirals made by Alexander Calder in Paris (1938) and a gold foil brooch by Yasuki Hiramatsu (1990).


How the collection was formed

The V&A’s jewellery collection has grown over the last 150 years through purchases and through a vast number of donations and loans from private individuals. Some donors have given single objects, like Lord Wakefield who in 1935 presented the Heneage Jewel through the National Art Collections Fund. Others have given entire collections: a prime example is a bequest from Lady Cory, who in 1951 gave a collection of jewels that included major diamond jewellery from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Dame Joan Evans, a pre-eminent jewellery scholar, gave more than 800 jewels, ranging in date from theMiddle Ages to the early nineteenth century.

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