Objects of Desire
500 Years of Jewelry

A Review by Fran Schreiber

"Mathilde Rose"
Diamond Corsage Ornament for Princess Mathilde Bonaparte
 (a niece of Napolean)
Theodore Fester, France, 1855

Silver, Gold, Diamonds, 4 3/4" x 5 3/4" 

“Objects of Desire, 500 Years of Jewelry” is at the Newark Museum through 2007. Over 200 items from the museum’s collection are on view representing a vast array of styles, materials and eras.  The exhibition serves as a Jewelry History 101 survey in that it contains items from the 1500s through the present day, though it is not presented chronologically. Rather, it’s displayed by use (rings, watches, cameos, etc.) or purpose (mourning, religious, commemorative).  The exhibition has been tightly edited so it’s possible to enjoy it in an hour or so and not feel visually overwhelmed.
Ulysses Grant Dietz, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Newark Museum, produced the exhibition. “The museum was given it’s first piece of jewelry in 1911 but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that we started to collect it intentionally for our 1997 exhibition, ‘The Glitter & The Gold," said Dietz.  “Newark was a major jewelry and silver manufacturing center from the late 1800s through the 1950s and so naturally we have some significant pieces from makers such as A.H. Hedges, Krementz, Unger, Kerr, Riker Brothers, and Ferdinand Herpers.”  
But while Newark jewelry is prominent in “Objects of Desire”, there is a wide range of makers and styles on view, reflecting Dietz’s own collecting goals. There are several astonishingly beautiful and large crosses of silver or gold, adorned with gemstones, enamel, or pastes, many of which date from the 1700s.  Victorian jewelry includes cameos, micro mosaics, Etruscan revival and mourning pieces.  An exquisite Louis Comfort Tiffany brooch of black opals, gold and enamel is the star of the American Arts & Crafts pieces. An art nouveau neck ornament of gold, platinum, diamonds and enamel by Louis Aucoc of Paris, c.1900, is breathtaking.

Carter, Howe & Co.
 silver wire snake bracelet
 ca. 1900  




Hedges & Co., bracelet of multi colored gold, with diamonds
 ca. 1890
(Despite the year it was made, it has a very modern look to it.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the show includes a small separate gallery dedicated to modernist and contemporary jewelry. Constructed of myriad materials including silver, gold, enamel, wood, plastic, copper, and beads, one clearly understands that this work is not about intrinsic value. 

“I am interested in jewelry as art and design; pieces that are all about artistic expression for the maker and self-expression for the wearer” said Dietz.  “Art jewelry is desirable not because it is precious but because it reflects the cultural awareness and sophistication of its owner,” he added.

The modern collection includes pieces by Ed Wiener, Sam Kramer, Art Smith, Henning Koppel and other well known and lesser-known American and European artists.  While they were creating works that were distinctly personal, cross-cultural references can be seen in some of the pieces.  For example, the sterling silver belt by American, Vita Jaspen, could have been made in Finland in the 1970s. 

Sculptural Silver Belt
 Vita Jaspan, U.S.
ca. 1970-75

Eye Brooch
Sam Kramer, U.S.
ca. 1950


Pair of copper and brass barrettes
 Art Smith, U.S.
ca. 1950s  


Pair of Silver Earrings
 Art Smith, U.S.
ca. 1945-55



Designer Henning Koppel’s famous biomorphic necklace for Georg Jensen is distinctly and unmistakably of it’s time – the 1950s. Yet, you can see the continuity of Jensen’s concept of jewelry as art, which permeated his work from the early 1900s.  

One piece that clearly dominates the gallery is “Grand Barbarian’s Trapeze”, a brooch by William Harper made of gold, enamel, pearls, tourmalines and other gemstones. It’s hard to imagine wearing a piece this large - 9 ľ” x 7” (though I’d be happy to try) but Dietz says that Harper’s large-scale jewels are meant to be seen as wearable sculpture.  

Grand Barbarian's Trapeze (fibula brooch)
William Harper, U.S.
ca. 1998
Gold, enamel, pearls, tourmaline, fire opal, topaz, chalcedony
 9 3/4" x 7"

Other pieces, which might be described as wearable sculpture, include a bib necklace constructed of silver and pebbles by Gundula Papesch of Switzerland and a neckpiece of silver, gold and enamel by Ralph Bakker of the Netherlands. 

Silver pendant necklace
 Ed Brickman, U.S.
ca. 2005 



Necklace of Rectangular Plaques
 Ralph Baaker, Netherlands
ca. 2001
Silver, enamel, gold

If you’re captivated by gemstones do not miss seeing the gem encrusted vanity case by Verdura that he made for Doris Duke in 1941. And then of course there is the diamond corsage made in Paris in 1855 for Princess Mathilde, a niece of Napoleon.  While not my cup of tea, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the 2,637 diamonds weighing 136 carats supplemented by 860 smaller diamonds.   It’s quite a large piece and in contrast with William Harper’s “Grand Barbarian’s Trapeze” clearly illustrates the distinction between jewelry as ostentatious display and jewelry as art. 

The Newark Museum is located at 49 Washington Street in the downtown arts district. For further information go to www.newarkmuseum.org.


Review by Fran Schreiber

Photos courtesy of Newark Museum
Web design by Marbeth Schon

 Copyright © 2006 MODERN SILVER magazine
  Your comments are invited. 
  Feedback Form