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5000 Years of Jewellery

The museum's collections

The main focus of the permanent exhibition is on treasures from classical antiquity, the Renaissance and Art Nouveau periods, a comprehensive ring collection and contemporary art jewellery creations, plus pieces that illustrate the history of the jewellery industry in Pforzheim, the “City of Gold”. The museum also presents ethnographic jewellery and a collection of pocket watches.

From Antiquity to the Present

Historical and modern collection of the Jewellery Museum

Early Jewellery

The origins of jewellery go far back to the dawn of man’s history. Life at that time was mainly determined by magical and mythical conceptions. Fertility and hunting magic, belief in the power of amulets and talismans together with a desire for distinction and affirmation of one’s self were the crucial elements in bringing about the phenomenon of personal adornment. The oldest pieces of the collection go back to the 3rd millenium BC.

Ancient Goldsmithery

One of the high points in the history of goldsmithery is the Etruscan jewellery of about 600 BC, when granulation and filligree techniques reached a perfection never again achieved. Greek goldsmithery flowered between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC. Diversity of motifs and vividness of individual elements, craftsmanship and mastery of metal document the outstanding level of ancient goldsmithery. Mainly gold was used, while precious stones at first played a minor part, except for finger rings. Only in the late Hellenistic period, during the transition to Roman times, did gems and  paste become more frequent.

From Rome to Byzantium

Roman jewellery develops from Etruscan goldsmithery combined with a strong Greco-Oriental influence. As already noticable in the late Hellenistic period, jewellery is now more colourful and opulent. While individual items are of less refined workmanship than their earlier models, the number of items worn together increased. With the partition of the Roman empire, in its eastern part –Byzantium – art s inspired by the Christian faith. Persian-Indian influence is evident in the sumptuous gem- and pearl-studded Byzantine jewellery, yet its greatest glory is its superb enamelling.

Jewellery of the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the goldsmiths’ main clients are the nobility and the Church. The bourgoisie is often restricted in its freedom to wear ornaments by rigorous regulations. From a period when generally little jewellery is worn, the survival of objects will be correspondingly rare. Only in the late Gothic, as south of the Alps the first sprouts of the Renaissance are appearing, does a new culture of luxury begin to flower at the royal and ducal courts in Paris and Burgundy. The jewellery is characterized by figural scenes, and organic forms like leaves and plants are also much in evidence.

Renaissance and Baroque Splendour

Blazing colours and a wide range of materials as well as a multitude of shapes and motifs typify the jewellery designs of the Renaissance. The luxury at European courts, but also among the wealthy bourgoisie of cities grown rich, is reflected in ever more elaborate ornamentation. The goldsmiths often work after designs illustrated in copperplate engravings sold all across Europe. In the early Baroque, the play of colours and gems still dominates jewellery, but increasingly diamonds with ever more brilliant facetting tend to dominate. Given their high value, imitations made of glass become frequent.

Neoclassicism and Biedermeier

After the sumptuousness of the Baroque and Rococo, the second half of the 18th century sees a growing reorietation towards Classical art, partly inspired by the excavations at Pompei (since 1748). The main interest focuses, however, on the architecture, fashion and jewellery of Classical Greece. The Biedermeier period presents no coherent style of jewellery, although an important feature are items meant as souvenirs and tokens of friendship. Sentimental and backward-looking approaches foreshadow Historicist fashions.

Historicist Styles of Jewellery

The period after 1840 is called Historicism. Several styles of the past, like Gothic and Renaissance, and the language of forms of Etruscan, ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Moorish art contribute to the jewellery fashion of the period until the turn of the century. Often several styles are combined in a single piece, so that one finds Renaissance motifs with Gothic gem mounts or Egyptian and Greek elements side by side. In jewellery, famous names of the period are Froment-Meurice, Castellani, Carlo Giuliano und Alexis Falize, each of whom produced his own inimitable Historicist style.

Art Nouveau and the 20th century

Around 1900, a movement in fine arts, handicrafts, and architecture, known as Art Nouveau in France and Jugendstil in Germany, flourished for a few years and reached its pinnacle at the 1900 Paris World Fair. In contrast to historicism, Art Nouveau, which dominated the art scenario at the turn of the century, found ist inspiration in nature: Human beings, animals, and plants were metamorphosed into ornamental motifs that were often laden with symbolism. An oustanding protagonist of Art Nouveau was the frenchman René Lalique, who revolutionized jewelry design with his unconventional and creative choice of motifs, materials, and forms.

Modern Jewellery

At first little noticed except by connoiseurs, a new era of jewellery develops from the 1950s onwards, emanating from a few centres and then rapidly establishing itself with highly varied and individual characteristics in many countries. Very soon, goldsmiths no longer regard themselves simply as artisans, but seek to position themselves within art proper. This development is still continuing, with each new generation of jewellery designers taking up the challenge to combine artistic creation and functional viability.

What Is Jewellery? Criss-cross through the Jewellery Museum's collections

The ethnographic Herion bequest newly presented

What looks like an octagon formed by two intersecting squares is in fact a small box complemented by triangles on the sides. Made of silver set with turquoise, it is called Ga’u, and was created in Lhasa in the 20th century. It is juxtaposed with a blue brooch of comparable size, crafted from blue steel mesh and silver by Than Truc Nguyen in Berlin in 2012. The two objects share similarities in colour and form: both are a shade of blue, and they are based on geometrical shapes. However, there is an essential difference between them. The former is an amulet case, originally worn by Tibetan noblewomen to both ward off evil and conjure up protective spirits, whereas the latter is a piece of contemporary jewellery, whose moiré effect plays with appearance and reality, resembling a glittering gemstone when the incident light is at a certain angle. This pairing may be surprisingly unusual, but it invites visitors to take the time to get a feel for the objects’ individual character. »We’re showcasing the objects on the basis of universal design principles,« says Cornelie Holzach, the museum’s Director. Commonalities and differences – across putative boundaries in terms of culture, region or era – are the focus of the new presentation of the Herion bequest, which will be on display at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum from early December 2021.

Jewellery in a wider scope

The ethnographic Eva and Peter Herion collection had originally been given to the Jewellery Museum as a permanent loan, and has meanwhile passed into the museum’s ownership. When the remodelled museum opened in 2006, parts of the Herion collection were set up with a special focus on Africa and Asia. Conceived as a semi-permanent exhibition back then, it is now being redesigned on the basis of a fundamentally new approach. The discussion held in recent years about our approach to ethnographic artefacts requires a new view of non-European jewellery. Here it is essential to see the objects from different perspectives. Their cultural and historical context is as important as the artistic aspirations involved, and they also need to be regarded within the framework of global jewellery history. Objects from all of the museum’s collections, whether from the historical, the modern or the ethnographic collection, will therefore be exhibited in a manner that allows them to enter into dialogue with each other. »We’ll no longer be showing the ethnographic artefacts in the context assigned to them for a long time, i.e. as something foreign that stands in contrast to our Western culture. Instead, we’ll be displaying them subsumed under the overarching theme of ‘The phenomenon of jewellery’, highlighting that there is something innately human about jewellery,« explains the jewellery expert. This will give visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in a wide variety of jewellery in a presentation that has not been put together according to previously accepted criteria, allowing them to discover diverse new perspectives or even come up with their own.

Contextualising instead of categorizing

The redesigned exhibition’s rich diversity of objects piques visitors’ curiosity to explore it. They are drawn into the room by what looks like a display case in a cabinet of curiosities in the centre, brimming with a motley assortment of intriguing artefacts. The exhibits in the showcases along the walls are contextualised culturally, geographically and historically. They are displayed according to aesthetic, functional or technical aspects on the basis of fundamental criteria like form and material, as well as corresponding sub-criteria, such as surface design and colour, for example. Visitors will need to take a closer look to become aware of these aspects, and there will be moments of surprise, or of pausing and pondering to avoid categorising a piece prematurely.

The display case devoted to the colour red, for example, shows a breast ornament: a crescent-shaped piece of mother-of-pearl, coloured with redwood pigment. It is called Kina, and was created by the Mendi people in the highlands of Papua New Guinea in the 20th century. The same showcase displays a Nabataean-Hellenistic lunula pendant, which is also shaped like a half moon, and was crafted from gold and garnets in the second to first centuries BCE. Both objects are similar in colour and shape but very different in terms of their meaning, origin, materials and the crafting technique involved, as visitors can read in accompanying texts. The mother-of-pearl ornament is a coveted barter item, and is worn on the breast at special occasions involving dances. The brighter the red colour the higher the piece’s value. This is why the shells are often painted. Lunula pendants, in contrast, were popular both during the New Kingdom in Egypt and the Hellenistic period, and were worn as amulets to ward off evil.

This exhibition concept is underscored by the room’s design: a network of lines criss-crossing the display cases shows connections between individual objects, as well as points of intersection. The underlying idea runs like a leitmotif throughout the other rooms of the permanent exhibition because ethnographic jewellery will be displayed in several showcases there as well. Thus, this newly designed exhibition space has an additional function: it introduces visitors to the theme of jewellery and self-ornamentation.

The aim of presenting the Herion collection in dialogue with the museum’s historical and modern collections is quite in line with the collectors’ ideas. The Pforzheim-based couple Eva and Peter Herion, who acquired a wide variety of adornments on their travels – mainly to Africa and Asia – between 1970 and 2006, were fascinated by jewellery in all its diversity. Peter Herion was an entrepreneur, goldsmith and artist, and both had a strong interest in non-European cultures and their artworks.

A starting point for further exploration

Also, labels with questions, such as »wearable or not?«, »valuable or not?« or »heavy or lightweight?«, for example, are attached to individual display cases in the ethnographic collection. This detail expresses the exhibition makers’ desire to offer scope for experimentation and participation. Cornelie Holzach comments: »We’ll have more questions than answers, and we want to find answers to these questions with the help of experts, as well as non-specialists.« The new presentation is not a definitive exhibition format but a starting point for further exploring the aspects concerned and introducing them into public discourse.

In addition to the analogue exhibition, there will be a digital platform allowing visitors to approach the objects in their own individual way. Those who want to can embark on a journey around the world or through different eras in the shape of an avatar, or explore each of the »curiosities« separately. Moreover, detailed views and descriptions enable visitors to arrange groupings according to their own criteria, or to have a timeline created for their selection.

The new presentation has been conceived and developed by the team of the Jewellery Museum - Cornelie Holzach, Isabel Schmidt-Mappes, Katja Poljanac, Sabina Eckenfels - in collaboration with the ethnologist Dr. Andreas Volz and the art historian Dr. Martina Eberspächer. Exhibition design by the interior designer Cornelia Wehle, graphic design by L2M3 Kommunikationsdesign, digital applications by 2av.

Ornamental Watches and the Philpp Weber Collection

Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum is also home to a precious collection of pendant, pocket, bracelet and ring watches created primarily as decorative accessories.

From the 16th to the mid-18th century, the ornamental character and thus the prestige value of a watch far exceeded the practical value of the technically rather immature timekeepers back then. Early watches were pieces of jewellery representing their wearers’ standing in society and demonstrating their good taste.

The Philipp Weber collection unites the most diverse pocket watches made by many famous watchmakers. It testifies not only to the technological progress in mechanical watchmaking – starting from timepieces driven by movements with a bar-shaped balance with spoon-shaped ends, whose oscillations were regulated by two hog’s bristles or a small straight spring, to Grand Complication models equipped with perpetual calendars and/or other complications – but also the changing fashions in watch case design. The pieces exhibited at the Jewellery Museum were selected above all with regard to art-historical and aesthetic aspects.

Some exhibits from the collection