Sparkling, historic, masterful jewels, settings, and stories await intrepid visitors who can find the out-of-the-way mezzanine gallery within the Metropolitan Museum’s American Wing. Jewelry for America, on view through May 8, chronicles the rise of the jewelry making arts through the Met’s own gorgeous collection.
Cases of jewelry from the mid-1700s though today are surrounded by period paintings that show how women (and men!) of different American eras sported, draped, and embellished themselves with the glittery treasures shown nearby.
The curators take five eras and angles, weaving in details of colonial dependency, Westward expansion, global discoveries, luxury consumption, high-end designers, and jewelry art trends.
But while looking at the small, finely crafted pieces, you can delight in just looking for looking’s sake.
The first section focuses upon the colonial era through the early 19th century, when toddlers wore coral necklaces and bracelets to keep them “safe” and it was popular to weave the hair of a loved one into a locket, fob, brooch, or little container hanging from a necklace.
But the most historic piece in this first section is the small Society of Cincinnati badge designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, for the group of Continental Army officers who served under Washington.
The next portion of the show introduces the rise of American jewelers in the mid-1800s with brooches and earrings inspired by nature, antiquity, and bygone eras, such as Tiffany’s 1856 transformation of an historic Connecticut oak tree into gold accessories and the artistic 1880 silver necklace by Shleiber & Co inspired by coins unearthed in Pompeii.
In addition to Tiffany’s renowned, naturalistic orchid brooches and hair ornaments that wowed spectators at turn-of-the-century world’s fairs, the show also includes gorgeous nature-inspired statement pieces from workshops in Newark, New Jersey – high-end suppliers to famous celebrities and socialites in New York.
There are dozens of necklaces, pins, and special boxes adorned with diamonds, platinum, artistic enamels, opals, emeralds, and other precious gems.
The final portion of the show portrays the rise of the artist-jeweler, showcasing jazzy, one-of-a-kind pieces by mid-century creators like Art Smith and Calder, and finishing up with Elsa Peretti, Verdura, and cuffs by Kenneth Jay Lane from Lauren Bacall’s collection