New Exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts Brings Rare Jewelry Collection to the Public

There’s nothing like ice on a hot summer day, and perhaps with this in mind, the Museum of Fine Arts has opened its vault of rarely seen precious gems and metals for an unprecedented new gallery of stunning artifact jewelry.

Yvonne Markowitz, the exhibit curator, admits the process of ruthlessly paring down the museum’s collection of 11,000 pieces was no easy task. “I could have put triple the amount, but I really wanted to highlight so people would look closer,” she said. Only 75 items from this incredible collection appear in the debut exhibition, “Jewels, Gems and Treasures: Ancient to Modern.”

Of course this new space, named for the Kaplan Family Foundation, isn’t just a high-end jewelry box; it’s a sparkling collection of historical real-life treasures.

Notable pieces on display include the gold and diamond brooch and earrings worn by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who bought the pieces for $3,200 on an 1864 shopping spree, only to be forced to sell them amid the financial troubles following her husband’s assassination; a set of taxidermied hummingbird earrings and brooch from 1870; and gold and enamel cuffs designed by the Italian artist Verdura for iconic designer Coco Chanel.

“Jewelry is an incredibly personal object, and almost everything in here has a story,” said Markowitz.

Eleven of the pieces, including the Lincoln set, a necklace and earring set by Tiffany that once belonged to the gun manufacturer Samuel Colt, and a bird hair brooch from the Arts and Crafts movement, are recent acquisitions.

The Arts and Crafts representation in the show is modest, but Victoria Bratberg, director of fine jewelry at Skinner auction house, wondered when pieces from Boston’s famed Arts and Crafts artists Frank Gardner Hale and Edward Oakes would make a gallery appearance. “They are two major Boston artists with a huge following,” she said, “Boston’s really known for that movement.”

“Jewels, Gems, and Treasures: Ancient to Modern” is on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from July 19 – Nov. 25.

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