Jewellery enthusiasts: if you’re still seeking some sweet travel inspo for the summer, we’ve found the perfect excuse to crown the British capital the number one destination for that list. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has reopened its jewellery gallery this month after much refurbishment, hosting a fresh new selection of 80 pieces to view and admire. The highlight is definitely Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet, which will be on display for the first time ever as a celebration of the museum’s bi-centennial. A number of other pieces that once belonged to other ‘ooh’-worthy owners have been added too, from Freddie Mercury and Beyonce to Paddington Bear.

V&A jewellery gallery
The re-opened V&A jewellery gallery

It’s no secret that London’s infamous V&A has long been one of the world’s most beloved museums for art and design. Its jewellery wing, the William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, opened in 2008 and has since seen over 4.2 million visitors. Telling the story of European and Western jewellery from Ancient Greece to the present, the collection is one of the most comprehensive of its kind, featuring everything from a gold Celtic breastplate, diamonds worn by Catherine the Great of Russia, and unique tiaras by Cartier.

Yet the greatest perhaps most impressive piece of jewellery is one of its most recent (and romantic) additions. After a three-month refurbishment, the V&A jewellery gallery sees updated infrastructures and displays, with one of Queen Victoria’s most important jewels as the iridescent star of the exhibition.

Queen Victoria's coronet
Queen Victoria’s Sapphire and Diamond Coronet.

The royal coronet in question has been noted as one of Victoria’s most beloved. It was designed for her by Prince Albert in 1840, based on a design of the Saxon Rautenkranz (or circlet of rue), which runs diagonally across the coat of arms for Saxony. According to The Jewellery Editor, Prince Albert was inspired by the queen’s love for coloured gemstones, which has been documented in an excerpt from Victoria’s journal: “my dear Albert has such good taste and arranges everything for me about my jewellery.”

And indeed, throughout her time as queen, the coronet remains a precious piece in her collection. The coronet was famously worn by Victoria in a well-known portrait of the young queen in 1842, painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, and carried around the globe through endless replicas, copies, and engravings.

Not just a visual emblem, the queen also wore the coronet instead of her crown (!) in 1866, when she opened Parliament for the first time since the death of her husband in 1861. A remarkable moment; with her crown carried alongside on a cushion.

A marker of the 200th anniversary of the births of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the coronet is the innermost heart of the new V&A jewellery gallery.

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria Francois Forster (1790-1872), Paris 1846, after Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Engraving on Paper.

From British royalty to musical royalty, the collection extends to a few other noteworthy pieces too. Given to the gallery as a loan from his sister, 49 Art Deco vanity cases that once belonged to Freddie Mercury are on display for diehard Queen fans to admire. The cases take inspiration from Persian, Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Japanese art, and feature richly coloured hard stones, enamel, and lacquer. They were made by, or for, Cartier, Lacloche, Van Cleef & Arpels, and many other leading jewellers. Definitely a must-see.

Gold enamel engine turned cigarette case, with diamond thumbpiece. Cartier, ca. 1907-8.
A loan and promised gift from Kashmira Bulsara in memory of her brother, Freddie Mercury.

Dancing over from rock to pop, members of Beyonce’s ‘Beyhive’ will be intrigued to find the star’s Papillon Ring as part of the ‘Hidden Treasures’ interactive display. The ring was designed by Glen Spiro, and is presented with a photograph taken by none other than Jay-Z. There’s also a film playing alongside the piece, showing the ring’s fluttering wings in opulent action.

Sure to bring a flutter to the hearts of sparkle enthusiasts too, the refreshed collection boasts another thirty new pieces ranging from the late 19th century to the present. From Gij Bakker’s Porsche bracelet in polyester, to a gold pendant of Paddington Bear by Cartier, there’s any and every wonder to be discovered here. Head to the William and Judith Bollinger Gallery this summer, and seek that hidden gem.

William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, Rooms 91-93, Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London, +44 20 7942 2000. Entrance is free.

 

Lisa Gries
Managing Editor, Bangkok
Lisa loves to travel, and is always on the lookout for the world’s best nap spots. She’s a serious Asian art history nerd, and has a knack for languages and coffee table books. She hopes to publish her own novels one day, one of which will likely be called ‘All The Great Conversations I Had In A Bangkok Speakeasy.’ It’s a work in progress.