Spectacular Gems and Jewelry

10 Jun 2017 — 1 Jan 2018 at the Hillwood in Washington, United States

28 APRIL 2017
Spectacular Gems and Jewelry. Courtesy of Hillwood
Spectacular Gems and Jewelry. Courtesy of Hillwood

Discover exquisite examples of historic gems and the most beautiful jewelry of the twentieth century.

For centuries, extraordinary gemstones have been the centerpieces of stunning jewelry made to adorn royalty, aristocracy, high society, and Hollywood stars. Nearly sixty pieces that once belonged Marjorie Merriweather Post, one of the greatest jewelry collectors of the twentieth century, will tell the story behind some of the remarkable stones and the jewelry into which they were transformed.

When changes after World War I added powerful figures to the ranks of the wealthy, the world’s most exquisite jewels passed into new hands and revolutionary changes in fashion led to innovation in jewelry design. Marjorie Post was among the new elite and she acquired jewelry with the same discrimination that she applied to her acclaimed collections of fine objects from imperial Russia and eighteenth-century France. Marjorie was not just interested in wearing jewels, but was a connoisseur. Her resulting collection represented the finest assembly of gems and historical and twentieth-century jewelry in America. She commissioned great pieces from the most important jewelry firms of her time including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, and Verdura among many others.

Spectacular Gems and Jewelry will display the greatest examples from Hillwood’s collection, left by Marjorie for the benefit of future generations, along with important loans of pieces once owned by Post but currently housed in other museum or private collections. The exhibition will afford the opportunity to examine the great quality and beauty of gems in the collection, their historical significance, and the evolution of twentieth-century jewelry design from the 1900s through the 1960s.

One of the most significant and well-known jewels in Marjorie’s collection, still housed at Hillwood, is an emerald and diamond pendant brooch made by the London branch of Cartier in the 1920s. This iconic piece, emblematic of the marriage of historic gems with innovative design, features more than 250 carats of carved Indian emeralds from the Mughal period, including a large emerald carved with a seventeenth-century Mughal motif of a flower, with a Persian inscription on one side.

The course of the remarkable Blue Heart Diamond is as glamorous as the stone is dazzling. This 30.62 carat, heart-shaped, brilliant cut blue diamond was set in the center of a lily-of-the-valley bodice ornament by Cartier around 1910. It passed through generations of a wealthy Argentine family until it was acquired by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1953, from whom it was purchased by Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza for his future wife, Nina Dyer. Six years later, she sold it to Harry Winston, who mounted it in its present platinum ring setting, surrounded by twenty-five round brilliant cut colorless diamonds. Marjorie purchased the ring from Winston and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1964, where it is now one of the collection’s most popular gems and on loan to Hillwood for the special exhibition.

Historical pieces were an integral part of Marjorie’s jewelry collection. One example is the vintage ruby and diamond parure (set of jewels) that was reputedly made in the early nineteenth century for the Duchess of Oldenburg, a daughter of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna and the granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I. In contrast, the exhibition also features significant modern pieces, such as a stylish ruby and diamond floral brooch made by Van Cleef & Arpels, featuring its famous invisible setting, in 1967, which Marjorie purchased in 1969.

New and previously unseen pieces from the Merriweather Post collection will be an added highlight of this exhibition. The Van Cleef & Arpels ballerina pin inspired by the painting of Marie Camargo by Lancret is one of the first of this subject ever created by the firm in 1943. A peridot, gold, and diamond brooch by David Webb and a pear shaped amethyst ring by Verdura, both bold in design and strong in color, are typical of the casual inventiveness of jewelry boutique firms that Marjorie patronized alongside the large jewelry houses.