Pforzheim is a city in southern Germany, which was almost wiped off the map by bombing during World War II. Today, decades after its reconstruction, it is a town with just over one hundred thousand inhabitants, prosperous and normal, although it has something exceptional: the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to jewelry. The Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim is in a rationalist building, the interior of which contains a collection spanning five thousand years of jewelery history.
The oldest piece is a Sumerian necklace, but there are also Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance jewels and, of course, contemporary. Without forgetting the collection of watches. All of this is a testament to Pforzheim's link to the watchmaking and jewelery industries, which began to develop in 1767 to provide work for the children of the orphanage. They prospered so much that Pforzheim is still nicknamed Goldstadt: the city of gold.
"There is something innately human in jewelry, which can be found in all eras and cultures," explain museum sources. It's true: jewelry is a universal form of adornment that has been with us since the beginning of human history. From the crude prehistoric beads, using shells and bones, to the already more elaborate gold pieces from Egypt, Greece and Rome, passing through the sophisticated jewels of Islamic goldsmithing, crowns with gems from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Baroque explosion, and the sinuous lines of the modernist style.
Jewelry is both a craft and an art, which fascinates. Jewels are liked not only because they are signs of power, but because they represent a piece of immortality that can be passed down from generation to generation. They are also beautiful, hypnotic even. They are loaded with symbolism and, for many, magic: even today they are attributed properties of good or bad luck or to protect the wearer.
“The defining feature of these miniature treasures lies in their dual nature: both intimate and universal. It is not surprising, then, that jewels have been loved, stolen and even killed”, writes Fabienne Reybaud in Jewelry Guide, from the Assouline publishing house.
In this monumental book, which reviews the history of jewelry, this luxury specialist recommends some of the best museums in the world to contemplate jewelry. It includes, of course, the Schmuckmuseum in Pforzheim and, also in Germany, the fabulous Green Vault: the treasure chamber of the Royal Palace in Dresden. Considered one of the richest in Europe, this museum displays the treasures of the House of Wettin, who ruled what is now Saxony for eight centuries and was so powerful that he didn't even have to bother to sell his inheritance at some point in his life. history.
The museum was created in 1723 by Augustus II the Strong and includes more than three thousand items of jewelry and other objects decorated with gold, silver, ivory and pearls. In the Vault, there are ten lavish sets of diamond jewelry (necklaces, brooches, handles...) that made headlines in 2019 when a gang of thieves took several pieces of incalculable value. Most of them have been recovered, although there are still losses.
Fortunately, what is considered the museum's most important jewel, the Green Diamond, was saved from theft, since at that time it was part of an exhibition at the New York Metropolitan. In this American museum there is no specific gallery dedicated to jewelry, but its rooms abound with historical pieces. Another important museum in this regard is the Smithsonian in Washington, where jewelery from American heiresses, Hollywood stars and European queens such as Marie Antoinette are kept.
But, without a doubt, the star piece of the museum is the Hope diamond or the blue Tavernier, which the French dealer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier sold to Louis XIV of France in 1668. From the mines of Golconda, in India, the history of Hope Like many great gems, it is tumultuous: after passing through several owners, it ended up in the hands of the American millionaire Evalyn Walsh, who bought it in 1910. It was auctioned in 1949, becoming the property of the Smithsonian.
The Koh-i-Noor diamond, another mythical gem, was also mined from Golconda, but today it can be seen in the Tower of London, another good place to admire jewelry. There the riches of the British crown have been exhibited since 1661, a fabulous collection made up of 23,578 gems guarded by the striking Beefeater or halberdiers of the tower and the jet black ravens.
As a good sovereign, Tsarina Catherine was a lover of jewelery and an avid collector: her diamond earrings can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which has one of the best jewelery collections in the world. More than three thousand pieces that cover different historical periods and that are exhibited in a gallery designed specifically for it. In its collection, a gold necklace from the Celtic era, Elizabethan earrings, jewelry by Réné Lalique, considered the father of modern jewelry, and, they couldn't miss, Cartier tiaras stand out.
The French also adore jewelery and that is why in Paris, beyond the showcases of the big jewelery firms, there are two recommended places to visit: the Galèrie des Bijoux in the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Galèrie d'Apollo, in the Louvre. : a fabulous room commissioned by King Louis XIV, in true Versailles style, where the impressive crown jewels of France are displayed.
And finally, another extraordinary place: the Gold Museum of Bogotá, where 34,000 gold and silver objects are gathered that are a sample of the life of the cultures that worked metals in today's Colombian territory, for 2,500 years. Among its funds, the Muisca Raft stands out: a precious gold object that represents a chief of the Muisca indigenous people covering himself with gold on a raft in the center of a lagoon. It was a sacred ritual in a land where, before the arrival of the Europeans, gold was a lynchpin in political and religious life. Here the mythical Eldorado was searched for, unsuccessfully. Today a part of this legend is kept in this museum, managed by the Bank of the Republic.