The Jewel of History

Corinne Julius visits a new gallery of jewels at the V&A to see what sparkle they add to our understanding of history.

Corinne Julius | Published in History Today
‘Bling’ may be ‘the thing’, but a love of flashy jewellery is not new. Self-adornment is one of the oldest human urges and man has used jewellery to express values, beliefs and emotions from cradle to grave. Jewellery can be used to demonstrate affection or to dazzle and awe. It is used extensively to communicate the status, wealth and power of the wearer, and as the display in the new V&A Jewellery Gallery shows, its study casts light on political, social and economic events.

There are over 3,500 items on show, ranging from the Shannongrove Gorget, a Celtic gold breast ornament  of 700 bc, to Peter Chang’s acrylic and polyester brooch (1992). The story of (principally) European jewellery over the last 800 years is told in four huge, 3.5-metre high, curved glass cases that allow viewers to see the exhibits from all sides. Those seeking amplification can turn to the beautifully lit wall displays or to the computer terminals which contain detailed information, including images of the backs of pieces.

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