This year, houses including Cartier and Bulgari have used dazzling exhibitions as part of a strategy to bring together their most prestigious jewellery collections
From heritage handbags to antique artworks, the concept of history and collectibility is one that runs deep within any luxury industry worth its salt. And jewellery is no different: their legacy, commonly referred to in the industry as patrimony, is something storied houses rely heavily on for everything from marketing – adding gravitas and cultural importance to the brand – to inspiration for future designs.
While researching and documenting the most important landmarks in a brand’s history certainly contributes to the building of its patrimony, undoubtedly the most effective and eye-catching way of preserving heritage is to scour the world’s auction houses and actively buy back some of the maison’s most iconic or unusual pieces.
It’s common for brands to create special collections such as these. For instance, Cartier recently put on one of the largest ever exhibitions on the theme of craftsmanship and restoration, at Beijing’s Palace Museum. Held from June 1 to July 31, Beyond Boundaries: Cartier and the Palace Museum Craftsmanship and Restoration assembled more than 800 artefacts dating as far back as the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644).
Sourced from the maison’s archives – drawing from the collections of the Palace Museum and public institutions including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Qatar Museums; and the International Museum of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, as well as private and princely collections – no expense was spared in pulling together such an extensive menagerie of wonders from far and wide.
As well as including six historic watch and clock movements, which were restored in collaboration with the Palace Museum at Cartier’s Manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the exhibition also drew heavily upon the house’s history in jewellery: the west wing, in particular, displayed an array of Cartier creations to illustrate the brand’s affinity with China. Chief among these was a 1920s brooch featuring two facing dragons surrounding a central pearl, as well as a 1948 platinum and white gold brooch, featuring a phoenix set with various diamond cuts.
Elsewhere in China, Bulgari recently teamed up with the Chengdu Museum to curate its SerpentiForm exhibition, which focused on the snake iconography now so synonymous with the brand. Held from April 30 until August 25, the exhibition saw more than 180 precious artworks displayed alongside some of the maison’s most precious Serpenti creations.
And it’s not just in China that Bulgari is keen to put its patrimony on a pedestal. From June 26 to November 3, the brand is hosting exhibitions in two of Rome’s most prestigious museums, Palazzo Venezia and Castel Sant’Angelo. Bvlgari, The Story, The Dream brings together some of the most emblematic jewels from the Bulgari Heritage collection, and illustrates the sumptuous shapes and rounded lines that are hallmarks of the brand’s present day style. With pieces taken from the personal collections of the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Gina Lollobrigida, Ingrid Bergman, Anna Magnani and Audrey Hepburn, the exhibition portrays the penchant La Dolce Vita-era movie stars have had for the house.
Chaumet was another brand to host a major exhibition in 2019. Held at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum from July 12 to August 28, Chaumet in Majesty: Jewels of Sovereigns Since 1780 showcased a huge range of historic jewellery, with pieces sourced from some 15 museums and 40 private collections, including that of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, who also lent his patronage to the event.
Comprising 250 pieces in its entirety, the exhibition paid particular attention to tiaras, owing to their symbolism and significance in sovereignty. Among the many exquisite examples on display were crowns belonging to Napoleon’s second wife, Empress Marie-Louise (1811), Countess de Pimodan (1925), and Queen Elizabeth II’s third cousin, Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1934).
Back in China, Shanghai was the chosen location for another patrimonial exhibition – this time from Tiffany & Co. Held from September 23 to November 10 at the Fosun Foundation, Vision & Virtuosity showcases some of the most important objects from the Tiffany Archives and documents numerous landmark events for the maison, including the introduction of its now iconic engagement ring, the Tiffany Setting.
Taking visitors through six distinct chapters, the exhibition touches on the brand’s affinity with popular culture, as well as the continued use of its trademark robin’s-egg blue. There is also a focus on Tiffany’s most popular gemstone, the white diamond, with the crowning jewel of the exhibition being the famed Tiffany Diamond. The stone, a stunning 128.54-carat fancy yellow diamond, has long been the inspiration for the brand’s most recognisable and important collections.
Tiffany’s chief artistic officer, Reed Krakoff, sums up why patrimony is so important best: “There are many incredible objects in the Tiffany Archives that we draw inspiration from, and we are constantly finding ways to reinvent and reinterpret them for our designs today,” he comments. “With this exhibition, we honour the past and show how beauty and masterful craftsmanship are timeless and always relevant.”