The Schmuckmuseum

by Fran Schreiber

The Schmuck Museum in Pforzheim, Germany  is the only museum in the world
devoted exclusively to jewelry. The collection spans several centuries from the third millennium through the early 21st  century, but it is strongest in the19th and 20th centuries and primarily focuses on Western European countries.


Hermann Junger
Gold Necklace

I was surprised that there was not any American jewelry in the collection - or at least none was on view. The museum states that, in documenting jewelry history, it emphasizes European cultures. This emphasis, however, does not account for the lack of Scandinavian jewelry and the museum's exclusion of 20th century American jewelry creates a large vacuum. But a pleasant surprise is the strong contemporary focus of the collection with a number of pieces of jewelry from the 60's through to the present day.
Many people laugh when they hear the name Schmuck Museum - understandably so. As one of many Yiddish words that has worked it's way into the American vernacular we know it to mean an idiot or a jerk. What you may not know is that the literal meaning of schmuck is penis. How the Yiddish word ended up having two such different meanings, I do not know but I will wager there was an angry woman involved.

Since many Yiddish words derive from German it's curious how the meaning was
so dramatically changed in the first place. But it does make me wonder about
the origin of the slang phrase “the family jewels.”
There are three main galleries in the museum, the largest being the two story gallery titled "Antiquity to the 19th Century." The individual cases are all well lit and every item is identified in German and English. Each period or style is introduced with a poster in both German and English that provides a brief overview of what is in the cases in that section.  The information is scant, however, and there is no real historical, cultural or social context given to the jewelry. For example, there's a case of Berlin Iron pieces with no explanation
of what they are, how they came to exist, or their patriotic significance. So, if you don't have that prior knowledge, you're on your own. It's unfortunate because the museum guide (which I bought at the end of the day!), has much of the information that is not posted in the galleries.

Surprisingly, many of the pieces in the Antiquity to the 19th Century Gallery are not in Fritz Falk's book, "Schmuck (Jewellery) 1840-1940." The antiquities sections are “Troy to the Roman Empire” with Etruscan, Greek, Egyptian and other cultures represented and “Byzantium to the late Middle Ages.”

Many of the extraordinary gold pieces with their fine granulation and repoussé work are similar to work you will have seen in the Met, the V&A and other major museums but it never fails to astonish how craftsmen of the time were able to produce such finely detailed and well made pieces with the primitive tools they had at their disposal.

Two of my favorite pieces from this part of the museum  are the Greek Bronze Fibula, 8th century B.C. and this gold pendant from Syria, c. 600 A.D. The fibula looks so surprisingly modern,  it put me in mind of work by Paul Lobel or Ed Wiener.

The rest of this gallery is organized stylistically into “Baroque and Rococo”, “Classicism and Biedermeier” and “Historicism”. To someone who is used to thinking in terms of Georgian, Victorian, Revival, etc. this was an interesting way to view the jewelry,  but I have to say it's odd to be in a museum dedicated to jewelry without a single mention of Queen Victoria, or Victorian jewelry.

There are several wonderful enameled and bejeweled pieces in the Baroque and Rococo section and a wonderful example of a jewel that uses a baroque pearl as an integral part of the jewel - the hunting dog pendant c.1560, Germany. This ornate parrot pendant, c.1560, also German, is made of gold, enamel, diamonds, rubies and pearls.

Pendant in the shape of a parrot
ca. 1560-1570
gold, enamel, diamonds, rubies, and pearls

"Hunting Dog" pendant
gold, pearls

The other two sections, “Classicism and Biedermeier” and “Historicism” have many lovely examples of all types of revival jewelry - micromosaics, lava, pietra dura, and pieces by Castellani, Guiliano, Melillo, Felize and many other well known (or unknown) designers and craftsmen of the period.

The museum boasts an extensive collection of over 1200 rings formed from the
Julius Jeidels collection of the early 1900s and later acquisitions of the Battke collections from ring expert Heinz Battke. An enamel calendar ring from Germany c.1820 is an interesting example of an attractive yet functional piece of jewelry. Was this a unique type of ring or common to the period? Again, there's no information provided so we don't know.

The ethnic European wedding rings from the 16th and 17th centuries are fascinating and laden with symbolism. The Jewish wedding rings are particularly intriguing. They are massive and tall due to the pyramidal structures on the shanks but the meaning of these have been lost to time.

Downstairs is the “Pforzheim Jewellery Collection and History of the  Industry” but for some reason all documentation is in German only. The local jewelry industry actually started in 1767 and continues today so the jewelry in this gallery, though predominately early 20th century Jugendstil, spans about 250 years.

As you would expect there are several Theodor Fahrner pieces, as well as work from Victor Mayer, C.W. Muller, Otto Zahn and designers Georg Kleeman and Franz Boeres.  Pforzheim jewelry from the latter part of the 20th century includes pieces by Kollmar & Jourdan, Louis Fiessler, Henkel & Grosse and Friedrich Stahl.

This is one gallery where it would be particularly interesting to have some American pieces. On display are numerous small enamel pins and pendants from Pforzheim makers which are almost identical to work produced by the Newark jewelers of the time. This is probably not surprising given the Germanic background of many of the Newark firms. Secondly, it would highlight the similarity of the German Judgendstil and American Arts and Crafts pieces which were created simultaneously with French Art Nouveau. Jugdendstil and American Arts and Crafts pieces are more stylistic, balanced, and symmetrical while Art Nouveau features whiplash curves. Though both frequently depict nature, Art Nouveau does it in a more unrestrained and decadent manner.

And finally, back upstairs, to the “Historic and Modern Collection: Jugendstil to the 21st Century.”  It is here, that the magnificent  pieces by Rene Lalique, Georges Le Turcq, Georges Fouquet, and Lucien Gaillard  to name just a few, are displayed. A corsage brooch by Fouquet is made of gold, mother-of-pearl, opal, turqoise, pearl and enamels c. 1900.  (Though the lighting is bad, it gives a very different view from the Schmuck Museum book).

There are a few English Arts and Crafts, Austrian Secession and Skonvirke pieces (Georg Jensen) but the collection here is predominately French and German.   And you can readily see the commonalities and departures between the French Art Nouveau and Jugendstil design sensibilities when viewing a pendant by Maison Vever, c.1900 and a brooch by Max Gradl, c.1900.

The gallery continues with a selection of Art Deco pieces that nicely illustrate the transition to a more streamlined, linear design sensibility with favorites here being Wiwen Nilsson's rock crystal, onyx and silver necklace and machine age pieces by Fritz Schwerdt and Naum Slutzky.

Corsage Poisson
 G. Fouguet
 ca. 1900
gold, mother-of-pearl, opal, turqoise, pearl and enamels

The final part of the collection is post-1950 work by a variety of mostly German artists - The collection of the Schmuck Museum is wonderfully curated - there isn't a piece there that isn't significant, jaw dropping or eye popping! I should also mention that there is a semi-permanent exhibition of ethnic jewelry from Africa and Asia as well as a collection of watches from the 16th to 18th centuries, neither of which I had time to see.

As a major jewelry production center, Pforzheim is a logical location for the museum but I suspect that this greatly limits attendance. While it was wonderful to have the museum almost entirely to myself - there were three other visitors while I was there - if this collection were in Berlin or Munich, many more people would be able to enjoy it. I visited as a daytrip, flying from Berlin to Stuttgart and then by train to Pforzheim and back to Berlin in the evening. That may well qualify as the most expensive museum admission on record, but it was well worth the journey.

Article by Fran Schreiber
Ornaments and Objects

Photos courtesy of Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim and Rüdiger Flöter, Pforzheim

Web design by Marbeth Schon
 Copyright © 2006 MODERN SILVER magazine
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