new display

A Wider World

The Jewellery Museum in Pforzheim, Germany, houses a significant collection of non-Western jewellery. The collection was assembled by Eva and Peter Herion, and I have had the good fortune of seeing it a couple of years ago. In March 2023, the redesigned exhibition has opened and I have been in touch with Isabel Schmidt-Mappes of the museum to learn about the concepts behind the new exposition. It is my great pleasure to present you with this guest contribution by the Jewellery Museum: a view on intertwined histories, cultural contacts and cultural contexts. As a jewellery researcher, I can’t stress the importance of the context of jewellery enough, and so this redesigned exhibition is exciting!

What Is Jewellery? Criss-cross through the Jewellery Museum’s collections

What looks like an octagon formed by two intersecting squares is in fact a small box complemented by triangles on the sides. Made of silver set with turquoise, it is called Ga’u, and was created in Lhasa in the 20th century (see the photo below, shown on the left, photo Petra Jaschke/Schmuckmuseum). It is juxtaposed with a blue brooch of comparable size, crafted from blue steel mesh and silver by Than Truc Nguyen in Berlin in 2012 (shown on the right, photo Schmuckmuseum). The two objects share similarities in colour and form: both are a shade of blue, and they are based on geometrical shapes. However, there is an essential difference between them. The former is an amulet case, originally worn by Tibetan noblewomen to both ward off evil and conjure up protective spirits, whereas the latter is a piece of contemporary jewellery, whose moiré effect plays with appearance and reality, resembling a glittering gemstone when the incident light is at a certain angle. This pairing may be surprisingly unusual, but it invites visitors to take the time to get a feel for the objects’ individual character. »We’re showcasing the objects on the basis of universal design principles,« says Cornelie Holzach, the museum’s Director. Commonalities and differences across putative boundaries in terms of culture, region or era are the focus of the new presentation of the Herion bequest.

Jewellery in a wider scope

The ethnographic Eva and Peter Herion-collection had originally been given to the Jewellery Museum as a permanent loan, and has meanwhile passed into the museum’s ownership. When the remodelled museum opened in 2006, parts of the Herion collection were set up with a special focus on Africa and Asia. Conceived as a semi-permanent exhibition back then, it is now being redesigned on the basis of a fundamentally new approach. The discussion held in recent years about our approach to ethnographic artefacts requires a new view of non-European jewellery. Here it is essential to see the objects from different perspectives. Their cultural and historical context is as important as the artistic aspirations involved, and they also need to be regarded within the framework of global jewellery history. Objects from all of the museum’s collections, whether from the historical, the modern or the ethnographic collection, will therefore be exhibited in a manner that allows them to enter into dialogue with each other. »We’ll no longer be showing the ethnographic artefacts in the context assigned to them for a long time, i.e. as something foreign that stands in contrast to our Western culture. Instead, we’ll be displaying them subsumed under the overarching theme of ‘The phenomenon of jewellery’, highlighting that there is something innately human about jewellery,« explains the jewellery expert. This will give visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in a wide variety of jewellery in a presentation that has not been put together according to previously accepted criteria, allowing them to discover diverse new perspectives or even come up with their own.

Contextualising instead of categorizing

The redesigned exhibition’s rich diversity of objects piques visitors’ curiosity to explore it. They are drawn into the room by what looks like a display case in a cabinet of curiosities in the centre, brimming with a motley assortment of intriguing artefacts. The exhibits in the showcases along the walls are contextualised culturally, geographically and historically. They are displayed according to aesthetic, functional or technical aspects on the basis of fundamental criteria like form and material, as well as corresponding sub-criteria, such as surface design and colour, for example. Visitors will need to take a closer look to become aware of these aspects, and there will be moments of surprise, or of pausing and pondering to avoid categorising a piece prematurely.

The display case devoted to the colour red, for example, shows a breast ornament: a crescent-shaped piece of mother-of-pearl, coloured with redwood pigment (in the photo above, shown to the left, photo by Petra Jaschke/Schmuckmuseum). It is called Kina, and was created by the Mendi people in the highlands of Papua New Guinea in the 20th century. The same showcase displays a Nabataean-Hellenistic lunula pendant, which is also shaped like a half moon, and was crafted from gold and garnets in the second to first centuries BCE (shown to the right, photo by Neck Bürgin/Schmuckmuseum). Both objects are similar in colour and shape but very different in terms of their meaning, origin, materials and the crafting technique involved, as visitors can read in accompanying texts. The mother-of-pearl ornament is a coveted barter item, and is worn on the breast at special occasions involving dances. The brighter the red colour the higher the piece’s value. This is why the shells are often painted. Lunula pendants, in contrast, were popular both during the New Kingdom in Egypt and the Hellenistic period, and were worn as amulets to ward off evil.

This exhibition concept is underscored by the room’s design: a network of lines criss-crossing the display cases shows connections between individual objects, as well as points of intersection. The underlying idea runs like a leitmotif throughout the other rooms of the permanent exhibition because ethnographic jewellery will be displayed in several showcases there as well. Thus, this newly designed exhibition space has an additional function: it introduces visitors to the theme of jewellery and self-ornamentation.

The aim of presenting the Herion collection in dialogue with the museum’s historical and modern collections is quite in line with the collectors’ ideas. The Pforzheim-based couple Eva and Peter Herion, who acquired a wide variety of adornments on their travels mainly to Africa and Asia between 1970 and 2006, were fascinated by jewellery in all its diversity. Peter Herion was an entrepreneur, goldsmith and artist, and both had a strong interest in non-European cultures and their artworks.

A starting point for exploration

Also, labels with questions, such as »wearable or not?«, »valuable or not?« or »heavy or lightweight?«, for example, are attached to individual display cases in the ethnographic collection. This detail expresses the exhibition makers’ desire to offer scope for experimentation and participation. Cornelie Holzach comments: »We’ll have more questions than answers, and we want to find answers to these questions with the help of experts, as well as non-specialists.« The new presentation is not a definitive exhibition format but a starting point for further exploring the aspects concerned and introducing them into public discourse.

In addition to the analogue exhibition, there will be a digital platform allowing visitors to approach the objects in their own individual way. Those who want to can embark on a journey around the world or through different eras in the shape of an avatar, or explore each of the »curiosities« separately. Moreover, detailed views and descriptions enable visitors to arrange groupings according to their own criteria, or to have a timeline created for their selection.

The new presentation has been conceived and developed by the entire team of the Jewellery Museum in collaboration with the ethnologist Dr. Andreas Volz and the art historian Dr. Martina Eberspächer. Exhibition design by the interior designer Cornelia Wehle, graphic design by L2M3 Kommunikationsdesign, digital applications by 2av.

[English translation: Sabine Goodman]

Practical details

Opening hours: Tue–Sun and holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve)

Admission to the permanent exhibition 4.50, reduced price 2.50, 6 incl. a visit to the Technical Museum of Pforzheim’s Jewellery and Watchmaking Industries, free admission for children no older than 14 and for holders of a Museums-Pass-Musées

Guided tours for groups by appointment

Public guided tours through the permanent exhibition Sun 3 p.m., 6.50, reduced price 4.50 Partners: Pforzheimer Zeitung and SWR2

For more information, please visit

Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.