new perspectives

A visit to the Jewellery Museum, Pforzheim

The Jewellery Museum (Schmuckmuseum) in Pforzheim, Germany, is a must visit destination for anyone interested in jewellery and jewellery history. Here is what I saw during my last visit!

The museum houses a vast collection of jewellery, both from Europe and from other parts of the world. That jewellery is something that connects us, and expresses shared values, is highlighted in the room ‘What Is Jewellery?’. I featured an in-depth exploration of this theme by the museum in this blog, and seeing it for myself was a treat!

In this room (you’ll see an impression in the gallery of images above), the first thing that caught my eye was a sparkling waterfall of gold and gold-tinted jewellery cascading down from the ceiling in the central showcase. Jewellery from all eras and geographical locations is presented here in a seeming jumble that still is perfectly harmonious. As you can see by the slightly bewildered look on my face in the second photo, I enjoyed spending time peering into this showcase from all its sides, there is so much to see here! There is a sense of joy and playfulness in this installment that I believe is really important, too, in between the more serious aspects of jewellery history: just enjoying jewellery, simply for its own sake.

That same combination of jewellery from different times and places continues throughout the room. In every showcase, a different topic is highlighted that is shared by multiple cultures. The use of specific colours for example, or the values attached to jewellery, or the protective capacities it holds, or the social status it communicates. You’ll find jewellery here from North Africa, Oceania, Central Asia, India, Tibet, Nepal and other places combined with European jewellery. It is a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to what jewellery means to the society that used and created it, and I found it very valuable to start out my visit to the museum by pondering what jewellery is, exactly: it gets one thinking and provides context for the other collections.

Next were two rooms filled with jewellery history, from the Classical world until the revival pieces of the 19th century, and everything in between. I stayed here for a considerable time, because the museum boasts a formidable collection of historic rings, and these are shown here, too. Hundreds of them! If you have a thing for rings, this is the space for you. They are neatly organized in separate showcases, that each present a selection of rings in chronological and geographical order. You’ll see what that looks like in the third photo above. I did not really notice how brilliant this display was until I was done: because the rings are displayed in so many showcases, it feels like peeking into yet another treasure chest. Each showcase has just the right amount of rings, too: you’ll be able to enjoy them instead of reaching that point of overwhelm. I can’t recall having admired hundreds of rings and still being eager to see more: well done in terms of managing the attention span of visitors!

But there is more than rings: the showcases along the walls present necklaces, bracelets, earrings, tiaras and so much more, also in chronological order. A separate section with pocket watches brings jewellery and technique together, but I must admit that I spent most of my time with the jewellery exposition. The quality of the pieces shown here is also breathtaking: I created a collage of a few rings in the last photo above, to give you an idea of what awaits you. The exhibition continues with a bright, large room dedicated to more recent jewellery. Here, I saw dreamy, delicate Art Nouveau jewellery and modern jewellery creations: the art of jewellery craftmanship is still very much alive in Pforzheim.

After all that, it was time for a coffee in the pleasant museum café and perusing the well-stocked bookshop. I really like the themed publications such as Landscapes in Jewellery, Animal Myths in Jewellery, and Sun, Moon and Stars in Jewellery, but of course there is much more (see the bookshop here – the list of publications can be downloaded), and you will be able to find many jewellery pieces and other gifts.

I highly recommend visiting the Schmuckmuseum if you have the opportunity: with several temporary exhibitions every year, there is sure to be something that is of interest to you. The signage is bilingual in both English and German. Also check out the online magazine Melting Pot: lots of thought-provoking and interesting jewellery articles!

Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim, Germany: see practical info on their website (using the toggle in the upper right corner, you can set the language to German, English or French).

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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.