Angels’ Tears or Gems of the Ocean: Pearls in the History of Jewellery

Exhibition  /  26 Oct 2012  -  27 Jan 2013
Published: 07.09.2012

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This exhibition illustrates the multifaceted ways of using pearls to create jewellery and the skilled craftsmanship involved. Welcome to admire creations such as tiaras from the state collections in Qatar, a pendant from Albion Art which once belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, or a pair of earrings and a ring once worn by Liz Taylor.
Of delicate beauty as well as extremely rare and thus immensely valuable, pearls have always been objects of desire. Back in antiquity, people went pearl hunting in the Persian Gulf in search of pearls of superlative quality. After Alexander the Great had conquered Persia, they also made their way to Europe.

In the course of time, pearls have become shrouded in countless legends, myths and stories. After all, besides representing uninhibited indulgence in luxury on the one hand, pearls have also been regarded as symbols of Virgin Mary’s purity. In Ancient Greece and Rome, pearls were believed to have been born of the sea and to be endowed with magical and healing properties. From classical antiquity up to the present day, pearls have played a central role in jewellery. By means of historical as well as contemporary examples, including exhibits from Albion Art in Tokyo, the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Chaumet and Mellerio dits Meller in Paris, the Qatar Museums Authority in Doha or Tiffany in New York, this exhibition will illustrate the multifaceted ways of using pearls to create jewellery and the skilled craftsmanship involved. To name just a few outstanding highlights, visitors will be able to admire tiaras from the state collections in Qatar, which date back to the 19th and 20th centuries and once adorned the royal heads of the Princesses of Württemberg and Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen respectively, or that of Empress Elizabeth of Austria’s daughter. A pendant from Albion Art, which once belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, will also be on view, as will a pair of earrings and a ring once worn by Liz Taylor, on loan from a private collection. Two Tiffany-pieces made for World Fairs in Paris and Chicago are exhibited publicly for the first time since then.


Figurines made of baroque pearls

Renaissance and Baroque, Historicism and Art Nouveau are epochs that brought forth an abundance of pearl jewellery. What are called baroque pearls – a term derived from the Portuguese word ›barocco‹ referring to an irregularly shaped, imperfect pearl – were highly coveted during the Renaissance and Baroque periods in particular. Quite often, they were used to form the main element of a piece of jewellery in the shape of a figurine’s body or part of it. Combining pearls and enamel was also very popular, as were necklaces composed of large round pearls, which were considered some of the greatest treasures due to the rareness of the pearls’ perfect shapes. Wed with gemstones, pearls were also used as embellishing elements for lockets, brooches or pendants. Some magnificent examples of this type of jewellery were crafted by Chaumet or Tiffany.

Art Nouveau creations
As a result of the trend towards natural forms and shapes in the Art Nouveau period, pearls were an important jewellery element in this epoch as well. They were particularly sought after for creations depicting women or femininity in a time that produced countless variations of the association between woman and water, the sea, fish and seashells. This was quite in line with the notion prevalent since the days of Ancient Rome that pearls, like Aphrodite or Venus, are born from the sea. The Art Nouveau period also saw a revival of the irregular shapes of baroque pearls, exemplified by an exceptional exhibit from the Jewellery Museum’s collection, the ›Octopus and Butterfly‹ brooch designed by Wilhelm Lukas von Cranach in Berlin in 1900.

From Art Deco up to the present day
In the Art Deco period, it was rather uncommon to see pearls used in jewellery because they were in contrast to the clear-cut formal idiom of this era. Nevertheless, there are a few examples featuring an eminently harmonious incorporation of smooth and lustrous pearls in a geometrical composition.

The popularity of freshwater pearls since the 1940s is testified by a ring that once belonged to Liz Taylor and sports a large cultured pearl surrounded by diamonds. It was designed by William Ruser, a very coveted designer in Hollywood, whose creations were worn by many stars – and not only on the silver screen.

Whether naturally grown or cultured, pearls also play an important role in contemporary art jewellery, as is exemplified by the sumptuous necklaces reminiscent of natural phenomena such as ice crystals on frozen twigs or fruit, crafted from tiny rice grain freshwater pearls by jewellery artist Sam Tho Duong, who was born in Vietnam and now lives in Pforzheim.


Welcome to the opening on Thursday, October 25, 7 p.m.

Opening Hours

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

Guided group tours

can be booked by phone: +49/(0)7231/39-2126.

An attractive overnight stay and museum visit package can be booked through WSP Tourismusmarketing/Tourist Information Centre (Phone: +49/(0)7231/39-3700,

© By the author. Read Copyright.

© By the author. Read Copyright.
G. Paulding Farnham / Tiffany & Co.. Brooch: Florida Palm, 1889. Gold, enamel, pink pearls from the Miami River in Ohio, diamonds, sapphire, blue zircon. © Tiffany & Co. Archives. G. Paulding Farnham / Tiffany & Co.
Brooch: Florida Palm, 1889
Gold, enamel, pink pearls from the Miami River in Ohio, diamonds, sapphire, blue zircon
© Tiffany & Co. Archives
© By the author. Read Copyright.