I’ve only just discovered the Jewellery Rooms at the Victoria and Albert Museum and I cannot wait to head back there to explore them at leisure.
The galleries, rooms 91-93, showcase items from the museum’s permanent collection ranging from precious metals to plastic, raffia and rubber and spanning millennia – from prehistory right up to yesterday.
As soon as you enter the first, darkened room, a large, beautifully worked embossed gold collar, alone in its glass case, casts a warm glow across the entrance to the gallery. Is it from ancient Egypt? A piece from Agammemnon’s treasury? No, this stunning Bronze Age object, made between 800 and 700 BC, is the Shannongrove Gorget, found in an Irish bog in Co. Limerick.
If it’s bling you’re after, there’s plenty of that to see. But what really makes these objects so fascinating is the craftsmanship and creative imagination, as well as some of the poignant stories, behind them.
There’s a Fabergé letter opener given by the doomed Tsarina Alexandra to her former English governess and lifelong correspondent, Margaret Jackson, for Christmas. The clear slice of rock crystal, simply adorned with gold and enamel was given to the museum along with a note of Christmas wishes to Miss Jackson dated 1900. The Tsarina, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, was later among the members of the Russian imperial court shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
Another object, the steinkabinett – an 18th century box by Johann Christian Neuber, the court goldsmith at Dresden – is a kind of pocket natural science museum with 77 stone samples, identified on a paper map kept inside it. The “pearls” are particularly clever. They aren’t pearls at all but flat pieces of rock crystal, the underside carved into domes and then silvered.
These objects and hundreds more are part of the museum’s permanent collection and you can drop by any time to see them, for free – maybe something to do before moving on after dark to see the London Christmas Lights in Piccadilly and Regent Street.
Before you go, you might want to book tickets to the V&A’s current special exhibitions: Opera: Passion, Power and Politics in the new Sainsbury Gallery until February 25 and Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic. on until April 8.