Jewellery takes centre stage in museums across Asia
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In recent years, museums dedicated to jewellery and gemstones have been mushrooming across China and the Far East. “For some time, we have been observing that there are private collectors building or equipping their own museums,” says Cornelie Holzach, director of the Pforzheim Jewellery Museum in Germany. “That the subject of jewellery, and jewellery museums in particular, is experiencing such an upswing in Asia is an excellent development and exciting to see.”
Guangdong province, China’s economic powerhouse, is home to the Shenzhen Jewelry Museum. Its newest private art institution, Chen Treasure Culture Art Museum, specialises in jadeite and carving.
The museum opened on September 27, in Pingzhou, Foshan City, one of the four most influential jade centres in China, known for specialising in raw materials, finished products, wholesale and retail. It was founded by Pan Susen and Hu Lihua, who both have decades of experience in the jade industry.
“The charm of jade is fully displayed here, giving the audience a three-dimensional visual experience and a more comprehensive understanding of jade culture,” explains Lihong Huang, the museum’s executive director. “We hope to become a platform bringing together artists and institutions and thus build a new cultural landmark, so that more people can understand jade culture.”
In recent years, Steve Cherng, a Singaporean-Taiwanese visual merchandiser and art director specialising in jewellery, has moved from store design to exhibitions. His latest project is the inaugural exhibition at Chen Treasure. “China has continuously strengthened its jewellery design and incubated the establishment of many jewellery art galleries and cultural centres,” he says.
Around 90 miles away, the Shenzhen Jewelry Museum, which opened in 2019, is in the buzzing Shuibei jewellery district, where more than 2,000 jewellery companies are located. The museum also features five permanent exhibition areas, showcasing traditional Chinese craftsmanship, such as filigree inlay and gold bead granulation, through to contemporary design. One of these permanent displays, Road of Shenzhen, records 40 years of the Shenzhen jewellery industry; another features the work of famous brands from the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.
The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions. The latest, Olivine Love — Peridot’s Life Journey, in association with Fuli Gemstones, closes on Sunday. After that, Diva! Italian Glamour in Fashion Jewellery, which has travelled worldwide, will launch on November 1.
“In the future, Shenzhen Jewelry Museum will integrate popular science, education, art exchange and other museum functions, [and] gather and hold famous domestic and foreign jewellery brands,” says Wang Zhen, the museum’s director. “The three-year epidemic had a severe impact on all sectors of the world, but now there is a growing desire to ‘get out there.’”
K11 Musea, at Victoria Docks in Hong Kong, a short distance from Shenzhen, is where VanCleef & Arpels opened L’École School of Jewelry Arts, its first Asia-Pacific offshoot, in 2019.
A second Asia-Pacific campus opened in Shanghai this week. Although more school than museum, the Hong Kong location has nearly 1,900 sq ft dedicated to exhibitions; its latest show, Daniel Brush, an Edifying Journey: Gold, Aluminum, Steel, has just closed.
“With every exhibition and programme, L’École seeks to bring meaningful learning experiences to the general public and being able to bring that to Hong Kong has been an amazing journey,” says Olivier Segura, managing director of L’École Asia Pacific. He notes that the team has worked closely with a local collector in Hong Kong to assemble more than 50 diverse artefacts that will feature in the next exhibition, beginning mid-November. “It follows the Through the Eyes of a Connoisseur series, dedicated to the nuances of taste and the art of collecting,” he says.
Across the Asia-Pacific region are other museums, founded by private collectors, which promote the local industry. Take the Gem and Jewelry Museum in Bangkok, run by the Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT). The museum has been closed since July, undergoing renovations, and is slated to reopen in early November. Established in 2002, it relocated in 2011 to the heart of Bangkok’s gemstone trading district.
As well as an expansive gem and jewellery library that includes books, magazines and research papers, it also focuses on Thai jewellery, including Lanna-style silver, Sukhothai gold ornaments and nielloware.
“As part of the renovation, a diverse range of interactive media has been introduced to amplify the allure of the exhibitions,” says Sumed Prasongpongchai, director of GIT.
“These interactive elements aim to engage visitors on a deeper level, making the learning experience both informative and entertaining.” They include what he describes as “captivating games” that will enable visitors to explore the gem industry’s various processes, such as mining and cutting.
In 2004, when the World Jewellery Museum in Seoul, South Korea, was established as a private museum by Lee Kang-Won, a jewellery collector and wife of a diplomat, it was the first museum in Asia devoted to jewellery.
Exhibits from around the world include pre-Columbian gold jewellery, while the museum recently accepted a donation of contemporary Canadian jewellery, including works by Maryon Kantaroff, EB Cox and Gabriel Lucas that now reside in its permanent collection.
Today, the collection totals 2,800 pieces, displayed across three floors in nine galleries. Included in the permanent displays are Korean jewellery artists such as Kim Seunghee and Yun Sang-hee, and traditional Korean jewellery items such as norigae pendants.
The latest temporary exhibition, entitled Love, runs until November 3, 2024, featuring 50 rings from the museum’s collection. Dating from the 1880s to 1980, they signify love and devotion, and range from traditional Korean wedding rings to Victorian mourning rings.
“The museum is in the process of digitising its collection and adding a digital layer on top of the existing exhibitions to provide a more interactive relationship with the collection,” says co-director Elaine Kim, adding that, with 70 per cent of its visitors coming from overseas, the museum hopes in the future to create opportunities for collaborations with museums around the world to increase its reach even further.