Discover exquisite examples of historic gems and the most beautiful jewelry of the twentieth century.
For centuries, extraordinary gemstones have been the centerpieces of stunning jewelry made to adorn royalty, aristocracy, high society, and Hollywood stars. Over fifty pieces that once belonged Marjorie Merriweather Post, one of the greatest jewelry collectors of the twentieth century, will tell the story behind some of the remarkable stones and the jewelry into which they were transformed.
When changes after World War I added powerful figures to the ranks of the wealthy, the world’s most exquisite jewels passed into new hands and revolutionary changes in fashion led to innovation in jewelry design. Marjorie Post was among the new elite and she acquired jewelry with the same discrimination that she applied to her acclaimed collections of fine objects from imperial Russia and eighteenth-century France. Marjorie was not just interested in wearing jewels, but was a connoisseur. Her resulting collection represented the finest assemblage of gems and historical and twentieth-century jewelry in America. She commissioned great pieces from the most important jewelry firms of her time including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, and Verdura among many others.
Spectacular Gems and Jewelry will display the greatest examples from Hillwood’s collection, left by Marjorie for the benefit of future generations, along with important loans of pieces once owned by Post but currently housed in other museum or private collections. The exhibition will afford the opportunity to examine the great quality and beauty of gems in the collection, their historical significance, and the evolution of twentieth-century jewelry design from the 1900s through the 1960s.
One of the most significant and well-known jewels in Marjorie’s collection, still housed at Hillwood, is an emerald and diamond pendant brooch made by the London branch of Cartier in the 1920s. This iconic piece, emblematic of the marriage of historic gems with innovative design, features more than 250 carats of carved Indian emeralds from the Mughal period, including a large emerald carved with a seventeenth-century Mughal motif of a flower, with a Persian inscription on one side.
Historical pieces were an integral part of Marjorie’s jewelry collection. One example is the vintage ruby and diamond parure (set of jewels) that was reputedly made in the early nineteenth century for the Duchess of Oldenburg, a daughter of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna and the granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I. In contrast, the exhibition also features significant modern pieces, such as a stylish ruby and diamond floral brooch made by Van Cleef & Arpels, featuring its famous invisible setting, in 1967, which Marjorie purchased in 1969.
New and previously unseen pieces from the Merriweather Post collection will be an added highlight of this exhibition. The Van Cleef & Arpels ballerina pin inspired by the painting of Marie Camargo by Lancret is one of the first of this subject ever created by the firm in 1943. A peridot, gold, and diamond brooch by David Webb and a pear shaped amethyst ring by Verdura, both bold in design and strong in color, are typical of the casual inventiveness of jewelry boutique firms that Marjorie patronized alongside the large jewelry houses.
Programs and Events
Spectacular Gems and Jewelry from the Merriweather Post Collection will be the inspiration for an array of programs and events throughout the presentation of the exhibition. An opening celebration will be held on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. Inspired by Marjorie’s grand affairs at Hillwood, the evening will include cocktails and a glamorous dinner on the Lunar Lawn in honor of Marjorie’s singular style and in support of Hillwood’s mission to share her cultural treasure with future generations. A lecture series, outdoor film, and additional programming will provide deeper exploration into the remarkable assemblage and the stories behind the gems.
Spectacular Gems and Jewelry from the Merriweather Post Collection is supported by Ellen MacNeille Charles, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Davison, Dina Merrill Hartley, Janice and Ralph Shrader, Sotheby’s, The Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation, and Diane B. Wilsey. All exhibitions and programs are funded in part by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts through the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program.