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Jewels! – A Celebration



The timeless beauty of fine jewellery – both historical and contemporary – came under the spotlight on September 12, when the Hermitage Amsterdam exhibition “Jewels! The Glitter of the Russian Court,” was unveiled to the press.


Our curator and founder Bibi van der Velden was one of three designers asked to be an ambassador for the exhibition. In this role, Bibi travelled to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, where she picked a favourite object from the collection, while also taking inspiration from the fascinating pieces on show to design her own creation. During an elegant high tea party to mark the exhibition’s opening, Bibi unveiled her chosen object, alongside her own one-off design.


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At the reception, hosted by Paul Mosterd, deputy director of Hermitage Amsterdam and Birgit Boelens, the exhibition’s curator, guests drawn from the press and Amsterdam’s social scene got a first glimpse of the exhibition’s treasures. As Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, writes in the “Jewels!” catalogue, the objects on display show “how [the Russian nobility’s] barbarian love of an abundance of jewellery was soon transformed into refined taste [and] how that taste ensured that the jewels of the Russian court became an important and defining part of international art and fashion.”


Pieces on display span a dazzling flower bouquet brooch fashioned from over 400 brilliant cut and 450 rose cut diamonds, that’s drawn from the collection of Empress Elizabeth, who reigned in Russia from 1741 – 1761. Visitors are also able to see a jewellery box that belonged to Catherine the Great, studded with 400 precious stones, among them 26 rubies, 24 emeralds, and cameos.


As her favourite piece from the exhibition, Bibi chose a finely-crafted Neptune statuette that dates from the 1600s. The piece is composed of rock crystal, pearls, gold, rubies, and diamonds, and depicts Neptune riding on a mythical horse, surrounded by frogs, turtles, fish, and snails. Bibi found herself particularly drawn to this 400-year-old piece as it shares many characteristics of her Sea Creatures collection, the latter with its rock crystal shells, silver mermaids’ tails, and gold-accented jellyfish.Bibi van der velden stacked_0003

The reception also saw Bibi present the piece that she’s designed inspired by the exhibition – the Memento Mori ring. This sumptuous ring is symbolic of the perpetual cycle of life and death, with Bibi having infused this piece with the regal flamboyance of the Russian court and its jewels.


The ring is designed as a tulip in 18k yellow gold and sterling silver, whose petals glisten with sustainably sourced rubies and emeralds, alongside pavé tsavorites, dark pink sapphires, and white diamonds. Its oxidised sterling silver petals bloom across the hand, and are accented with 18k yellow gold, while its shank is crafted as a tulip stem in 18k yellow gold, which winds around two fingers. Nodding to nature’s inevitable decay, the ring’s leaves are set with all manner of insects – a rock crystal maggot, a gold spider, gold ants, seed pearl eggs, and a gold slug and caterpillar, the latter both embellished with gemstones.

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Also alluding to the cycle of life is an 18k gold human figure that emerges from an embellished mammoth tusk egg at the centre of the flower. This 60,000-year-old mammoth tusk is found under Russia’s Siberian permafrost, another connection to the country.


The one-off ring will be displayed at the “Jewels!” exhibition until March 15.



Photo credit: Evert Elzinga

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