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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, tells the story behind some of the remarkable stones and the jewelry into which they were transformed.
After World War I, industrialists joined the ranks of the wealthy, and began to acquire exquisite jewels. 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 18th-century France. Post was not just interested in wearing jewels, but was a connoisseur. Her resulting collection represented the finest assembly of gems, historic jewels, 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 displays the greatest examples from Hillwood’s collection, left by Post for the benefit of future generations, along with important loans of pieces once owned by Post but currently housed in other museums or private collections.
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, dispersed through wars and revolutions, were an integral part of Post’s jewelry collection. One example is the vintage ruby and diamond parure (jewelry ensemble) that was reputedly owned in the early nineteenth century by 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 rare thirty-one-carat emerald ring that Post purchased from Harry Winston in 1966 and a stylish ruby and diamond floral brooch made by Van Cleef & Arpels, featuring its famous invisible setting, in 1969.
New and previously unseen pieces from the Merriweather Post collection are 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 Post patronized alongside the large jewelry houses.
Christmas trees evoking the glamour and elegance of the special exhibition Spectacular Gems and Jewelry from the Merriweather Post Collection, on view through January 7, 2018, are the centerpiece of an enchanting holiday season at Hillwood. The shimmering gems and sumptuous stones will permeate the holiday decor that adorns the entire estate.
The glittering beauty of Spectacular Gems and Jewelry adds a glamorous touch to the mansion and the visitor center, taking cues from five pieces of jewelry within the exhibition. The glimmering plumage of the hummingbird brooch inspires the entry hall through a tree of iridescent rubies nestled amongst live orchids. A tree recalling the amethyst and diamond brooch will complement the cool hues of the pavilion, featuring icicles and snow that shine like diamonds and evoke the cold winters of Russia. The French drawing room espouses the colors and magnificence of the Harry Winston turquoise and diamond necklace, recalling the waters and bright sunlight of Palm Beach, where Marjorie resided for months each year. The tree in the dining room bursts with bright pinks and sparkling diamonds, echoing the 1960s aesthetic of the pink conch pearl and diamond brooch. Baroque pearls, moonstones, and diamonds shine throughout the visitor center like twinkling stars and the glow of the moon, reminiscent of the sky on a starry night, reflecting the moonstone necklace by George Headley.