Nature's unparalleled beauty and mystery have long been a wellspring of inspiration for artists. Throughout time, nature has played a key role in the creative expression we as humans use to understand and explain the world around us and our existence. Jewelry designers, in particular, have forever been enamored with the natural world, lovingly and beautifully realizing its many wonders in precious metals and gems.
To celebrate this special relationship between jewelry artist and muse, the American Museum of Natural History in New York has unveiled its “Beautiful Creatures” exhibition, an unprecedented display of more than 100 exquisite historic and contemporary jewels inspired by creatures of the land, sea and air. The pieces date from the mid 19th century to the present and come from the world’s great jewelry houses and designers, including Bulgari’s snakes, Cartier’s iconic panthers and Suzanne Belperron’s butterflies.
Jewelry historian Marion Fasel curated the exhibition and authored the accompanying book, Beautiful Creatures: Jewelry Inspired by the Animal Kingdom, published by Rizzoli in association with the American Museum of Natural History.
Part of the "Creatures Of The Air" exhibit depicting butterflies in flight.
“Beautiful Creatures is devoted to animal-themed jewelry created over the last 150 years,” Fasel said. “The timeframe dovetails with the founding of the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1869. The institution, and others like it around the world, actively contributed to the public’s exposure to and subsequent fascination with the study and science of nature, particularly the animal kingdom, which, in all its remarkable diversity, has promised never to lose its allure for jewelry designers.”
On view through Sept. 19, 2021, Beautiful Creatures is the inaugural exhibition in the Melissa and Keith Meister Gallery, the first-ever space for rotating exhibitions to be built in the Museum’s permanent Halls. The Gallery, in conjunction with the Hall of Gems and the Hall of Minerals, constitutes the new Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, a completely reimagined and re-installed exhibit of the Museum’s world-renowned collection of gems and minerals. The new Halls were refurbished as part of the Museum’s 150th anniversary celebration.
Exhibition highlights include:
This giraffe bracelet was designed by Tiffany & Co. in yellow and white gold with emerald eyes and diamond detailing on the head. Courtesy of the the Tiffany & Co. archives
This Van Cleef & Arpels lion brooch is from the collection of philanthropist Brooke Astor, whose patronage of the New York Public Library has led to speculation that the piece might have been a nod to the marble lion statues that flank the main branch’s entrance on Fifth Avenue. Credit: © Sotheby’s
Lion’s Paw Shell Brooch
Two of Verdura’s lion’s paw shell brooches, made from lion’s paw scallops purchased by the Italian designer Duke Fulco di Verdura in the Museum’s gift shop in 1940, are on display in the exhibit, including this one. Courtesy of Stephen Webster
American designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal has created only a few snake necklaces. This one, made in 1990, features JAR’s signature blend of pavé-set precious and semiprecious stones (amethysts, diamonds and sapphires) in a silver and gold setting. French actress Jacqueline Delubac nicknamed the necklace “Dudule” after she acquired it from JAR. The moniker, a proper French name, could have been a play on Delubac’s last name. Credit: FD Gallery
This tarantula brooch was part of a series of animal-themed jewels created by the family-owned German firm Hemmerle between 1979 and 1996. The natural 111.76-carat brown horse conch pearl in the rear segment of the tarantula is believed to be one of, if not the, largest natural horse conch pearls in the world. Credit: D. Finnin/©American Museum of Natural History
According to legend, when actress María Félix commissioned this necklace, she carried live baby crocodiles into Cartier in Paris to serve as models for the design. The realistic sculpting of the gold includes the scutes of a crocodile’s skin. There are 60.02-carats of fancy intense yellow diamonds and 66.86-carats of emeralds in the setting. Credit: Nils Herrmann, Cartier Collection © Cartier
Étoile De Mer Brooch
Artist Salvador Dalí added surrealist details to all of his fine jewelry creations. For instance, this starfish has branches inexplicably sprouting from the body and includes two butterfly pins that were conceived as part of the design. The flexibility of the starfish’s arms allowed the original owner, philanthropist and ballet lover Rebekah Harkness, to wear it on top of her shoulder with the limbs draping down her body. Credit: Jake Armour, Armour Photography
Le Méduse Brooch
Jean Schlumberger designed the original version of this brooch for American philanthropist and horticulturist Bunny Mellon after she was stung by a jellyfish while swimming in Antigua. The original brooch was designed for Tiffany & Co. in 1967, with this version made circa 2000, and features diamonds, moonstones and sapphires set in gold and platinum. Courtesy of Jennifer Tilly
Portugese Man O’ War Brooch
When American jewelry designer Paula Crevoshay saw a 33-carat Mexican water opal at a gem show in Tucson, Ariz., she immediately felt the characteristics of the gem resembled the center section of a Portugese man o’ war; that opal is now set in this brooch, which is further adorned with carnelian, chrysocolla, coral, opal, pink sapphires white gold and enamel. Courtesy of Paula Crevoshay
Pavé-set amethysts and 71 cabochon rubies cover the curved surface and articulated arms of this gold starfish brooch, which was designed by Juliette Moutard for René Boivin. Experts think only four examples of the starfish brooch were made during the 1930s. Credit: D. Finnin/©American Museum of Natural History
Designed by Pierre Sterlé, circa the 1960s, this bird brooch features ruby zoisite and diamonds set in gold. Courtesy of a private collection
Six of Suzanne Belperron’s butterfly brooches made in the 1930s and 1940s are on display in Beautiful Creatures. This one features amethysts, beryls, multicolored sapphires, tourmalines, gold, and enamel. Credit: Photo by David Behl © Belperron
Clockwise from left: Dragonfly brooch designed by Boucheron, circa 1890, in diamonds, enamel, gold and platinum; dragonfly brooch/hair ornament designed by Tiffany & Co., circa 1895, in diamonds, sapphires, gold and silver; dragonfly brooch designed by Fred Leighton, late 1800s, in diamonds, sapphires, silver and gold.
Stag Beetle Brooch
This Boucheron stag beetle brooch was made in 1895 from diamonds, rubies, gold and white gold. The jewel has a removable pin on the back, making it possible to wear it as a pendant, hair ornament or brooch. Credit: © Boucheron
Forever Dancing—Bright Star Brooch
Wallace Chan so greatly desired to capture in jewelry the captivating colors of butterfly wings that gemstones wouldn’t do, so he invented a technique to hermetically seal a real butterfly in rock crystal. Further, Chan originated a method of engraving the crystal to exploit its highly reflective quality, which lends a unique brightness to the piece. Additionally detailed with fancy color diamonds, yellow diamonds and mother-of-pearl, the butterfly truly comes alive in the viewer’s eyes, a sparkling tribute to this Chinese symbol of everlasting love.
About the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals
The American Museum of Natural History’s re-envisioned Halls of Gems and Minerals include a permanent installation featuring more than 5,000 items from 98 countries, as well as iconic highlights of its world-renowned gems and minerals collection. These include two of the largest amethyst geodes on public display, the legendary 563-carat “Star of India” blue star sapphire, the 9-pound almandine Subway Garnet and the 632-carat Patricia Emerald. The Mignone Halls’ redesigned exhibits tell the fascinating story of how the vast diversity of mineral types arose on Earth, how scientists classify them and how humans have used them throughout time for personal adornment, tools and technology.
About the American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses more than 40 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. The Museum’s scientists draw on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, some of which are billions of years old, and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Visit amnh.org for more information.