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V&A reopens William and Judith Bollinger jewellery gallery

A reworking of the jewellery exhibition spaces makes way for £9m of new treasures, including bejewelled vanity cases loaned by Freddie Mercury’s sister

Thursday April 25, 2019 By Mark Rochford

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The Victoria & Albert Museum has reopened its William and Judith Bollinger Gallery of jewellery after a three-month closure for updating and refurbishment. Visited by millions since its opening in 2008, the gallery was renewed to see it through a second decade, and fans of the treasure trove will appreciate that the stylistic and curatorial tweaks have been slight.

The feel of the gallery is much the same as before, with glittering gems and lustrous metal against a backdrop of black in all directions, housed in a long rectangular suite over two floors. Staff are quick to point out that the changes amount to a refresh rather than an overhaul.

The flooring is new, the lighting fixtures now more environmentally friendly and effectively laid out, and the staircase has been re-done. The V&A has moved items about slightly, finessed the labelling and enhanced the interactive elements, but the grandest change is the addition of more than £9 million worth of new collection material.

Queen Victoria's sapphire and diamond coronet in V&A William and Judith Bollinger Gallery
Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet in V&A William and Judith Bollinger Gallery

The showstopper of the reopening is undoubtedly Queen Victoria’s diamond and sapphire coronet, purchased through the generosity of the Bollinger family as a gift to the Nation and the Commonwealth. Taking pride of place in its own dedicated case, the jewel is delicate and wondrous.

Designed by Prince Albert for his beloved in the year of their marriage, 1840, he modelled the piece on the Saxon Rautenkranz (the circlet of rue flowers running on the diagonal across the Saxon coat of arms), and the inspiration is evident in the swooping detailing and finials at the top. Made by Joseph Kitching of Kitching and Abud, the coronet is articulated so that it can be worn closed or open-backed.

Displayed open, the accompanying image of the queen wearing it – in a legendary and once widespread portrait by the German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter – shows her sporting it closed. Several of the sapphires set in the headpiece are shield cut, and with the coronet’s return to public view, perhaps this uncommon cut will have its own renaissance amongst royal jewellery enthusiasts.

New wall displays in the gallery are dedicated to recently acquired contemporary jewellery designs, often in non-precious materials. Gijs Bakker’s Porsche bracelet takes the dimensions of a sports car and stretches them out, in moulded blue polyester, to fit over the wrist: the perfect accessory for auto aficionados, with a touch of the bionic.

Blue Seanemone II brooch in paper on silver frame, made by Flóra Vági in 2016 and given to the3 V&A by Katalin Spengler
Blue Seanemone II brooch in paper on silver frame, made by Flóra Vági in 2016 and given to the3 V&A by Katalin Spengler

Inspired by the sea rather than the land, Hungarian Flóra Váji’s Seanemone II brooch was fashioned largely from a book spine and its pages, suggesting a demurely unfurling sea creature. The J. Russells, Felieke van der Leest’s bracelet of panels depicting six shackled dogs in crocheted prison stripes, mixes a little gold and cubic zirconia in with the textiles and plastic forming the bulk of the design. Thoroughly precious in its material, and an important addition with regards to ethical jewellery practices, Ute Decker’s Curling Crest of a Wave ring-cum-pendant is the first jewellery piece in the V&A’s collection to be made of Fairtrade gold.


A good reason to ascend the gallery’s pristine stairs is the Kashmira Bulsara collection of vanity cases on from loan from Freddie Mercury’s sister Kashmira Cooke, with the promise of an eventual gift. It can be hard to fathom fitting all that one might need for an evening out in a tiny jewelled box, but certainly there can be no more elegant accessory than one of these beauties. Lacquered, gem-set, enamelled, or inlaid with lapis and turquoise, the cases represent work by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Lacloche, and other prominent Parisian and New York jewellers of the 1900-1940 period. The 49 boxes dazzle with their colour and intricate detailing, and substantially enrich the gallery’s Art Deco collection.

Whether drawn by jewels of historical import, or the allure of innovations in contemporary design, the V&A’s Bollinger Gallery has much to satisfy the eye of any jewellery enthusiast, and a visit for the coronet alone is a spring must. And while there, be sure to catch the tsavorite and diamond glitters of Beyoncé’s Glenn Spiro Papillon Ring, and watch the fluttering butterfly in action in the enhanced Hidden Treasures interactive display, part of the gentle renew that’s left the gallery with a fresh glint and a host of new treasures.

V&A William and Judith Bollinger Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

Gold and white enamel vanity case containing gold key, made by Cartier in 1925, part of the Kashmira Bulsara collection at the V&A Museum

Gold and iron brooch by Annamaria Zanella in 1997, part of The Louise Klapisch Collection at the V&A Museum

Gold and enamel engine-turned cigarette case with diamond thumbpiece, made by Cartier in 1907, part of the Kashmira Bulsara collection at the V&A Museum

The V&A has moved items about slightly, finessed the labelling and enhanced the interactive elements, but the grandest change is the addition of more than £9 million worth of new collection material

Gold vanity case decorated with blue, black and white enamel and diamonds made by Lacloche in 1925, part of the Kashmira Bulsara collection at the V&A Museum

Gold pendant in the form of Paddington Bear made by Cartier in 1975, donated to the V&A Museum by Clive Kandel in memory of James Doherty

Gold and grey chalcedony ring made by Charlotte de Syllas in 1969, on display at the V&A Museum

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