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The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert collection is one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of micro-mosaics. Arthur Gilbert coined the term ‘micro-mosaic’ himself and supported the pioneering publications and exhibitions on the subject. During this lecture, Alice Minter, Curator of the Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert, will present renowned highlights from the collection and the latest information uncovered for these finest pieces.


Speakers: Alice Minter, Senior Curator, The Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert Collection


Without the Gilbert collection, there will be no micro-mosaic. The Gilbert collection is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of micromosaics in the world, and indeed Arthur Gilbert coined the term ‘micro-mosaic’ himself. Mosaic in miniature existed since ancient times, but the Roman technique that flourished in the 18th century used to be called “mosaici minuti”. Arthur Gilbert knew something was different; it was not simply about small miniatures. This is why he coined the word ‘micro-mosaic’ – this word describes real art and a revival of the art market, which has been happening over the last few decades from the 20th century.


Arthur Gilbert & the making of a collection


In London, Rosalind and Arthur Gilbert were both born in 1913 to Jewish families. Just before WWII, they started with a successful business of ready-to-wear, which continued until 1948.

In their early 30s, in 1948, they decided they had made enough money and moved and settled in Los Angeles. In the post-war era, everything was there to be created, and the Gilberts had plenty of possibilities, thanks to their fortune, to live the American dream to the fullest.

Arthur Gilbert started to invest in real estate, partnering with Hollywood actors, and in the early 1960s, he commissioned a villa on top of the hills of Beverly Hills. He wanted to furbish this new villa, so they started looking through auction houses and art dealers for pieces of furniture. This is when he found two crack paintings.

He bought these two cracked paintings, but after close analysis, he understood there was more to them – they were not cracked oils on canvas.

Instead, they were made of tiny, minute pieces of coloured glass of different shapes, rendering colours and shades in such a fascinating way that Arthur Gilbert started asking art dealers and auction houses, and everybody was saying that it was another form of Roman mosaic.

But Arthur was not satisfied, and he also discovered that so many similar objects existed: large panels, tables, and jewellery – Arthur Gilbert started browsing and purchasing everything he could find on the art market.

By the mid-1970s, Arthur Gilbert came to be known as “the maniac that collects micromosaic” – his way of collecting was also maniacal because he wanted to build a comprehensive collection for everyone to enjoy.

People started to acknowledge him and his collection. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other art dealers were coming to see his collection. However, he remained convinced that his collection had to be dedicated to the public.


In 1975 the Victoria & Albert Museum hosted the first exhibition featuring highlights from the Gilbert collection. A pioneering publication on the subject accompanied the show. Once finished, the exhibition moved to Los Angeles, and from there, it then built a partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum so that almost the entirety of the Gilbert collection (which also includes gold and silver boxes and portrait enamels) stayed for 20 years at the Los Angeles County Museum.

In 1995 Arthur Gilbert decided to withdraw the entire collection and give it back to the UK because this is where he was from.

The collection found a new home at Somerset House for eight years, with seventeen galleries. Since 2008 it has been on permanent loan at the Victorian & Albert Museum, with four galleries dedicated to presenting most objects.


Therefore, Arthur Gilbert and his collection are of enormous importance because, without his insisting on having a name attached to that precise technique, without him buying absolutely everything that he could find on the art market, and without him supporting a pioneering exhibition and publication, the knowledge about micro-mosaic would have gone.


The Micro-mosaics


Objects in the micro-mosaic technique can range from a panel two meters wide to fabulous tables, gold boxes and jewellery; from gold boxes to every single form of the micro-mosaic one could find: he bought them all. Arthur Gilbert also enjoyed buying the same subject in different formats.

The Colosseum is one of them, and in the collection, there is the same scene in different formats: from a 5-centimetre brooch to a 120-centimetre panel. This allows comparing various artists to know more but also compare the quality, understanding the evolution of the craft and the technique of the micro-mosaic.


The tesserae forming micro-mosaics at the beginning came square. The micro-mosaic ‘sfilati’ technique consists of melting the coloured glass elements to create, at first, a huge block which is just then pulled into a cane the diameter of a hair. The result depends on the work of the wrist and its speed.


This also influences the colours, which are never the same because one extra second of work will create a different shade. The tesserae resulting from this manual work measure half a millimetre and are one to two millimetre high.


Despite witnessing the technique, so many questions remain unanswered as they are artisanal secrets: about polishing, about the type of mastic used. The micro-mosaic is art; nothing is written on the subject, and the only way to understand this art is by going through the masterpieces themselves. Some creations have more than 5,000 tesserae per square inch (5 centimetres by five centimetres). While collecting, Gilbert carefully and purposefully chose every item that would reflect that technique’s history and the art’s evolution.


Micro-mosaics: a chronological history


Initially, it was not about micro-mosaic but mosaic in miniature. One object dating 1566 clearly shows this aspect.

The tesserae are still square but tiny, and there is already a mastery in colour shades. For the time, it was a remarkable object, which won the first prize at a competition organized in Venice.


The mosaic technique started in Rome and, from the 7th century, very quickly moved to Venice, where there are beautiful examples in Byzantine churches, like Ravenna. Finally, after two centuries of stopping, the mosaic returned with the works at the San Marc’s Basilica in Venice. In 1566 a competition was organized to declare the best mosaicist in Venice. The task was to render a painting (probably by Titian himself) with all its details into a refined mosaic.

The Duke of Savoy, fascinated by the result, asked Venice to send him some mosaicists to create their workshop. The Venice Authority refused, but they sent him the mosaic that won the competition. So that mosaic went into the collection of the Duke of Savoy, and somehow it was inherited by the Cardinal de Richelieu and stayed until the French Revolution in the collection of the Richelieu family. Unfortunately, the mosaic went lost after the French Revolution until one day, Arthur Gilbert acquired it in 1976.


When discussing the technique, it is essential to remember that it all started in the 13th-14th century in Venice, where there was a workshop to build all the mosaic decorations of Saint Marc’s Basilica. Then, in the 16th century, the Pope decided they would do the same with Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, so he invited some Venetian artists to set up their mosaics workshop. This is how it started: first to decorate San Peter’s Basilica with some mosaics, and then to begin replacing the paintings which were fading with mosaics. This continued from the late 16th century to the mid-18th century. In the meantime, they constantly tried to improve their art and technique, so the late 1770s was an important date for micro-mosaic because the method was fully developed.


One prominent name in the history of the micro-mosaic is the name of Giacomo Raffaelli. Giacomo Raffaelli is considered the inventor of the micro-mosaic technique. He was also the first to organize private sales of micro-mosaics to a private clientele of non-religious subjects. His key themes were birds and little butterflies in small pieces – some measuring six centimetres, which is quite remarkable.

Raffaelli’s name became a sort of ‘brand’ for micro-mosaic in Rome and beyond because his reputation reached even the Russian court. So, not only clients belonging to the aristocratic and bourgeois classes, but even Napoleon and the Russian Tzars knew about him. Raffaelli started a fashion that would last for a hundred years and fade immediately after.

He not only used square tesserae, but also tesserae of different forms, and in addition, he started working with hard stones, such as agate, jade, amethyst and some marbles.

He was so advanced in the technique that he created vases which, still today, do not reveal how Raffaelli managed to have the mosaic tesserae curve follow the structure of the vase itself – knowing that the mosaic is on a flat surface, this technical achievement remains a mystery.

These vases might have been a creation for Napoleon – a gift of the Pope to the newly crowned Emperor.

Another essential creation by Raffaelli today in the Gilbert collection is a clock – one of four, dating 1804, clock movement by Abraham-Louis Breguet – thought to be a gift from Eugene de Beauharnais to his mother, Josephine. The clock follows the neoclassic style; it looks like a Greek temple, with front amethyst columns and micro-mosaic panels between the columns. This clock disappeared. Vincenzo, Giacomo Raffaelli’s nephew, went to Saint Petersburg in the early 1850s but could not find it. Eventually, despite the blank on the clock’s whereabouts – which might have ended up at the Swedish Court – Gilbert managed to acquire it in 1979.


Following Raffaelli’s commercial success, more micro-mosaicists followed his example and started producing luxury souvenirs.

At that time, journeys around Europe would take a long time to complete; in the 19th century, the Grand Tour was fashionable among young aristocrats to polish their education, and these travellers wanted tokens to bring back home, to show the places they had visited – especially in Italy and Rome. The so-called “souvenir jewels” became fashionable: in gold and micro-mosaics, there were portable views of the places these ladies and gentlemen had visited in the fashion that was in style at the time.

Another luxury souvenir was the snuffbox. The Gilbert Collection has a few snuffboxes, which were used from the 18th century onwards and would be carried around – just like the fans for ladies. So, the practice would be to purchase a micro-mosaic panel with a specific scene and mount it once back home in gold or silver boxes.


These luxury souvenirs, produced in large quantities, are handy to keep deepening the knowledge of micro-mosaic art. As stated earlier, it was an art not only for affluent travellers but also for Kings and Emperors, who commissioned large panels and tables for their residences.


Another prominent micro-mosaic artist Michelangelo Barberi developed his art in the second half of the 19th century.

Giacomo Raffaelli started in 1775, followed by his son and his nephew, so the business continued up to the 1830s. He also trained a new generation of mosaicists in the second half of the 18th century. The first portrait we know by Michelangelo Barberi was from the late 1820s because it was for the future Tzar Nicolas I.

Barbieri also produced tables that can be dated to the late 1860s: one was called “The Beautiful Sky of Italy”; the original one was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I to Michelangelo Barberi directly, and it is at the Hermitage Museum. The second table was for an English aristocrat and was presented at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Arthur Gilbert acquired this second table. Another table was called “Flora of Two Sicilies”, belonged to and was commissioned directly by Tzar Nicolas I after 1844 – he did a tour of Italy. In the table, he chose to illustrate the different sites he had visited with their names and little personal details, like the profile of one of his daughters. While Barberi was working for the Russian Court, Russian artists were going to Italy to be trained, and the Tsar managed to have Italian artists come and open their workshop in Saint Petersburg – one of these being Domenico Moglia. Moglia discovered a local talent who, at the time, was painting Easter eggs. His name was George Ferdinand Wekler. Wekler, trained by Moglia, started producing his micromosaics and soon became a Tsar’s favourite, who was very proud of having a Russian artist mastering the art of micro-mosaics.


These objects are precious because they also amplify the span of the collection: the focus is not only or simply on the Roman mosaic art but on all the subsequent developments through time and space.


By the 1880s, the market started to flatten and lose interest. There were different reasons, one probably being a lack of creativity, which didn’t evolve with time. As a result, subjects that were once very popular at the beginning of the 20th century (dominated by the Art Nouveau and the Art Deco movements) went entirely out of fashion.

Another possible reason for the falling out of the grace of micro-mosaics could be the enormous amount of time needed to create a panel. With the beginning of the 20th century, fashion, art, and the very same notions of time and space changed. Times were perceived differently, and an idea developed to be quicker, to go faster. And micro-mosaics were not in the scope.

Last but not least, photography developed supplanting luxury souvenirs with ultra-realistic vistas in the micro-mosaic that were so fashionable to bring back home from long European tours. In addition, photography became more portable and cheaper, which might have been another cause of the death of the art of micro-mosaic.


Micromosaic: art or craft?


Ten years after Giacomo Raffaelli started his activity, Goethe went to Italy from 1786 to 1788 and published his work, Italian Journey, in 1816-17. While walking through, he wrote: “our times are worse than we think the art of Mosaic which once gave the ancient their paved flaws and the Christian the vaulted Heaven of their churches has now been degraded to Snuff boxes and bracelets”.

Indeed, the objects produced in the 1810s-1820s do not have the same quality. A lot of these objects are mere copies. There is nothing as for the art of reinterpreting a painting, for example, that there used to be. The effort of making the art perfect has disappeared, as well as the study of the tesserae, in different shapes and forms, to render shades and volumes to perfection, to the point that they resemble a brush stroke.

In its glory days, the micro-mosaic had become an entire philosophical art. Michelangelo Barberi said: “This art form at first appears so easy if undertaken commercially but it proves to be difficult, indeed extremely so, if one aims to practice it as an artist and a philosopher. I want to urge you, to not limit yourself to the purely mechanical aspect of mosaic-making, but to also learn about drawing, the brush and the humanities. If you do so, it will be a great service indeed to yourself and to Rome with its already significant trade in mosaics.”

Objects in micro-mosaics became a testament to the highest in execution and carried deep meanings. By looking at them, one could ask oneself: do I see a mosaic or a painting? Do I see art or a craft? Does this object have a philosophical meaning, or is it simply decorative? All these readings are possible, and thanks to the richness and variety of the Arthur Gilbert collection, today we can try and find all the answers to questions about a savoir-faire that is coming back and being appreciated by the public worldwide.





Speakers: Jewellery historian Vivienne Becker and Helen Molesworth, Dr Geneviève Davies, Senior Curator of Jewellery, Victoria & Albert Museum, London


Together, Vivienne Becker and Helen Molesworth discuss the role of the Victoria & Albert Museum Collection, as both education and inspiration, in our jewellery world today. They will talk about the relevance of jewellery history to contemporary design, the importance of looking back to look forward, of understanding what has gone before to be genuinely innovative. Finally, they will discuss today’s fast-growing appreciation of antique and 20th-century jewellery.


Helen Molesworth has an exciting profile. She started as a classicist student at Oxford, and while studying ancient art and archaeology, she realised she loved jewellery. This was the beginning of a fascinating journey that took Helen to Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London, knowing and dealing with antique pieces. Ten years of experience led her to set up an international academy to form students in Switzerland and Asia and to the sale, in 2006, of Princess Margaret’s jewels in London. Through this sale, Helen met the Victoria & Albert Museum curator, with whom she stayed in touch all these years. Today, Helen has the job of a lifetime: senior curator of jewellery at the V&A Museum in London.


The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery at the V&A Museum is one of the world’s finest and most spectacular jewellery collections. Over 3,000 jewels tell the story of European jewellery from ancient times to today: an authentic treasure trove for jewellery lovers. In addition, this gallery is a significant example of discussing museum collections and their impact on the public and collectors.


Historically, museum collections were just sort of places to put objects and things, a way to go and look at historically and culturally significant items. Today, a museum collection can be seen, following Roy Strong, as “an extremely capacious handbag”. This comparison offers a fascinating way of looking at museum collections: a place one can delve into to discover something meaningful.


Walking through a collection in a museum offers endless surprises, with superb objects popping up from behind the corner. So today, a museum collection is no longer a repository for things. It is not about a place to be formally educated. Instead, it is a place of joy. There are, of course, both educational and intellectual elements. Also, there is the cultural element: we learn about history. We can understand where we are today by looking at museum collections because we investigate the past of jewellery design and creativity. Andrew Prince, who made all the jewellery for Downton Abbey, said that people no longer go to museums to be educated. Instead, they go to be entertained. This is a fascinating mix: the educational element becomes more holistic. This is how a museum should be today.


Knowing the past to understand the present and future of jewellery is equally important. If you know what has happened before, you can make sense of where you are today and have a chance to understand what is coming next.

And that is also important for museum collections because we look at cultural and historical collections. So, if one understands where we come from through an ensemble of objects, we know ourselves and understand the world better.


Amazing collections have been donated to the V&A Museum through time, including pieces from Castellani, and the fantastic Campana collection, created by the Marquess of Campana in Italy. But why do people collect?


One remarkable example of a gems collection is the impressive “gem wheel” that visitors encounter when entering the jewellery gallery at the V&A. This collection was amassed by Reverend Chancy Hair Townsend, a cleric and a poet who created this fantastic collection in the 1800s, including pink diamonds, huge aquamarine, spinels and engraved emeralds.


There are 154 stones that Townsend donated to the museum. And some of them came out of the Henry Philip Hope collection (Philip Hope is the gentleman who gave his name to the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC). A significant provenance that elevates this collection even more.


Collections are a way of continuing jewellery. Jewellery collections can be built very quickly, not financially, but physically. And something remarkable is when you have a collector that adds to the collection’s value, which can then have an added history that adds to their interest.


The 1800s was a time when there was massive interest in the natural world. People began understanding how our planet was formed and the gemstone’s role in it.

Therefore, history and mineralogy are an excellent combination. So, for example, the Victoria & Albert and the Natural Science Museums (one in front of the other) were building their collections hand in hand as part of the 19th-century collecting movement. Therefore, in this period, naturalism is a combination of interest in the gemstones as a scientific, chemical, and physical interest and in jewellery as a design. Therefore, naturalism fits in very much with the revival of antiquity as a style. So, they developed simultaneously.

Consequently, a massive wave of naturalism in the 19th century moved away from 18thcentury floral ornaments towards absolute realism.


The 19th century was also a period when families with “new money” started collecting, which is interesting from the perspective of collecting antique jewellery and the view of the collection.

When we think, for example, of the collection of Lady Cory, we know it is about new money. But other collections at the V&A are significant historic aristocratic collections. So we then have a combination of the 19th-century tradition of noble collection and the new cash from industrialization.


Another excellent example of a jewellery collection at the V&A is thanks to Lord Londonderry and the trustees of the Londonderry Estate. Frances Anne Vane Tempest was a very wealthy woman in her own right but married the third Marquess of Londonderry. She was so rich, and he respected her so much that he changed his name to take hers. She not only brought in her jewellery, but she also bought and inherited it, too. With the Marchioness, we see all aspects of collecting gifts, purchases, and inheritance. She also received unique pieces from Tsar Alexander I, who fell in love with her through a portrait and sent her jewels – among which, a superb Siberian amethyst that we can admire in the Marchioness of Londonderry 1831 portrait. This portrait was painted to commemorate the coronation of King William IV. It welcomes the visitors at the entrance of the Jewellery Gallery at the V&A. This painting is an example of how aristocrats enjoyed their jewellery collections – by wearing more (or all) pieces together, by sewing them to their robes and by re-wearing again and again.

This attitude is quite different from those collectors who build sorts of “cabinets de curiosités” containing pieces that are not meant to be worn.

Several jewellery collections came to the V&A museum through donations or loans – Lady Cory’s, for example, or the Londonderry jewels and the same William and Judith Bollinger donations. These are attractive opportunities to show treasures to the world instead of keeping them locked away in a safe.


Today there is a surge in interest in collecting antique and vintage jewels – books and exhibitions testify of this revival, and people are starting to recognise how fabulous antique treasures are.

For example, there is a point to mention about engraved gemstones. These were all the rage in the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, the Grand Tour was fashionable among the young aristocrats, who would tour Europe and Italy to learn – it was part of their formation as cultured gentlemen.

So, when these mosaics were discovered in the 1800s, especially 1860s and up to the 1890s, it created a massive fascination, a bit like the Egyptian revival of the 1920s following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. The classical revival of the 19th century made, at the time, a lot of sense. But what about today?


There seem to be three main theories about the revival of antique jewels, the first one linked to escapism and nostalgia as the main factors directing collectors and connoisseurs to antique treasures.

We are going through challenging times, surrounded by pandemics and wars. This generates uncertainty about our future and our planet. It is equally hard to look ahead and be optimistic. It comes then quite naturally to look backwards to what was in our eyes “golden ages”, in which you felt safe and secure, living a happy and perfect life. Antique jewels then testify of these golden ages, reassure us, and take us back to a peaceful, solid and safe past – that is known, in opposition to the future, that is unknown and can be unforeseeable. Therefore, today revivalism could mean bringing back a lost golden age.

A second reason for the coming back of antique jewels could lie in the globalisation of social media information. The Internet has made getting information more accessible, so antique jewels can instantly be recognised and appreciated, with information about periods and styles at your fingertips.


The third theory is the search for a unique object on the part of collectors and connoisseurs. Nothing is more special than a piece of ancient jewellery – it came from somewhere and has not been made twice. Buying antique jewels shows people’s ability to understand style, craftsmanship and uniqueness, which matters more and more, especially with specific groups of clients, such as the Chinese ones.

The Chinese public is very akin to appreciating the value of antique craftsmanship. But unfortunately, this art is slowly disappearing, and Asian clients are showing a deep interest and education in valuing the antique savoir-faire – this is why they are so much into purchasing antiques in general.


Antique jewels have powerful storytelling. By looking at them, we discover so many stories, ancient myths, and legends recreated in the designs and carving of gems, which are truly enchanting, and people feel this fascination.

An interesting example is the Devonshire Parure which includes a tiara, a massive stomacher, and a necklace, created in the 19th century for the Duchess of Devonshire by using ancient gems – some of these dating back to the 16th century. The concept of using ancient gemstones for jewels is a statement of power and status, something that is no longer valid today but still reflects an intellectual direction to understand life in a specific epoch. The same goes for Napoleon Bonaparte, whose crown was created and modelled following the Ancient Roman designs. This crown screams, “I am your new Emperor”, and legitimates his role as ruler by recalling a glorious past of power and domination to our memory.


Knowing and studying antique jewels is a never-ending affair with beauty and pleasure: the more you look at them, the more you want to know about them, and the more you are amazed by all the cultural layers and references (historical, cultural) they offer, and the relationship between the ancient and the contemporary worlds.


Understanding antique jewels is like understanding a poetic language, and collecting them is like composing your personal poem to Beauty and Grace.





Speaker: Gislain Aucremanne




This article is about Tutankhamun and the legacy he had in the history of jewellery. Howard Carter discovered the tomb in 1922. Since that moment, this discovery started a revolution in Egyptology, and in the interest called Egyptomania, the passion for Egypt. The notion of Egyptomania leads to understanding and deciphering the hieroglyphic language of Tutankhamun’s jewels and how these treasures influenced the creation of the 20th and even the early 21st century.


Why did this historic discovery have such a significant impact on the world of jewellery? The answer can be given through four main chapters.


The first chapter will give a general context of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, of who he was in history and how a great moment it was for Howard Carter, the archaeologist who made the discovery.

The second chapter will review key pieces from the tomb’s treasure. The third chapter will be about the symbols and the meanings linked to the jewels inside the tomb, and, finally, the fourth chapter will conclude with how the Egyptian revival through the ages proves vital and meaningful today.


1 – Who was King Tutankhamun?


One century ago, the discovery of King Tut’s tomb quickly became known as the “discovery of the century”. It was the discovery of the only one intact tomb of a pharaoh who went down in history as completely forgotten.

The erasing of the figure of Tutankhamun from history appears to be intentional.

Egyptologists have evidence of this through the statues found in the tomb.

The Egyptian religious system included several gods. Among these gods there was Rah, the God of the Sun. Amun is the god of air. They became crucial God protectors of the Pharaoh in the second millennium BC. Amun is related to air and the sky. There was a statue in the tomb, but its arms and hands had been destroyed. The head of the Pharaoh was chopped out of the figure itself; the arms, and part of the names, had been destroyed to make sure all the body parts that could help the Pharaoh to survive in the afterlife, and his name, would never last forever.


This cancellation process is called “damnatio memoriae”. This process condemns the memory of the person forever, and it makes sure this person will be forgotten entirely. That was the idea, and this is what happened to King Tut. But why?

Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten, one of the most famous and controversial pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. He refused the traditional polytheistic religion, in particular the cult of Amun-Ra, preferring the Sun as a disc to be worshipped on its own and directly revered by the Pharaoh without using the clergy. Akhenaten transformed the religious system, alienating his priests.

When Akhenaten died, his son, the young Tutankhaten (as he was called after the new religion), nine years old, following the advice of his counsellors, reinstated the ancient polytheistic religion.


Aton then became Tutankh-Amon, related to Amon, the ancient God. But despite this, his officials decided to make sure that, as the son of the heretic king, he was cancelled from history, and everything related to the boy-king disappeared.

Following traces, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon decided together to make researchers. It took Howard Carter 15 years to understand the name of Tutankhamun properly, to understand the exact location in the Kings’ Valley and try to find him. When he found the tomb in November 1922, it was such a glorious time for him because he would revolutionise the world of Egyptology.


However, King Tut’s tomb was quite small, with a chaotic pile of splendid objects. Why was that?

Let us imagine finding the treasure of Ramses II (or Ramses the Great); his tomb would have been ten times longer and probably the treasure ten times bigger compared to Tutankhamun. Howard Carter, instead of a magnificent royal shrine, found the little tomb of a little Pharaoh who ruled very shortly, with everyone around him trying to make sure no one would remember him. This is a crucial aspect of the discovery, because the treasure we have in mind is little compared to what existed. As all the royal treasures have been stolen by thieves, Tutankhamun’s treasure is a good indication of the magnificence and importance of royal funerary treasures.


All the objects found in the tomb have one element in common: gold. Howard Carter, answering Lord Carnarvon, who was asking him what he could see, famously replied while peeking at the inside of the tomb: “Gold, gold everywhere!”.

Gold was an important metal, not only because it was precious but also because it was considered a divine material. At the tomb’s entrance, Howard Carter found two blackskinned guardians with eyes painted in gold. These two guards represented the Pharaoh, they had his features, they wore his jewels and amulets. In this instance, the gold on statues resembling the Pharaoh was used to link the man to the divinity.


Gold is diffusely used in the funerary chamber and for the coffin containing the mummy of the Pharaoh. Tutankhamun’s golden mask is today a true icon of Egyptian funerary art, and the mummy itself was covered in jewels. In addition, they found layers of necklaces made of stones or glass beads. These objects were highly fascinating for Carter, who took them off and documented them, one by one.

The presence of the jewels was significant because they were a protection for the Pharaoh. Because of their importance and value, today these jewels are all displayed at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.


2 – Tutankhamun’s Treasure


The giant golden shrine was covered with engraved scenes of the young Tutankhamun and his queen, protecting him, or giving him some presents, some objects.


Among these objects, Tutankhamun’s wife, Ankhesenamun, is depicted giving the boy-king a necklace with the attribute of Hathor, the goddess who would eventually protect the young Pharaoh in the afterlife. So, every single jewel in the tomb’s decorations or on the body of the Pharaoh was chosen not by chance, but for specific meanings.


The first piece worth examining is King Tut’s golden mask, one of the most acclaimed and famous Egyptian artefacts. The mask weighs an impressive 11 kilos and is in 24k gold. This is an object of extraordinary intensity because one can appreciate the use of various tones of the metal, and the piercing power of the eyes of the Pharaoh – one feels like he is still looking at you, that in those eyes there is life.

Fascinating details in the mask offer a glimpse of how the Pharaoh was in real life. For example, one can notice that its ears are pierced, the same as in the mummy. So, the makers paid great attention to mirroring the natural aspect of Tutankhamun while working on the mask. Besides, there is a humanity in this detail: only women and children had their ears pierced in Ancient Egypt. This testifies of the Pharaoh’s young age when he died.


Another study involves the reconstruction of the body from when it was first discovered. Howard Carter and his team found about two hundred amulets in gold or other metals, and precious stones, covering the body among layers and layers of linen drenched in oils and resins.

The items are golden because gold would give the pharaoh divine protection. These objects are also inscribed with the hieroglyphic language, reporting quotations from the Book of the Dead. These inscriptions would protect the Pharaoh in the afterlife. All these golden amulets would function as a “shield” for the king, protecting him from all the dangers he would have to face during his journey to eternal life. This is why they were positioned on the body among the bandages.

Howard Carter, who started drawing to document his excavations and adventures in Egypt, was a good illustrator. He went on to locate every single amulet found on the body. His precious work allows today to match amulets to their protective function and role and to state that each amulet was chosen for a specific reason.


As we know, Tutankhamun was buried quickly, with objects that, in some instance, were not his own. In Ancient Egypt it would take a few months to make sure all that is necessary to go with the Pharaoh is there for his journey, because what was considered “necessary” was an impressive number of items.

So, in the case of Tutankhamun, and having no time for preparation, priests took objects for the burial to compose the Pharaoh’s funerary equipment from someone else’s funerary set. Evidence of this process can be seen in a pectoral necklace found on the mummy. A pectoral is a rectangular ornament, laced like a necklace, covering the chest. It is a crucial piece of jewellery worn by the Egyptians in everyday life and a burial treasure, too. The pectoral found on the King’s mummy shows Neftis, one of the goddesses protecting the body.

The jewel displays a sharp contrast between the depiction of Neftis and her hieroglyphs, and another cartouche, very poorly executed – the colours are not bright, and the engraving is not refined. Egyptologists then think that this pectoral was not destined for Tutankhamun. Perhaps it was for someone else; it was grabbed and quickly modified by inscribing the name of Tutankhamun on it. Because they were working with haste, the engraving was badly executed. And the same happened with other objects discovered in the tomb – belonging to someone else and “recycled” for King Tut’s hastened burial.


The King’s coffin is another fantastic object. It is made up of more sarcophagi: the mummy had its golden mask, then it was put in a pure gold coffin encrusted with precious stones, then in a golden wood one, with more precious stones, and a final bigger golden wooden sarcophagus, again with precious stones on it. Finally, this ensemble was put in a large stone shrine.

So, there are layers and layers of protection for the Pharaoh, all made of gold. The first golden sarcophagus, where the mummy rests, has the same design as the mask. The artisans replicated and referred to the same symbols multiple times to make sure the Pharaoh was protected.


3 – The meanings and symbols of jewels


Jewels in the Egyptian culture have meanings. Let us go back to the pectoral mentioned earlier. Its design recalls the facade of a temple: wearing a pectoral, is wearing something divine. A divine presence that is always associated with the cartouche containing the name of the Pharaoh – thus stressing the link between the terrestrial and the sacred dimensions.


Another interesting object is the throne. It offers lovely depictions of family scenes between Tutankhamun and his wife, Queen Ankhesenamun. In these scenes, they wear fabulous jewels, represented in every detail. Their skin is in red carnelian, an important ornament stone at the time. Their hair is of lapis-lazuli, the back in gold. It could be that the white textile of the young queen was made from silver, gold, silver lapis and cornelian. King Tut and his wife wear the same necklaces: their design is not differentiated by their gender, and both are decorated with turquoise.


All these materials are the most sacred at the time. Gold was the skin of the gods. Silver was the bones of the gods. Lapis-lazuli was the hair of the gods; even if we all know the pharaohs and the aristocracy had wigs at the time, they considered this blue colour, the intense colour of the sky, related to the divine.

The carnelian is often compared to the burning fire of the sun. When you have so much desert, burning fire is a crucial word to understand both the power and the danger of the sun.

Colour was essential in the Egyptian culture, and it is all that matters – what was important in an object was to render its colour, either with precious stones or with humble materials such as glass beads. No matter what, the power of the item, of the amulet, would remain the same – conveyed by its colours, not by the materials they are made with.

Therefore, knowing the Egyptian culture, symbols, and meanings are essential in analysing the jewels and understanding their messages.

Incredibly, no one found this tomb before 1922, with all its jewels and riches. Archaeologists like Howard Carter have been dreaming of such a discovery for many years, and this dream came true in 1922 when the tomb was discovered and unsealed.


Since the 1920s, lots of Egyptologists decided to publish documents about Egyptian ornaments, and of course, jewellers took these documents and chose to make their design reinterpretations.

Egypt inspired the contemporary world, and the Egyptomania started.

The jewellery production of the 1920s is very rich in examples of ‘Egyptian revival’ jewels. The Neiger Brothers’ Gablonz is today famous for representing the Egyptomaniac inspiration. In one of their famous brooches, one can see the pyramid, the sphynx, you have the obelisk – it is considered a cliché today, but it became a hit at the time. And it is precisely what people wanted to have, with “fake” hieroglyphs on it, because every Egyptologist would testify of the original provenance of them.


4 – Egyptomania and the Egyptian-revival Jewels


The Egyptian revival jewels of the 1920s were reinterpretations to show interest in Ancient Egypt. But this interest had started quite long before, with Napoleon. His Egyptian campaigns started the scientific study of Egypt. Many scholars came with him taking notes, illustrating what they found, understanding archaeology at the time as a science, and taking some objects away with them.


When Napoleon returned to France, despite losing the war, decided to launch an Egyptianinspired sort of culture which spread across Europe. Many example testify of this cultural spread.

The first one is the entrance of what is today the German embassy in Paris – the front part of the facade looks like an Egyptian temple.

Another example of Egyptomania can be found in Percier, Jacob-Desmalter and Biennais. They were designers and architects who worked together to produce Egypt-inspired objects. A famous one is a metal cabinet which looks like a temple.

The British went on with Wedgewood, a manufacturer of porcelain that created an incredible tea service with the Egyptian crocodile and hieroglyphic motives with scarabs and open wings. As for jewels, there is a souvenir from the Dresden battle, during which Napoleon was shot but survived. He took the cannonball that hit him to make a little scarab out of it. He gave it to his lover, Marie Walewska, as a talismanic Egyptomaniac object. The little scarab comes as a ring, which is still in the Walewska family today, thus proving the sentimental connection to this piece.


Then in the second half of the 19th-century archaeological revival, the excavations continued, and jewellers kept producing their jewellery reinterpretations.

An interesting comparison could be between Gustave Baugrand, the prominent jeweller during Napoleon III (the 1860s) and Georges Clairin.

Baugrand made a profile illustration of a queen of Egypt. At the time, the most famous figure in Egypt was Cleopatra. Baugrand created the profile of an Egyptian queen with precious stones according to the French design of the 1860s. A couple of decades later, Georges Clairin portrayed the French actress Sarah Bernhardt impersonating Cleopatra showing her best profile – according to the “Egyptian way”. Egypt became a way of thinking, a real obsession.


So much so that after Tutankhamun’s tomb’s discovery, people started talking of “Tut Mania” – Tutankhamun became “Tut”, easier to remember. And instead of Egyptomania, people started talking of “Tut Mania”.

This Tut mania was a passion in all creations, and in the 1920s, these had tremendous success. During the Art Deco period, jewellers used platinum as a metal, diamonds for white, onyx for black, emeralds for green, and rubies for red. On jewels there are Egyptian scenes taken from the discovered tombs (Chaumet), with figurines moving and walking, hunting birds, or hieroglyphic elements like in some Van Cleef pieces – a sautoir following this style was recently sold at Christie’s in Geneva.

The Tut Mania reached Great Britain, too. They wanted to feel this passion for Egypt, and textiles to be placed in living rooms or bedrooms were printed with hieroglyphs. These textiles were a tangible sign of the passion for Egypt that developed in the U.K. and overseas in that period.


In France, one man in Paris crossed the street and went to an ancient artefact dealer trying to buy Egyptian objects. His name was Louis Cartier, and he developed a crucial creative relationship with Ancient Egypt. Cartier differed in comparison to Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arpels: while these Maisons perfectly mimicked hieroglyphs, Cartier went a step further by including proper archaeological pieces into his creations. These pieces came from other excavations that dealers of antiquity would have available.

Louis Cartier would buy them and would include them in his jewels. A perfect Art Deco piece, and typical of Cartier, one of the most iconic pieces, is a scarab brooch designed in 1924, in platinum and diamonds. Cartier also took some parts of the blue faience to make the wings. The faience is ancient, from a foregone era, and they just introduced it to make the scarab fly as they saw in the hieroglyphic illustrations.


One could imagine that after the twenties and thirties, the passion for Tutankhamun and Egypt could have gone down. However, that was not the case, thanks to the cinema, which constantly inspired by presenting the stories, splendour, and legends of Ancient Egypt.


For example, in New York in the sixties, David Webb designed the “Eye of Horus” brooch, which has an Egyptian twist and inspiration thanks to the use of lapis lazuli in the Egyptian style. Cartier also returned to Egypt in the 1980s with a golden collar necklace featuring a massive scarab at the front – now in Cartier’s Heritage Collection.

Today, we have contemporary designers like Lydia Courteille, who, in the early 2000s, created a stunning piece called “Gala Ma Muse”, designed inside an Egyptian eye – Gala was Salvador Dali’s muse, and this jewel is a fusion of Egyptomania and Surrealism.

Hemmerle, in 2018, designed a collection called “Revived Treasures”. The solid Egyptian inspiration comes from family ties because the heir to the Hemmerle family is married to Yasmin Hamal, who was born in Egypt. So, they designed art objects meant to be worn, such as Egyptian scarabs and old amulets that can transform into earrings.

Finally, a few months ago, in 2022, Messika decided to design the “Akh-Ba-Ko” asymmetrical earrings that would have the shape of long wings, with the power of the scarab that could fly away.


Egyptomania is not dead, and our passion and fascination for Egypt will continue in the years to come.