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In early 1959, curators at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, began discussing with then art secretary of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (now the Goldsmiths’ Company), Graham Hughes, a possible jewelry exhibition. But by the middle of the year, the museum could neither assist with the organization of nor host the show for budgetary reasons. Reluctant to forfeit the project, Hughes continued the venture, and the International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890-1961 opened at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London in October of 1961.

The historical section of the exhibition included classic diamond-laden Edwardian era jewels balanced by Arts and Crafts masterpieces and extraordinary Art Nouveau examples, showcasing unusual materials such as ivory, horn, and semi-precious stones. Artists included notables such as René Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Traditional fine jewelry was borrowed from leading international companies such as Fabergé, Cartier, and British firms Garrard & Co. and Asprey.

Artist-designed jewelry by such luminaries as Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso was shown alongside an international set of both established and young jewelers that Hughes was keen to champion. International in scope, the exhibition showcased over 900 works by jewelers from over 30 countries. Like Mario Masenza a decade earlier, Graham’s intent was to revitalize jewelry design and raise the status of the artist-jeweler in Britain. He wanted contemporary jewelry to represent work that could not have been made at any other time in history. The exhibition successfully did so and jewelry, as an expression of artistic individuality—uninhibited, imaginative, and smart—was its legacy.