Three years ago, her unappreciated diamond brooch and matching earrings were purchased by Yvonne Markowitz, the curator of jewelry at the , to include in an 11,000-piece jewelry collection spanning from ancient Egypt to 21st-century America.
"Mrs. Lincoln was a shopaholic, but with conservative taste," says Markowitz about the late first lady's rather tame diamond suite. "It's typical of what an upper-middle-class woman of the time would wear, but it is a historical piece with a great story behind it."
People are captivated by beautiful baubles, yet most American museums treat jewelry collections as stepchildren, seldom showcased and held in lower esteem than fine art. Such prejudice doesn't prevail at the MFA, which in 2006 made Markowitz the first full-time curator of jewelry at an American art museum. This month, the MFA will open the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery, a permanent space for jewelry exhibitions.
"Some people see jewelry as a commodity and neglect the beauty, the workmanship, and the design that goes into it," says Christie's Daphne Lingon. "A piece is not just about the stones and the metal, but about the social climate, culture, and history it represents."
Mrs. Lincoln's jewelry is just one of the attractions in "," which opens on July 19 to inaugurate the new gallery. In addition to megawatt bling like Marjorie Merriweather Post's diamond brooch with a 60-carat, carved Mughal emerald, the show includes such bizarre ornaments as a Victorian brooch of a taxidermy hummingbird.
Contemporary ornaments abound as well, including one of the exhibit's wittiest pieces: a ring, named "Diamonds are a girl's best friend," made of gold-plated copper wire entwined around empty space in lieu of an emerald-cut diamond.