Museums and Fashion Part 3: Curiouser and Curiouser museum jewelry

Jewelry is a realm of the fashion industry that is not always so tanchi friendly. Just the other night I was introducing myself to a gentleman and when he shook my hand, the ring I was wearing on my thickest finger nearly caused an injury. Not really, but it did hurt because jewelry isn’t necessarily made for small hands and the ring, unlike clothing, isn’t so easy to alter. Kelly of Alterations Needed however, a fellow petite San Diego fashion blogger has found some tips and tricks for jewelry, particularly for making bangles and pearl bracelets petite friendly.

To alter rings, however, requires welding, which I drop for when fixing up non-costume jewelry. I really don’t do rings for this reason. I do use rings, though, and jewelry for inspiration in my style and artwork – especially the kind that are wearable cabinets of curiosities. I come across this unique eclectic jewelry in museum gift shops and Etsy – a community of artists selling their creations in an online marketplace. (there I go again sharing my secrets.)

What is great about these pieces is that their eclecticism makes fashion interesting and evokes stories. As a tanchi, I seek out the usual petite friendly brands such as Forever 21, Banana Republic, JCrew, Bebe, etc. but it gets old. I crave for pieces to add to my curated closet that make me feel like I’m not cloning every other petite. I look for unlikely pieces that help me get dressed (the method of searching for pieces for the closet) – and I look to museums who collaborate with artists because many have used the merge to curate thoughtful and curious collections sold in these stores.

In this series of Museums and Fashion: an unconscious and best-kept collaboration, I would like to introduce fellow tanchi, Lovely, (yes, that is her real name) that spent some time working at the Getty Museum Store.

The inspiration for the gift shop jewelry comes from the artifacts in the museum. As an intern, one of Lovely’s tasks was to browse the Getty + Villa exhibits and note any interesting/beautiful artifacts that may be used for an upcoming store jewelry collection. The artifact did not need to be ancient jewelry, it can be *anything* that would look great as a jewelry piece. She really pushed for using vase shapes as pendants and earrings for a possible jewelry collection. Before leaving, the admin were discussing mythical monsters as part of a new bold jewelry collection. The pomegranate was a museum artifact that was used for store jewelry — it didn’t appear in ancient jewelry at all, but the fruit was ubiquitous in ancient art, and it also marked fertility and good health (see: Pomegranate Necklace with Drop Garnets and Ripe Pomegranate Pendant Necklace)


So the artifact used for inspiration must not only be beautiful, but must tell a compelling story. If someone who wears a museum store piece gets complimented on a necklace or bracelet, etc., they can follow-up with a unique tale about how that particular jewelry is somehow tied to the ancients. The goal is not simply to look good, but to retell history.

If the museum admin approved a particular artifact, they would scout jewelry designers who could make store jewelry that specifically evokes the qualities of that artifacts (i.e. commissions a designer to make a unique collection), or looks for existing jewelry pieces that have similar qualities to that of the artifact (i.e. already made but matches the artifact pretty well). An example of the latter is the jewelry made by Michael Michaud’s “Silver Seasons” collection which the museum admin absolutely loves. His works are inspired by nature; he uses real leaves, branches, and flowers to make metal molds for his botanical-inspired pendants. His jewelry is *not* commissioned by the Getty, but they match one of the Getty store’s jewelry inspiration: the sacred earth during ancient times (i.e. a lot of artifacts evoking the importance of Mother Nature, dirt, flowers, etc.).

I visited my own museum’s gift shop at the San Diego Natural History Museum to see how artifacts might influence collections sold in-store. My personal favorite is the skull jewelry that corresponds with the Skulls exhibition we house. Also we have a biodiversity research center that includes geological studies. One of the artifacts you can find is as this giant purple Amherst rock and in the store you will find an array of precious stone jewlery designed by Charlene K. Finally, a great find are the Red Creek Jasper pieces (a form of microcrystalline quartz), a stone that has been on the market for about five or six years now.

San Diego Natural History Museum jewelry

Currently, on exhition is BOLD: The Art of DNA Barcoding. A series of works featuring the stages of a caterpillar are in the background. It reminded me of some great Etsy eclectic statement necklaces featuring bugs that I found inspiring. The first is a Dragonfly necklace, Victorian style, with a caramel topaz stone. Also, there is what I call a “Bee Bib Necklace.” Both are elegant pieces priced at $200 each. Although out of my price range, I still love to admire the craftsmanship of combining different elements to make these grand pieces.

San Diego Natural History Museum

Last week I featured Lucera who works at the Mingei International Museum in Part 2 of this series. I spotted her necklace for sale at the museum gift shop for $18. (Great thing about buying in museum gift shops is you support the museum with your dollars). Pictured are some other great eclectic pieces using beads, metal, and one of my favorite pieces I spotted – a necklace with an old school clock (so Alice in Wonderland like).


Last but not least, I some fun eclectic statement jewelry that I use as inspiration pieces I scoured on Etsy. They are necklaces made for a contemporary Marie Antoinette (notourious for her extravagent fashion and costumes). Pictured on the bottom is a blue and gold color scheme reminiscent of French style interior decor, a Baroque Breastplate Statement Necklace.


In the center is pictured one of the most extravagent pieces I’ve ever come across– a statement bib Necklace by Jevda. And if Marie Antoinette were to go raging, this neon stoned mixed with rhinestones and pearls necklace would be perfect for her taste and occasion, a Lolita Gorgeous Acrylic and Swarovski neon and pearls statement necklace.

The thought of raging with Marie Antoinette present day…now that’s curious.


Lovely Umayam is currently based in Beijing, China working for the United Nations. She is a former intern at the J. Paul Getty Museum in the museum gift shop.


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