The Newark Museum is a quiet and genteel oasis in New Jersey’s largest city. Newark, “The Brick City”, is known for its grit, ports, very large and busy international airport, as well as having a prosperous manufacturing history including leather and the invention of patent leather. At one time Newark was the center of fine jewelry manufacturing, kin to Providence, Rhode Island, where costume jewelry manufacturing was the breadwinner for many families.
In the midst of the city sits a stately brick building with a 19th century mansion, The Ballantine House, as its next door neighbor. Originally a residence, the Ballantine House is a part of the Newark Museum and offers a glimpse into the daily life of the late 19th century in a well-to-do-home.
In the main museum building, installed alongside intricate marble statues, stunning American paintings, beautifully crafted American furniture, a Science Wing, and an Asian Tibetan collection so extraordinary even the Dalai Lama paid a visit to see it, is a collection of jewelry and other intricate handwork spanning 500 years. Being a jewelry industry veteran, my visit to the museum was with seeing the jewelry in mind. My intentions were well-rewarded with many lovely pieces on display. A Spanish cross, circa 1650, made of gold and amethysts with an intricate lacy edge captures a time of grandeur and holy ornamentation. The Grand Barbarian’s Trapeze, a fibula brooch made by William Harper in 1998, is a pure fantasy of gold, enamel, pearls, tourmaline, fire opal, topaz, and chalcedony. With this brooch measuring nearly 10 inches tall, a visitor to the museum could easily linger a long while at just this piece and enjoy the unusual design and exquiste workmanship.
An 1875 replica of an Etruscan style necklace and earrings from Rome are souvenirs of the time; the set had been bought for a friend, a daughter of Thomas Edison, in the mid-1870’s. Many Kremmentz pieces are also on display, as is fitting, since the Kremmentz Company was founded in Newark.
The carefully selected and broad-reaching jewelry on display at the museums helps to tell the story of fine jewelry manufacturing in Newark and throughout the world and is well worth a visit.