Van Cleef & Arpels' diamond earrings with Chanel elbow-length gloves adorned with Swarovski crystal, from the "Jewelry as Fashion as Jewelry" catalogue.

Galleries can be stuffy places, but at the Tiina Smith Jewelry Gallery in Boston, “People coming in don’t know what to expect.”

So says the owner of the 3,000-square-foot gallery, located at 121 Newbury Street in a former drawing room of a brownstone with bay windows and Murano lighting, reimagined as a old-style salon from the early 1900s.

“We don’t just take things out of cases and show you,” said Smith. “Here you can really reach out and touch. My gallery is not like a museum where it’s all untouchable.”

For her current exhibit, titled “Jewelry as Fashion as Jewelry,” Smith did tap some museum expertise by partnering with Michelle Finamore, the former Penny Vinik Curator of Fashion Arts at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

“When Michelle came into the picture we agreed to think about what fashion would be most suitable for the exhibit. Michelle was really the curator. We were support staff. For this concept of examining the interplay of jewelry and fashion, who better than Michelle to lead the way.”

The exhibit showcases vintage designer fashion accessorized by jewelry from such brands as Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Chanel and Tiffany. It can be viewed in-person at the gallery, or virtually beginning Oct. 15, and a catalogue on the exhibit is available.

Chanel’s star-studded shoes and clutch; a David Webb Maltese brooch and diamond earrings; Van Cleef & Arpels’ diamond earrings; Vhernier’s diamond ear clips, and Chanel’s Comète diamond ceramic ring. 

For Smith and Finamore (who are friends), it’s their first collaboration. It’s also the first exhibit by Finamore since she left the Boston museum a year ago. Finamore made a name for herself and elevated the profile of the museum’s fashion holdings by curating cutting-edge exhibitions like last year’s “Gender Bending Fashion,” which examined how gender roles in fashion and society have been challenged in the past century.

Smith, a former Harvard tennis star and ex-M&A executive, has been providing private clients with one-of-a-kind vintage pieces by the master jewelers of the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as high fine jewelry, meeting them at their homes or in their offices or by staging trunk shows. She opened her gallery in September 2019.

The exhibit, which runs through Nov. 30, explores “the dynamic interplay between vintage and contemporary fashion and spectacular jewels from the Art Deco era to the present day,” said Smith.

For example, a vintage $15,000 Chanel gown is accessorized with Verdura jewelry; Dior is paired with Swarovski crystals, and there is also fashion from Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli, among other designers.

“Unlike a museum where items are typically displayed behind glass, this installation has full-length mannequins that can be viewed in the round for a truly up-close and intimate experience,” said Smith. About 140 vintage jewelry pieces are displayed, on the mannequins as well as on forms and tables.

A “curator’s conversation” discussing the exhibit will be online starting Oct. 15. “Michelle wrote a very scholarly essay about this exhibition,” said Smith.

“Jewelry as Fashion as Jewelry,” said Smith, is “the first in a series of thematic shows we plan to mount.” She’s planning a musicale evening, demonstrating that jewelry “is not just an art form. It crosses over to fashion, art and music.”

A Christian Dior evening gown paired with a Van Cleef & Arpels platinum and diamond melusine necklace. 

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