Little-Known Jewelry Niche Inspired by History

Museum-inspired collections of jewelry aren’t limited to museum visitors. In fact, some of the jewelry seen at museums can also be purchased by jewelers for resale. Consider museum-inspired jewelry if you want to appeal to arts patrons and also benefit the arts.

That’s what designer and former model Cynthia Gale did more than a decade ago. After a vacation to Jakarta, Indonesia, and subsequent trips to local jewelers, Gale was hooked: “I fell in love with repoussé,” she says of the ancient technique that gives jewelry a hammered, rustic look. Fifteen years later, The Cynthia Gale Collection—art-inspired museum jewelry—is in full bloom.

Many of the pieces are made in the repoussé technique by craftsmen at her factory in Indonesia. Repoussé masters sit on stools, hunched over hollowed-out logs filled with a tarlike pitch mixture. Then, with silver pieces pressed into the pitch, the men hammer away at the jewelry starting to form, flipping it over when necessary to chase it or continually sharpen any patterns. Gale picked up her first museum client, The Cleveland Museum of Art, after showing her wares at the Museum Store Association’s annual expo. Other clients, such as the Washington National Cathedral and the National Gallery of Art, soon followed.

Now Gale helps museums decide which pieces will find favor with patrons. That requires sifting through boxes of historical documents—or sometimes looking at a single photo—supplied by clients. One objective is common to her museum clients: “They all expect certain museum pieces to speak to visitors, so when guests are deciding what piece of the museum—from the gift shop—they’re going to take home with them, curators want jewelry in there that represents the museum the best,” she says.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York tapped Gale to craft a collection highlighting a dinosaur exhibit. The museum’s request: Make a piece that celebrates the relationship between birds and reptiles. Her take: “Silver dragonflies with feathers,” she says.

Each piece from Gale’s museum line comes with a curatorial card written by the museum that explains the piece’s provenance and makes a promise: that Gale will make a donation to the museum from its sale.

Reach the artist in New York at (888) 436-2781 or online at www.geoartnyc.com. To discover other companies that make museum-inspired jewelry, view a full list of jewelry exhibitors to the Museum Store Association’s Annual Expo by logging onto www.museumdistrict.com (click on “Museum Retail Conference & Expo”).