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Exhibition showcases art jewellery made by the Steltman company from 1917 to the present
Steltman, Two bracelets, brooch and ring, white gold with jade, pearls and enamel, 1930s.

THE HAGUE.- Steltman Jewellers opened in The Hague exactly one hundred years ago. From the start, the ‘Joaillerie Artistique’ (art jewellery shop) placed an emphasis on artistic design. Typical Steltman pieces feature intriguing, eye-catching shapes and stunning workmanship. The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag showcases art jewellery made by the Steltman company from 1917 to the present, including some pieces with a royal past.

The exhibition includes beautifully carved jade from the interwar years, distinctive Steltman pieces with lotus flower motifs, fantastical and decorative animal figures from the 1950s, and modern designs from later in the century. Special attention is being paid to the lotus flower motif, constantly used and developed by Steltman right through to today. It appears in rings, pendant earrings, cuff links, brooches, tiepins and necklaces. At the heart of many of the flowers is a pearl or diamond, contrasting beautifully with a black enamel ground – a technique for which Johannes Steltman, the company’s founder, became famous. A 1931 guide book to The Hague, Het Boek van Den Haag, was clear about the company’s stature: “Proper Hague people adorn themselves with a few fine, high-quality pieces from J. Steltman’s”, the booklet reports. “This jewellery business can be regarded as among the best in town. And not just here, because the name of bijoutier Steltman is known far and wide.”

The various styles and materials employed by the company’s skilled craftsmen over the past hundred years reveal not only how jewellery was influenced by changing fashions, but also the role jewellery played in them. Pieces by Steltman were cherished for generations, sometimes being restyled, and played an important role in family life. The exhibition includes various unique items on loan from private individuals and never previously on show to the public. Faithful clients have lent these pieces especially for this occasion. They are accompanied by personal anecdotes. After all, who can remember these days what being an enfileuse (pearl stringer) involved, or that the restringing of pearl necklaces was an annual ritual? And who now knows the precise etiquette surrounding jewellery – what could be worn when and what was taboo? “In the evening you could wear the lot, even bracelets and rings over long evening gloves, two brooches, three or four necklaces”, wrote Dutch aristocrat Agnies Pauw van Wieldrecht. “During the day, however, you had to confine yourself to a signet ring, an engagement or wedding ring, a watch or lorgnette on a thin chain, a simple brooch.” Any more attracted derision: “Marietje was all decked out again!” “Awful… like a Christmas tree.”

Steltman’s interior and silverware
The exhibition also includes design drawings, craftsman-made plaster models, and information on the craft of jewellery making. The interior of Steltman’s shop is also of interest. It changed over time, mirroring current fashions, and Steltman always paid great attention to its design. One of the earliest interiors incorporated modernist pieces by Hildo Krop, including richly decorated calamander wood panels with openwork scenes and modern-looking vitrines. A later interior was designed by Gerrit Rietveld in the 1960s. It featured the famous ‘Steltman chair’ (now in the collection of the Gemeentemuseum) in a sea of space and light.

Other items on display include beautiful silver table utensils and decorative pieces for the interior. Top items include the tea set entered by Steltman for the renowned 1925 Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris, where it was awarded a bronze medal. In the 1920s, Steltman’s silverware was enthusiastically described as “the finest … that the branch produces in this modern era. In many respects, its manufacture deviates from the old, well-beaten paths by which these precious articles have for so long been designed; it is all based on new lines and designs.”

Royal past
Among the highlights of the exhibition are those pieces with a royal past. Steltman has contributed to the jewellery collection of the Dutch royal house over no fewer than six generations; royal commissions have ranged from engagement rings to personal gifts and modifications of older royal pieces. In addition, Steltman Jewellers possesses its own collection of historical jewellery, some of which were once in royal hands. The show in The Hague includes the ring that the Dutch jewellers’ federation presented to Princess Irene for her 21st birthday. Princess Irene collaborated with Steltman on the design of the platinum ring and it features one of her favourite stones: a dark ruby.

Exhibition design is by Maarten Spruyt. The exhibition is accompanied by a beautifully designed catalogue, published by Waanders & De Kunst and written by Marit Eisses (price €24.95).

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