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Jewellery preservation — handle with care

Across the edges of Katrina Redman’s desk within the huge advanced of the Victoria and Albert Museum are the instruments of her commerce: a pot of thin brushes, a field of “insect pins”, scalpels, bamboo skewers, a pair of purple nitrile gloves, cotton wool swabs, a big microscope and a reference desk reminding her that beneath the fallacious lighting ranges dangerous issues occur — coral and tortoise-shell fade, zircon turns blue or gray. On the centre of the desk is an island of white paper the place, week in, week out, treasures land.

Treasured items which have washed up right here, both on their technique to be displayed within the museum or earlier than they head off on tour to different establishments or again residence to their homeowners, have included a diamond and sapphire bracelet given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert, a pair of Salvador Dalí champagne coupe customary lamps, a ruby and white nephrite jade turban pin from the Mughal empire, a trove of Fabergé.

Redman’s job, because the V&A’s senior conservator of metals within the collections care and entry division for the final three years, is to determine what to do — or to not do — to assist protect the life of those items for so long as doable.

We consider metals as stable, however, she says, metals are reactive, always on the transfer. “Steel in its metallic kind is chemically unstable. It’s all the time attempting to get again to a extra secure compound, its ore mainly,” Redman says, referring to the naturally occurring rock or sediment from which a steel or mineral could be extracted. “With silver it occurs very slowly. Iron’s extra reactive so that you see it rusting in a short time.” Though much less so, gems could be changeable too. “Opals are as much as 10 per cent water content material so when you put them in a extremely dry surroundings they may crack. Amber can darken with age, so publicity to UV will have an effect on it. Pearls are extra vulnerable to acid assault or fragrance on the pores and skin, hairspray.”

Queen Victoria’s bracelet in gold, silver, sapphires and diamonds
Queen Victoria’s bracelet in gold, silver, sapphires and diamonds, most likely made by Kitching & Abud, 1842 © Tom Jamieson for the FT
Neo-classical parure made of ancient Roman engraved gems and carnelians set in enamelled gold
Neoclassical parure made from historic Roman engraved gems and carnelians set in enamelled gold, believed to have been given to the Empress Josephine of France by Napoleon’s sister Caroline Murat in 1808 © Tom Jamieson for the FT

Making an attempt to decelerate these pure processes is a part of Redman’s process on the two-strong group. “That is perhaps by the surroundings we show it in, the sunshine ranges, the temperature. Or it is perhaps making use of a protecting coating or lacquer to a floor space to stop air reaching it,” she says. Redman assesses the situations of items and pictures them intimately in order that there’s a dependable visible report of how they arrived or departed from the museum. She additionally helps the curators search for authenticity and checks provenance. The Mughal turban decoration, a spectacular carved white nephrite jade, with exactly carved ruby, emerald and topaz items in-set in gold, will quickly be off to the Museum of Indian Artwork in Doha. There was a query about whether or not the pearl at its tip had come from endangered waters, through which case totally different paperwork could be required. “That meant trying on the almost certainly sources of that pearl,” she says. “We established it was almost certainly to be both a Persian or a South Sea pearl they usually’re not endangered.”

Redman, who studied conservation of historic objects on the College of Lincoln, specialising in effective steel work at West Dean School of Arts and Conservation in West Sussex, additionally investigates making strategies and conducts any repairs that is perhaps wanted for preservation. Not too long ago, a bit of jewelry, crushed in transit, arrived for the upcoming Africa Style exhibition. Redman needed to do a stay restore operation, the proprietor watching by video name. It sounds nerve-racking however didn’t appear to section Redman. “It was effective. I did it with my arms, so I used to be in a position to management the stress.”

Katrina Redman’s desk in the Victoria and Albert Museum
Katrina Redman’s desk within the Victoria and Albert Museum © Tom Jamieson for the FT

Different issues set her on edge. Such because the Salvador Dalí lamps that went into open show within the twentieth century gallery. The lamps, every made up of 10 stacked, outsized copper alloy champagne coupes, designed for the Sussex residence of the surrealist artwork patron Edward James, have been acquired in 2019 with assist from the Artwork Fund. “After they arrived the bottom steel’s corrosion was erupting by the floor. I put a coating on to guard them, however which may occur once more so I do fear about how they’re holding up,” she says with a grimace. “All the objects on open show are in danger. However there are such a lot of objects right here you possibly can’t fear about all the things. Properly, you do fear however you possibly can’t take into consideration all of them all the time.”

A latest exhibition she labored on was Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution, exploring the work of the grasp Russian goldsmith. “These items have been phenomenal. The craftsmanship was superb. The flowers, the animals — you get a way of a personality from the best way they’ve [been] carved. However what was attention-grabbing about Fabergé was that he didn’t instantly go for the actually excessive finish. It wasn’t diamonds all the best way. He was extra fascinated with the correct materials for his imaginative and prescient.” She says there’s a reference to asbestos getting used on a dandelion piece (not included within the exhibition) as a result of he felt that it gave the correct visible impact. “I believe that’s testomony to a craftsman, after they don’t simply go for the glitz.”

Redman checked all of the items and photographed each. Was it a excessive level of her time to this point on the museum? She concurs and grins. “Who can say they’ve dealt with that a lot Fabergé of their lifetime?” 

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