Precious, noble, magical – the allure and special properties of gold and silver have fascinated cultures worldwide for centuries. Precious Metals showcases about eighty gold and silver treasures from Te Papa’s collections, from the 1860s to the present day.
The exhibition opens with samples of precious metals in the raw. Techniques for working and shaping them are portrayed with a selection of historic tools, almost identical to those used by today’s makers.
‘A century of creation’ shows small tableware items made in New Zealand - now much sought-after by collectors – alongside other 19th century items. The one really large object in the exhibition – the Russell rosebowl – is exceptional for this country, and was made in Sheffield, England, for Hawke’s Bay politician and landowner Sir William Russell Russell.
Also on display are examples of the grotesque Victorian fashion for using animal parts in tableware and jewellery. A wine jug made from an emu’s egg is one of the more bizarre items. A melancholy one is a huia-beak gold brooch, probably made at about the time the species became extinct.
The ‘bread-and-butter’ work of most turn-of-the-century New Zealand jewellers was making commemorative items. Precious Metals puts a wide range of these treasures on display, including a silver cradle and a wool buyer’s calculator.
As well as older items, Te Papa collects contemporary works by New Zealand jewellery artists. Those selected are good examples of recent trends in this country from about 1960 – the inclusion of found objects, for example, as well as new, adventurous uses of metal media.
Some of the makers featured in this section migrated to this country and continued to work in the international styles with which they were familiar. Both they and the New Zealand-born artists engage with issues of location, culture, and politics through their work, expressing a growing sense of New Zealand and Pacific identity.