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Top Holiday Gifts for Women From the British Museum

Must-Have Jewelry and Accessory Originals From a Great Museum Shop

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Every year the British Museum Shop gathers some of its best, gift-worthy merchandise in a special, online Christmas Shop. In 2012, this includes really lovely replica jewelry and textiles inspired by the museum's collections and exhibitions. Almost all these gifts are exclusive to the British Museum shop. They make great gifts for someone who has traveled to or is planning a trip to the UK, and they are as close as you're likely to get in our age of mass production to choosing something that's actually unique. Check these out to see the kinds of gifts that are typically available. Then visit the British Museum Online Shop to see what is currently available.

1. Once Upon a Time Pendant

Once Upon a Time Pendant
British Museum Shop

Start a great story by giving this pendant, engraved with the very words that launch us into fairytales. "Once upon a time..." is engraved onto a torn page from a tiny silver book with brass accents suspended on an 18" babyball chain. It's a charming stocking filler for a little girl, for a woman who loves to read or someone who writes stories herself. It was inspired by the 2012 exhibition Shakespeare: Staging the World.

2. Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Necklace

Romeo and Juliet Pendant
British Museum Shop

Talk about making a romantic statement for Christmas. This delicate sterling silver pendant, inspired by the museum's Shakespeare:Staging the World exhibition carries a passionate Shakespearean quotation from Romeo and Juliet - "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls for stony limits cannot hold love out". The declaration of romantic intention is finely engraved on a tiny silver column about an inch and a half long.

3. Baroque Pearl Necklace

Baroque Pearl Necklace
British Museum Shop

In Shakespeare's day, pearls suggested virtue and opulence. All contemporary portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, show her dripping in pearls. To accompany the Shakespeare:Staging the World exhibition, the British Museum commissioned this exclusive baroque pearl necklace from the Real Pearl Company. The design is copied from the "Portrait of an Unknown Lady" by George Gower, kept in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The pearls are 9mm freshwater cultured pearls, in an 18" string, with silver fittings and a presentation box.

4. Red Velvet Devoré Scarf

Red Velvet Devore scarf
British Museum Shop
Shakespeare might have been familiar with the devoré technique of burning away a pattern on velvet as it was first developed in the early 17th century as "poor man's lace": perhaps it even made its way into theatrical costumes for his plays during his lifetime. The museum commissioned this exclusive design from Beckford Silk, a luxury UK silk supplier. The pattern is taken from the 16th century Scottish Lochbuie brooch, part of the British Museum collection. The scarf is a luxuriously generous 5' 4" long by about 10 inches wide. It's also available in purple.

5. The Lyte Jewel Brooch

Lyte Jewel Brooch
British Museum Shop

People keep telling me that brooches are not in fashion - but then I see something as extravagantly gorgeous as this and I have to say, who cares about fashion. Made of 18ct gold-plated pewter and enamel with Swarovski crystals, it's inspired by a 300 year old pendant brooch bequeathed to the museum by Baron de Rothschild in 1898. The original jewel is made of gold, enamel and diamonds. In 1610, it was given by King James I to Thomas Lyte of Lytescary in Somerset (interesting name - do you suppose his house was haunted?). The British museum original opens to reveal a miniature portrait of the king on vellum. Learn more about the original Lyte Jewel.

Getting back to the fashion question, it would make quite a dramatic statement on a coat or wrap during the holiday season.

6. Bluebell pomander

Bluebell Pomander
British Museum Shop

Fashion and decorative arts seem to have been at their peak in Shakespeare's day. As a result, the museum's 2012 Shakespeare exhibition, part of the International Shakespeare Festival, has inspired a feast of feminine doodads - jewelry, scarfs, charms and so forth, for the British Museum Christmas Shop.

Take the Bluebell pomander, for example. It's made of pewter and filled with bluebell scented potpourri to add fragrance to a drawer, a closet or a room. The pierced pewter ball, about two inches in diameter, is beautifully crafted in stylized bluebell flowers and supplied with a blue satin ribbon.

There are actually a whole series of these pomanders - Daisy, Lavender, Poppy and Rose - each one crafted in a stylized version of the flowers they represent and supplied with a suitably colored ribbon. You can see and buy all of them at the British Museum Christmas Shop.

I want one for every closet in my house (heavy hint).

7. Shakespeare Floral Silk Scarf

Shakespeare Floral Scarf
British Museum Shop

The flowers featured on this lovely scarf are from 16th century watercolor studies of daffodils, marigolds and gillyflowers in the museum's collection. The studies, by Jacques Le Moyne, are included in an album of 50 watercolor drawings, circa 1585, that are considered to be the finest botanical studies of the 16th century. But enough of all this academic stuff - just look at it. It's so cheerfully pretty I want to own it.

The scarf is made of silk twill and measures about 35 inches square.

8. Green Rose Brooch

Green Rose Brooch
British Museum Shop
The Victorians loved "tremblers" on their jewelry - gems set above the main jewel on wires so that they trembled with the wearer's movement and thus sparkled in the candlelight or gaslight. This brooch is based on a jewel in the museum's collection, circa 1840-1880, that had a spray of trembler-mounted dog roses set with chrysoberyls. Sadly, this "inspired by" piece, made of pewter, doesn't have any tremblers. But its green Swarovski crystals probably sparkle enough without them. About 3" by 2", it makes a great dressing up statement piece on - on black velvet perhaps.

9. Grayson Perry Map Silk Scarf

Grayson Perry Map Scarf
British Museum Shop
Turner Prize-winning, idiosyncratic artist and craftsman Grayson Perry staged one of the British Museum's more unusual exhibitions,"Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman". He spent two years behind the scenes at the museum creating the exhibition. It was, he said, his personal response to the museum's collections and a memorial to the many anonymous craftsmen and artisans who created the thousands of items in its collections. The map scarf is his personal guide to the spirit of the museum, which he described as, "...a slightly tyrannical monster...I think of the BM as a friendly giant. He can get grouchy and cynical at times as he is constantly being besieged by visitors wielding cameras but above all it is a place of wonder and beauty and learning." The colorful design makes a playful memento of Perry's exhibition. The scarf is approximately 35 inches square, made of 100% silk with hand-rolled edges.

 

Watch a video of Grayson Perry at work at the British Museum.

10. Portland Vase Sheer Scarf

Portland Vase Scarf
British Museum Shop

The Portland Vase is one of the great treasures of the British Museum, and probably the most famous carved glass cameo of antiquity. It is thought to be Roman, from about A.D. 5-25. It was made by a dip overlay method whereby the blue glass vessel was dipped into a crucible of white glass and the two blown together. The white glass was then carved away by a master craftsman, probably a gem cutter. At one point in its history, the vase was loaned to Josiah Wedgewood, who copied its scenes in his famous jasperware.

This sheerness of this scarf, with the design printed against a sapphire blue ground, captures the feeling of light through the dark blue glass of the original vase. It would make a nice present for someone who might be getting married soon or celebrating an anniversary. That's because the scenes depicted on the Portland vase are thought to relate love and marriage and the vase itself might have been a wedding gift. The scarf is about 14 inches by 60 inches.

Find out more about the Portland Vase

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