The year 1905 may be considered as a date when the Department of Precious Metals was created within the Historical Museum, after the decision to establish a Special Depository – a safe storage-room for objects of precious metals and stones – was taken.
The collection comprise nearly 30 000 works of art, it was based on the objects gathering by the famous entrepreneur and patron of the arts P.I. Shchukin whose collection comprised over 800 pieces of Russian, European and Oriental Jewelry.
The collection of Russian and European Jewellery numbering more than 1000 pieces may be deservedly referred to as one of the interesting acquisitions the Department has made in the recent years; in 1996 it was transferred to the Department from Gokhran (State Depository for Precious Metals) which has acted as the largest contributor to the Department’s collections since the 30’s of the 20th century. The silver glass-holder of Academician A.D. Sakharov was one of the fascinating and historically precious gifts. In 2003, a unique 202-piece decorations collection of 1930-1970’s produced by the USSR jewellery industry enterprises was acquired by the Museum for the Precious Metals Department.
The collection of Russian gold- and silversmith works of art of the 9th-20th centuriesis globally renowned for its artistic features and historical importance. This collection provides a detailed and insight picture of the jewellery development in 50 Russian and 20 USSR republics’ centers of arts.
The collection of secular and church items with owners’ and church inscriptions and the collection of bestowed silver drinking vessels of the 17th-18th centuriesare noteworthy.
The bulk of unique collections includessmall plastic sculpture of the 9th-17th centuries, icons and Service Books in precious settings dating to the 16-17th centuries, holy vessels, utensils and lighting fixtures.
The richest collection ofworks of art by Russian jewelers of the “silver age”is of peculiar interest. It offers complete and versatile representations of the world-renowned firms “Faberge”, “Bolin”, “Sazikov”, “Khlebnikov”, “Ovchinnikov” and others.
The collection of European jewelersis less known, but not less valuable. It contains true masterpieces of the German, English, French, Netherlands, Italian, Swedish and other Jewellery of the 16th-early 20th centuries. Within thecollection of silversmithing piecesof the Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, you can specially mark the collection of Polish Art – one of the largest in the world.
Unique samples of Christian Art of the 9th-13th centuries and interesting ethnographical material are housed at the Department representing the Jewellery of Caucasus, Transcaucasia and Middle Asia.
The SHM’s Precious Metals Department has the following composition:
I. Russian Gold and Silversmithing of the 9th-20th centuries.
1. The Church Jewelry.
– Fine plastic arts (body crosses, pectoral crosses, encolpions, reliquaries, shrines, panagiae, small cast icons and “drobnitsas”- small metal eye-sheet decorations for icons or embroidery works -, votive pendants, small bone, stone and wooden icons in precious icon-settings);
– Icons and folding icons in precious icon-settings;
– Service Books in precious mountings;
– Liturgical vessels and other holy vessels;
– Altar blessed crosses;
– Mithras and Pontifical baculi;
– Wedding crowns;
– Tabernacles and pyxes;
– Church lighting fixtures;
– Separate icon-settings. Elements of icon and service book decorations.
2. Secular Jewellery of the16th-20th centuries.
– Drinking vessels (dippers, “bratina”-bowls, glasses, bowls, small bowls and basins, small dippers, mugs, goblets and cups).
3. Awarded dippers of the 17th -19th centuries.
– Dinner-ware and flatware;
– Tea- and coffee-things;
– Personal effects (clocks and watches, cigar cases and snuffboxes);
– Items of interior design, desk and toilet table decorations;
– Traveling sets of various application;
– Jewellery for men and women;
II. Jewellery of the Eastern European and Baltic states, the 16th-20th centuries.
III. Jewellery of the Central Europe and Balkan Peninsula countries, the 16th-20th centuries.
IV. Jewellery of the Western Europe, the 1st-20th centuries.
V. Gold- and silversmithing of Central and Minor Asia, countries of the Far East, the 8th-9th centuries.
VI. Jewellery of the countries of Caucasus, Transcaucasia and Central Asia.
The Department collection was utilised as a primary source of information to initiate scientific research of Russian gold and silversmithing, ventured by oldest museum employees, headed by M.M. Postnikova-Loseva, Doctor of art criticism, to write the first and paramount works on its history and the best countermarks books were prepared as guidelines for specialists from around the world.