The Hashimoto Collection of rings is the largest number of works to be donated to the National Museum of Western Art since it was originally established to house the Matsutaka Collection of artworks in 1959. Received in 2012, this vast collection of hundreds of rings from all ages and nations is also being shown to the public for the first time.

For a museum renowned for its paintings and sculptures, the addition of the Hashimoto Collection’s craft pieces is significant. Originally collated by Kanshi Hashimoto (b. 1924), the 720 rings and 80 miscellaneous parts and other accessories help reveal the role of jewelry through history — from ancient Egypt to late 20th-century Europe.

Production techniques, trends in materials, design and purpose can be observed through roughly 300 works selected for this exhibition, some of the earliest of which include Egyptian scarab rings from 1991-1650 B.C. More than mere decoration, these beetle-motif accessories served as amulets representing the sun god Re, while other rings were once worn to signify engagement, marriage, status and mourning.

Of particular interest are their use during the 18th century as memento mori keepsakes, one of the customs of which was to store hair of the deceased inside rings engraved with an inscription. Similarly, many 18th-century novels, such as the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, feature the symbolic importance of rings decorated with miniature portraits of lovers and friends. On show is a gold work containing an immaculately preserved lock of King Edward IV’s hair, visible through a glass casing, as well as portrait rings sporting intricate paintings of the artist Anton Raphael Mengs and King Charles I of England.

From the Rococo movement (18th century) onward, modern European jewelry evolved at a fast pace, and the exhibition follows neoclassicism from the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau (1880-1910) to early 20th-century Art Deco. Focusing on rings alone provides a conveniently compact means to visualize the progression of style and form of such artistic movements, where the elegant curved lines of masterpieces such as Georges Fouquet’s Art Deco “Plique-a-Jour Enamel Ring” can be easily compared to the sharp, geometric designs of the Art Deco platinum, diamond encrusted “Millegrain Ring.”

Some of these rings are also displayed alongside authentic dresses of their time, including elaborate Rococo gowns and modern works by Coco Chanel, all on loan from the Kobe Fashion Museum. Sadly, for security reasons, the mannequins are not actually wearing the rings, but the dresses have been specially selected to coordinate with the jewelry, making them another visually stunning way to capture the fashion of each era.

“The Rings from the Hashimoto Collection of the National Museum of Western Art” at The National Museum of Western Art runs till Sept. 15; open 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Fri. till 8 p.m.). ¥1,400. Closed Mon. www.nmwa.go.jp/en

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