Liesbeth den Besten is an art historian, based in the Amsterdam region, who works as an independent writer, teacher, lecturer, and curator. Presently, she teaches jewelry history at Sint Lucas Antwerpen. She is the chairwoman of the Françoise van den Bosch Foundation for contemporary jewelry, a member of the advisory board of the Chi ha paura…? Foundation, and a founding member of Think Tank, a European Initiative for the Applied Arts. Her book, On Jewellery: A Compendium of International Contemporary Art Jewellery, was published by Arnoldsche in November 2011.
A queen wearing Dutch regional jewelry or a necklace made from ceramic peanuts: It seems like a joke. Yet Dutch Queen Máxima has discovered the power of jewelry. Apparently, besides wearing exclusive fine jewelry and inherited royal jewels, she enjoys dressing up and adorning herself for certain occasions.
In May 2014, the Queen attended the Roosevelt Four Freedom Award ceremony, in Zeeland’s provincial capital of Middelburg, wearing antique gold filigree (or cantille) mutsenbellen. The main motif of these skillfully made ornaments is the horn of plenty, and the three small bangles on the bottom represent shells—a reference to the sea that surrounds the islands of the province of Zeeland. These 19th-century ornaments once were part of the rich jewelry tradition of the region. They used to be worn by farmers’ wives, on their Sunday best, and gained a status function in the 19th century, expressing the wealth of the farmer. These particular pieces were tucked under the bonnet of Cadzand women—knowing they were there was apparently valued more than showing they were there. Interestingly, their value used to be not in the amount of precious material (which was relatively small because this jewelry was mainly composed of gold thread), but in the hours spent on making these complicated lace works of excellent goldsmithing. They were worn as part of white lace bonnets; in the 20th century, when regional costumes went out of fashion, these “bells” were transformed into eardrops. By wearing these antique pieces, Queen Máxima acknowledges the exquisite character of this type of Dutch craftsmanship.
The Queen showed additional appreciation of craftsmanship in March 2015, when she was spotted wearing a ceramic peanut necklace, Feeding the Birds, by Dutch designer Pauline Wiertz, when she visited a school project during Money Week (a program about money management for primary school children). This contemporary necklace is made of cast porcelain, glazed, partly gilded, and treated with transfers—a technique mastered by Wiertz, who is originally trained as a ceramicist. Together with a navy blue top from the popular COS store, and gold Cartier creole earrings, Máxima succeeded in striking the right playful chord for a visit with schoolkids.
Although there will always be people lamenting that this attire is not quite regal, most comments on the Internet and in the press are extremely positive, stressing Máxima’s role as a fashion icon. Under the constant pressure of flashlights, a celebrity is very much aware of her/his outfit and public image, as magnified by magazines, blogs, and television shows. Brands make good use of this. Movie stars, through so-called facebranding, earn insane amounts of money for wearing jewelry; Nicole Kidman arrayed herself in Harry Winston diamonds valued at more than $7 million, for example, and Scarlett Johansson posed on the red carpet in an embroidered Swarovski non-precious crystal statement piece during the opening act for the Oscars. But queens are not for sale, and their public performance needs a more singular approach. Queens choose and pay for their jewelry themselves, and interestingly she picked a rather a-typical piece of jewelry that doesn’t reference traditional intrinsic or symbolic values. The peanut necklace was purchased at a fine art and antiques fair in Amsterdam, and put into action deliberately. It shows the Dutch Queen as an open-minded person with a good eye for craftsmanship who understands the meaning of jewelry.