LONDON — People go to museums to see works of art in one form or another. And from the Victoria and Albert Museum here to New Zealand’s national museum in Wellington, it is possible to walk out with creations — without setting off the alarms.
Lots of museum shops now offer wearable art, often handmade by craftspeople, and sometimes matched to the theme of a current show, or even reproductions of pieces in the exhibition.
The V&A in London, for example, has displayed a dangly necklace of recycled brass by the Nairobi-based Adele Dejak in a subtly lit vitrine as part of its “Africa Fashion” exhibition, through April 16. And copies of the handcrafted collar, with its rows of textured coins, are for sale (240 pounds or $276) online and in the dedicated gift shop at the show’s entrance.
Sarah Sevier, the museum’s head of retail, said jewelry had played an important role in its shops, both online and on site.
“Every season we present around 30 jewelry designers from the U.K., Europe and further afield, including North and South America, Japan and India,” she wrote in an email. “We select costume jewelry that isn’t widely available elsewhere and try to provide a wide range of materials and techniques over a wide price matrix.”
“The other agenda for us,” she said in a later phone interview, “is responding to the creative industries, what should be an inspiration to new designers. So we are also looking to represent new designers, new artists and new makers and to give their own opportunity to say, ‘Oh, I’m on sale at the V&A.’”
In the case of the “Africa Fashion” exhibition, that means offering pieces by contemporary makers from the continent, including Ms. Dejak.
Among them are multicolored (£75) or goldtone (£160) sisal grass and embroidery thread necklaces handmade by the Rwandan brand Inzuki, a form of wearable art that is made using the same skills employed in weaving traditional Rwandan baskets. And there is a black and gold-color necklace (£65) made from recycled magazines and printed fabric from Mahatsara, a company based in France that works with artist cooperatives and nongovernmental organizations in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Eswatini, the country formerly known as Swaziland. (Some, but not all, jewelry related to the “Africa Fashion” exhibition is also available through the museum’s online shop.)
In the Jewelry Pavilion section of its main gift shop, the V&A also has a large selection of pieces made by jewelers from around the world.
“Pricing in that collection will start at about £20 or £30 for maybe a brooch or a pair of earrings and go up to around £500,” Ms. Sevier said. “We have about 30 different jewelry designers and makers at any one time and they’re all giving slightly different options in terms of the materials they use.”
The pavilion “is double-sided so you can browse jewelry all the way around, then go inside and browse again,” Ms. Sevier said. “If you want more help, a team member will open up the cabinet to allow you to try it on. It’s a lovely shopping experience because it takes you away from the busyness of the main shop.”
Items seen in the pavilion recently included a knitted-brass bangle (£225) by the Italian designer Milena Zu, who is based in Bali; “Hotlips” rings by the London-based Solange Azagury-Partridge (£215-£295); and a bracelet (£90) and ring (£70) from the gender-neutral collection by Carré Y of Paris.
Themed collections also often feature in the jewelry for sale at the British Museum.
Visitors to “Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt,” through Feb. 19, exit through an Egyptian-themed gift shop offering items that play off the age of the pharaohs.
Among their creators is the Scottish jeweler Susan Plowman, whose pieces include earrings made of iridescent beetle wings and gold-plated silver (£50); a ring of recycled silver (£750) with an enameled scarab beetle on top and a hieroglyph symbolizing rebirth on the underside; and a necklace of gold-plated recycled silver with turquoise, carnelian and jasper beads (£1,500) that is marketed as being inspired by a piece found in the sarcophagus of Neferuptah, the daughter of Amenemhat III.
Ms. Plowman said by email that her gold-plated silver earrings in the shape of a bee (£599) with a matching pendant necklace (£325) were influenced by carved Egyptian earrings found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. (An information card tells exhibition visitors that the Egyptians believed that the tears of the sun god Ra “transformed into honey bees when they touched the desert sand.”)
Other Egypt-related jewelry sold on site in conjunction with the exhibition includes a handmade oval hieroglyph-stamped silver necklace (£75) and earrings (£60) from the English brand Per SaRa (also available online) and a chunky lapis lazuli and gold-plated hematite necklace (£499) from the Real Pearl Company, whose co-founder Caroline Haelterman has a bachelor’s degree in Egyptology from Ghent University in Belgium.
Not all major museums, however, tie some of their gift shop jewelry to specific exhibitions.
In Paris, Leila Arabi, the product manager at RMN, the company that stocks the Louvre Museum shops, said by email that some pieces are inspired by items in the museum’s extensive collections rather than being directly related to an exhibition.
One example she cited was the gold-plated silver Parure Lydien, a multi-piece collection made in France. It was inspired by a gold disc from a region in present-day Turkey that is part of the collection in the museum’s Department of Oriental Antiquities (but is not now on display).
The set, coming to the physical and online shops later this month as part of their new-for-Christmas offerings, includes gold-plated brass pieces: a large pendant (150 euros or $148), a smaller pendant (€75), a necklace (€75) and earrings (€240) — and others in sterling silver: a large pendant (€190), a small pendant (€95), a necklace (€65) and earrings (€280). In the spring RMN also plans to offer the large pendant in 18-karat gold (€1,320) for purchase directly from the Louvre shops.
“This pendant of a very pure design,” Ms. Arabi said, “one that must be older than Croesus, whose name still evokes treasures of gold and precious stones. He was one of the most sumptuous rulers of Lydia, a very ancient kingdom of Asia Minor.”
Other museum shops focus on their countries’ history and ethnic heritages when stocking the gift shops.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, for example, specializes in contemporary Maori and Pacific-inspired pieces including those carved from pounamu, a type of jade commonly known as greenstone. These include earrings using greenstone, recycled silver and gold plate (219.90 New Zealand dollars or $129) and a pendant (779 dollars) in the shape of a fish hook, called a hei matau, said to symbolize prosperity, good health and protection from evil. (Available on site and through the museum’s online shop.)
Tania Tupu, the general manager of the Te Papa shop, said by email that she tried to emphasize local Wellington designers and worked with artists to develop products inspired by the museum’s exhibits.
“For greenstone jewelry and anything Maori or Pacifica, our priority is that we are authentic, so we aim for traditional/contemporary Maori/Pacific designs by artists/businesses that identify as Maori or Pacific,” she wrote. “Or if they are non-Maori/Pacific, artists that are influential across a Maori or Pacific community (tutor or business owner who employs carvers and jewelers that are Maori/Pacific).”
Supporting local artists is just one of the benefits of buying jewelry from museum gift shops, Ms. Sevier of the V&A said.
“You are pretty much guaranteed to be able to find something different,” she said by telephone. “We have done that selection process for you. We have worked with any number of makers, artists and designers to bring that selection to you and you won’t be able to find that selection replicated anywhere else.”
“The other thing is that we are a museum and we are inviting you into a building that houses an incredible collection of jewelry itself,” she said. “You can visit the jewelry gallery for free and then take a piece of the museum visit away with you.”
And when you do, she said, “you’ve given back to the museum while supporting the artists themselves.”