In 1990, Donna Distefano Thomas, Jewelry Design ’82, was hired to work in the jewelry studio in the basement of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she reproduced high-karat-gold jewelry in the permanent collection and in special exhibitions, to be sold in the Met’s gift shops throughout the U.S., as well as in the Louvre and at the Vatican. The 15 artists working in that studio were encouraged to wander the museum to ease the eye strain that came from staring at tiny objects all day. “I would walk around while the museum was closed, and I’d be staring at paintings with jewelry in them,” she recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Why don’t we create that?’”
In the mid-’90s, the museum’s gift shop began to move away from handmade jewelry, and Distefano left to focus on her own collection. But she never forgot that idea. Now she creates a jewelry line for the Met, Donna Distefano x The Met Store, that features pieces inspired by museum artworks. She has done multiple collections for the store, including three rings inspired by the exhibition Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, 25 rosary necklaces and other pieces designed in celebration of Heavenly Bodies, and nine intricate keys based on art in the permanent collection.
Most recently, she created 16 luxe designs inspired by the Crown of the Andes, a 16th-century pre-Colombian masterpiece dripping with emeralds that is featured prominently in Jewelry: The Body Transformed, on view through February 24. These pieces—22-karat-gold rings, earrings, and necklaces, each displaying Colombian emeralds—elevate the Met Store’s prestige as a destination for fine jewelry.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive—that’s not the point,” Distefano says. “Jewelry can be enjoyed in all price points if it’s made by hand.”