When Ana Hatherly died in 2015, the Portuguese visual artist, poet and academic was hailed by Artur Santos Silva, president of charity the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, as having had a “profound impact on her country’s artistic, literary and academic life over the past six decades”.

It is fitting, therefore, that, almost 10 years on, she has become the inspiration for one of the most striking pieces of jewellery on display at an exhibition in Lisbon, curated by jeweller Marta Costa Reis, that is a centrepiece of celebrations across Portugal to mark the country’s 50th anniversary of democracy.

The Carnation Revolution of April 25 1974 involved a military coup of junior army officers that marked the end of almost five decades of authoritarian rule and paved the way for democratic elections. The name refers to the carnations handed out to the soldiers by demonstrators, as the people took to the streets to greet what turned out to be a bloodless revolution — and one that went on to change every aspect of Portuguese society.

The neckpiece created in Hatherly’s name is one of 60 items of contemporary jewellery created by members of the Portuguese Association of Contemporary Jewellery to honour the women who fought in different ways for democracy and democratic values. The result is an eclectic, thought-provoking and, ultimately, joyful tribute to what has been achieved politically and socially in the country. But it also stands as a warning not to take liberty for granted.

A black and white picture of an old woman with short hair looking straight onto the camera
Artist Ana Hatherly © Maria Jose Palla

Jeweller and gallerist Ana Pina’s tribute to Hatherly is one of the most eye-catching of the pieces laid out on a vast yellow circular display on the third floor of the Royal Treasure Museum. This was built as a new wing to the Ajuda National Palace, to house the country’s extraordinary collection of crown jewels and other treasures of the former royal house. It is a sight not to be missed in itself — fist-sized emeralds are a notable highlight.

Pina’s black neckpiece consists of a series of long chains of the words “luta” and “luto” hanging from a torque. The words look handwritten and, in fact, they are — created with a 3D printing pen that uses PLA, a synthetic polymer. There are 50 words in all to mark the 50 years of democracy.

Hatherly’s belief in the importance of free speech ran deep — she was a founder of the Portuguese PEN Club, part of the international network of writers committed to protecting free expression — and Pina took the words “luta” and “luto” from one of Hatherly’s poems, “The Black Peacock”.

a necklace consisting of stylised circle of carnations made from black-coated copper
Circle of carnations from Carlos Silva © Cintia Ferreira
The words “luta” and “luto”, printed using 3D printing pen in Ana Pina’s necklace tribute to Ana Hatherly © Cintia Ferreira

“The poem wasn’t specifically about April 25, but it had everything to do with it,” says Pina. “The word ‘luta’ means ‘fight’ and ‘luto’ means ‘I fight’ and also ‘mourning’ or ‘grief’. The revolution was synonymous with freedom. But we also need to think about the lack of freedom before the revolution.”

Many of the pieces of jewellery on display make reference to carnations — including a delicate but bold stylised circle of carnations, made from black-coated copper by the Portugese jeweller Carlos Silva.

Paula Castro’s delicate, understated brooch of eucalyptus bark and silver acknowledges the artist Lourdes Castro, who lived abroad for much of her artistic life and whose work, says Paula Castro (no relation), represents “the breath of freedom”.

Paula Casto’s eucalyptus bark and silver brooch © Paula Castro

One of the most poignant pieces was made by a student jeweller for her grandmothers, which consists of resin-coated carnation petals hung from lengths of white cotton thread. Simple and moving.

Running alongside the Jewels for Democracy show is Contemporary Tiaras, curated by jeweller Catarina Silva. This exhibition consists of 40 headpieces made by students at Ar.Co (the Centre for Arts and Visual Communication in Lisbon) and invited artists, who include some of contemporary jewellery’s finest makers.

Most of the tiaras are displayed in showcases that run around the outside wall of the vast vault that sits in the centre of the Royal Treasure Museum.

The vault, with its five-tonne steel doors, has a beautiful outer casing of gold-coated aluminium with the open texture of a honeycomb. Some of the contemporary tiaras, many of which represent an irreverent challenge to the museum’s traditional jewels, have been given a place alongside them in the vault’s inner sanctum.

There are some startling contrasts in this display. For example, there is a chrome tiara and helmet made in 2002 by Ted Noten, the Dutch conceptual artist, envisaged as a protective headpiece for Máxima Zorreguieta, to celebrate her wedding when she became crown princess (now queen consort) of the Netherlands.

a chrome tiara and helmet
A tiara and helmet by Ted Noten

Then, there are gentler works that embrace the beauty and decorative idea of the tiara, most notably the brass Opium Poppy Crown by Christopher Thompson Royds and Lin Cheung’s Pearl Thing — Halo, which is made of large freshwater pearls and, giving it a touch of harshness, hangs on a heavy steel nail.

There is plenty of visual playfulness on show. David Bielander repurposes his remarkable ability to make silver and white gold look like pieces of corrugated cardboard stapled together, with his tiara of hearts. Xinyi Chen provides a dramatic futuristic Chinese Phoenix coronet, made from e-waste as well as discarded fruit packaging, leather, fabric, and polyethylene. And Manuela Sousa’s tiara consists of prettily assembled large pink plastic hair rollers — a nod to a bygone era on many levels.

Both exhibitions form part of the 2nd Lisbon Contemporary Jewellery Biennial, entitled Madrugada, which means “dawn”, with a programme of events that continue until June.

‘Jewels for Democracy’ and ‘Contemporary Tiaras’ run until June 30 at the Royal Treasure Museum, Calçada da Ajuda, Lisbon

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Portuguese jeweller Carlos Silva as Brazilian

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