The modernist jewelers in the United States who practiced their craft from the 1930s through the 1960s were pretty emphatic about their rejection of the styles that had come before. Victorian jewelry was dismissed as too decorative, Art Nouveau pieces were deemed too fussy, and the Art Deco aesthetic was considered excessively rigid.

Modernist jewelers felt they had more in common with painters, sculptors, and other modern artists of the day. Their ambitious goal was to create one-of-a-kind works of art that people could wear.

One of the early champions and practitioners of the form was Sam Kramer, who, like many of his contemporaries, lived, worked, and sold his creations in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Kramer worked primarily in silver, but he was also adept at fashioning rings, earrings, and pins out of copper and found objects, including moose teeth, buttons, fossils, and ancient coins. Sometimes Kramer used semi-precious stones such as garnets or opals in his surreal, geometric, or biomorphic pieces.

Another unofficial leader of the modernist jewelry movement was Kramer’s neighbor Art Smith. His jewelry ranged from simple silver neck rings to biomorphic pieces that drew from African motifs. While Smith made small pieces such as cuff links and earrings, many of his best works were large enough to wrap the body, as if the human form was the mere backdrop for his creations. His vintage copper wrist cuffs, especially the “jazz” cuffs with musical notes applied to their outside surfaces, are highly collectible.

Boomerangs, straight lines intersecting curves, and atomic-age shapes typified Ed Wiener’s work. Sometimes a pair of silver earrings resembling deformed hourglasses were adorned with a single pearl; other times, a cat’s-eye agate would be placed in the center of a piece, as if to give his inanimate objects the semblance of a human face.

Another Greenwich Village resident whose vintage modernist jewelry is highly prized was Paul Lobel, who designed lovely silver pins and bracelets, as well as glass, furniture, and silver hollowware.

Outside New York there was Betty Cooke, who worked in the Bauhaus mode in Baltimore. Her jewelry was composed of geometric shapes and characterized by a strong sense of order, wh...

Another Bauhaus acolyte was Margaret De Patta, whose work reflected the profound influence of Bauhaus teacher Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, with whom she studied. Meanwhile, out in San Francisco, Peter Macchiarini looked to African masks and Cubism for inspiration. Brass, copper, and silver were common materials, along with opals, agates, and wood.

In Scandinavia during the 1940s and ’50s, a parallel movement was underway. Henning Koppel and Nanna Ditzel were two notable Georg Jensen designers, whose silver necklaces sporting amoeba-like and teardrop shapes combined the perfection of Danish silversmithing with an interest in natural, even primal, forms.

Later, in 1960s Finland, Bjorn Weckstrom married solid silver and polished chunks of acrylic to create rings, bracelets, and pendants that were at once space age and organic.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Huge Vintage Runway Sized Mexican Modernist Sterling Silver Amethyst BraceletStunning Heavy Modernist 3/4 Carat Diamond 18ct White Gold Full Eternity RingFine Heavy Green Chalcedony Rose Gold Modernist Marquise RingVtg 30" Mexican Los Castillo Taxco Sterling Silver Modernist Necklace Chain BeltVintage Modernist 14kt Gold & Encrusted Diamond Sphere Ladies Size 7.5 RingVtg 90s Fendi Italy Couture Runway Ff Logo Silver Cutout Modernist Cuff BraceletVintage Solid 9ct Gold Diamond Set Front Ladies Modernist Ring Size PModernist Retro Vintage Hallmarked Solid Sterling Silver 925 & Baltic Amber RingVintage Mjh Matti J Hyvarinen Finland Sterling Silver Modernist BraceletFine Large & Heavy 33 Point Diamond Modernist Design Gold Ring60s Bulova, Ultra Thin Square Case, Round Dial, Modernist Design, Runs, VgcVintage Modernist 1.0 Ct. Diamond 14k Gold Engraved Wide Band Ring~7.7 Grams!Vintage 1970’s Sterling Silver Modernist Cylinders Ring, 9.6 GVtg Los Ballesteros Mexico Sterling Modernist Bone Cuff Bracelet 88 GramsVintage Jewellery Lovely Twisted Modernist Links Silver NecklaceFine Large And Heavy Modernist Peridot 18ct White Gold 3 Stone RingHeavy 64 G Vintage 1970’s Modernist Xl Silver & Sodalite Lichen BraceletMargot Design Sterling Silver Taxco Repousse Modernist Clamper Cuff Bracelet Graham Watling Modernist Silver Ring Textured Decoration London 1972 Size PRare 1955 18k Gold Omega 455 Ladymatic Watch-modernist-eames Era/mcmSterling Silver - Kaunis Koru Finland Modernist Bangle 65g - Bracelet (6.75)Sigi Pineda Mexican Sterling Silver Modernist Choker Necklace Anton Michelsen Denmark Modernist Sterling Silver Viking Ship Brooch 1950sSterling Silver - Georg Jensen Denmark #192b Modernist 32.4g - Bracelet (7.5")Vintage Mexican Handmade Solid Sterling Silver Modernist Bib Necklace | J IxSuperb Unusual Vintage Designer Modernist Silver & Enamel Bracelet By UnoaerreFabulous Art Deco Red Bakelite Necklace-geometric Machine Age ModernistVintage Georg Jensen Silver And Red Coral Modernist Cuff Links. Large. Modernist 950 Sterling Silver Onyx Tiger Eye Necklace Mexico Mexican Taxco Modernist Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet Mexico Mexican Taxco 74 GramsVintage Solid Silver Finnish Finland Amethyst Modernistic Necklace And PendantVintage Signed Kay Denning Copper Enamel Glass White Modernist BraceletVintage Solid Silver Georg Jensen Modernist Odd Link Bracelet BangleVintage Handmade Sterling Silver & Brass Modernist Geometric Garnet Brooch PinVintage Mid Century Modernist 2-strand Lime Pink Venetian Glass Bead NecklaceVintage Jewellery Fabulous Enamel And Crystal Modernist NecklaceVintage Signed Thomas Mann Modernist Body BroochSterling Silver - Norway Designer Twisted Modernist 15.4g - Ring (7) Lw4122Vintage Solid 9ct Gold Amethyst Modernist Pendant And NecklaceAbstract Modernist Hammered Sterling Silver Roman Glass Bracelet Designer SignedGorgeous~vintage~modernist~sterling Silver~enamel~dangle Earrings3d Rare Anna Greta Eker 925s Norway Age 5 Ball Jester Modernistic Ring Size 6 Modernist 950 Sterling Silver & Multi-stone Bracelet Mexico Taxco 45 GramsModernist 1960s Lecoultre 14k Gold Diamond Emerald Watch 17j Cal. 145Vintage Sterling Silver 925 66grams Choker Modernist Collar Necklace E173Vintage George Jensen Denmark Modernist Sterling Silver Pin Free/shippingVintage Taxco Mexico Sterling Silver Sigi Pineda Tigers Eye Modernist PinAntique Solid Silver Natural Large Blue John Modernist Necklace And PendantModernist 950 Sterling Silver Onyx Tiger Eye Bracelet Mexico Mexican Taxco Vintage Modernist Geometric Sterling Silver Brass Garnet Earrings Pin Set 925Henning Ulrichsen Vtg Modernist Denmark 925s Heavy Lapis Lazuli Dangle PendantVintage Solid 9ct Gold Snake Panel Modernist Love Heart Center Ladies NecklaceVintage Jewellery Pretty Modernist Flower Bud Silver & Amber Pendant NecklaceVintage Georg Jensen Silver And Moonstone ?modernist Cuff Links. Large.Sterling Silver - Denmark Hans Hansen Modernist 15.8g - Cufflinks Mens Lx1722Vintage Taxco Sterling Silver & Amethyst Modernist Cuff Bracelet~gorgeous!!!Signed Aar Mexico Taxco Modernist Design Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet (7398)Vintage Mid Century Modernist Brass & Sterling Silver Geometric Cuff BraceletVintage Sterling Silver Danish Modernist Large Carnelian Ring--Vintage Modernist Style Chrome Choker Necklace 70's

Recent News: Modernist Jewelry

Source: Google News

A Baltic cruise shines a new light on a region rich in history
Toronto Star, February 3rd

There's a unique modernist style growing in the region, along with traditional crafts, such as weaving, carving, art glass, amber jewelry, and shoe making, that young entrepreneurs are taking up. The streets are invariably lined with cafés that get...Read more

Modern Masters Picasso and Calder at Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert ...
ArtfixDaily, February 1st

Almost two dozen Alexander Calder works are on display in the exhibit, including a five-foot wide standing mobile constructed circa 1940, petite stabiles, jewelry, prints, and a number of gouaches. Many of these artworks come from private collections...Read more

Hillsboro artists help Valley Art celebrate 50th
Pamplin Media Group, January 29th

The gallery has featured more than 200 established and emerging local artists, showcasing eclectic assortments of paintings, fine pottery, jewelry, glass art, metal sculpture and much more. ... inspired by the Blue Rider group (Der Blaue Reiter), a...Read more

20 Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gifts for Mom
Brit + Co, January 28th

Now that you've gotten a Valentine's Day gift for him, it's time to get a little something for the real love of your life — your mom. She's supported you, cared for you and loves you unconditionally, no matter what. This Valentine's Day, repay her for...Read more

Chanel Couture Spring 2016
WWD, January 26th

As for accessories, spectator shoes on sculptural cork wedges spoke to the natural-eco moment, as did the show's only jewelry — bees as broaches and single earrings. “Bees are disappearing,” Lagerfeld said, connecting the eco dots. As for the latest...Read more

Frank Lloyd Wright House in Los Angeles Will Be Auctioned
New York Times, January 21st

Los Angeles Modern Auctions will offer the 1939 home, which has a sales estimate of $2.5 million to $3 million, on Feb. 21. The four-room wood-and-brick structure, with tiers of decks, is cantilevered over a slope in the city's Brentwood section. In...Read more

Up for Auction: Real Art, Owned by a Seller of Forgeries
New York Times, January 8th

Jewelry. Some impounded vehicles. Occasionally fine wine and sometimes paintings or antiques. But Gaston & Sheehan has rarely tried to compete with large art auction houses. So it was a bit unusual when it took in nearly $5 million from the sale last...Read more

“From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith” a rare treat ...
ArtsATL, July 16th

A piece of jewelry is in a sense an object that is not complete in itself. Jewelry is a “what is it?” until you relate it to the body. The body is a component in design just as air and space are. Like line, form, and color, the body is a material to...Read more