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, 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 Jewel History blog have been treated to her weekly (someti… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Mexico Modernist Sterling Silver Peacock Pin W/ Cabochon Gemstones NrFine Vtg Mid Century Modernist Sterling Silver Abstract Chain Necklace 34gVtg Runway Signed Marni Oversized Modernist Wood Plastic Chain Link NecklaceSuperior Modernistic Navajo ""natural Dry Creek Turquoise"" Silver BraceletHuge Modernistic Navajo ""domed Turquoise"" Silver BraceletSterling Silver - Tone Vigeland Norway Modernist 4.6g - Dangle Earrings Xn2362Vintage Mexico Taxco Los Castillo Sterling Silver Modernist Inlay Bracelet 45gVintage Sterling Silver - Norway Designer Modernist 29.9g - Pendant Xp2052Vintage Art Deco Machine Age Chrome Red Galalith Plastic Modernist BraceletVintage Bent Knudsen Chunky Modernist Sterling Silver Band Ring Size 7 DenmarkFine Vintage 18k Gold Modernist Italian Link Bracelet 13.4gSterling Silver Modernist Multi-color Amber Snake NecklaceModernist Kupittaan Kulta Finnish Tiger's Eye Heart Sterling Silver PendantFine Vtg 50s 60s Mid Century Modernist Hollow Brass Cuff Bracelet Studio JewelryModernist 9-9.5mm Silvery Pink Tahitian Pearl 14k Gold Long Dangle Drop EarringsVtg Quinn Scheurle Germany Modernist 87g Sterling Silver Bangle Watch BraceletAn Exceptional Never Worn Signed Pono Italy Modernistic Resin Runway NecklaceAlfredo Villasana Taxco Modernist Sterling (45.9g) Necklace - C.1960 No Reserve!Superb Vintage Astrid Fyrbo Danish 1970's Modernist; Hand Crafted Pottery BroochBold Modernist 950 Sterling Silver & Stone Necklace Mexico Mexican Taxco 106g Stunning Art Deco Red Bakelite Necklace-geometric Machine Age ModernistJudith Ripka Sterling Huge Modernist Smokey Topaz Ring Size 7Vintage Modernist Napier Sterling Silver Leaf BraceletVtg Ben Amun Modernist Turquoise Coral Bead Designer Leather Cord NecklaceVintage Sterling Silver - Kalevala Koru Finland Modernist 8.9g - Pendant Xz1172Wide Modernistic Navajo ""old Kingman Turquoise"" Silver Flower BraceletSilver Bracelet A Juhls 925s Modernist 62 GramsJudith Ripka Gold Over Sterling Huge Modernist White Sapphire Ring Size 6.5Rare Sterling Brutalist Modernist Sculpture Abstract Scarecrow Pin BroochScandinavia (?) Heavy 23.9 G Vintage 1970’s Modernist Sterling Silver PendantVintage Ron Yazzie Navajo Sterling Silver Modernist BraceletVintage Renoir Matisse Modernist Copper Teal Blue Enamel Saturn Pendant NecklaceFine Vtg Danish Modernist Sterling Silver Carnelian Necklace Pendant Pwn DenmarkVintage 1970’s Modernist Xxl Silver & Crystal Ring, 6 GVintage Modernist Sterling Silver Link Toggle Bracelet 8 3/4" Long Men WomenDesigner Signed Runway Triple Snake Chain Modernistic Ball ChokerModernist Sterling Silver "omega" Necklace Mexico Taxco? 85gModernist Matisse Renoir Copper Jewelry Three Strand Necklace Earrings Set RareSterling Silver - Sigi Taxco Modernist Hinged Bangle 59g - Bracelet (6.5")Vintage Solid Silver Modernist Design Signed Cj Pendant & Silver Chain.Vtg Signed Panetta Gilt Sterling Faux Coral Huge Chunky Modernist Unusual RingA Vintage Pair Of Silver Modernist Rings Size 'r' And Size 't'Modernist Dna Sterling Silver Chain Necklace Mexico? Taxco? 94gBold Massive Modernist Sterling Silver Figural Necklace Mexico Mexican Taxco 75g1955 Signed Wiwen Nilsson Modernist Silver Brooch Tie Clip Sweden Georg JensenSigned Henry Steig Modernist Sterling Pendant Black Agate With Quartz Veins 925 Stunning Retro Modernist Wooden Collar NecklaceVintage Modernist Sam Kramer Sterling Silver Pin Superb Vintage 1950s Ruth Berridge Modernist Sterling Ring Iconic Mid CenturyBold Modernist 950 Sterling Silver & Stone Bracelet Mexico Mexican Taxco 59g Enrique Ledesma Taxco Mexico Sterling Silver Modernist Necklace HallmarkedSterling Silver - Italy Designer Modernist Toggle Chain 36.8g - Necklace (30")Important Modernistic Rye Whitegoat ""huge Lapis And Chrysocolla"" NecklaceVintage Jewellery Lovely Modernist Hall Marked Silver CufflinksModernist Sterling Silver & Onyx Necklace Mexican Mexico Taxco 100gVintage Aksel Holmsen Norway Sterling Silver Modernist Ball Ring. M 1/2 6 1/2Vintage 1970’s Modernist Silver Arrows Cufflinks, 24.6 GVintage 70's Napier Gold Tone Runway Modernist Brutalist Necklace Earrings Set925 Sterling Silver Modernist Hinged Cuff Bracelet - Mexico - 51 GramsHans Hansen Modernist Brooch Sterling Silver Denmark 925s Scandinavian