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.

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Recent News: Modernist Jewelry

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Arts Etc. — April 18, 2015
The International Examiner, April 18th

Kuniyoshi was an American modernist who taught for years at the Art Students League in New York. His work ranges from the subtle to sophisticated with traces of deadpan humor to deep ... The work of April Higashi is included in a group show entitled...Read more

Litchfield jewelry store owner a 'purveyor of pre-owned luxury'
Torrington Register Citizen, April 17th

The shop's antique jewelry collection includes pieces from the mid-1700's to the early 1900's. Antique jewelry must be 100 years old or older. The collection spotlights pieces that have “a stylistic relevance to the fashion needs of modern women...Read more

Mortals become goddesses at painter's exhibit at Ward & Ward
Kansas City Star, April 15th

While the participants chose their own jewelry and clothes to wear, Dubowski placed them in specific, invented backgrounds suitable to their character's legendary heritage. The results are conceptually and visually compelling. Hestia is the goddess of...Read more

Representations of Nothingness
Tufts Daily, April 14th

Parviz Tanavoli streamlines chaos. His work is both innovative and full of Iranian artistic influences, spanning across the mediums of sculpture, painting, printmaking, ceramics, rugs and jewelry. The Davis Museum, located on Wellesley College's...Read more

Designs On The Modern Home
The Jewish Week, April 14th

Emigre metalworker, sculptor, and jewelry designer Victor Ries, who taught at Pond Farm artists' colony in California, is quoted in the catalog as saying, “We did not talk about it [the war]. What for? We were not Jews at Pond Farm, we were artists.”...Read more

Sonia Delaunay's Fashionable Legacy, at the Tate Modern (and on the Runway)
New York Times (blog), April 14th

At Casa Sonia in Madrid, she sold her ceramics, jewelry, clothes and furnishings to a clientele that included Sergei Diaghilev, who later commissioned her to create costumes for the Ballets Russes. The freethinking and entrepreneurial Delaunay would, ...Read more

Travel new and now: Lilac festivals, Hudson River school of paintings show ...
Greenfield Daily Reporter, April 13th

Taos, New Mexico, is known for turquoise as an element in jewelry and a color in artwork and design, but May 15-17, the focus is on purple in honor of the Taos Lilac Festival. People and pets dress in purple for a pet parade that includes a blessing...Read more

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San Jose Mercury News, April 10th

Carol said she likes the idea of getting a watch more than a piece of jewelry "because it's so functional as well." She's not ..... The 70-square-meter (750-square-foot) modernist box with black floors and walls is staffed by about a dozen workers clad...Read more