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.
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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
All About Jewels Dictionary
Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry
Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery
Clubs & Associations
- American Society of Jewelry Historians
- Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts
- Society of Jewellery Historians
Other Great Reference Sites
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Recent News: Modernist Jewelry
Source: Google News
A beautiful Easter table comes naturallyMontreal Gazette, April 15th
DeBiens, more of a modernist, went for the look of long-stemmed parrot tulips arching gracefully from square or rectangular glass vases. (Keep the containers to less than 7 inches high so that guests across the table can see each other.) “It's a...Read more
From desert to sea on Route 66Boston Globe, April 12th
Serious buyers with rolling luggage and shopping carts come looking for mid-century Modern housewares, Streamline-era cocktail bars, vintage couture, yesteryear's designer sunglasses, and the Bakelite jewelry that is so plentiful that display tables...Read more
The 2014 Whitney Biennial is a disappointing show with memorable moments.Kansas City Star, April 11th
At least Laura Owens shows some humor, albeit of the wry variety, in her large cartoony painting of a boy with an animal pal beside the words, “When You Come to the End of Your Rope, Tie a Knot and Hang On.” Scattered over the picture plane are trellis...Read more
Hawaiian interpretation of international Art Deco style. Seductive!Yareah Magazine, April 11th
by such artists as Don Blanding, Marguerite Blasingame, Robert Lee Eskridge, Arman Manookian, Isamu Noguchi, Agnes Lawrence Pelton, Gene Pressler, Lloyd Sexton, and Madge Tennent, as well as decorative objects like Ming's jewelry, and furniture...Read more
Something Old: The changing tastes of collectorsFoster's Daily Democrat, April 10th
Many auction galleries are holding special auctions that feature furniture, glass, pottery, jewelry and even toys made after 1950. A unique table made by Judy ... It's known for modernist designs of stylized leaves and flowers. Your set could sell for...Read more
Art openings, classes, events in and around AshevilleAsheville Citizen-Times, April 5th
Featuring work in a variety of media including metals, glass, clay, jewelry, wood, fiber and collage/mixed media. To May 30. ... ART BREAK: Pierre Daura: Modernist in the Mountains: April 25, noon-1 p.m., Asheville Art Museum, 2 S. Pack Sq. Free. 253...Read more
Qui to the Cure serves up $190K for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation causesAustin American-Statesman, April 1st
With influences from South Asian and European cuisine, modernist “no-boundaries” recipes were utilized from the menus at Qui's East Side King and Qui restaurants or created specifically for the event. Delectable hors'deouvers featured Ora King Salmon...Read more
Art review: From Rococo Genius and Grace to Modernist JewelryCincinnati.com, March 29th
The Cincinnati Art Museum is hosting two exhibitions that are at opposite ends of the artistic spectrum: the over-the-top 18th-century French drawings in “Genius and Grace: François Boucher and the Generation of 1700” and the much more restrained ...Read more