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. – May 20 2015
The International Examiner, May 24th

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

Owner of new Howa Gallery in Bountiful says supporting Utah artists is 'crucial'
Deseret News, May 23rd

Reminiscent of the high modernist masterpieces littering major museums, the painting showcases the joys inherent to abstract art. The gallery ... While paintings constitute the majority of the collection, the gallery also carries sculptures, jewelry...Read more

Hardwood molding infuses interiors with character
Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 23rd

Just as tasteful, well-chosen jewelry can turn an unexciting outfit into a stylish, eye-catching ensemble, carefully applied hardwood moldings and trimwork can transform a plain-Jane interior into an interesting — even beautiful — space. Today's...Read more

Newark Museum Explores the Elemental and Artificial in Jewelry
BLOUIN ARTINFO, May 21st

Also look out for an unusual bangle by Cartier, circa 1930, that Dietz says “looks like it could be a piece of machinery... an incredibly modernist sculptural object Marlene Dietrich and the Duchess of Windsor owned, making it clearly avant garde...Read more

Collectors Exchange Fine Art Auction in Kingston on June 7
The Daily Freeman, May 21st

sculpture, fine prints, photography, artifacts, jewelry and vintage posters. Fine examples of French Impressionist paintings, modernist paintings and prints, original jewelry, mid-century and contemporary sculpture, photography, and quirky objects...Read more

Why Landmarks Said No to Aby Rosen's Four Seasons Renovation
New York Magazine, May 21st

Holy moly! Aby Rosen, the owner of the Seagram Building, was about to despoil the pristine interior of The Four Seasons Restaurant when the Landmarks Preservation Commission yanked the sledgehammer from his fist. Or: Argh! Aby Rosen, hoping to ...Read more

Valentine's Day gift guide: Given with love
The Seattle Times, May 20th

She'll always know how you feel with this set of graduated dishes, perfect for holding small pieces of jewelry. Or mount them next to the bed to create a sweet ... This modernist heart poster can be printed at home. Stop by your neighborhood frame...Read more

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New York Magazine, May 13th

Staerk comes from a Danish design family, while Christensen has always been interested in the country's Modernist tradition. They looked at their grandmothers' jewelry pieces, which, despite being from the '30s and '40s, felt very modern to them in...Read more