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
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Written by Patriot StaffBarnstable Patriot, August 28th
4, 11 & 18: Beginners' Crochet with Wendy Corbiere, 3 p.m. Learn the slipknot and five common crochet stitches, and make jewelry, flowers and hair accessories. Ages 12 and up. Pre-registration required. Sept. 9: Author James McGuane looks back at the ...Read more
Museum & Gallery Listings for Aug. 29-Sept. 4New York Times, August 28th
There are also several examples of “trench jewelry” made by soldiers or prisoners in World Wars I and II from shell casings or aluminum and holding photographic portraits of their wives or sweethearts, as well as contemporary objects like Viktoria...Read more
HISTORIC AND IMPORTANT WORKS BY ROY LICHTENSTEIN, LEONOR FINI ...ArtfixDaily, August 28th
Clars is once again pleased to present a fine sculpture by African American Modernist, Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) titled, “Cabeza de Piedra.” This 11 inch high, cast stone piece will be offered at $16,000 to $22,000 and depicts the head of a man and...Read more
Top 10 things to do Labor Day weekend in the HamptonsNewsday, August 28th
You can also browse jewelry, wood and metal works, ceramics and glass creations. Free, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, ... See a rare retrospective of this early 20th century American modernist inspired by European masters. Glackens was also inspired for a...Read more
Three classic European beach escapesDallas Morning News, August 22nd
This 150-year-old emporium hawks all manner of marquetry, from tiny geometric boxes to elaborate framed landscapes, as well as jewelry, textiles and a veritable zoo of life-size ceramic animals. For better bargains, visit the tiny Augusto Lucas...Read more
Belfast Aug. 29 Final Fridays Art Walk includes wine tastingPenBayPilot.com, August 22nd
After returning to Maine in 2001, Jennifer Atkins Lisa founded Quench Metalworks and started producing one of a kind and limited edition jewelry in sterling silver, 18k, gemstones, and found objects. Visit the new gallery t at 9 Beaver St. Belfast...Read more
How LA's Islamic art shows might expand our 'Middle East' visionLos Angeles Times, August 16th
She mixes old vintage objects with modern tiles made in the same tradition." Throughout her life, Duke gathered all of these pieces, which included jewelry, mosaics and prayer niches, and put them on display at her home in Hawaii (which is open to the...Read more
From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Copper Artist Art SmithCopper.org, August 14th
From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith examines the work of jewelry maker Arthur Smith (1917–1982) through a collection acquired by the Brooklyn Museum of Art from the estate of the artist. One of the leading modernist jewelers...Read more