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”)
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Clubs & Associations
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- Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts
- Society of Jewellery Historians
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Best Designer Jewelry Brand India – Siddharthaa Launched This SeasonGroundReport, December 6th
The best quality about this young designer is that he is never afraid to experiment – being a modernist, both in terms of capacity and ideas, it is he who introduced new dimensions to the trade and enhanced it's retail status through calibrating...Read more
Events in WestchesterNew York Times, December 5th
WHITE PLAINS The Fourth Annual Holiday Boutique, jewelry, glassware and more. Dec. 8 and 15, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and .... SCARSDALE “Andre Kertesz and Theodore Fried: Converging Journeys in the Modernist Age.” Through Dec. 28. Tuesdays through ...Read more
Jewels Go Into the BlueWall Street Journal, December 5th
price upon request, Bulgari stores nationwide; Graff emerald-cut sapphire and diamond ring, price upon request, graffdiamonds.com; Harry Winston cushion-cut sapphire solitaire ring, price upon request, harrywinston.com; Chopard sapphire and...Read more
A Quaker aesthetic in campus art and architectureSwarthmore College The Phoenix Online, December 5th
In the past century, Swarthmore has moved beyond the traditional toward modernist architecture that reflects the original architectural values of minimalism and harmony without ostentation. Kohlberg Hall and the Science Center, both designed by...Read more
Our holiday gift guideSan Diego CityBEAT, December 4th
Among the well-curated jewelry selection are these wishbone earrings by Modernist ($34.95). The work of San Diegan Desi McKinnon, they're pretty but with an edge. You can find more of McKinnon's work on her Etsy site, but we strongly encourage a trip...Read more
Blu-ray, DVD gifts keep on givingDaily Comet, December 4th
This brightly colored, lightweight stool, designed by Japanese modernist designer Riki Watanabe in 1965 for his Carton Furniture series, is made of cardboard, yet is strong enough to hold over 1,000 pounds. Use it for extra seating or set a tray of hor...Read more
Exploring the style and history of CartierThe Star Online, December 3rd
The exhibition will emphasise key dates in Cartier's history through emblematic pieces of jewellery, ranging from the first Cartier pieces in an abstract, modernist style (1906) to the tiara worn by Kate Middleton at her royal wedding. Visitors can...Read more
'Spectacular' Cartier exhibit set to open in ParisNew York Daily News, November 29th
The exhibition will emphasize key dates in Cartier's history through emblematic pieces of jewelry, ranging from the first Cartier pieces in an abstract, modernist style (1906) to the tiara worn by Kate Middleton at her royal wedding. Visitors can also...Read more