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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Sterling Silver | Betty Cooke 14k Gold Modernist | Dangle EarringsBengt Hallberg Sweden Sterling Silver & Rock Crystal Modernist Ring 1977Vintage Mexico Taxco Fm Sterling Silver Modernist Turquoise Butterfly Brooch Pin1960's Tone Vigeland Norwegian Modernist Large Silver Starburst Brooch. N/r.Vintage Sterling Silver | Allan Adler Rectangle Modernist 14.3g | Cufflinks MensModernist Sterling Silver & Multi-stone Necklace Mexico Mexican Taxco 129gAdda Husted-andersen Sterling Silver Modernist Turquoise Glass Brooch Pin 55.7gBold Modernist Sterling Silver Gate Bracelet 83gVintage Modernist 1970’s Sterling Silver 3-pce Parure, 34 GDenmark N.e From 925s Sterling Silver Modernist Handcrafted Designer Brooch Modernist Sterling Silver Chain Necklace Mexico Mexican Vintage Mexico David San Miguel Allende Sterling Silver Modernist Turquoise RingAarre & Krogh Danish Modernist Sterling Silver Chain Link Toggle BraceletVintage Zagal Modernist Sterling Silver Hinged Bangle Bracelet Mexican TaxcoNice Vintage Unique Mexico Modernist Sterling Silver Necklace And Bracelet SetVintage 1970's Big Silver Tone Modernist Figure Figural Statement BroochModernist Vintage Designer Signed 14k Yellow Gold Diamond Stone Belt Buckle Ring18ct/ 18k Gold 40 Point Diamond Heavy Modernist Ring, 750Sterling Silver Taxco Mexico Long Dangle Modernist Abstract Heavy Earrings 25 GrRic Erika Hult De Corral Necklace-sterling Silver & Tigers Eye, Modernist MexicoVintage French Modernist Necklace - Lanvin - Paris Finland Kultateollisuus Ky 925 Sterling Silver Modernist Superb Collectible RingLadies Modernist 18k Yellow Gold .10 Ct Tw Diamond Pendant & Chain 17.75" Rng Vintage Sam Graves Southwest Sterling Silver Modernist Big Cuff Bracelet 22740Sculptural Vintage Finnish Finland Modernist Sterling Cuff Bracelet Hall MarkedHeavy Sterling Silver Vintage 925 Modernist Hinged Bracelet 7'' (34.2g) - 560922Unusual Vintage Modernist Studio 10k Gold Aventurine Crescent Moon PinEstate Vintage Sterling Silver Orb Otto Robert Bade Modernist Cuff Bracelet Unusual Enrique Ledesma Mexican Sterling Silver Modernist Abstract PinLovely Sterling Silver~modernist Bib Choker~great Vintage~mexico~signed Ddd~57grGorgeous Vintage Modernist Designer Necklace - Pierre Cardin - FranceVtg Mexico Taxco? Sterling Silver Dna Necklace Ball Beads & Link ModernistModernist Retro Vintage 14k Yellow Gold .12 Ct Tw Diamond Ring Size 7 Rdr NrVintage Tamiko Sterling Silver Modernist Geometric Panel Necklace 17” 53g48grms Vtg Taxco Mx Modernist Sterling Silver Orante S Design Cuff BraceletModernist Sterling Silver & Multi-stone Necklace Mexico Mexican Taxco 141gSr Luli Hamersztein 925 Roman Glass Necklace Sterling Silver Israel ModernistDesigner Tane Mexico Modernist Sterling/gold Vermeil Earrings W/ 14k Gold PostsVintage Ed Wiener Sterling Silver Modern Modernist Abstract Style Wrap Band RingModernist Dominique Dinovart Ddd Mexican Sterling Silver BraceletMine Finds Jay King Dtr Sterling Silver 925 Modernist Turquoise Ring Size 10.75Modernist Sterling Silver & Multi-stone Bracelet Mexico Mexican 62g Modernist Sterling Silver Blue Topaz Sheild Pendant Necklace 20"Jill Platner Solid 925 Sterling Silver Modernist Abstract Art Designer Ring Ladies Designer Style Modernist 2 Tone White, Yellow Gold Chain Necklace 17" RngVintage 1970 Silver Modernist Brutalist Necklace Israel Handmade Panel ArtisanModernist 950 Sterling Silver Puzzle Stone Necklace Mexico Mexicantaxco 114gSigned Espo Sig Joseph Esposito Sterling Silver Modernist Square Cuff BraceletFine Modernist 14ct Gold Diamond Pendant Necklace 14k 585Ed Levin 14kt Gold / Sterling Silver Modernist Post Earrings 2.9grams 10-i4747Vintage Danish Silver Modernist Eiler & Marloe Cufflinks DenmarkVintage Gucci Modernist Sterling Silver Ribbed RingVintage Lot Sterling~taxco Kitty Cat, Modernist Earrings~brooches, Necklace+Aage Fausing Denmark - Vintage Modernist Sterling Neck Cuff Choker NecklaceVintage Modernist Dyed Red Stones, Probably Onyx, In Sterling Silver Cufflinks Modernist Sterling Silver & Onyx Square Necklace Mexican Mexico Taxco 76gModernist 950 Sterling Silver & Malachite Bracelet Mexico Taxco Mexican Vintage Ivana Trump Modernist Enamel Designer High End Couture Brooch Bu14Vtg Signed Taxco Sterling Silver & Abalone Choker Collar Necklace ModernistVtg Modernist Designer Signed Sterling Silver Hinged Cuff Clamper Bracelet Dmb