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]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Plastic Art Deco Revival Modernist NecklaceVtg Art Deco Machine Age Jakob Bengel Modernist Brick Link Necklace Bracelet Set1966 Finnish Elis Kauppi 14k Gold Amethyst Ring Modernist Kupitaan Kulta VintageRare And Important Paul Lobel Sterling Silver Modernist Choker Mid-century Vintage Jeweled Kunio Matsimoto For Trifari Modernistic Resin BraceletRetro Sterling Designer Bangle By Hayner *rare, Modernist, Heavy* 26.6 Grams14kt White & Yellow Gold Diamond & Sapphire Ladies Sz 7 Modernist RingVtg. Designer Signed 14k Gold Modernist 8-1/2" Italian Bracelet No Scrap 14g NrStunning Vintage Ola Gorie 925 Solid Silver Modernist Rose Style Earrings Vintage Modernist Heavy Mexico Woven Sterling Silver Link Choker Collar NecklaceFine Large Gold Modernist PendantLarge & Heavy Modernist Solid Silver Necklace,bracelet & Matching Earrings,meVtg 1960s Silver Pendant Collar Necklace Norway Modernist Erling ChristoffersenTapio Wirkkala Modernist Sterling Silver Moon Pendant 1972 Large Size FinlandFab! Big Modern Modernist Citrine Solid 14k Gold Ring Sz 6 15.9gr Not Scrap NrVtg Taxco Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Modernist Beaded Mesh Necklace A 14 Ct Modernist Danish Triangular Design Ring UnusualVintage Trifari Modernist Triple Strand Lucite Waterfall NecklaceStunning Vintage 1978 Modernist Solid Silver & Green Quartz BangleEd Levin Modernist Sterling Silver Green Malachite Tear Drop Earrings Post BackTaxco Mexico Sterling Silver 925 Modernist Design Wide Hinged Bangle BraceletDesigner Signed Natural Diamond Modernist 18k White Gold Band Ring2 Pair Men's Modernist Danish Sterling Silver CufflinksA 14 Ct Gold Clear Stone Princess Cut Danish Modernist Ring Makers Mark Hans JenRare Vintage Sam Kramer Sterling Silver Modernist Abstract Brooch Pin ModernLagos Caviar Sterling Silver 18k Gold Citrine Necklace 750 Modernist Circle 17"Retro Modernist, Solid Yellow Gold & 6.75 Ct Lapis Lazuli Cabochon Estate Ring Fab Vtg Mid Century Modernist * Jens Asby * Denmark Sterling Silver RingA 14 Ct Gold Triple Stone Modernist Danish Dress Ring Makers Mark H.s Free ShipVintage Judith Hendler Modernist Clear Lucite Collar Necklace 1980'sSterling Silver Auran Kultaseppa Oy Finland Modernist Ring Designer ScandinavianStunning Vintage Machine Age Modernist Hand-made Sterling Silver Cuff BraceletAntique Mexican Modernist Collar Liquid Silver *stamped Silver* 37.2 GramsJames Avery Modernist Heart To Heart Sterling Silver Ring Size 6 Nr!Ola Gorie Scottish Sterling Silver Brooch Modernist Fern Design Omg MarkCool Vtg Mid Century Modernist * Niels Erik From * Denmark Sterling Silver RingVtg Modernist Ledesma Taxco Mexican Sterling Silver Alexandrite Bracelet 19631Vintage Norway Aksel Holmsen Sterling Silver Modernist Yellow Enamel Leaf PinRebajes Modernist Designer Tribal Sun Face Large Copper Pendant Vintage RareVintage Sterling Silver Large Modernist Needlepoint Dangle Earrings - No ReserveVtg Mid Century Modernist * Niels Erik * N E From * Denmark Sterling Bracelet4 Pairs Of Mid-century Modern Modernist Sterling Silver Cufflinks - Most MexicanA&k Aarre & Krough Denmark Danish Sterling Silver Modernist ScandinavianVtg Signed Ne From Denmark Sterling Silver Modernist Bracelet 925 S Leaf FoliateMexico Sterling Silver Sculptural Modernist Slip On Bangle Bracelet 42 GramsVintage Sterling Silver Heavy Modernist Taxco 6-3/4" Cuff Bracelet - 29.4 Grams!Vintage C1960 Tiffany & Co 925 Sterling Silver Brooch Flower Pin ModernistSilpada Modernist Sterling Silver Circle Disc Necklace N1710 Leather 925 PendantEstate Find...vintage 50s Modernist Sterling Floral Brooch Aarre & Krogh Denmark+ Estate Designer Silpada Modernist Hammered Pendant Sterling Silver NecklacePair Designer Custom 14k Gold .5 Carat Round Cut Pave Diamond Modernist EarringsRetro Modernist, Solid 18k Yellow Gold, Lapis Lazuli & .14 Cttw Diamond EarringsWiwen Nilsson Modernist Sweden Sterling Silver Bracelet Scandinavia See MarkingsVintage Signed Angela Cummings Sterling Silver Modernist Brooch PinModernist Custom Artisan-signed Sterling Amethyst Necklace Pendant Mrkd AjvVintage Sterling Rlm Studio Modernist NecklaceVintage K Denning Signed Rich Enamel On Copper Modernist Tiles BraceletVintage Fischland Schmuch Kramer Modernist Oval Baltic Amber Sterling RingSterling Silver Juhls Modernist Brooch Designer Scandinavian KautokeinoSolid Sterling Modernist 925 Bracelet Elis Kauppi Kupittaan Kulta Finland Silver

Recent News: Modernist Jewelry

Source: Google News

'Pretty Woman' reunion: Get the movie look on the 25th anniversary
Today.com, March 24th

If you are into rom-coms with a fairy tale ending, "Pretty Woman" may be the classic that ignited your love affair. As the cast reunites for the film's 25th anniversary, we reminisce about the fashion moments that so perfectly defined Vivian Ward's...Read more

Now Trending: Sculptural Rugs That Artfully Stand Out
Wall Street Journal, March 20th

Modernist designer Eileen Gray's boldly layered geometric rugs may have started it all in the 1920s, but the look came into full flower with British decorator Syrie Maugham's intricately channeled carpets, designed by Marion Dorn for the glamorous...Read more

The Smarter Way to Invest in Art
Bloomberg, March 19th

Some collecting categories remain improbably affordable because few people are aware they exist. How else to explain the prices of pre-Columbian art—the sculptures, vases, artifacts, and jewelry made in South and Central America from 13,000 B.C. to ...Read more

Art in the Palm of Her Hands: Interview with Anne Ricketts
Huffington Post, March 18th

I am inspired by modernist design objects, mementos, old postcards, a leaf, a dried bone. I love nature, artifacts, antiques, ... I carve sculptures and jewelry in wax, clay, or foam, depending on the shape I want to create. With any sculpture, when it...Read more

90-Year-Old Iranian Artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian Gets Her First ...
Huffington Post, March 17th

The burgeoning modernist aesthetic seeped into Monir's artistic vision, inscribing sharp-edged forms and refined color palettes into her practice. But New York's influence was only a flicker in the mirror compared to that of Monir's home country of...Read more

RISD Grads Open New Boutique
Providence Media, March 16th

The room and everything in it have an awesome earthy feel – with all handcrafted furniture for sale and used to display other pieces, cute canvas bags, refurbished antique cameras, hand-carved rock jewelry and intriguing prints of trees and flowers...Read more

Michael Graves, Princeton-based post-modernist architect, dies at 80
The Daily Princetonian, March 15th

Expanding the boundaries of his design to kitchen products, jewelry, watches, rugs and other similar small-scale objects, Graves firmly believed that architects can build more than just buildings, according to a 1994 interview with The Indianapolis Star...Read more

Cranbrook opens exhibit of Bertoia jewelry
The Oakland Press, March 13th

A necklace made for Loja Saarinen is part of a new exhibit opening March 14 at Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, featuring jewelry designed by Harry Bertoia, one of the Cranbrook Academy's most illustrious alumni. Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum ...Read more