Jewelry: from Calder to Skateboards

By Dave

July 17th, 2009

Looks like a busy summer for folks interested in antique and vintage jewelry! A quick look around the web yields some interesting finds:

Alexander Calder jewelry exhibit opens in San Diego

Calder jewelry exhibitOpening in San Diego next week, this stunning vintage jewelry exhibit features playful “wearable mini mobiles” made by sculptor Alexander Calder out of simple materials like industrial-type wire. Over his lifetime, Calder created more than 1,800 pieces of jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, earrings, brooches) from wire, brass, silver, gold, pieces of broken pottery and glass.

Be sure to read the New York Times review of this exhibit and check out pictures on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website. You can also read more about Calder’s life at the Calder Foundation site.

What’s cool about Calder’s wearable art jewelry is its playfulness – he made many of the pieces for family and friends, and they tend to be avant garde, dramatic and large. He especially liked spirals and zigzags.

Calder wasn’t a jeweler in the traditional sense, forgoing welds and solder (for an example of jewelry created by a traditional jeweler, check out our Georg Jensen page.)  Instead, he bent and hammered wire using an anvil and bench, and left plier marks showing (for more on hammered metal, see our Roycroft copper interview). He was also fond of monogramming the jewelry he gave as gifts (for a deep dive on monograms in 20th Century jewelery, see our interview with Arts and Crafts jewelry collector Paul Somerson).

Some of Calder’s pieces were worn by Georgia O’Keefe, Peggy Guggenheim, Lucille Ball, and the wives of Joan Miro, Marcel Duchamp, Luis Bunuel, and Marc Chagall. He made everything from jewelry for his sister’s dolls (out of telephone wire) to his wife’s wedding ring.

Modernist Jewelry in Brooklyn; Sacred Ornaments in Texas

art_smith_braceletSpeaking of Modernist jewelry, The Brooklyn Museum of Art has an exhibit of the work of Arthur Smith (1917-1982), whose dynamic silver and gold necklaces, bracelets, and rings were inspired among other things by Calder’s mobiles. The exhibit also includes Smith’s design sketches and photographs of models wearing his jewelry.

When you’re finished in Brooklyn, cross the river and check out the turquoise-encrusted gold jewelry and ornaments from the tombs at Tillya Tepe that are featured at The Metropolitan Museum. The larger exhibit is called “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul,” and also includes many other Bronze Age items.

Finally, if you’re into the contrast between religion and science, there’s an interesting-sounding exhibit in McAllen, Texas, at South Texas College’s Library Art Gallery. Entitled “Worlds Apart: Contemporary Adornment and Sacred Ornament,” the show features the work of Tracey Davis and Donna Sweigart, two mixed-media jewelry designers with different approaches to the art form.

Davis, a collector of vintage prayer cards, uses religious imagery to create miniature Holy mosaics on jewelry items such as necklaces and pendants. Sweigart, who teaches jewelry and metalwork at the University of Texas-Pan American, invokes scientific and environmental imagery and shapes in her pieces.

Trading down, trading in: Economy gives vintage jewelry a push

It’s official: people are holding back on new high-end jewelery purchases and taking a second look at some of the great vintage stuff that’s been around for decades.

steelers-2008-super-bpowl-ringAccording to this New York Times piece , people trading down on new stuff (“The half carat is the new three carat”) is causing a shake out among jewelers. One exception to this trend: The Pittsburgh Steelers, who’ve apparently decided to go bigger and flashier with their Super Bowl rings.

The main beneficiary of this belt-tightening may turn out to be costume and vintage jewelry pieces as people look to good old (and not outrageously priced) stuff to expand or freshen-up their collections. eBay seems to be seeing a surge in trading, as do more specialized (!) trade-in sites like Ex Boyfriend Jewelry, where you can ditch that piece from your ex and also post stories about him (or her).

From skateboard to bracelet: Renewable jewelry

skateboards-to-jewelryFinally, creativity springs eternal among jewelry designers. One trend this summer is making jewelry look like candy or even using it as a dessert topping.

But our favorite for this month is a company that’s cutting up old skateboards to make neat summer bracelets and earrings. Calder would have been proud!

2 comments so far

  1. Barbara Boyce Says:

    Applause, Applause. As a vintage costume jewelry merchant for many years, it is heartwarming to see such indepth review of a field long over looked! Grandma’s “junk” jewelry is anything but that! The question that always made me cringe in my store was “Is that real?” Period costume jewelry is a wonderful field of study and play. Thanks for the great article.

  2. Carriers Cozy Cottage Says:

    Wow fantastic Article ! I have been collecting and selling Vintage Costume Jewelry for years. It is wonderful to see it is making a come back. is a great place to find Vintage Costume Jewelry too !

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