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, 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    

14ct/14k Gold Modernist Wedding Ring, 585Mid Century Modernist Robert Lee Morris Sterling Silver Bracelet & Necklace SetSuperb Looking Modernist C1960s Kupittaan Kulta Finland 925 Silver BroochArt Smith Signed Vintage Sterling Silver Modernist Long Screw Back Earrings RareLadies Modernist 14k Solid Yellow Gold Diamond & Black Onyx Slide Pendant Bgd NrVtg 1970 Lapponia Sterling Silver Bjorn Weckstrom Space Series Modernist RingO. P. Orlandini, Uno A Erre 1970s Modernist Sterling Silver & Turquoise CollierSten & Laine, Kl, Vintage 1979 Modernist Sterling Silver & Crystal Ring, FinlandVintage Sterling Silver Modernist Amethyst Point Pendant Fine Vtg 14k Gold Mid Century Modernist Atomic Boomerang Diamond EarringsModernist Signed Georg Jensen Sterling Silver 325 Pin BroochVtg Modernist 925 Sterling Silver Bangle BraceletVintage 1970s Xxl Modernist Silver Ribbon Ring, 10.9 GRare Modernist Art Deco Sterling Silver Enamel David Andersen Norwegian PendantOle Stegemuller 1970s Modernist Sterling Silver & Aventurine Ring Denmark 4.6 GScarce 1962 Modernist Kupittaan Kulta Turku Elis Kauppi Finland Silver BroochFinlandia Koru Vintage 1977 Modernist Sterling Silver Pendant W/chain, FinlandVintage Solid Sterling Silver Etched Flower Art Deco Modernist Bracelet BangleVintage 1960's Modernist Hans Hansen Sterling 'leaf' Link Necklace #318Vtg Modernist Twisted Wavy Sterling Silver Hinged Bangle BraceletVintage Solid Silver Antique Owl Head Modernist Bird Pendant And Necklace ChainVintage Mexican Los Ballesteros Sterling Silver Modernist Bangle BraceletFine Vtg Mexican Sterling Silver Taxco Mid Century Modernist Onyx Cat Brooch PinRare! Marcella Saltz For Trifari Vintage Modernist Lapis Set Pendant Necklace**Perli Vintage 1970s Modernist Silver & Rose Quartz Bracelet, Germany, 39.7 GVtg Taxco Eagle 3 Modernist Purple Amethyst Sterling Silver Chain Necklace 14"Lisa Jenks 925 Sterling Silver Modernist Handcrafted Artisan Band Ring Size 7Signed 925 Sterling Silver Sz 7.25 Modernist Turquoise Cocktail Ring A269Vintage Signed Renoir Modernist Copper Bib Collar Necklace 17" Adj Wonderful Vintage Art Deco Jakob Bengel Modernist 'brick Work' EarringsVintage Solid Silver 825 Norway Norwegian Design Modernist Link Necklace Vintage Brooch Pin Big Modernist Cat Kitten Red Enamel Rhinestone Plastic Lot IVintage Pineda Sterling Silver Modernist Cufflinks 970 MccawModernist Vtg Designer Sexy Long Interlocking Circles Gold 3.25" Runway EarringsAge Fausing Denmark Sterling Silver & Abalone Ring Modernist 1960s 70sFine Vtg Brandon Williams Sterling Silver Modernist Kitty Cat Brooch PinVintage Modernist 1970s Sterling Silver Cufflinks, 12.5 GVintage Solid Silver Quinn Signed Modernist 5 Dice Front Ladies Bracelet BangleNavajo Signed Sterling Silver Large Modernist Stamped Woman Figural Brooch Pin1960s-70s Round Sterling Silver Brutalist Modernist Drippy Pendant NecklaceVtg Modernist Open Triangle Pendant Chain Sterling Silver NecklaceVintage Solid Sterling Silver Modernist Link Chain NecklaceVintage Estate-found Bat Ami Sterling Silver Modernist Pin BroochVintage Signed Maricela Taxco Modernist Sterling Silver 925 Brooch PinStunning Sterling Silver Poland Hallmark Vintage Modernist Ring & Earring SetVintage Jewellery Modernist Cufflinks 1960s - 1970s UnusualDesigner Signed 14k Gold Modernist 6 Ct Tw Green Tourmaline Diamond Necklace BgdModernist Antonio Pineda Vintage Taxco Sterling Silver Bracelet, 970 Stamp.Modernist Antonio Pineda Vintage Taxco Sterling Silver Bracelet, 970 Stamp.Vintage Modernist Natural Black Opal & Diamond 18k Gold Ring~designer SignedRare Georg Jensen Modernist 18k Yellow Gold Diamond And Sapphire RingLarge 1970s Rachel Gera Israel Brutalist Modernist Sterling Rose Pendant/brooch Custom Modernist Huge 36.15 Ct Pink Tourmaline & Diamond 14k Gold Pendant/broochLarge Vintage Bayanihan Sterling Silver Modernist Necklace~statement PieceBeautiful Poppy Dandiya Modernist Textured Sterling Silver Thick Stacking BangleGeorg Jensen Silver Modernist Ring Size LModernist Designer Signed Hs 14k Solid Yellow Gold Amethyst Gemstone Ring Bgd NrVintage 14k Solid Yellow Gold 1/3 Ct Tw Diamond Modernist Squiggle Ring Sz 7 BnfModernist Wiwen Nilsson Sweden Sterling Silver 1961 Link Bracelet 7.5"Sterling Silver Lot Of 2 Norwegian Modernist Enamel Handmade Pin Brooch 30.9 G