When Jewellery Meets Art

Throughout the 20th century, the paths of artists and studio jewelry frequently crossed, reinforcing the idea of jewellery as art in both the art world and the public imagination. As early as 1918, the artists Man Ray and Jean Arp started to make jewellery as part of their broader aesthetic interest of creating wearable surrealist art. They were joined by leading sculptors of the day, among them the American sculptor Alexander Calder, renowned for his kinetic sculptures.

By the 1940s, the idea of jewellery as “wearable art” gained considerable traction. The leading taste maker in that world was the art collector and patron Peggy Guggenheim who famously wore a earring by Yves Tanguy and another by Calder at the inaugural opening of her gallery, Art of This Century in 1942. As she recalled, “I had a white evening dress made for the occasion and wore one of my Tanguy earrings and one made by Calder, in order to show my impartiality between Surrealists and abstract art”. While Guggenheim might have worn these pieces to communicate her artistic taste, she unwittingly foreshadowed a trend that would gain great currency from the late 1960s.

Peggy Guggenheim_earrings] Peggy Guggenheim wearing earrings designed by Alexander Calder.

Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976) is a pioneering artist known for his signature wire and metal kinetic sculptures called “mobiles”. Calder studied engineering but found his passion and career in sculpture. Other than indoor mobiles, he also created a wide range of monumental metal sculptures that have become practically inextricable from the cities and locations that host them. His other works include paintings and prints, miniature theatre sets, tapestries and jewellery design.

Alexander Calder with one of his mobile sculptures.
A 1941 Alexander Calder ring, made of silver wire, 6.9 x 5.7 cm, formerly Nelson Rockefeller Collection.

Into the 1960s and Beyond

From the 1960s, the lines between jewellery and other art media became increasingly blurred as jewellery designers looked to modern art for inspiration. The fertile exchange of ideas among painters, sculptors, and designers buoyed the confidence of jewellery makers, as did the elevation of jewellery to an art form through museums, galleries, press attention and increased market values.

Gallery of Post-Sixties “Artistic Jewellery”

Niki De Saint Phalle (1930 – 2002), Black Nana, 1973; gold, enamel; made by GEM Montebello; h. 11.4 cm.

Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American sculptor, painter, and filmmaker. Widely known as one of the few female monumental sculptors, she was also known for her commitment to the feminist movement. Her sculptures are highly expressive, visually bold, and often playful – a style that unabashedly celebrate aesthetics over the formal interrogation of artistic interpretations. One of her most public recognisable work is the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris.

The Stravinsky Fountain, by Nicki de Saint Pahlle and Jean Tinjuely. The fountain is a whimsical public installation with 16 works of sculpture, moving and spraying water to represent the music of composer Igor Stravinsky. The fountain was created in 1983 and is located on Place Stravinsky, next to the Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Another work that pays homage to seminal artists is the donut brooch designed by contemporary jeweller, Robin Quigley (b. 1947). The brooch’s whimsical shapes, which dance across an epoxy resin surface mirror the abstract compositions of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Like Kandinsky, Quigley wanted to use color freely to explore abstractions and spatial relationships, and found epoxy resin, which she calls, “liquid color” to be a responsive medium.

Kandinsky, Untitled, 1922, brush, pen and black ink on paper, 33 x 48 cm; Art Institute of Chicago
Robin Quigley, Kandinsky Donut; brooch/necklace, 1978; resin, silver, other media; diameter of pendant 5.7 cm.

About Robin Quigley

Robin Quigley (b. 1947) received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Jewellery from the Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design. This began her long lasting professional connection to the school which includes more than 25 years on its teaching faculty, where she is currently a professor.

Other jewellery makers, like German Manfred Bischoff (1947 – 2015) created enigmatic jewellery that suggest dreamlike images similar to those expressed by Surrealist art. In his Comedian and the Martyr, for example, the cross-shaped coral element perched on the horizontal bar appears to be an abstracted figure conversing with an even more abstract figure in the shape of a head and enlarged eye.

Manfred Bischoff, The Comedian and the Martyr; 1990, brooch; 18-kt gold, silver; 9.5 cm.
Drawing by Manfred Bischoff for The Comedian and the Martyr brooch, 1990; pencil, watercolor, paper, cardboard.
Brooch, 2012, 18-kt gold, silver.

About Manfred Bischoff

German-born Manfred Bischoff (1947 – 2015) worked mainly in Tuscany, Italy where he achieved fame as one of the most innovative and important jewellery artists of our time. Bischoff’s miniature jewellery sculptures are enigmatic and witty combinations of humor, sensuality and a comic-strip manner of exaggeration. Nevertheless, his works also contain an intense philosophical examination, mostly informed by ruminations of history and science.

Our next piece is a pendant designed by the German jewellery firm Niessing (established 1873). Constructed from a ribbon of gold or platinum, the pendant’s loops change directions three times without ever touching.

Pendant by Niessing, twisted ribbon of gold or platinum.

Anish Kappor (b. 1954 Bombay) is a renowned contemporary sculpture based in London whose works have been exhibited by the likes of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate Gallery, London. More recently, Kapoor has channelled his artistic impulse to the design of jewellery such as his “Water Ring” in white and rose gold (below). The piece mirrors and evokes the adventurous form and construction of Kapoor’s larger sculptural works for which he is most famous.

Anish Kapoor (b. 1954 Bombay), Water Ring Form I, 2012. Edition of 10. Made of an 18 carat white gold polished exterior with a rose gold polished interior.

Our final piece is by Sophia Vari (b. 1940), a Greek artist who lives and works in Monaco. Born in Athens to a Greek father and a Hungarian mother, Vari spent part of her childhood in Switzerland, studied in England and France, and now lives between New-York, Monaco and Pietrasanta. Famous for both her painting and sculpture, her work is strongly influenced by Mayan, Egyptian, Olmec, and Cycladic traditions as well as Ancient and Baroque aesthetics. She is married to the well-known Columbian painter Fernando Botero.

Sophia Vari
Sophia Vari Les Pleiades III Ring, 2011. Edition of 6, and made of 18 carat gold and ebony.

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