Friday, April 8, 2011

Vintage Modernist Jewelry

Ed Weiner, USA
14k gold and pearl, circa 1957

Much of what is called "art jewelry" today has it's roots in the modernist studio jewelry of the 1930s through the 1970s. Mod jewelry grew out of the Bauhaus Movement - the integration of art and craft with an emphasis on minimalism, abstraction, and accessible materials.

Sigi Pineda, Mexico
sterling silver, circa 1950s

Merle Boyer, USA
sterling silver and pearls, circa 1950

Unknown maker, Sweden
sterling silver and chrysoprase, dated 1954

Alexander Calder and Harry Bertoia were pioneers of modernist jewelry in the 1930s, with Margarette De Patta following in the 40s, and a host of independent artists working in that vein by the early 1950s. Scandinavian modernist jewelry sprang up around the same time, and is mostly characterized by clean, geometric shapes. Taxco, Mexico was also home to many talented modernist jewelers including the renowned Antonio Pineda. Mexican mod jewelry often includes stone inlay.

Sigi Pineda, Mexico
sterling silver and amethyst, circa 1960

Frank Patania, Sr., USA
sterling silver and turquoise, circa 1955

Arthur King, USA
brass, circa 1960

Modernist jewelry has become quite popular and collectible, and several museums have hosted exhibitions in recent years. The Brooklyn museum is still showing a long-term installation of work by Art Smith. Silver Seduction: The Art of Mexican Modernist Antonio Pineda has traveled to several museums, the Fowler website has a nice synopsis and video. The Met has recently shown a selection of Calder's jewelry. The Helen Williams Drutt Collection contains many fine examples of later modernist pieces, this collection often travels from it's home at the MFAH, the catalog is exquisite and includes many styles of jewelry.

Jens Asby, Denmark
14k gold and malachite, circa 1970

Los Castillo, Mexico
sterling silver, circa 1960

Henry Steig, USA
sterling silver and quartz, circa 1955

A little bit of mod jewelry trivia - this famous scene from The Seven Year Itch was shot in front of Henry Steig's workshop in New York.

The best resource on the web for information on modernist jewelry is Marbeth Schon's Modern Silver Magazine, Marbeth wrote two definitive books on the subject and I highly recommend both of them. I keep a small database of modernist maker's marks on my vintage mod website here. Additional marks for just about any style of jewelry can be found at, an incredible resource.


WildGift said...

I love all of these. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

NAOMI said...

How inspiring! i love the ring with the green stone.

AdobeSol said...

Great post. Wonderful pieces. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Marbeth Schon is the moderator of the SilverForum (one word), a group of silver aficionados ranging from beginners to the experts who write the reference books. Forum members send in links to pictures of pieces they have questions about, and often get remarkably detailed replies. Go to to check it out; all are welcome.

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