Studio Jewelry: 1900 to the Present

Art/Studio Jewelry has come to the forefront of collecting in the past three decades, generating exhibitions, publications, scholarship, and presented in galleries, art fairs, and museums. Art Jewelry has not emerged as a part of the fashion world, neither does it belong to the territory of fine jewelry, but this unique field had been developed within the art world. Attracting art collectors, curators, and those interested in collecting design, Art Jewelry is measured in artistic and not aesthetic values. While some collectors wear their jewelry, most perceive those pieces as sculptures, often hung on walls along with paintings.   

Now, Rago/Wright, the new body of the merged auction houses, has announced the first auction exclusively devoted to the field, establishing a new platform for Art Jewelry in the marketplace. This event is curated by Mark McDonald, who knows more about Art Jewelry than anyone I know. He began developing this immense expertise at his former gallery Fifty/50, active in Manhattan between 1980 and 1993, where he pioneered the field by presenting jewelry as works of art. In his gallery, he had illuminated the key jewelers of the mid-century years, placing jewelry as an integrated component of the world of design.

The remarkable catalog, entitled ‘Studio Jewelry: 1900 to the Present’ is not just a list of the lots offered in the upcoming sale, but a fascinating document in its own right, containing both guidelines and oral history. In his personal voice, McDonald describes in the catalog a fascinating journey into connoisseurship of Art Jewelry, into teaching himself to recognize the excellence, and into rediscoving the vintage and discovering new talents. The catalog is filled with his personal stories, from his first encounter with the work of Eva Eisler at the Brooklyn Museum, through visiting Clair Falkenstein’s home and studio in Venice, CA where he discovered her personal collection, to his thought process when evaluating quality and integrity in art jewelry.

The fact that some of the pieces offered were originated in McDonald’s landmark exhibition of 1984 ‘Structure and Ornament: Studio Jewelry 1940-1960’ demonstrates the fine quality of the sale. I find the section devoted to the contemporary, particularly compelling as it allows a broad look at the world of art jewelry today, and coming with McDonald’s trained eye, it introduces us to the art jewelers who make history now. Included are works by such contemporary artists as Terhi Tolvanen, Annamaria Zanella, Gijs Bakker, Karl Fritsch, and Petra Zimmermann.

Art Jewelry is a new area for me, and one I look forward to exploring, learning, and collecting. I have asked McDonald for his guidance, an advice to those interested to begin collecting Art Jewelry. His suggested to look, to learn, to visit galleries, to meet artists, and to explore Art Jewelry in museum collections, all crucial to developing the eye. Above: Bruno Martinazzi, Goldfinger Bracelet, 1969.

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Giampaolo Babetto, Necklace, Italy, 2000, estimate: $20,000–30,000

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Josef Hoffmann, Hair Comb for the Wiener Werkstätte Austria, 1909, estimate: $20,000–30,000

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Claire Falkenstein, Necklace, USA, 1952, estimate: $4,000–6,000

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Paul Lobel, Brooch. USA, c. 1950, estimate: $1,000–1,500

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Petra Zimmermann, Bracelet Austria, c. 2010, estimate: $8,000–10,000.

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Ruth Roach, Bracelet, USA, c. 1950, estimate: $2,000–3,000

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