Modern Handmade Jewelry

Toni Greenbaum

Jewelry is one of the most graphic indicators of personal identity. In sync with the body, it helps to define the individuals who wear it. Jewelry is also among the most revealing examples of material culture. The necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, and brooches worn by people throughout the ages contain powerful clues about the eras, traditions, habitations, and societies in which they lived.

To this day, jewelry continues to act as an important signifier. The twentieth century, along with the first two decades of the twenty-first, is particularly rich in what we refer to as “studio jewelry.” Studio jewelry, which is invariably handmade, can simply celebrate process and provide an alternative to fine or costume jewelry, but it can also harbor deeper meanings—concepts far beyond jewelry’s usual function as decoration, commemoration, or talisman. Studio jewelry exists at the nexus of art, craft, and design, often reflecting aesthetic concerns, theoretical doctrines, political agendas, or popular trends. Most studio jewelry is either unique or produced in limited edition. It can be fabricated from precious metals and gemstones, or created from materials outside the norm, or both. Studio jewelry may be easy to wear, or present tactical challenges. All in all, it is a most compelling adornment—whether we regard it technically, stylistically, artistically, or even existentially.

Work by Otto Künzli (left). His iconic Gold Makes You Blind bracelet, is featured in this sale. ES1 Ring by Ettore Sottsass (right).

Giampaolo Babetto

Born in 1947 in Padua, Giampaolo Babetto originally trained to be an architect in the 1960s, but when he realized he loved working directly with materials, he became a jeweler. As part of the venerated Padua School, Babetto looked to traditional goldsmith techniques and the rigorous, immaculate forms of the Renaissance (particularly those of architect Andrea Palladio) to create concrete, elegant pieces. He describes his “empty but solid” works as having “an inwardness”—sensitive objects that, by avoiding excessive decoration, “have a soul.” Babetto’s work has also evolved to be in conversation with the heroic forms of contemporary minimalists like Carl Andre and Donald Judd and his inclusion of enamel, beginning in the 1980s, was inspired by an exhibition of Japanese lacquerware that he saw at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Auction Results Giampaolo Babetto