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).

I first saw Lisa Gralnick’s work in an article in Metalsmith magazine. Her Anti-Gravity Neckpiece #5 featured on the cover grabbed my attention.  I rarely paid attention to contemporary jewelry in 1992.  I was drawn to and fascinated by the mechanics and the tough materials.  These “ruptured machines” with their gears, chains, pulleys and weights pulled me into Lisa’s world and I watched as she evolved using acrylic, gold and steel in uncommon fashion.  I am thrilled to offer several iconic examples of the work of this modern master.

Mark McDonald

Lisa Gralnick

Lisa Gralnick’s sublime and stark jewelry invokes a tension between thinking and sensing. The intellectual, mathematical and philosophical concerns of her work are grounded in a mastery of traditional goldsmith techniques, creating jewelry that, in Gralnick’s words, “refuses to behave.” Her acrylic works, severe and matte-black, stand as inert relics, relating the wearer to the broader arc of the history of industry and objects, while her exquisite works in gold are rigorous and poetic.

Gralnick was born in New York in 1956 and studied metalsmithing at SUNY, New Paltz, graduating with a masters in 1980. She moved to New York City in 1982 to pursue designing jewelry full-time and in 1991 she became the head of the jewelry and metals department at Parsons School of Design. Her breakthrough works were part of the Black Acrylic collection, beginning in 1986, which was inspired by both the materiality of what she was working with, as well as the mood in the artistic community and culture at large in the era. This collection was also part of the larger arc in contemporary jewelry of artists moving away from traditional notions of value, aesthetics and materials. In the 1990s she began working with metals, using machines, mechanical structures, mathematics and physics as a jumping-off point for complex, intellectual works. In 2002, she began an eight-year project, The Gold Standard, which comprised investigations into both the cultural and material value and meaning of gold.

In 2001 she relocated to Madison, Wisconsin to teach at the University of Wisconsin. Her works are held in such prestigious collections as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Art, Houston and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In recent years, Gralnick's work has taken on increasingly conceptual and sculptural modes of expression, while still incorporating her meticulous and exquisite craftsmanship.

Auction Results Lisa Gralnick