Sam Kramer was the legend. He demolished conformity with a savage surrealism. He was endlessly delighted with the indelible imprint he made on the naïve bohemians and hip squares. But the power of his work and his life was never compromised by new movements, new styles, or new hipsters. He was never a clown. He was always the touchstone.

Ed Wiener

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).

Sam Kramer 1913–1964

Sam Kramer was born in and studied jewelry design in Pittsburgh. He began his career in the 1940s, peddling surrealist-inspired jewelry on the streets of Greenwich Village. He became a downtown personality, eventually establishing a shabby studio and shop full of taxidermy, swords, shells, bones, Mexican, Indian and Native American artifacts, and unusual stones and beads he salvaged from antique shops. A flyer by Kramer from this era (which were handed out on the streets by women dressed in space costumes and painted green) says that his jewelry “evolves from the dream world and the art world”. His oddball reputation did not precede him though, as he was one of the most respected mid-century jewelry designers.

Auction Results Sam Kramer