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).

Betty Cooke

Betty Cooke was born in Baltimore in 1924 and attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, graduating in 1946 and teaching there until 1968. Betty Cooke began her career designing furniture, handbags, and household accessories. When she began designing jewelry, she drove around the country trying to sell her jewelry designs to museums and shops that carried the designs of Knoll and Herman Miller, as very few boutiques for modernist jewelry existed at the time. Her works have much in common with the clean, organic simplicity and “good design” ethos of American modernism; the influences of the New Bauhaus, Harry Bertoia, Isamu Noguchi and fellow jewelry designer Margaret De Patta are felt in Cooke’s stylish, approachable works, which often feature kinetic elements and combinations of different metals and woods. The Store Ltd., which Cooke established with her husband in 1965, still exists today in Baltimore. Her work is held in collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Auction Results Betty Cooke