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).

John Prip

John Axel Prip was a silversmith that redefined the medium of both handcrafted and machine-fabricated metalworks. Born in New York in 1922, Prip moved with his Danish father and American mother to Denmark at the age of 10, where his father opened a silversmithing factory. As a teenager, Prip apprenticed at his father’s business. It was here that Prip learned the traditional and technical craft of his medium.

Prip returned to the United States in 1948. He accepted a job as a teacher at the School for the American Craftsman (now known as the School for American Crafts), which was a newly opened school in Alfred, New York dedicated to training highly skilled craftspeople. While teaching, Prip and fellow metalsmith Ronald Pearson, woodworker Tage Frid, and Bauhaus ceramist Frans Wildenhain founded a new gallery called Shop One to display their groundbreaking works of craft.

Always searching for new opportunities, Prip left his teaching position and accepted a job with Reed & Barton in Massachusetts in 1957 where he became the Artist-Craftsman in Residence and designed popular works in silver that are still in production today. After three years at Reed & Barton, Prip went on to teach at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and then at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. He would remain teaching at RISD until his retirement in 1981.

In 1987, the RISD Museum hosted a retrospective show celebrating Prip’s career and works. Prip never faltered in his spirit of innovation, and later in his life he began to experiment with creating large-scale sculptures in pewter. In 1992, Prip was awarded the American Craft Council Gold Award for his momentous contributions to his field. Prip passed away in 2009, leaving behind an incredible legacy of innovative metalsmithing. A genius of his craft, Prip was able to move seamlessly between creating designed objects for everyday use to crafting imaginative and conceptual creations. His work is housed in the permanent collections of the Museum of Art and Design, the RISD Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.

Auction Results John Prip