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).

Beatrice Wood 1893–1998

Born in 1893 to a wealthy and well-educated family and reared in New York, Beatrice Wood was an artistic free spirit from a young age. She spent her adolescence studying art and theater in Paris at the Académie Julian and La Comédie-Française. At the insistence of her family, she returned to New York in 1912, where she joined the French National Repertory Theatre.

Back in New York, Wood met artist Marcel Duchamp who introduced her to his social circle, exposed her to modern art and encouraged her artistic ambition. She became part of the New York Dada Movement along with fellow artists Man Ray, Francis Picabia and Joseph Stella. New York Dada's irreverence was less aggressive and more playful than its European counterparts, but nonetheless influenced by the carnage of WWI. The antics and excesses of the New York Dadaists—a number of whom were European artists escaping the war—was their form of protest.

Wood relocated to southern California in 1928. There, she became acquainted with the Indian sage Krishnamurti of the Theosophical Society and began to follow him on his international lectures. While on one of these trips in Holland, she purchased a set of baroque dessert plates with a striking luster glaze. Unable to find a matching tea pot, she decided to make one herself, and enrolled in a ceramic course at Hollywood High School in 1933. It was here that she first studied glaze chemistry and learned the intricacies of ceramic design. Her studies continued under noted ceramicist and teacher, Glen Lukens, whose tutelage prepared her for her next and most important mentors, ceramicists Gertrud and Otto Natzler. The Natzlers shared their methods and glaze secrets with her. She later said that learning the Natzler’s approach to ceramics was ‘invaluable’ to her development as a ceramic artist.

Auction Results Beatrice Wood