Northern Modernist Jewellery

Earlier this year I was one of five successful recipients of the Art Fund’s New Collecting Award.

I was particularly excited to receive the award as my background before my arrival in Edinburgh was within the field of exhibitions development, working and commissioning contemporary artists and makers for a non-collecting organisation. Therefore this is a fantastic opportunity for me to develop a research profile.

Installing Paul Nobel’s tapestry Ville Joe for the exhibition Interloqui at the 2011 Venice Biennale. An exhibition and collaboration headed up by National Glass Centre, Sunderland in partnership with Locus +, Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne & MIMA, Middlesbrough with Caterina Tognon Arte Contemporanea, Venice. © National Glass Centre at the University of Sunderland.

National Museums Scotland holds one of three nationally significant modern and contemporary jewellery collections, alongside the Victoria & Albert Museum, London and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The aim of the award is not only to highlight the collection, but to focus on an area of jewellery design which has been under-represented within research and collecting practice here in the UK.

Visiting MIMA jewellery gallery © Sarah Rothwell
Visiting MIMA jewellery gallery © Sarah Rothwell.

The area in question is Modernist jewellery design created between 1945 and 1978, with a particular emphasis on work designed and manufactured in Britain and the Nordic countries.

Modernist Design emerged in the early 20th century as a response to the changes in technology and society. Simplified, clean lines replaced ornamentation, and new materials were embraced.

The Scandinavian design movement was crucial to the development of Modernism in Europe and America. It was characterised by simplicity, minimalism and functionality, and inspired by nature and the northern climate.

Pendant necklace of silver with square reticulated rock crystal pendant: Danish, by Torun Bulow-Hube for Georg Jenson, 1960s.

In Britain, Modernist jewellery design was slower to emerge. When it did, the main British aesthetic was influenced by contemporary Brutalist architecture. The leading exponents of this were designers such as Andrew Grima, John Donald, and Gillian Packard. Later a new wave of young designer makers such as Gerda Flockinger and Helga Zhan emerged. The clean lines of their designs were closer to earlier Modernist ideas.

Bracelet and Ring of 18ct Gold with Tourmaline designed by Andrew Grima for Hooper Bolton, London, 1963.
Bracelet and ring of 18ct gold with tourmaline designed by Andrew Grima for Hooper Bolton, London, 1963.

One highly influential Scandinavian Jewellery designer was Henning Koppel. He created a series of designs for the Danish firm Georg Jensen. His work was closely linked to the Modernist art movements of the 1940s, creating forms with flowing organic lines unlike anything being produced at the time.

Silver brooch, designed and made by Henning Koppel for Georg Jensen. Denmark, c.1950. © Georg Jensen A/S
Silver brooch, designed and made by Henning Koppel for Georg Jensen. Denmark, c.1950. © Georg Jensen A/S

Following a generous donation earlier this year, National Museums Scotland now holds a selection of pieces by Koppel for Jensen. His design influence can be seen in the work of British jewellery designer Ernest A. Blyth, who created a range of Modernist-inspired brooches during the 1960s for Ivan Tarratt Jewellers of Leicester. Like Georg Jensen, Ivan Tarratt worked with leading jewellery designers of the day to develop an in-house collection of jewellery.

Two Modernist brooches designed by Ernest A. Blyth for Ivan Tarratt Jewellers, c.1960s.

A great part of my research is being able to meet with curators, collectors and dealers within the field of jewellery, as well as discussing Modernist designers and makers with other enthusiasts. Their shared insight helps to uncover the influences behind the designs, as well as introducing me to other designer and makers who I may not have come across.

If you are an enthusiast within the area of Modernist Jewellery design I would be keen to hear from you, so please get in touch.

Trying on an Adam Paxon neckpiece at Didier Ltd, London.
Trying on an Adam Paxon neckpiece at Didier Ltd, London.

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