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6 Visual Artists Who Dabbled & Succeeded in Jewelry Making

Posted on October 27 2020

balinese women working on silver
Source: aiko_koni / Shutterstock.com

In the world of art and design, there is a lot of discussion surrounding the topic of whether or not jewelry making is art. For most people, the answer is yes. Jewelry making involves a certain level of skill and creativity, but its purpose is to be worn rather than displayed, much in the same way that fashion is a form of art. 

Because of the connection between the two, many of history’s influential artists tried their hand at making jewelry—and created some of the most unique pieces you’ve ever seen. The amount of creativity and precision that goes into producing your favorite set of gold chains or that special pair of earrings you received for your birthday is much the same as the passion an artist puts into his or her work. 

Here are just a few examples of how some artists traded mediums to taste their jewelry-making skills.

1. Man Ray

Famous for spearheading the early avant garde movement in the beginning of the 1900s, Man Ray also dabbled in photography and was very inspired by feminine forms. He was a part of the Surrealism and Dada movements, which inspired pieces that altered the shapes and appearances of everyday objects or scenes much in the same way that Picasso’s Cubism did. 

The Dada movement specifically was an avant garde art form that came about as a reaction to World War II and focused on the insignificance of material possessions and called into question the idea of nationalism. 

When Man Ray decided to give jewelry making a try, he partnered with an Italian maker named GianCarlo Montebello. Using his affinity for the female body, he and the jeweler created a collection of pieces that featured unique elements like lips made of metal and  Optic-Topic, a gold eye mask with tiny pinholes that allows the wearer to see through the thick, gold accessory.

wax sculpture of pablo picasso
Source: Nuamfolio / Shutterstock.com

2. Pablo Picasso

Although Picasso experienced great success during his 80-year career as an artist, his work as a jeweler was something he preferred to keep personal because it played a part in his romantic relationships. When he was dating Dora Maar in the 30s, he enjoyed stamping her image onto a variety of different pieces, from necklace pendants to rings. Later in his life, while in a decade-long relationship with another woman and artist named Francoise Gilot, he again dabbled in jewelry making as they explored what it was like to collaborate on a necklace.

Finally, in the 1960s, Picasso decided to give the jewelry-making thing a real shot by teaming up with Francoise Hugo, son of writer Victor Hugo and a good friend of Picasso’s, to create an unusual series of metalworking that doubles as brooches or other accessories. 

3. Niki de Saint Phalle

As an artist, Niki de Saint Phalle’s work incorporates large-scale sculptures that depict women in bright colors with a cartoonish appearance. As an activist, her work also had a feminist bent, as she worked hard to fight against racism and segregation and demanded equal rights for women. 

Some of her earlier canvas work was particularly unique because she would use a shotgun to shoot paint onto the canvas, which created an emotional experience for the viewer. Visual art wasn’t her only endeavor, though; she also scaled down some of her bright, unusual sculptures to create similar pieces of jewelry with misshapen bodies and bold colors. 

4. Salvador Dali

An artist known for his major role in the Surrealist movement, Salvador Dali’s artwork is like no other, with objects morphing shape, nonsensical scenery, and reality-bending subject matter. His work may be some of the most recognizable from that period, but his creativity spread far beyond just his visual works of art. 

He decided to work together with a jeweler in New York named Carlos Alemany to create a collection of 40 jewelry pieces that brought his surrealist imaginations into the three-dimensional world. Some of their creations included a brooch of a smiling mouth made from rubies and pearls, a ring designed to look like a corset, and a small watch with no band that was placed in the middle of an eye design where the pupil would normally be found.

5. Meret Oppenheim 

Yet another artist of the Surrealist movement, Meret Oppenheim very much bought into the notions behind the movement that encouraged artists to question reality and view potential mistakes as new expressions of creativity. Oppenheim was a successful artist and also a muse for many of the artists that ran in her circle. Her work transcended many mediums, from painting on canvas to creating object art and sculptures. 

She spent some time modeling for Elsa Schiaparelli, a fashion designer with unusual designs featuring clawed gloves or red-painted fingernails. This may have later inspired some of Oppenheim’s own jewelry creations like her famous fur bangles. When it came to jewelry design, Oppenheim liked to use found objects to create pieces that no one had ever seen before—incorporating bones and even sugar cubes.

6. Carlos Cruz-Diez

This modern artist does not fall under the Surrealist category. His work is considered Kinetic art, which relies on lines and shapes to create a sense of movement within the image that speaks to the viewer. The use of these lines and geometric shapes can also create the appearance of several dimensions. Think of Kinetic art as being similar to optical illusions that rely on certain strategies in order to play tricks on your eyes. 

In 2013 and 2014, Cruz-Diez decided to work with Elisabeth Cipriani, owner of a gallery that displays jewelry by artists, and he designed rings, earrings, and necklaces with his own signature illusion art featuring sharp lines and bright colors.

gold artistic lips
Source: Re_sky / Shutterstock.com

Jewelry Is Art

Over the years, many artists have tried to explore what happens when you blur the lines between artwork and jewelry, creating truly unique and impactful pieces. But, whether you enjoy the surrealist creations of these artists or you prefer hip hop gold chain jewelry styles, these pieces are a mode of expression that allows us to show the world a little piece of ourselves.