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b y   P a t r i c k   K a p t y

The earliest days of the studio jewelry movement in the US saw the emergence of three primary manners of expression as styles in jewelry: bio-morphism, primitivism, and constructivism. The bio-morphic style was based on organic shapes, and included the element of growth or change. The primitivist style was deeply influenced by the arts and crafts of the so-called primitive peoples, primarily African and Mezo-american cultures.

 Art Smith, USA, 
brooch in brass with oxidized
sections, an example of bio-morphism

Sam Kramer, USA
earrings in silver with turquoise and moonstones
examples of bio-morphism

The constructivist style a.k.a. the rational style was more structured and formal, and based upon linear and geometric shapes. Architectonic jewelry is a subset of constructivist jewelry.  

William Spratling, Taxco,
 button in silver,
 an example of primitivism

“Architectonic” is defined in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary as, “having the organized structural and rational qualities of architecture.” (G & C Merriam Co, USA, p.113) Architectonic jewelry can best be described as being linear, geometric, and three-dimensional. Jewelry has often been compared to sculpture, but in miniature. Architectonic jewelry could be said to be micro-architecture. Architectonic jewelry is not architectural-revival jewelry where the motives of architecture are superimposed on the jewelry form in a flattened manner as a mere decorative motif. Architectonic jewelry is also not necessarily jewelry designed by architects, though many architects have designed jewelry in this style.  

Some early American studio jewelry displays elements of the architectonic style. Margaret de Patta worked in an analytical geometric style that often included varying levels of depth to convey a sense of the three-dimensional. Many of her ‘optical’ compositions include transparent gemstones over opaque materials that are essentially ‘windows’ into the underlying structures of her compositions. Irena Brynner often employed three-dimensional shapes that are evocative of architectural elements, as did the southern California jeweler, Everett MacDonald.  

Peter Macchiarini, USA,
 brooch in silver, copper, brass,
an example of constructivism

Mirjam Salminen, Finland,
 bracelet in silver with rock

Among the Scandinavians working in the architectonic style, most notable are Bent Exner of Denmark, and Sigurd Persson of Sweden. Exner’s fabulous constructions of the 60s and 70s have the orderliness of molecular structure, and sometimes include kinetic elements. Sigurd Persson’s towering rings of the early 60s were flamboyant examples of the architectonic style, though his work also displayed motives taken from nature. The bracelet design (shown here) by Mirjam Salminen of Finland from the 1960s is essentially architectonic in style.  

  Wiwen Nilsson, Sweden
 earrings  in silver

Sigurd Persson, Sweden
brooch in silver with black enamel

Probably the most important and influential of jewelry designers working in the architectonic style is Frederich Becker of Germany. Becker’s work often includes optical and kinetic elements, and his designs executed in stainless steel and synthetic gemstones from the late 70s through the early 90s are a pure expression of the architectonic in jewelry.

 earrings in silver with onyx 

Hans  Appenzeller, Netherlands,
 earrings in silver

From the last twenty-five years of American studio jewelry, the work of Helen Shirk in the 70s and 80s comes to mind as indisputably architectonic. Shirks jewelry from this period is the essence of geometric precision, and often three-dimensional. The jewelry of David Tisdale from the 80s onward also embodies the elements of the architectonic style, as well as including an investigation into color and unusual materials. Others working in the architectonic style include contemporary jewelers Eva Eisler, Deborah Aguado, and Zack Peabody. Eisler, an architect, produced a series of jewelry designs in the 1990s that were held together by tension alone. Aguado has often employed architectonic motives in her work, especially in a series of jewelry designs entitled ‘Hoists’ that included elements suspended within the work. Peabody’s designs resemble the brand of modern architecture where the only decorations are the undisguised structural elements. Titles like ‘Brooch 348’, and materials that include stainless steel and niobium further the impression of the precision of engineering and architecture in Peabody’s jewelry.  

Elis Kauppi, Finland,
 ring in silver

Bent Knudsen, Denmark,
 bracelet in silver with onyx 

Though architectonic jewelry can be interpreted as an attempt to find rationality, and safety, in the chaos of daily living, more properly it should be seen as an investigation into pure form in three dimensions without the encumbrance of the associative motives seen in more literary styles of jewelry.  

Some reference works:  

Messengers of Modernism: American Studio Jewelry 1940 – 1960

Finnish Silver

Danish Jewelry

Jewelry of our time: art, ornament and obsession

Frederich Becker: Schmuck, Kinetik, Objekte

Bent Exner: Smykker

One of a Kind: American Art Jewelry Today

Schmuck der Moderne: Modern Jewelry 1960 – 1998

Jewelry by Architects

Sigurd Persson: En Mastare I Form  


cover photo:  Liisa Vitali, Finland,  ring in silver with quartz sphere

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.Photographs by Patrick Kapty & Marbeth Schon
web design by Marbeth Schon
 Copyright ©  Modern Silver magazine 2001

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