Celebrating Calder: a timely homage to the patron saint of art jewellery

Left: Anjelica Huston wearing ’The Jealous Husband right: Untitled’ brooch
London's Louisa Guinness Gallery pays tribute to the patron saint of art jewellery, Alexander Calder, with a celebratory, expansive exhibition. Pictured left: Anjelica Huston wearing 'The Jealous Husband' (c.1940), 1976. Right: 'Untitled' brooch, 1940
(Image credit: Evelyn Hofer)

Alexander Calder is the grandfather of artist jewellery, so when gallerist Louisa Guinness saw her mother-in-law wearing a Calder necklace she had bought for a song from the artist 25 years ago, she knew an exhibition was a must. Over the course of two years, Guinness called on private collectors, experts and the Alexander Calder Foundation to create a show at her eponymous gallery – the first solo exhibition of the late artist’s jewellery design in the UK.

Necklaces, brooches, bangles and earrings are displayed on headless mannequins, swathed in red robes, and on red leather bondage-bound torsos and heads. It’s a fittingly avant garde mise-en-scene created by Norwegian fashion designer Elise Overland.

Calder favoured simple, found materials over precious ones – bronze and silver over gold, stones and glass over diamonds and gemstones. He would hammer and bend metals into outsized, unwieldy zigzags, swirls and spirals (a favourite motif) and tie them together with wire, by hand, rather than using a soldering iron. He started making pieces for his sister’s dolls when he was a child, and later, in the 1930s, for his wife. His homespun, unorthodox approach soon became popular with many forward thinking women of the time, and photographs of Peggy Guggenheim, Georgia O’Keeffe and Anjelica Huston decked in his necklaces, brooches and jaggedy earrings line one wall of the gallery.

Calder only ever made one-offs, and 15 pieces in the show are for sale (his mobiles sell for upwards of £1m, and the rare unique jewellery pieces do not come cheap either). Alexander SC Rower, president the Calder Foundations says: ‘Making jewellery was extremely personal for my grandfather and he adamantly refused to edition his pieces. Each piece is unique, just like his mobiles. His pioneering aesthetic remains an inspiration for a league for studio jewellers today.’

Guinness commissioned photographer Alexander English to create a series of portraits of young women wearing Calder pieces. The aim, she explains, is to show Calder’s ‘timelessness and of-the-moment relevance and his continuous appeal’.

Left: ’Brass’ necklace and Right: ’Flower

Pictured left: 'Brass' necklace, c.1940. Right: 'Flower', c.1945. 

(Image credit: Courtesy the Calder Foundation and Louisa Guinness Gallery)

Left: ’Silver and Cloth’ necklace and Right: Alexander English shoots Calder jewellery

Pictured left: 'Silver and Cloth' necklace, c.1942. Right: Alexander English shoots Calder jewellery for Louisa Guinness Gallery. 

(Image credit: Courtesy Alexander English, Louisa Guinness Gallery and Calder Foundation)

Left: ’Untitled’ brooch and Right: ’OK’ brooch

Pictured left: 'Untitled' brooch, 1940. Right: Georgia O'Keeffe, wearing 'OK' brooch.  c.1945. 

(Image credit: Photography: Carl van Vechten, c.1945. Courtesy the Calder Foundation and Louisa Guinness Gallery)

Left: Alexander English shoots Calder jewellery and right : ’Untitled’

Pictured left: Alexander English shoots Calder jewellery for Louisa Guinness Gallery. Right: 'Untitled', c.1940. 

(Image credit: Courtesy the Calder Foundation and Louisa Guinness Gallery)


For more information, visit the Louisa Guinness Gallery website


Louisa Guinness Gallery
45 Conduit Street
London, W1S 2YN


Emma O'Kelly is a contributing editor at Wallpaper*. She joined the magazine on issue 4 as news editor and since since then has worked in full and part time roles across many editorial departments. She is a freelance journalist based in London and works for a range of titles from Condé Nast Traveller to The Telegraph. She is currently working on a book about Scandinavian sauna culture and is renovating a mid century house in the Italian Lakes.