Leaders and innovators: experimental jewellery laid bare

Brooch in molded, pressed, folded and stippled gold sheet with applied pigment and kinetic ring in silver and acrylic
Left, brooch in molded, pressed, folded and stippled gold sheet with applied pigment, by Giampaolo Babetto. Right, kinetic ring in silver and acrylic, by Friedrich Becker. Photography: Matt Flynn, copyright Smithsonian Institution 
(Image credit: Matt Flynn)

The breadth of studio jewellery as a design medium has rarely been explored as freely as in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s latest exhibition, ‘Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection’, which opened earlier this month.

Lewin, who runs her eponymous communications firm, focussing on the fields of architecture, art and design, has collected studio jewellery for decades. Ranging from the modern to the contemporary, with pieces originating from Holland, Japan, Israel and elsewhere, the 150-strong exhibition highlights the experimental capabilities that jewellery design can possess.

‘The Susan Grant Lewin Collection… encompasses the inventive approach of the studio jewellery movement and the impact of later groundbreaking conceptual and materials-driven contemporary jewellery design,’ says museum director Caroline Baumann.

With brooches, necklaces, bracelets and rings dating from the mid-twentieth-century to the present day, the exhibition charts the milestones that studio jewellery design has made during the course of those years. From innovation advancements to the use of industrial materials instead of gold or silver, the variety of the pieces on display is vivid and artful, to say the least.

Among some of the highlights are an architectural kinetic ring by Friedrich Becker that rotates axially to follow the gestures of the hand wearing it; and a graphic pressed gold ring by Giampaolo Babetto, inspired by the proportions of the Palladian villas of Venice. 

Lewin says: ‘Collecting studio jewellery only becomes more exciting as the field of conceptual jewellery design continues to flourish. I like to find the leaders and innovators – the most experimental designers.’

Necklace in glass beads and peyote stitch technique thread and pendant from the ‘Fragments’ series in picture frame

Left, necklace in glass beads and peyote stitch technique thread, by Joyce J Scott. Right, pendant from the ‘Fragments’ series in picture frame fragment, wood and steel, by Otto Künzli

(Image credit: Otto Künzli)

Left, Spirit with 3 legs and Right, Ginger’ brooch from the Ginger series

Left, ‘Spirit with 3 legs’, from the ‘Spirit Houses’ series in silver, woven structure and agate, by Arline Fisch. Right, ‘Ginger’ brooch from the ‘Ginger’ series in electroformed silver, by Sam Tho Duong

(Image credit: Sam Tho Duong)

’The Jewelry of Ideas: The Susan Grant Lewin Collection’ is on view until 28 May 2018. For more information, visit the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s website


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 East 91st Street
New York, NY 10128


Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.