Sotheby’s auction celebrates jewellery as art: from Alexander Calder to Louise Bourgeois

More than 150 artists feature in September 2022’s ‘Art as Jewelry as Art’ online Sotheby’s auction, with pieces on view at Sotheby’s New York

models wearing brooch, silver and wire Necklace
Left, Alexander Calder brooch. Right, dancer wearing Calder’s Untitled Silver and Wire Necklace.
(Image credit: Alexander English x Louisa Guinness Gallery, Natural History Museum)

In September 2022, Sotheby’s is celebrating the enduring links between jewellery and art with an online auction, ‘Art as Jewelry as Art’. More than 150 works by the likes of Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder, Claude Lalanne, Georges Braque, Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, James de Givenchy, Hubert le Gall and Suzanne Syz will be thematically presented in an in-depth look at how artists’ work captures the zeitgeist. Here, head of the auction Tiffany Dubin tells us what we can expect.

Wallpaper*: What inspired this sale?

Tiffany Dubin: I believe that how we define ourselves and the art we connect with are integral parts of who we are. My inspiration for this sale is, first, my passion for artists' jewellery and, second, my noticing that the market for such jewellery at auction is really taking off. I hope to excite the interest of lovers of all kinds of art in the developing and compelling genre of art to wear. Collectors will experience an intimate relationship with the pieces themselves and with the artists who created them, as well as a direct connection to the art movement they reflect. The challenge for artists is not only to convey their inspiration and vision in miniature, but also to have the breadth of skills to create works that will live on.

lip necklaces by Claude Lalanne for Zolotas, part of Sotheby’s Art as Jewelry as Art sale

Claude Lalanne for Zolotas, Two Lip Necklaces.

(Image credit: Jordan Doner)

W*: How did you decide on the curation of the pieces? Were there any criteria you were looking for in what you chose to include?

TD: I emphasised prominent artists, though I included some who are less well-known owing to the excellence of their works. Similarly, I looked for artists who are known for their large-scale works, but also have the skill and desire to explore their medium in miniature. I find that on a reduced scale, the contrasts and juxtapositions stand out even more sharply.

I searched for pieces that were either handmade, limited-edition, unique, or gifted by the artists to a friend or relative. My goal was to find artists who avoid the typical path for commercial jewellery-making, as I find that they can challenge the boundaries of design in ways a more commercial designer often cannot. Unbound by the traditional jeweller’s constraints, the artist can challenge the wearer, send a message and make a real statement. While the artists in this sale have created more conceptual works that may need fuller explanation, once the story is told, the message is quite powerful.

Model wears Ettore Sottsass for Cleto Munari, Double-Barreled Ring, 1984, part of Art as Jewelry as Art sale at Sotheby’s

Ettore Sottsass for Cleto Munari, Double-Barreled Ring, 1984.

(Image credit: Jordan Doner)

W*: Which jewellers are you particularly excited about here?

TD: The artist jewellers who excite me most are the unexpected ones: the Ettore Sottsass pieces from the 1980s were created just as he started the Memphis movement. Sottsass’ jewellery took on the same playful, provocative spirit while focusing on symmetry and totemic form.

James de Givenchy is an artist who happens to make jewellery. I compare him to Belperron, as he is one of the few jewellers whose jewellery exceeds its intrinsic value. The craftsmanship is more important than the stones. His ideas and his creativity are what count. He can take an unimpressive stone and set it in a way that creates a masterpiece. Michele Oka Doner is a true artist in every sense. She has created two talismans that protect the wearer, and I see them as portable poetry. Her boundary-breaking work is crafted using many different mediums.

Franco Cannilla for Masenza Roma, Gold Link Bracelet, part of Sotheby’s Art as Jewelry as Art auction

Franco Cannilla for Masenza Roma, Gold Link Bracelet

(Image credit: Sotheby’s)

Last but certainly not least: Alexander Calder. It’s amazing how he influenced everyone – not only in his time, but in generations to come. While Torun was making her rebellious jewellery, he was doing the same in the States. Pol Bury saw his mobiles and started making his water pieces, which led to his jewellery. Calder created his first piece of jewellery at age seven. He constantly explored movement in his art, an investigation fundamental to his unique jewellery.

The components of sculptural objects worn on the body are static, yet when precisely shaped and assembled, they may seem to move in three-dimensional space and sometimes actually do. Calder’s radical experimentation with sculptural forms and movement led to the creation not only of his celebrated mobiles but also of beautiful jewellery that embodies the principles of kinetic art.

Afro Libio Basaldella for Masenza Roma, Collar, circa 1960s, part of Sotheby’s Art as Jewelry as Art auction

Afro Libio Basaldella for Masenza Roma, Collar, circa 1960s

(Image credit: Sotheby’s)

The online auction Art as Jewelry as Art takes place 24 September – 4 October 2022, with pieces on view at Sotheby’s New York

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.