Exhausted by the emotional cost of making his anti-war masterpiece “Guernica”, exhausted Pablo Picasso retired to the south of France in the hot summer of 1937, joined by friends including photographer Lee Miller, poet Paul Éluard and artist Eileen. Agar. While the group was having fun on the beach, Picasso discovered a fragment of Art Nouveau pottery, looked up to see Nusch Éluard, Paul’s wife, sunbathing and engraved her profile on it. He later put it on a necklace as a memento of this moment in the sun, with “For Nusch, PP” written on the back.
Far from being an inspired one-of-a-kind piece, this was one of the many jewels Picasso made during his lifetime, which now, along with the wearable works of many other artists, are priced high by serious art collectors.
“Artists’ jewelry has been neglected for so long, but this niche has become fashionable in recent times,” says Didier Haspeslagh, who runs Didier Ltd in London with his wife Martine. The duo will present more than 200 pieces, including the necklace Picasso made for Éluard, at Masterpiece London (June 30-July 6).
London-based gallery owner Elisabetta Cipriani, who deals with the jewelry of over 30 artists, says the market has transformed over the past decade. When she opened in 2009, she received a request for this type of jewelry every two months. She now gets five a month, as well as unsolicited knocking on her gallery door by appointment.
As for why so many jewelers have embraced jewelry as a medium, their motivations vary. Giacometti turned his maquettes into necklaces to pay the rent early in his career. Sophia Vari made miniature versions of her plasticine sculptures to pass the time on distant flights. Braque discovered the jewels at the end of his life, when illness left him bedridden but no less eager for creative expression.
Among the most sought-after artist jewels are those of Picasso, Man Ray, Dalí and, in particular, of the sculptors Alexander Calder and Claude Lalanne, whose prices have increased over the last decade. In 2013, a sculptural silver shoulder-to-navel necklace from Calder sold at Sotheby’s for $ 2 million. A more wearable golden Dahlia necklace from Lalanne broke a $ 6,000 top estimate nearly 20 times to hit $ 113,000 at Christie’s in March.
“When we started 30 years ago, we could buy Picasso and Dalí jewelry for a few pounds or [the] scrap [price]Haspeslagh says. Now, however, there is a greater appreciation that these jewels are not inspired by artists but created by them, with pieces signed in numbered editions just like works of art.
The Haspeslaghs devote much of their time to tracking the provenance of such jewels and sharing their knowledge. Jewelery collector-artist Diane Venet joined the cause in 2008 by hosting a series of global exhibitions that raised the profile of this industry and gallery owner Louisa Guinness’s 2017 book Art as jewels: from Calder to Kapoor was written as an introduction to this area for collectors.
“It’s amazing how nearly all artists have made jewelry,” says Tiffany Dubin, vice president of Sotheby’s, who is working on the auction house’s first dedicated artist jewelry sale (online, September 24 to October 4). “When you look at contemporary artists, they tend to make things big to make an impact; it’s very different for an artist to do something small and have the same power ”.
The Art as jewels. . . Jewels like Art the sale is presented as sitting in contemporary art, rather than jewelry, and will include pieces by artists including Max Ernst, Louise Bourgeois (whose spider brooches now change hands for hundreds of thousands of dollars), Niki De Saint Phalle and the brothers Giò and Arnaldo Pomodoro.
Jewelery made by contemporary artists today in collaboration with gallery owners is a vibrant sector of the market, pioneered by Guinness. “I thought, ‘God, there’s a hole here, there’s none of today’s artists,'” she says of curating her first artist jewelry show in 2003. “Being married to a merchant of art [Ben Brown] and being surrounded by artists, I thought: ‘I’ll fix it’ ”. After 20 years as a physical gallery in London, Guinness has moved online since May, with a small private space by appointment only.
Over the years, Guinness has partnered with many stars of the contemporary art world, including Grayson Perry, David Shrigley, and Sue Webster to create pieces, as well as build a formidable secondary-market jewelry collection for both himself and her. sale, with a focus on Calder and Lalanne.
A successful recent collaboration was with Tarka Kings, who helped translate her precise drawings and paper-cut works into linear gold jewelry. “If you know his work, they are very identifiable,” says Guinness. “It’s something I always tell artists: don’t lose your identity [when making jewels]. “
Cipriani, who once worked with Guinness, has also taken this path. In a 2018 collaboration with Ai Weiwei, the artist continued his research on human migration, as seen in his 2017. Human flow documentary on the refugee crisis, making a 24kt gold ring. It was decorated with hieroglyphic-style figures depicting families strolling with bags, fleeing refugees crammed into boats, armed soldiers, barbed wire. The rings start at € 70,000 and Cipriani points out that you will hardly buy one of his artwork by him in another medium for that price.
“I think there’s a hunger out there for these works,” says Dubin, whose Sotheby’s sale will include new pieces such as sculptor Tom Otterness’s first 18-karat gold jewelry. “People who maybe wanted an Anish Kapoor but a miniature version. Luisa Nevelson [jewellery is] something they can put on their coffee table And wears out. These are for smart collectors who. . . they all have brands, but this is another category they can enter and understand why they know artists. “
With skyrocketing prices for mainstream contemporary art leaving many collectors empty-handed, it’s easy to see that this emerging medium, while not new, still has a long way to go.