Storytelling in art and literature is expected, but a good story is equally important in a piece of jewelry—something illustrated by the Crawford Collection, which Bonhams Los Angeles is presenting for the first time in a special auction.
Wearable Art: Jewels From the Crawford Collection goes up for sale Oct. 12 and features more than 300 pieces of jewelry from fine artists such as Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst, American modernists including Art Smith and Betty Cooke, and internationally recognized jewelers like Georg Jensen, Charles Loloma, and William Spratling.
This collection is notable for not only its breadth—it highlights 20th-century jewelry from 30 master makers—but also its depth, says Emily Waterfall, head of jewelry for Bonhams Los Angeles. These are the kinds of works that are “forever chic,” Waterfall says. “That’s just really good design. It’s not a trend. It’s wearable sculpture.”
Byron and Jill Crawford were insatiable collectors, Waterfall says, selecting pieces from an artist’s first forays into jewelry, their mid-career work, and their peaks of perfection. The result is an auction that gives not only a cross section of the best work of each artist but also a museum-quality story of what makes those works timeless and collectable, she says.
“There’s nothing like this collection. I haven’t come across anything like this in my career,” Waterfall says. “The way they collected was passionate: They didn’t just buy one of each artist—they would buy 20.… Jill and Byron were profound in the way they purchased the gamut, from the beginning, middle, and end. They basically curated their own collection, which I find remarkable.”
Jill Crawford in particular traveled the world, scouring flea markets, scrutinizing works in galleries, and meeting with individual artists to personally select each piece, Waterfall says. This was the era before online bidding or Google searches. Rather, the Crawfords researched, examined, and investigated every item in their collection for its design, details, and legacy.
Individually, the auction contains one of the largest private collections of Charles Loloma, Art Smith, Betty Cooke, William Spratling, and Margaret De Patta to be presented at auction, Waterfall says.
“It has been my great passion and pleasure to own and wear the jewelry in my collection,” Jill Crawford said in a statement. “I have spent a lifetime searching for the greatest examples by artists I admire. When I am wearing a great piece of jewelry, I feel connected to the artist, and I become part of the story a piece is telling. Jewelry is meant to be worn, and in the hands of a passionate collector it becomes transcendent.”
Many of the pieces up for auction are museum-worthy, Waterfall says. Collections such as the Crawfords’ tell a tale of the culture and history of the periods during which the jewelry was made, showing that jewelry truly is art.
“You have pieces that are fantastic representations of what was happening culturally at the time,” Waterfall says. “Art Smith was working in Greenwich Village in the 1940s. He opened his own studio, selling jewelry that was affordable, filling that gap between costume and fine jewelry.… The artists themselves wanted pieces that were approachable—they wanted to rattle the cages and offer jewelry to anyone.”
The Crawford Collection has more than 20 pieces by Smith, an Afro-Cuban immigrant who championed both African American and gay rights and created jewelry for everyone. Often made in base metals, such as brass or copper, his transformative designs were based on modern dance and jazz and were featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Other collection standouts include works by Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso; the latter’s iconic “Grand Faune” pendant matches lithographs made by the artist. While recognized most frequently for his paintings, Waterfall says, Picasso explored jewelry throughout his life, alongside ceramics and sculpture.
William Spratling, whose works are also featured, is considered the father of Taxco jewelry, and was influential in establishing Taxco as a center for bold, high-quality silver designs. The starburst necklace he called the “Collar Rubenstein” after Helena Rubenstein, the cosmetics mogul, is one of the highlights of the auction.
Native American jewelry is strongly represented by Charles Loloma, Jesse Monongya, and others. In this collection, Loloma presents pieces that reflect the colors of landscapes, Waterfall says.
Other artists in the Bonhams auction include Elsa Peretti for Tiffany, Bruni Martinazzi, Pol Bury, Ettore Sottsass, Tod Pardon, Arnaldo and Giò Pomodoro, and Edvil Ramosa for Gem Montebello.
Top: The Crawford Collection auction features many Art Smith pieces, including “Modernist Cuff” (est. $8,000–12,000) and “Lava Cuff” (est. $8,000–12,000). (All photos courtesy of Bonhams)Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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