Today’s Tomorrow’s Hot Lots

PART TWO: The world is full of noteworthy jewelry designers, but the work of some has already been pegged as future collectibles. Part One of this report explored what elevates a piece of jewelry to collectible status. Now jewelry historian Elise Misiorowski asks a panel of experts to predict whose jewelry will join the select.

How does a piece of jewelry become a collectible? Experts say the three main qualifying factors are design, workmanship and materials. If, presumably, all good jewelry designers strive for excellence in these criteria, why do some make history while others just make jewelry?

JCK asked jewelry appraisers, auctioneers, dealers and historians which of today’s designers they feel are likely to be viewed one day as makers of highly prized collectibles. The panel included Camilla Dietz-Bergeron, Camilla Dietz-Bergeron Ltd., New York; Carol Elkins, assistant vice president, Sotheby’s, New York; Audrey Friedman, director of the Primavera Gallery in New York; Joyce Jonas, jewelry historian; Pennye Jones-Napier, appraiser, The Tiny Jewel Box, Washington, D.C.; Gail Brett Levine, appraiser, Auction Market Resource, Rego Park, N.Y.; Simon Teakle, senior vice president, Christie’s, New York; and jewelry historian Janet Zapata.

The experts naturally agree that jewelry from major houses like Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron will always be collectible, though pieces made during the first half of the 20th century are more prized than contemporary works. Jewelry made by the newer houses like Harry Winston, Laurence Graff and Bulgari is already becoming collectible and will continue to be sought after in the future.

Several experts mention manufacturing jeweler Oscar Heyman Brothers’ pieces as highly collectible, as well; they praise the firm’s style and technical advances as distinctive. Only for the past 25 years or so has the firm’s work been signed, but nearly all their pieces have readily identifiable individual registry numbers.

Outside the great jewelry houses, the experts predict the work of such independents as Marina B., Joel Arthur Rosenthal (known as J.A.R.), Christopher Walling, Barry Kieselstein-Cord and Elizabeth Gage will be highly prized by collectors. Each of these jewelers has a signature style and exceptional workmanship based on unusual materials. Similarly, there is a group of artist-jewelers whose work is collected internationally, but who have a limited output. William Harper, Wendy Ramshaw, Andrew Grima and Daniel Brush are in this category.

Brush, for example, is a renowned American painter who started making decorative objects and jewelry as a “way to unwind.” He doesn’t take commissions and designs jewelry simply for his own amusement, but his pieces are sought after by those in the know. As a result, his jewelry will be quite a rarity – and even more valuable – in the future.

But there’s a catch. Brush and the other jewelers in his category either market directly to the public or have an exclusive distributor in the United States; they don’t use normal retail distribution channels. What’s a jeweler to do?

Fortunately, many Amer- ican designers do produce unique jewelry of excellent craftsmanship and superlative materials – and it’s available for sale through fine retail jewelers. On the condition that their individual opinions be kept anonymous, panelists named a diverse group of contemporary American designers who they feel have what it takes to make jewelry history.

Henry Dunay, often called the father of American jewelry design, is one such notable. His plump, sensuous candy-twist earrings and braided bracelets in textured 18k gold with pavé diamonds were the fashion statement of the last decade, and his work, which has expanded into everything from jeweled eggs to belt buckles to gemstone “cities,” continues to be in demand.

The list that follows, in alphabetical order, is by no means a complete summation of designers the experts suggested are worth collecting. They are, however, the 10 names mentioned most often. All have won awards for excellence in jewelry design; all are acknowledged by both peers and clients as superlative jewelers; all are restless spirits who constantly break new ground. Not satisfied to stay within prescribed limits, these artists explore new concepts in design, manufacturing techniques and materials. Their aesthetic views are different, but their willingness to take risks is the same.

Jean-François Albert, Irvine, Calif.

A four-time winner of De Beers’ Diamonds Today Award and three-time winner of AGTA’s Spectrum Awards, Albert’s jewelry is best described as clean, spare and elegant. His designs are deceptive in their simplicity, subtly directing a viewer’s eye to the magnificent specimens of colored gems that have become his trademark. He often underplays the metal surrounding them, though he is also known for impeccable diamond pavé. Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Albert’s first job was with Piaget, where he gained experience in bench work and design. From there he progressed to Canada, working in Montreal and Vancouver, which gave him easy access to the western coast of the U.S., a ready market for his bold, statement-making designs. Today he and his wife-cum-business partner, Babs, are based in Irvine, Calif.

Whitney Boin, New York, N.Y.

Boin has an impressive roster of awards to his credit, including the Argyle International Colored Diamonds Award, De Beers’ Diamonds-International Award and multiple awards from the Diamonds Today, Diamonds of Distinction, International Pearl Design and Johnson Matthey Platinum Design competitions. He has had numerous exhibitions of his work and is in the permanent collections of the Rochester Institute of Technology, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. and others.

Boin’s designs are straightforward and devoid of ornament. The best known is his post ring, a clean platinum setting that holds a diamond solitaire between four cylindrical posts. His most recent design is loosely based on a dandelion in bloom. Round discs of glass crystal are etched with lines that are alternately transparent or that reflect light, depending on the way they are rotated and how the wearer moves. At present, the series contains only brooches, from a single disc to a cluster of up to six discs set in 18k gold bezels on tubular platinum stems, many with diamonds on the bezels. Each brooch comes with its own Plexiglas stand that continues the theme of a dandelion in a field, enabling the brooch to function as a freestanding sculpture as well as a jewel.

Michael Bondanza, New York, N.Y.

Michael Bondanza is a painter and sculptor who moved into jewelry as a new design medium while still taking time to paint and sculpt. He has won multiple awards for his jewelry, especially his platinum work. Technically, his firm would be classified as a manufacturing jeweler, but each piece is hand-finished.

Bondanza is best known for “redefining platinum,” taking the metal out of its originally formal character and making it more appealing to younger customers. His work often incorporates repeating patterns with a distinctly oriental character, like stylized waves or vines in different configurations and combinations, accented by diamonds, colored gems and even some opaque stones like onyx. His collections have names like “Empire,” “Cygnet” and “Zen,” among others. Each collection’s rings, bracelets and necklaces share a specific design motif.

Michael Good, Rockport, Me.

Michael Good has become a master of a metalworking technique called anticlastic raising, which he learned from Finnish designer Heikki Seppa. It involves hammering sheets of gold or platinum on specially made anvils, so that the metal curves back into itself and creates three-dimensional forms. Nothing is cast, no solder is used and there are no attached findings; earring wires and pinstems grow out of the hammering process. Anticlastic raising demands a profound understanding of what the metal is capable of doing when forged. Good prefers working in 18k yellow gold, but he uses platinum as well. He rarely uses gemstones, keeping the focus of attention on the form itself – the ribbon of metal twists and coils. Like the perfect little black dress, Good’s anticlastic jewelry is deceptive in its simplicity.

Since 1977, Good has conducted workshops and taught classes in anticlastic raising for professional organizations, schools and universities in North America and Europe. Though he occasionally makes one-of-a-kind or limited-edition pieces, many of Good’s earliest designs are still in production today.

Cornelis Hollander, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Hollander is another designer who has racked up an impressive tally of honors: Seven AGTA Spectrum Awards, nine International Pearl Design Competition prizes, three Diamonds of Distinction awards and three Platinum Design of the Year awards.

Born and raised in Holland, Hollander studied art and jewelry design at Vrije Academie in Den Haag, progressing to England and South Africa before coming to the U.S. in the early 1980s. A jeweler in Phoenix, Ariz., hired him and encouraged and promoted him as a jewelry designer. When Hollander submitted two rings to the Intergold design competition, they won first and second prize.

Hollander is most noted for the style set forth in his “Gem Directions” series, characterized by triangular-cut colored stones set at the ends of narrow curved gold or platinum tubes. Another design motif uses large “commas” in matte gold, flush set with diamonds, appearing to be loosely tied with slender platinum tubes. These elements are further enhanced by triangular colored stones. Hollander incorporates vivid colored stones in a variety of shapes and cuts. He particularly likes to use recent gem finds like the blue-green Paraíba tourmaline and bright orange Mandarin garnet, along with amethyst, red and green tourmalines, fancy colored sapphires and tanzanites. He does, of course, use the traditional ruby, emerald and sapphire, and lately has acceded to popular demand for more diamond and less color.

Richard Kimball, Denver, Colo.

A childhood divided between a cattle ranch in Colorado and the diplomatic circles of London may explain why Richard Kimball’s work reflects the influence of strong opposites. Organic elements are highly stylized, executed in a clean, pared-down style, with distant mountains and rivers implied by textured gold on platinum, canyon ravines suggested by black jade inlaid in palladium channels, and gold granules hinting at desert scrub.

Kimball’s jewelry incorporates choice gems juxtaposed with layers of gold and palladium. The metal is given depth and interest by contrasting surfaces – matte finished, highly polished, sandblasted, chased, rollerprinted, hammered or reticulated.

Kimball sometimes adds secret details that only the owner knows, like gemstones set in unlikely places or engraving that can be seen only from a certain angle. This idea sprang from Asian metalwork and art, which often has embellished areas invisible to the casual observer. This interest in Asian art manifests itself in the overall restraint and simplicity of Kimball’s work but can be seen more directly in pieces like his series of Oriental fan brooches. Kimball prefers making one-of-a-kind or limited-edition pieces because it allows him more creative freedom.

Christoph Krahenmann, Santa Barbara, Cal.

Classically trained as a jeweler in Switzerland, Krahenmann melds classic workmanship with modern design. He’s inspired by architecture and aerodynamic form and function, designing the arm of a cufflink to look like a girder, for example, with diamonds where bolts might go. He likes surprises in his jewelry, like extending a line of diamonds around the corner of a piece and along its edge. He works in platinum and 18k yellow, white or rose gold, in contrasting matte and polished finishes. He frequently sets diamonds in a combination of engraving and flush mounting rather than pavé setting.

Krahenmann’s designs for men are sleek, sophisticated and masculine, while similar structures are softened for women – sharp edges are given a curve and a twist. He chooses colored gemstones for their individuality, and lets the stone dictate what a piece will look like.

Krahenmann makes one-of-a-kind pieces, and he prefers to fabricate everything because it gives him a better sense of control. He likes the challenge of puzzling through technical difficulties. Much of his approach developed out of his respect for a blind uncle, whose sensitivity of touch gave him a new appreciation for the tactile – evident in his maker’s mark, the letters “CK” in Braille.

Steven Kretchmer, Palenville, N.Y.

Highly respected as a metallurgist, Kretchmer has acted as a private consultant on special precious metal processes for such prestigious companies as Harry Winston and the Platinum Guild International. Kretchmer, nicknamed “the scientist” in school, specializes in complicated techniques such as diffusion bonding of metals, mokume-gane, crystallized gold and unusual colors of gold like blue, purple and chocolate brown. He explains that these colored golds are “intermetallic compounds,” rather than alloys, because the color is a surface treatment only. Kretchmer holds many patents for product inventions and for special alloys. Recently, he patented a new platinum alloy, “Plat/SK,” that is 95.5% pure platinum (see JCK, May 1998, page 272). The alloy is springy, won’t clog or drag on tools and takes a high polish with less effort. It has been tested by a number of respected contemporary metalsmiths and received good reviews.

Kretchmer sees himself as a modern-day alchemist, who transforms mystical ideas into reality, such as his signature “moonbeam” bands, made of platinum with arcane symbols shining in a channel filled with 24k crystallized gold.

Kent Raible, Mill Valley, Cal.

Raible’s early jewelry, made between 1973 and 1982, was primarily silver – first in an organic style that incorporated many found objects and later in a streamlined style strongly influenced by Scandinavian design. His first experiments with granulation, an ancient, exacting technique in which tiny balls of gold are fused to a golden surface without solder, began during this time.

He grew restless, however, and in an effort to avoid an “early mid-life crisis,” embarked on a bicycle tour of Europe. In Germany, a friend introduced him to the faculty at the Fachhochschule fuer Gestaltung, a metal-arts trade school. Based on a portfolio of work he was carrying, Raible was invited to be a guest student, and here he learned to master the art of granulation.

After returning home, Raible blossomed. His signature jewelry now is symmetrical and balanced in design, a rich combination of colored gems set among intricate patterns of rich granulated gold.

Responding to the trends of the time, he now uses more platinum and diamonds. Every jewel is fabricated from components that Raible prepares: he alloys his own 18k gold from which he rolls sheet, draws wire and makes granules. Clasps and findings are hand-fabricated and chains are handwoven in the tradition of the ancient Greeks.

Raible designs his jewelry around unusual specimens of opals, moonstones, star sapphires, spinels, tanzanites, garnets, tourmalines and pearls. His “Floating City” necklaces suggest tiny futuristic castles in space, with gemstone towers, granulated causeways and diamond-edged walls. One of this series has been honored by a place in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Raible is feeling restless again. His business grew to its largest volume in early 1997 and, by year’s end, he realized he wasn’t having fun anymore. He has taken a step back to reassess and explore new possibilities. The last time he grew restless, his jewelry took a quantum leap. Let’s hope the same thing happens again.

Alex Sepkus, New York, N.Y.

Born and raised in Lithuania, Alex Sepkus earned his degree in fine arts and industrial design from the Lithuanian Academy of Arts. At school, his paintings, woodcuts, etchings and engravings grew smaller and smaller, until jewelry design naturally evolved. In Soviet-controlled Lithuania, gold was difficult – if not impossible – to obtain, so Sepkus worked in silver, copper and steel, incorporating ivory, agates and enameling. He often worked his jewelry under a microscope; thus his attention was focused on minute surface detail and he developed an intuitive sense of underlying form.

In 1988, Sepkus emigrated to the United States and was granted political asylum. Here, he gained technical proficiency with 18k gold and platinum, creating opulent surface textures for the simple underlying forms he still uses.

His necklaces and bracelets drape like fabric over the body. The surfaces have an appearance like woven brocades or Berber carpets, highlighted by small cabochon-cut gems or bezel-set diamonds. Sepkus sees jewelry as “a link between the human body and its clothing; it should be pleasant to touch and extremely comfortable to wear.”

Does marketing count before you’re dead?

What role does good marketing play in the creation of a collectible? Does having a household name and great popular appeal in the present boost value for the future?

Experts say it’s a tough call. In general, mass-produced pieces are not going to have the same cachet as ones of limited availability. A pair of Levi’s dating from James Dean’s era may command a hefty price at a vintage clothing store, but unless James Dean himself wore them, they’re not likely to show up at an important auction. A Christian Dior couture original from the same era, however, will.

If a mass-produced piece of jewelry has a combination of good design, good quality and intrinsic value of material, it stands a better chance of becoming a collectible than one that has a popular name but relatively little intrinsic value. Even so, intrinsic value isn’t everything. Antique jewelry dealer Pamela Burns of New York-based M. Singer Inc. points out that Louis Comfort Tiffany’s pieces don’t have a great deal of intrinsic value, but Tiffany was considered an artist, as much so as Matisse or Picasso.

Burns, also an art history scholar, says, “I don’t know if people have respect for modern craftsmen as much as they do for ones of the past. I’m sure there are thousands of painters and sculptors who do groundbreaking, good work and are considered ‘artists of the day,’ but I still don’t know who they are.” The same goes for jewelry designers, she adds.

From whence it came

Collectible jewelry comes from a variety of sources. The following descriptions aren’t rigid delineations, but helpful suggestions to understand the maker’s business.

Master jewelry houses are high-profile, high-caliber retail jewelry establishments that have been in business since the early 20th century or longer. Their work has a distinctive, recognizable style and was often trend-setting in its era. Some famous names are Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, Mauboussin, Chaumet, Asprey, Garrard, Harry Winston, Laurence Graff, Mouawad and Bvlgari. Of this group, Tiffany is unique in promoting by name some individual designers whose work is considered highly collectible: Jean Schlumberger, Donald Claflin, Angela Cummings, Elsa Peretti and Paloma Picasso.

Manufacturing jewelers can have either branded or non-branded names. Examples include Oscar Heyman Brothers, Carvin French, Hammerman Bros., Casa Damiani and Mikimoto.

Independent designers are individuals or the companies that spring from the inspiration of a single designer, such as Raymond Yard, Verdura, Belperron, Paul Flato, Barry Kieselstein-Cord, Christopher Walling, David Webb, William Ruser, J.A.R., Marina B., Elizabeth Gage, and Henry Dunay.

Finally, artist jewelers typically produce one-of-a-kind pieces as a form of artistic expression. John Paul Miller, Andrew Grima, Wendy Ramshaw, Daniel Brush, Kent Raible, Luna Felix, Carrie Adell and Mary Lee Hu are just a few.