Artist jewelry from Picasso to Grayson Perry reaches new heights

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Exhausted from the emotional cost of creating his anti-war masterpiece “Guernica”, an exhausted Pablo Picasso retreated to the south of France in the scorching summer of 1937, joined by friends whose photographer Lee Miller, poet Paul Éluard and artist Eileen Agar. As the group frolicked on the beach, Picasso discovered a shard of Art Nouveau pottery, looked up to see Nusch Éluard, Paul’s wife, sunbathing and carving her profile on it. He then strung it on a necklace in remembrance of that moment in the sun, with the inscription “For Nusch, PP” on the reverse.

The potsherd that Picasso sculpted and offered to Nusch Éluard © Courtesy Didier Ltd

A woman in a bikini top sitting in the front of a car laughing

Nusch Éluard wearing the necklace in 1937 © Lee Miller Archives

Far from being an inspired one-off, it was one of many pieces of jewelry made by Picasso during his lifetime, which are now – along with wearable works by many other artists – fetching high prices from art collectors. serious art.

“For so long artists’ jewelery has been neglected, but this niche has become fashionable lately,” says Didier Haspeslagh, who runs Didier Ltd in London with his wife, Martine. The duo will present more than 200 pieces, including the Picasso necklace made for Éluard, at Masterpiece London (June 30-July 6).

London gallerist Elisabetta Cipriani, who sells jewelery by more than 30 artists, says the market has transformed over the past decade. When it opened in 2009, it received a request for this type of jewelry every two months. Now she gets five a month, plus unsolicited knocks on her gallery door by appointment.

As to why so many jewelers have embraced jewelry as a medium, their motivations vary. Giacometti turned his models into necklaces to pay the rent for the start of his career. Sophia Vari made miniature versions of her plasticine sculptures to pass the time on distant flights. Braque discovered jewelry at the end of his life, when illness left him bedridden but no less eager for creative expression.

Among the most sought-after artists’ jewels are those of Picasso, Man Ray, Dalí and, in particular, the sculptors Alexander Calder and Claude Lalanne, whose prices have skyrocketed over the past decade. In 2013, a sculptural silver shoulder-navel necklace by Calder sold at Sotheby’s for $2 million. A more wearable gold Dahlia necklace from Lalanne smashed an upper estimate of $6,000 nearly 20 times to fetch $113,000 at Christie’s in March.

A large sculptural gold necklace with a round dahlia flower and leaves on the front

“Dahlia” necklace by Claude Lalanne © Christie’s Images

“When we started 30 years ago, we could buy Picasso and Dalí jewelery for a few pounds or [the] to abandon [price]says Haspeslagh. Today, however, we appreciate more that these jewels are not inspired by artists but created by them, with signed pieces in numbered editions, just like works of art.

The Haspeslagh devote much of their time to tracing the provenance of these jewels and sharing their knowledge. Jewelery collector-artist Diane Venet joined the cause in 2008 by organizing a series of world exhibitions which raised the profile of this sector, and the book by gallerist Louisa Guinness in 2017 Art as jewellery: from Calder to Kapoor was written as an introduction to this field for collectors.

“It’s amazing how almost every artist has created jewelry,” said Sotheby’s Vice President Tiffany Dubin, who is working on the auction house’s first dedicated sale of artist jewelry ( online, from September 24 to October 4). “When you look at contemporary artists, they tend to go big to make an impact; it’s very different for an artist to do something small and have the same power.

The Art as jewelry. . . Jewelry as art the sale is billed as seated in contemporary art, rather than jewelry, and will feature pieces by artists such as Max Ernst, Louise Bourgeois (whose spider brooches are now changing hands for hundreds of thousands of dollars ), Niki De Saint Phalle and the brothers Giò and Arnaldo Pomodoro.

Two metal necklaces with a pair of woman's lips on the front

Lip necklaces by Claude Lalanne for Zolotas. . .

A small golden disk with three imprints and a pair of horns

and ‘Tête à Cornes’ by Max Ernst will both feature in Sotheby’s Art as Jewelry. . . Jewelry as art sale

Jewelry made by today’s contemporary artists in collaboration with gallery owners is a dynamic sector of the market, pioneered by Guinness. “I thought to myself, ‘My God, there is a gaping hole here, there are no artists of today,'” she says of organizing her first jewelry exhibition as an artist in 2003. “Being married to an art dealer [Ben Brown] and being surrounded by artists, I said to myself: “I’ll fix that”. After 20 years as a physical gallery in London, Guinness has moved online since May, with a small private space by appointment only.

Three small drop-shaped metal pendants with pinhole eyes and small straight smiles

Companion Pendants (2021-22) by David Shrigley © Courtesy the artist/Louisa Guinness Gallery

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 collection of jewelry in the secondary market at the both for herself and for sale, with a focus on Calder and Lalanne.

A successful recent collaboration was with Tarka Kings, whom she helped translate her precise drawings and paper-cut works into linear gold jewelry. “If you know his work, they’re very identifiable,” says Guinness. “That’s something I always say to artists – don’t lose your identity [when making jewels].”

A woman wearing a gold necklace reminiscent of a tennis racket

Unstrung Mandolin (2021) by Tarka Kings © Courtesy the artist/Louisa Guinness Gallery. Photo: William Waterworth

Cipriani, who has worked with Guinness before, has also taken this route. 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, by making a 24 carat gold ring. It was decorated with hieroglyphic-style figures depicting families walking with sacks, fleeing refugees piled into boats, armed soldiers, barbed wire. Rings start at €70,000 and Cipriani points out that you’re unlikely to pick up one of his works in any other medium at that price.

Two gold rings with large flat surfaces showing hieroglyph-like people

Ring M and Ring W (2018) by Ai Weiwei © Courtesy of the artist/Elisabetta Cipriani

“I believe there is a thirst for these works,” says Dubin, whose Sotheby’s sale will include new pieces such as sculptor Tom Otterness’ first 18-karat gold jewelry. “People who wanted maybe an Anish Kapoor but a miniature version. Louise Nevelson [jewellery is] something they can put on their coffee table and exhausted. These are for the smart collectors who. . . have all the brands, but that’s another category they can get into and understand because they know the artists.

With soaring prices for mainstream contemporary art leaving many collectors empty-handed, it’s easy to see that this emerging – though not new – medium still has a long way to go.

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