Aaron Faber offers a range of services to the serious collector, starting with appraisals, authentication and a finder service, all the way to exclusive benefits available only to members of our Collector’s Club.
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COLLECTING JEWELRY: GUIDELINES
We suggest the same guidelines that we have devised and used for thirty five years at Aaron Faber Gallery. These criteria give us a way to evaluate Studio Jewelry for now and for the future.
No one knows today what will be collectible in twenty or fifty or one hundred years. What we do know today is how to appraise Studio Jewelry for the integrity of its inherent qualities, with the aid of established criteria. We call them “The Seven Rules of Collecting”.
Imagine walking into a museum, wandering through the rooms, your eye falling here and there upon paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. Depending upon the exposure you’ve had to art, you automatically start to label these works. “Picasso, I think; that’s a Van Gogh, there’s a Rembrandt, isn’t that an Eames chair?”
This phenomenon is “stylistic signature” and each of us can name the artists whose work we recognize by themes or brushstrokes or form. The same is true for Studio Jewelry. Stylistic signature is our best tool for identifying and evaluating Studio Jewelry. It speaks to us visually and immediately and, once an artist’s work is known, is the strongest means of authentication. It is also the most gratifying: that “zing” of recognition is like running into an old friend and makes the process of appreciation personal.
It may be impossible to define art. But it is possible to identify a couple of its manifestations. In some fields of collecting, artistic expression is relatively unimportant. In Studio Jewelry, it is the keystone of the work’s integrity, the very essential quality that moves us or communicates to us as observers and wearers.
Given all other criteria to be equal, it is clear that the first manifestation of a given trend or direction in Studio Jewelry is preferable to subsequent work in the same or similar style.
When you see the Bauhaus-inspired brooches of Margaret de Patta or the surreal brooches of Sam Kramer or Stanley Lechtzin’s electroformed necklaces, you are fortunate to be in the presence of inspiring originality. They are all influenced by other trends in art and design, but each is a unique and original expression of those influences.
Many contemporary artists make references in their artwork: to history, to politics, to other artworks. Understanding this referencing, as in all art appreciation, gives us a tool to evaluate the power and expressiveness of an artist’s work. Hiroko Pijanowski’s mizuhiki necklaces from the 1990’s are an excellent example. In each, she was inspired to create a large body ornament/sculpture that references both preciousness – the glittering gold strands of the necklace are made of Japanese gift-tie ribbon which is paper and cellophane – and her own cultural background. This series is a superb example of both referencing and originality.
No one today would want to travel in the Wright Brothers’ famous airplane, “Flyer”, yet its importance in the development of aviation gives it a premier place in history. Historical importance recognizes the breakthrough nature of some artists and their work, and allows us to place their contribution in this field. In the Studio Jewelry field, these artists made important contributions but worked primarily in other fields, often as professors or artists in other media. In general, their output is limited, but strongly influential. For example, Alexander Calder made bracelets in his very identifiable style. They are not signed, were made primarily as gifts, are very few in numbers, but gave much credibility to the notion that artists could make jewelry or that jewelers could make art. As such they are eminently collectible.
While the Studio Jewelry movement is primarily about expressiveness, it is rooted in craftsmanship. The exuberance of being able to be an artist working in precious metal led early on to a curiosity and delight in the possibilities of the material. The earliest works were executed with the simplest of techniques: forging and fabrication, using sheet and wire. From the very beginning, the earliest pioneers were experimenting with new technology and re-discovering old techniques. Over the decades, Studio Jewelers experimented, shared technical insights, developed workshops and worked obsessively in their studios to perfect and develop their technical mastery. The progress of the decades from 1940 to 1980 is marked by increasing complexity in metal techniques. Electroforming, granulation, reticulation, chasing, metal alloying, repoussé, enameling, and mokumé gané: there is no technique that Studio Jewelers have not explored, developed and mastered in the last fifty years. In evaluating these works, it is important to emphasize that these artists did not turn to technicians and bench jewelers to execute their designs. Their stunning overall success in marrying technique and design has played a large part in the long-lasting appeal of this jewelry to an ever-wider circle of collectors.
Rarity traditionally adds value in the marketplace. Take the Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh as an example. While we don’t know how many works of art Vincent Van Gogh created, we do know that there are some 2200 works extant, including 870 paintings, drawings, watercolors. For collectors, that means Van Gogh produced some 100 works a year on average during his creative lifetime, which is substantial. For collectors of his paintings, however, his work is relatively rare because most of it is now in museums... Consequently, paintings by Van Gogh come on the market occasionally, perhaps one or two every few years, and are sold for millions of dollars. Or, as another example, consider the glittering one-of-a-kind jewels by the American designer JAR (Joel Alan Rosenthal) of Paris. His output is estimated at 70-80 pieces per year, and he has been actively producing work for the last 25 years, which means that, at best, his total career production is some 1900 pieces.
While such rarity contributes greatly to their value, Van Gogh paintings cannot be said to be “collectible” in the sense of “available in the marketplace”. And compared to the output of Cartier at its zenith, JAR’s work is extremely rare and will no doubt be hard to find on the market. For collectors to collect there must be availability; and for connoisseurs to appreciate, there must be exposure. So, in evaluating Studio Jewelry, rarity and availability are both considered. It is important to keep in mind that a collection by an artist that is extremely small or very limited in output may hinder recognition of that work among collectors or connoisseurs.
Studio jewelers moved from silver and brass to gold to platinum to wood and paper and plastic. Aaron Faber focuses on work in precious metals – silver, gold and platinum – because these non-reactive materials have great longevity. Nevertheless, there is an entire field of collectible Studio Jewelry in alternative media, including paper, plastic, and wood; metals such as titanium and aluminum; and glass, as well as installation and performance jewelry art. Artistic expression is much more important than the intrinsic worth of materials in evaluating Studio Jewelry. However, if all other values are equal, preciousness adds value. Similarly, as in all collecting, condition adds or subtracts from the value of a work of art.
Stylistic signature is the primary tool to identify Studio Jewelry. Actual signatures – hallmarks, engravings, dates and names – add to the market value. Provenance – meaning a record of the object or jewel and who owned it – also adds value and sometimes takes the place of a hallmark or signature. Alexander Calder never signed his silver jewelry designs; but a bracelet placed at auction accompanied by a letter from Calder wishing the recipient well and hoping this little promised gift will be enjoyed, adds thousands of dollars of value to the unsigned bracelet.
Some Studio Artists did hallmark and sign their jewelry – Sam Kramer, for example, with his omnipresent mushroom in a circle with two arcs like ears; or Earl Pardon with his “Pardon” in script in a sterling or gold nameplate; or Glenda Arentzen with a double arrow. This book includes as many hallmarks as we’ve been able to photograph or gather from the artists to aid in identification. All other criteria being equal, a signed work has greater value.
These seven criteria:
These “Seven Rules” then form the basis of evaluating collectible Studio Jewelry
MATERIALS AND CONDITION
The artists whose work is featured or included here have met these. Trends change, but the expressive voice commands attention over time.
Patricia Kiley Faber