For the first time, modern jewellery became the subject of one of the most impressive and exuberant exhibitions in history. The International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery took place in London in 1961, it was organised by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and the Museum of Decorative Arts V & A.
Masterpieces on Display
The exhibition covered several decades of goldsmith art, from 1890 to 1961, with around 1000 exponents representing a huge variety of jewellery designs. This included masterpieces from the Gulbenkian Collection of Lalique Jewellery, in their first London show.
The spirit of the exhibition was to demonstrate the artistic potential offered by goldsmiths and also to reverse the recession of the jewellery market in Britain. The recession was caused austerity measures during and immediately after the Second World War and the huge taxes that were applied to luxury items.
The exhibition then placed its emphasis fundamentally on contemporary European and North American jewellery, although very distant countries such as Australia, Bolivia and India were also represented.
The Worlds Best Goldsmiths
Representatives from the world’s Diamond industry such as Gilbert Albert, Patek Philippe, Harry Winston, and all the major European firms attended the event. One of the things that made this event so special was the presentation of works with designs made by famous artists and sculptors. Figures such as Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Yves Tanguy featured their designs.
A number of contemporary British artists were invited to participate in a challenge, they were sent a box of matches with wax inside and asked to design a jewel, it would then be shaped in the metal of their preference by the organisers of the exhibition. These artistic pieces, some of them with rough and heavy textures, added a new and fascinating dimension to the exhibition, emphasising the importance of creativity, beyond the material in which the jewels were made.
Success & Legacy of the Exhibition
Needless to say, the success and above all the resonance obtained by this exhibition remains until today as a point of reference for everything that happened later in contemporary jewellery. The exhibition gave an important lesson in giving space to alternative jewellery and established the position of emerging jewellery artists. Throughout Europe names such as Friedrich Becker, Torun Bülow Hübe, John Donald & Gerda Flöckinger established small workshops in which they designed and made their own collections.
The effect of the International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery of 1961 provided a vital stimulus to artistic jewellery. A whole generation of students took this event as a reference to innovate with different ideas and unusual materials the magnificent goldsmith art.
Today you can also visit the exhibition “The Pyramid of Hope”, the world’s largest collection of colourful diamonds, at the Natural History Museum in London. Read more in my article here >
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