DISCOVER influential jewelry designers and their impact ON TODAY'S JEWELRY
Jewelry is a deeply personal and artistic touch that helps us express who we are. It serves the same purpose for jewelry designers, who not only get to leave their creative mark on the industry but also play a role in the evolution of jewelry trends over time. For example, your favorite piece of jewelry today may have evolved from one designer’s work in the past.
This guide will walk you through how designers leave their mark on the jewelry industry. We’ll share ten of the most prolific jewelry designers throughout history and how their processes influenced today’s jewelry market. Then, we’ll explore where you can find jewelry that resembles each designer’s style—and how you can apply these unique techniques and ideas to your own creations (or even to other artistic endeavors). Let’s dive in and learn a bit more about jewelry’s evolution with each new designer.
HOW jewelry designers influence THE JEWELRY INDUSTRY
There are many ways for a designer to develop his or her signature style that ultimately affects the industry at large. First, there’s always an opportunity to develop a new technique, create new tools that will warp or mark the materials in innovative ways, and combining different media to branch out from current trends.
After all, jewelry designers are a subset of artists—their creations just happen to take on a new life as part of our daily expression rather than being viewed in a gallery or museum.
When one designer unlocks a new approach to creation, we often see a domino effect in the industry at large. Innovative designers inspire each other to think outside the box and to adopt new jewelry techniques and processes as they’re discovered over time.
There’s a cultural element here, as well. In countries like India, jewelry designers take an immense amount of pride in their craftsmanship, taking extreme care to deliver a final product that perfectly reflects what they set out to make.
Stinchfield Coin Rings Using Plug For Setting
The process of creating a piece of jewelry isn’t just a job, it’s a creative outlet, a symbol of work ethic and pride in one’s work, and a reflection of the essence of each community. This is why we see so many different types and styles of jewelry throughout the world—each piece is a testament to its creator.
JEWELRY'S significance IN OUR LIVES
Why does jewelry even matter in the first place? Well, as we mentioned above, jewelry is a deeply personal experience for each individual.
For some people, a beautiful necklace or bracelet is the perfect touch to finish off an outfit. For others, it’s a connection to another person who may have gifted the item or passed it down in the family.
Still others look to jewelry to express social status and prestige, as we’ve seen throughout history.
It’s no coincidence that the rings and jewels of royal families and other powerful historical figures have been especially elaborate and ornate.
10 DESIGNERS who have influenced THE JEWELRY INDUSTRY
Given the impact that designers have on jewelry industry at large and the people who buy and wear their pieces, it’s interesting to look back throughout history to understand many of the most prolific and influential creators. Below, we’ll share ten people who have left their mark on the jewelry space, either through the use of new materials, the development of novel processes, or the introduction of a new artistic style.
We’ll start with the earliest examples in modern history, and work our way to present-day 2021 jewelry. First on the list: Jeanne Boivin.
JEANNE POIRET BOIVIN (1871 - 1959)
Jeanne Poiret was born in Paris, France in 1871 as the daughter of a cloth merchant and a well-educated mother. Jeanne Poiret Boivin is a notable figure in the jewelry industry for many reasons, not the least of which being that like many fields, jewelry was male-dominated until relatively recently in history. Jeanne herself managed a jewelry firm called House of Boivin alongside her husband and brother for more than four decades, from 1917 until her death in 1959.
While her husband René gets most of the prestige for the designs that came out of the shop, Jeanne is thought to be the glue that held the company together and formed its great success.
When René passed away in 1917, Jeanne was only in her forties and continued to operate the shop after his death. Having handled bookkeeping and other administrative duties for many years, she suddenly had to take on other tasks like hiring additional designers and overseeing the creative ideas that came out of the shop.
Jeanne’s brother, Paul, was also instrumental to the success of the company. He built a name for himself in the fashion scene in Paris, which meant that the siblings could work together to enhance both of their businesses. Jeanne contributed jewelry pieces to complement Paul’s creations, and Paul brought his wealthy clientele to House of Boivin to accessorize.
Gold, Diamond and Aquamarine Bracelet Designed by Rene Boivin
SUZANNE BELPERRON (1900 - 1983)
Next on our list, Suzanne Belperron was actually an employee of Jeanne Poiret Boivin in her 20s, where she began as a salesperson and ended up creating her own jewelry designs. Suzanne Belperron was born in eastern France in 1900. However, she only lived in her birthplace for a year before her family moved to Besançon, the birthplace of France’s watch industry.
After graduating from the Besançon École des Beaux Arts, she moved to Paris where, as we learned above, she worked under Jeanne and René Boivin. Her original title was “Modeliste-Dessinatrice,” which translates to model-maker and designer.
Belperron became known for a distinctive style relatively early in her career, as noted by a feature in Vogue Paris while she worked for Boivin. Four pieces were included in the magazine spread and Belperron began to be known for her designs for Boivin.
Belperron became known for a distinctive style relatively early in her career, as noted by a feature in Vogue Paris while she worked for Boivin. Four pieces were included in the magazine spread and Belperron began to be known for her designs for Boivin.
A few years later, in 1932, Belperron went to work for Bernard Herz, a natural pearl dealer in Paris who offered her a design role. At this point, she famously decided not to sign her pieces because her jewelry’s iconic and recognizable look effectively served as her signature. She had truly made a name for herself in the design world and created a style that she alone became known for.
From this point forward Belperron’s work began to be seen everywhere, including several more features in Vogue Paris (including a cover). When she was offered the chance to purchase the B Herz company, she did and renamed it Suzanne Belperron, S.A.R.L.
Throughout her tenure as a designer, Belperron’s designs were bold, colorful, and often larger-than-life in a way that was somehow still classy and tasteful. This tension between exuberance and elegance defined her work throughout her lifetime. Belperron’s status and legacy can be seen in many places today, including her rank of Knight of the Legion of Honor from the French state.
In a field that was, at the time, entirely dominated by men, Belperron staked her claim and left her mark on the industry permanently. We recognize her today as one of the most important and influential jewelers of the 20th century.
Belperron’s studio’s website describes her as having “pioneered a new aesthetic in jewelry” that lives on to this day. Today, Maison Belperron has a flagship store in New York City that features vintage Belperron creations that “embody the essence of Belperron’s aesthetic.”
Maison Belperron Flagship Store, 5th Avenue, New York City
PAUL FLATO (1900 - 1999)
Next on our list of jewelry influences is Paul Flato, born in 1900 (like Belperron) in Shiner, Texas. He showed an early interest in jewelry, but approached it from the perspective of the son of a cattleman by working with silver wire.
Flato had dreams of going to medical school after he graduated from The University of Texas at Austin, but instead was pushed into the watch salesman business to help support his family with immediate income.
Soon after, he opened his own jewelry shop in New York across the street from what would later become Tiffany & Co. Later in his career, he opened another store in Beverly Hills to continue to serve his clientele, which included many celebrities. His designs also graced six movie screens, including Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo films.
Flato’s designs are characterized by the Art Deco style. A Vogue article called his jewelry “conversation pieces,” hinting at the innovative, whimsical designs he became known for. Popular pieces included gold clips that were shaped like hands using sign language, gold bolt cufflinks, and feather brooches.
However, Flato’s prominence in history is largely due to his status as the first celebrity jeweler. At the time, no precedent existed for a jeweler to serve high-status clients and to create and sell designs specifically for celebrities.
Today, of course, there are many designers who would fit that description, and they may owe some of their success to the road paved by Flato in the mid-1900s.
Katherine Hepburn Wearing Paul Flato Jewelry In The Movie Holiday
Unfortunately, Flato’s story has a complicated ending. In 1943, Flato was convicted of taking over $100,000 in jewels that his clients had trusted him to hold onto and pawning them for cash. However, Flato maintained his innocence, and it came out soon after that his tailor had stolen the jewels and Flato was innocent.
He was released in 1945, though not without a dark cloud over his name for many years to come. Late in life, Flato ultimately returned to his birthplace of Texas to spend time with his family.
OTTO FREI (~1910 - 1980)
Otto Frei was born in Switzerland in the early 1900s. In 1929, he and his wife Alice moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to further their respective careers—Otto’s being in watchmaking. Even early in his career, his watches were in high demand and his skills were undeniable. After Otto and Alice’s son John was born, they moved to California where the Otto Frei company is still based today.
Frei quickly became the source of Swiss watch parts in Oakland, California, which was becoming a hub for jewelers and watchmakers. When Otto’s son John was given honorable discharge from the army in 1952, he joined the business, too, making it a family affair.
When John joined the company, Otto himself cut back his time to pursue his passion for real estate and home design on the side.
Years later, the Jules Borel Company was booming in the Bay Area as a competitor to Frei’s work, and in 1967, the two companies joined to become the Otto Frei & Jules Borel Company and dominated the watch industry in northern California.
Swiss Watch Parts
Although Otto passed away in 1980, the company lives on today and Otto’s great grandchildren (the fourth generation to be involved in the company) continue to share his legacy. We remember him for his deep expertise in the watch industry, his connection to Swiss watch parts in the US, and his love for his family.
FRIEDRICH BECKER (1922 - 1997)
Friedrich Becker was born in 1922 in Herdecke-Ende, Germany. His first work experience was an apprenticeship under a goldsmith, where he began to learn metalworking and hone his eye for jewelry. After his apprenticeship, he studied at the Meisterschule für Werkkunst Düsseldorf (the Master School for Craftsmanship), where he later taught.
Despite Becker’s early training as a goldsmith, gold jewelry is not what he’s known for today. Instead, he created a new type of jewelry called kinetic jewelry that became his signature.
He began testing these concepts in 1965, and his jewelry from that point forward became characterized by designs that had moving parts and dynamic designs. He often played with the juxtaposition between the sleek metal materials he used and the playful, fluid movement they enabled.
One of his most famous early ideas was for the “Two Way Ring,” which contained finger holes on two sides to make it possible to wear both vertically and horizontally. Owners of the piece had a choice to make each time they wore it about which side they’d like to show off on any given day, giving the ring a novelty effect and expanding the ring’s use potential.
He also created many pieces where the gemstones or other features were interchangeable to allow the wearer to choose a color scheme for the day and customize the jewelry accordingly.
Notably, kinetic jewelry requires skills beyond basic abilities as a goldsmith. In each piece, Becker was applying concepts of physics and engineering and displaying expert craftsmanship to execute his visions.
Friedrich Becker Two Way Ring
Any small error in the production process could mean the piece wouldn’t move as designed. Becker brought this attention-to-detail and precision to every work he created throughout his career.
In 1959, Becker developed a gauge that would determine the carat weight of each stone. In developing this new tool, he sought to prioritize the aesthetics of the device and the user experience of the movement, much like his kinetic jewelry.
ACHIEVEMENTS & RECOGNITION
Becker was already highly respected in his lifetime. He received several awards for his work and his pieces were featured in exhibitions across the world over his lifetime. Important mentions include his solo exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London and his honorary doctorate degree from the Royal College of Art in London. Clearly, Becker’s talent was recognized early.
Now that we’ve touched on many of the designers who have left their mark on the jewelry industry in the past, let’s take a look at designers who are still alive and creating new designs in the present.
G. PHIL POIRIER
METALSMITHING & TOOLS
G. Phil Poirier is a present-day jeweler that works with Damascus Stainless Steel and 18K gold based out of Taos, New Mexico. His process is unique in that he tackles the early steps of the jewelry process himself, including milling his own metals and cutting his own stones.
Poirier Damascus Ring
He even creates and utilizes tools that he has custom-created; today, he is the owner and chief tool designer for Bonny Doon Hydraulic Presses and Tooling and he spends much of his time dreaming up new and exciting ways to apply hydraulic power to his creations.
Taking ownership over these early creation steps gives Poirier complete control over the final design, unlike some designers who start with these elements already prepared and focus on putting them together in new and interesting ways.
He describes the metal milling process as giving him more control over the final color and gauge for the pieces he creates, and more creative designs when it comes to the gemstones he forms. Poirier’s designs are also especially durable and functional because of the care he puts into the early metalsmith processes.
(Sources: 1, 2)
James Binnion currently owns a studio called James Binnion Metal Arts (JBMA) in Bellingham, Washington. James, who also goes by Jim, specializes in using mokume-gane, a special metalworking procedure that originated in Japan. Mokume-gane, which loosely translates to “wood grain metal” in English, is a laminated metal that, like its name suggests, ends up creating patterns that look almost like wood grain.
Binnion was inspired early in life by his grandmother, who pursued several creative endeavors including baking, weaving, furniture creation, and doll making.
Binnion ultimately came across jewelry design in high school and stuck with that ever since, although he served nine years as an electronics technician in the US Navy before he settled into his jewelry career.
JBMA produces only jewelry in mokume-gane and specializes in mokume-gane wedding rings. These custom pieces offer a nontraditional option for brides and grooms looking to add a little flair to their ring choices.
Mokume-gane is also unique in that, like wood grain, no two designs will end up exactly the same. JBMA works with its clients to customize each design and tailor the process and the final result to the person who will be wearing it.
One other innovation that can be attributed to Binnion is the use of the electric kiln to fire mokume-gane pieces.
Before Binnion introduced this process to the field, artists were using traditional forges to fire their materials. The electric kiln made the process easier and more efficient for the artists behind this novel material.
Today, Binnion continues to push the limits of what can be done in the jewelry world. He tends to view new technology as a potential catalyst to expand his creative ability, and the expansion of the 3D printer was no exception. He uses two 3D printers in his studio now to add a new element to his designs.
Jayne Redman has worked in the jewelry industry since graduating with a B.F.A. in Jewelry and Silversmithing from Maine College of Art back in 1977. She started her namesake company, Jayne Redman Jewelry, a few years later in 1982 and has been working and teaching in the jewelry design space ever since.
STYLE & TECHNIQUES
Redman is known for integrating mechanics with her designs, not entirely unlike Friedrich Becker’s kinetic jewelry. While Becker’s process went a little further with the actual movement that was possible in each piece, Redman follows Becker’s lead in applying principles of physics and engineering to her pieces.
Floral Inspired Earrings
As she creates new designs, Redman takes inspiration from nature, especially from the stems and buds of flowers. Her goal is to maintain simplicity of design while still giving each piece an abstract connection to the flower or other material that inspired it.
Her pieces are available in galleries and boutiques across the United States for those interested in her custom style.
Victoria Lansford is another notable designer whose designs are still in high demand today. Lansford has worked in the arts for over 40 years, experimenting with creating across multiple media and using a variety of styles and techniques.
She’s most well-known for her ability to combine ancient techniques with the latest technology for an effect that’s unlike anything many people have seen before.
Defining Lansford’s art is almost impossible as it spans so many forms and functions; she uses metals, gemstones, ink, paint, pens, paper, and more to create everything from jewelry to paintings to metal screens. In other words, Lansford does it all.
Lansford’s work has been featured in museums including the Museum of Contemporary Craft, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Wayne Arts Center, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and more. She’s also been featured in many art-related publications including Jewelry Artist Magazine.
Today, she continues to design new pieces out of Atlanta, Georgia. She also gives back to the art world and the next generation of artists with sold-out workshops, books, articles, and apps to share her creative gift with others around the world.
Jason Stinchfield is a “master coin ring maker” who first became fascinated with coin rings back in 2008. Realizing that there wasn’t much information about how to actually create rings from metal coins, he took it upon himself to create his own process which he now teaches to others.
Morgan Coin Ring With Two Tone Gold Plating
His elaborate guides and instructional videos on YouTube have helped many of his followers to adopt his process and create beautiful coin rings of their own. The FAQ on his website even addresses dozens of reader-submitted questions asking for specific advice regarding individual use cases.
As Stinchfield perfected his process, he also created custom tools specifically for the art of creating rings out of coins. He sells his creations on his website and operates his shop out of central California. Each ring is custom-made by Stinchfield himself, which has become increasingly rare in the world of jewelry design.
Stinchfield’s work is a testament to thinking outside the box with your approach to creative expression. He saw an opening to create something new, honed his skills even though there was no instruction manual at the time, and then created that very manual for those who would come after him.
We’re sure to see future innovators expand upon Stinchfield’s discovery and create something new that wouldn’t have been possible without the coin ring process.
TYPES OF JEWELRY influenced by THESE DESIGNERS
The influential designers we’ve mentioned above have left their mark on all facets of the jewelry industry. Today, we can see their impact in both classic and modern jewelry pieces. Necklaces with gemstones often reflect techniques that designers throughout history have uncovered to cut and polish the stones effectively.
Earrings, bracelets, and ring designs often incorporate style trends of the past and present. When designers like Suzanne Belperron and Friedrich Becker push the boundaries of what jewelry design can handle, they set a new precedent for future designers to iterate off of.
Jewelry innovations provide inspiration for future designers to expand and improve upon ideas for further creativity and personalization.
Stinchfield Damascus Ring
Technical innovations also alter the playing field moving forward. When designers unlock new solutions to effective clasps or earring backings, those changes carry forward and improve the user experience of the jewelry indefinitely.
It’s in this way that designers continue to push the industry to new heights while taking the best of what’s worked in the past with them into the future.
WHERE TO FIND unique jewelry DESIGNS
There are many places to find unique jewelry designs if you’re interested in owning special pieces. If a designer on the list above caught your eye, most of them have galleries currently operating where you can view and purchase designs either online or in person.
Even in cases where the original designer has passed away, it’s common for their heirs or protegees to continue creating jewelry inspired by their designs.
If you’re looking for unique pieces in general, there are several routes you can take to buy jewelry that defies run-of-the-mill design and execution. For entry-level jewelry enthusiasts or collectors, we’d recommend first spending some time deciding what you like and don’t like in the jewelry world.
You can explore tons of designs in online shops and brick and mortar galleries to get a feel for your personal jewelry style and what you want out of your pieces.
Check out Messages in Metal to see some of the pieces we offer for personalized jewelry that will definitely feel unique to your personal taste and interests.
WHERE TO LEARN creative jewelry TECHNIQUES
If you want to learn more about the making of jewelry (or create custom-made jewelry yourself), there are tons of resources both online and in person to hone your skills.
First, many of the designers above—and hundreds of others who have influenced the industry in smaller ways—are still alive and may teach their crafts to students or jewelry enthusiasts. If a particular designer on the list caught your eye, a quick online search will tell you where to find more information about their techniques or styles.
In many cases, you may be able to find content created by the designers themselves; in others, content may have been created by other artists or jewelry lovers to preserve the designer’s legacy.
Poirier Custom Ring
If you’re not attached to a particular design or style and just want to learn more about handcrafted jewelry, there are countless books, online courses, YouTube videos, and even in-person programs to study jewelry yourself. If you’re taking a DIY approach, searching for books or online resources around any topic that interests you is a great place to start.
If you want a more formal introduction to the jewelry world, check out online courses or programs from art and design schools across the world.
INFLUENTIAL JEWELRY DESIGNERS frequently asked questions
WHERE CAN I FIND INSPIRATION FOR JEWELRY?
FIND INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE
The short answer is that you can find inspiration for jewelry anywhere! As you may have noticed above, many of our influential designers didn’t invent a whole new process or style from scratch. Instead, many of them took inspiration from materials, tools, processes, and styles that were already in use in other industries and aspects of life.
As you go through your day, take note of what you find interesting. Are there patterns or designs that you come across that you enjoy? Is there a process you apply to other creative endeavors, like cooking or painting, that may apply to jewelry? Can you think about jewelry creation as having parallels with your office job or daily life? In many cases, the most inspiring material is right in front of our noses.
If you want to find inspiration in a way that’s a little bit more methodical, there are many resources online and in person that you can peruse for ideas. Check your local library for art books (don’t just look at jewelry designers—check out other types of art too), take an online class about design, or even explore other creative mediums in your own work.
Something you explore in a pottery class or a painting workshop may apply perfectly to your next jewelry creation. After all, many creative fields share similarities that may help you unlock new ideas from one medium to the next.
WHAT IS THE ART OF JEWELRY MAKING CALLED?
There are many names for designers and craftsmen who work in the jewelry field. Unlike other artistic fields, there isn’t one widely accepted catch-all term for jewelry art. The field is often referred to as jewelry art or jewelry design, and there are dozens of more specific terms for practitioners who work in this space.
The professional titles for jewelry often revolve around what material the person is utilizing in their work. Someone who works with gold or silver would be a goldsmith or a silversmith. Someone who works with gemstones is typically called a lapidary. Putting materials together for a finished piece of jewelry may make you a jeweler, while coming up with the initial design makes you a jewelry designer. An umbrella term for all of these people would be craftsman.
WHAT IS THE MOST POPULAR PIECE OF JEWELRY?
Many types of jewelry are popular, and what’s popular at any moment in time is subject to change with the latest style trends, in-demand designers, and other factors that may be more difficult to define.
There are certain jewelry styles, like wedding rings and classic necklaces, that will likely never fall out of style. However, what’s popular on a day-to-day basis changes all the time.
We’d recommend basing your jewelry purchases on what appeals to you personally rather than what may be trending at any given moment. If you’re curious about popular designs, you can see our bestsellers at Messages in Metal at this page. You can also check out this article for more information on the jewelry trends around the world in 2021.
CAN I LEARN A CERTAIN TECHNIQUE USED BY AN INFLUENTIAL JEWELRY DESIGNER?
As we mentioned above, many of the most influential designers are still living and would be happy to share more about their work with aspiring designers or even jewelry lovers. The best way to find out what your options are is to locate the website for your favorite designer(s), fill out the contact form or reach out at the email or phone number they may have listed, and ask what the options are for learning more about his or her techniques or style.
IS CUSTOM MADE JEWELRY EXPENSIVE?
Not always, although some jewelry may be more expensive than others. A great way to make custom jewelry more affordable is to seek out smaller designers that may be ramping up their designs over time. Commissioning a piece from a newer, up-and-coming designer may give you more bang for your buck than working with an especially well-known, in-demand designer.
At virtually every price point, there are options to purchase unique jewelry pieces that align with your style and desired elements. When in doubt, ask any designers whose work you love if they have options in your price point.
Just make sure not to pressure them to lower their prices to meet your needs—their work is important, and they deserve to make fair market value for their pieces just like anyone else.
While there may be some room for slight negotiation, it’s never okay to low-ball your designers or to otherwise send a signal that you don’t think their work is worth their prices. If you can’t afford a designer’s work, that’s a clear sign that you need to find another designer that’s a better fit for your needs at this time.
FINDING INSPIRATION for your PERSONAL JEWELRY
As you can see, the world of design is ripe with innovation and creative expression. Artists and designers make new strides every day as they push the limits of creativity and what we see as successful design.
If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy this article about how to successfully build your personal jewelry collection. Let us know what you think—we’d love to hear from you!
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June 23, 2021 by Conor Daniels