In today’s landscape of jewelry making, much of what we see is mass-produced. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as it keeps production costs in check and allows retailers to have a ready inventory of their best sellers.
CAD designs allow jewelers to create exactly what their clients had in mind when it comes to custom work. But it wasn’t always that way. At one time, all jewelry was handmade and much of it was one-and-done. In fact, vintage and antique jewelers say that this is a vital part of its attraction for their customers. Jewelry has always been a very personal expression of the wearer’s taste, style, and preference. So, there’s a big attraction to collecting jewelry that will never be worn by another person.
Jewelry Artists Keep Creativity Alive
Because of that, it’s always good to pivot toward those few jewelry artists who continue to craft one-of-a-kind pieces in our modern age. These innovative creations are cherished by their collectors, knowing they will never be seen elsewhere – ever.
While a handful of names of original jewelry artists come to mind for each of us, it’s helpful to expand our knowledge base about original jewelry designers from decades (or more!) ago, whose contributions to the jewelry arts can still motivate us today. Timeless jewelry has at its core – quality manufacture, attractive gemstones, and importantly, the imaginative touch of the artist.
High Fives for Charles Loloma (1921-1991)
Are you acquainted with the jewelry of Native American (Hopi nation) Charles Loloma? If not, it’s well worth becoming familiar with his pioneering collections and the ingenuity they expressed. Loloma has been gone for over 3 decades, but his work is still avidly collected, and it’s obvious why. Ascending prices in the mid to high 5-figures at auction for Loloma pieces reflects its ongoing relevance for 21st century collectors.
As happens with many creative personalities, Loloma worked in different mediums over the years, first by opening a pottery shop in 1954 in Scottsdale, AZ. While he excelled in both the pottery arts and painting, he soon found his true passion for jewelry making. As a creative force, he drew inspiration from his Hopi culture, but also from the larger world outside. This earned him harsh criticism from collectors at first, who wanted him to continue exclusively with traditional Native American jewelry. His work was rejected 3 times from Gallup’s Inter-Tribal Ceremonial events in the early years.
But he pressed on refining his bench skills while leaning into a global sensibility. Forgoing classic Native American materials like turquoise, silver, and coral, he gravitated towards diamonds and pearls, sugilite, lapis, ivory, gold, and even exotic woods. All these materials were essential to his goal of fusing Native American concepts with motifs from around the world.
By the 1960s, he had garnered a global fan base and was recruited as an instructor of Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts. Just a few years later, Loloma returned closer to his roots and the Hopi reservation, establishing a studio where he began selling his jewelry in museums and galleries. This was the audience who could best appreciate his designs, understanding them as wearable fine art.
Seeing an Inner Beauty
His evolving techniques included hidden stones or what he called “inner gems” secreted in the interior surfaces of his pieces. This was in harmony with his belief that “people have inner gems,” or something rich and beautiful that is not always obvious to others. “This is why I include inner gems in much of my work,” he explained.
Versions of the hidden concept in jewelry design still appear today among designers who create hidden halo rings, or small gemstones placed on the inside of a gold band that identify a brand. Another variation of the hidden theme concept was the proclivity of diamonds and gemstones set pavilion side out on original jewelry – an unexpected style concealing the stone’s most glamorous part, its crown, which trended a decade ago.
During his lifetime, Loloma gathered critical recognition across the globe. He took home 1st prize from the Scottsdale National Indian Art Exhibition for 7 consecutive years. His work was shown from Paris to Japan with locales like Egypt and Colombia in between. Prominent showcasing on NET and PBS and other major television networks expanded the general public’s appreciation of Loloma’s iconoclastic jewelry at the peak of his career.
Loloma died in 1991, but his name lives on to inspire other designers today, in particular the Hopi. Loloma’s biographer, Martha Hopkins Struever, poignantly inquired how he would like to be remembered. “I’d like to be known for beauty,” he replied. Incidentally, the word Loloma means “beauty” in the Hopi language.