Pushing Boundaries: The Legacy of Modernist Jewelry in San Francisco

In the heart of San Francisco, the art jewelry scene unfolds like a well-told story. This iconic city, steeped in the birth of modernism and numerous art revolutions, has nurtured a vibrant tapestry of metalsmithing and jewelry design, starting in the early 1950s. Critical moments, influential figures, and inspiring events have all left their mark, shaping the evolution of the craft.

Among the talented metalsmiths in San Francisco is Hilary Finck, who has left her own mark on the city's jewelry scene not only by creating her jewelry designs but also by serving as President of the Metal Arts Guild from 2021-2023. Read this blog post to learn more about the captivating story of San Francisco's jewelry artistry.

Birth of Modernist Jewelry in San Francisco

The post-WWII era saw a massive shift in the world of jewelry and metalsmithing in San Francisco. Artists and artisans were moving away from traditional styles and began to embrace simplicity instead. The city became a melting pot of creativity, with jewelry makers exploring abstract and innovative designs. This shift was influenced by the Art Nouveau and Bauhaus movements, which encouraged artists to break free from norms.

Designers in every niche began creating meaningful pieces. And jewels were no longer accessories but works of art in their own right.

Influential Figures in San Francisco's Modernist Jewelry Scene

Several influential figures played a pivotal role in shaping the modernist jewelry scene in San Francisco:

  • Margaret De Patta: She was instrumental in integrating Bauhaus principles into jewelry. Her jewelry was "wearable art" and featured "visual effects". In 1951, Margaret founded the Metal Arts Guild of San Francisco, which is still a creative exchange and education hub today.
  • Merry Renk: Renowned for her innovative spiral designs, Merry Renk was an exceptional artist and a committed teacher. Her dedication to education and passion for jewelry-making left an indelible mark on the local jewelry community.
  • Irena Brynner: Irena Brynner's sculptural and organic designs pushed the boundaries of what jewelry could be. Her work added a unique dimension to the San Francisco modernist jewelry scene.
  • Florence Resnikoff: She brought her distinctive artistic vision to the craft. By not shying away from embellishments and details, she further enriched the diversity and vibrancy in San Francisco's modernist jewelry movement.
  • Bob Winston: Charles Robert Winston’s avant-garde approach and commitment to artistic innovation were just as unique as his organically shaped pieces. He was an artist who knew how to avoid traditional jewelry design.
  • Peter Macchiarini: Peter Macchiarini was a significant presence and pioneer. He was known for his creative and experimental works, and he integrated wooden and ivory inlay into his pieces; other traditional jewelry designers weren't using these techniques at the time. Macchiarini's contributions added depth and variety to the movement in San Francisco.


Institutions and Events that Propelled the Movement

Many organizations also played a pivotal role in shaping the modernist jewelry scene in San Francisco — here are some of the most renowned ones:

  • Metal Arts Guild of San Francisco: Founded by Margaret De Patta in 1951, this organization has fostered community among jewelry makers and provided valuable education and support.
  • Exhibitions at the De Young Museum and SFMOMA: These world-class museums have showcased the talents of local jewelry artists, giving them exposure to a broader audience.
  • Velvet da Vinci: Now closed, Velvet da Vinci was one of the most important art jewelry galleries in the US/world for many years. It gave many Bay Area jewelers their start and showcased some of the best jewelry designers from around the world.
  • San Francisco Arts Institute and Local Colleges: Institutions like the San Francisco Arts Institute and local colleges have offered courses and workshops that have helped nurture and develop emerging talent. Furthermore, the Jewelry and Metal Arts program at California College of the Arts, founded in 1912, has been a cornerstone of education in this field, producing generations of skilled artists and artisans.

The Evolution of Metalsmithing and Modernist Jewelry

San Francisco's modernist jewelry scene experienced several critical moments in its evolution:

  • 1950s: The emergence of studio jewelry and the counterculture's embrace of alternative fashion brought newfound freedom and creativity to jewelry making.
  • 1960s-70s: This era marked the zenith of the craft movement, with artists experimenting with unconventional materials and forms. San Francisco became a hotbed of artistic innovation during this period.
  • 1980s: The 1980s saw a temporary return to more commercial and traditional styles, but the spirit of innovation remained.
  • 2000s and beyond: In recent years, the fusion of technology with metalsmithing has become a prominent trend. CAD designs and 3D printing have revolutionized jewelry-making processes, allowing for intricate and precise techniques.

Throughout these decades, there has been a continuous emphasis on sustainability and ethical sourcing, aligning with San Francisco's commitment to environmental and social responsibility.


Art Jewelry in San Francisco Today

San Francisco's art, jewelry, and metalsmithing history is a testament to the city's creative spirit. From its roots in modernist design to embracing technology and sustainability, this vibrant community continues to shape the world of unique and even custom jewelry in San Francisco, making it a hub of artistic expression and craftsmanship.

Hilary Finck’s Gold and Custom Jewelry From San Francisco

With more than two decades of experience as a designer and maker, Hilary crafts exquisite, one-of-a-kind pieces in her sunny San Francisco studio. She uses traditional metalsmithing techniques and precious materials like gold and gemstones. Her style is a beautiful blend of exploration and creativity, ensuring each piece is a work of art.

Hilary Finck

Explore Hilary's modern-inspired gold and custom jewelry created in San Francisco and be captivated by her timeless creations.