The artist's palette can be his jewel box like an endless kaleidoscope of color. An artist's hands can pound life into marble or brass. Combine the two mediums and add a dash of architecture and one may be lucky to find an exquisite piece of jewelry. Many artists of the 20th century participated in the manufacturing of just this type of jewelry, creating an art form of movement, color and light, contained enough so that it may adorn a woman's neck, wrist, or finger.
The artist as jeweler is not a juxtaposition of master artisans restricted to the 20th century. It is in the 20th century, however, in which artists forged a collaborative effort between themselves and jewelers to take the artists' ideas from concept to reality. Francis Hugo was one such artist-craftsman who assisted artists such as Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, and Jean Lurcat. With his jeweler's skill, Hugo brought the great artists' visions to fruition. With Hugo, the anthropomorphic gold masks imagined by Cocteau or Ernst came to life. The production efforts were cautiously restricted to limited editions commissioned by both galleries and collectors. Each piece was painstakingly numbered and then given a certificate of authenticity.
Classic jewelry comprised of finely cut gems became mundane in the collective opinion of the early 20th century. Oddly shaped stones were all the rage, as were precious metals pretzled into impossible shapes. In accordance with the whimsical nature of Dada, one of the movement's founders, Hans Arp, created solid biomorphic jewelry resembling his curvaceous marble and bronze sculptures. The process was twofold: creative and structural. The selection of material for adornment did not adhere to strict rules a prominent jeweler may employ. Instead, there was a celebration in the irregularities and natural state of stones. The design of the piece took precedence over the value of the stones. Art became an accessory while accessories became art.
These artists were not limited to precious stones and metals. The jewelry of Arman is a celebration of found objects, like a bountiful collection of watch gears reinterpreted into a pair of earrings or a pendant, or the collection of gold chains, medallions and a few stones César employed by compressing them into a basic circle figuratively destroying the concept of stone and metal hierarchies.
Artists like Salvador Dali or Jean Lurcat would become inspired by their own art and directly quote that image from either a canvas or tapestry. Evocative and enchanting works of art in their own right, the jewelry produced by artists enticed the wearer to understand and appreciate their construction.
Salvador Dali is the one artist synonymous with the Surrealist movement. Paintings of bodies warped in an unknown moment in time spark a recognition of Dali in even the most novice mind. Surrealism presents a world of dreams representing unconscious desires. Repressed fetishes were documented on canvas. The world that Dali presented was a world unlike any other. He transformed canvases into desolate landscapes that viewers feel they have seen before, seen in their dreams, through the juxtaposition of real images and unreal dreamlike landscapes. Dali also mastered transforming the elements of such dreams into pieces of decorative art. In 1937, he collaborated with Surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli on a shoe-hat. He then continued to another form of decorative art in 1941, jewelry. The fetish of choice for his jewelry was, like his paintings, the human body. Many of his decorative pieces were inspired by the Catholic Church. The hand brooches which he produced can more than likely be associated with the hands of Christ, a popular image of the church. The hands, with their petite ruby nails and minute detail of veins, are reminiscent of imagery of Christ's hands dating back to the Medieval period. Dali insisted the design of his pieces, versus the material, determined the overall value. He employed imperfect pearls and rubies onto his lip broaches, further suggesting his jewelry is primarily about artistic quality. Dali insisted the wearer of his jewelry fashion it as close to the skin as possible, blurring the boundaries of reality in a Surrealist manner.