b a c k    t o   t h e   f u t u r e
B R O N Z E    A G E

b y   M a g g i e   S n e l l

 More years ago than I care to remember - OK, 33, but who's counting? - a young college student offered to make me an engagement ring. My only regret, even with 50/50  hindsight, is that I didn't hang around long enough to at least see the ring. It was to be phosphor bronze with an emerald flush mounted from underneath.

 cast patinated bronze, "Pentagon" ring from the Flame Bronze series by Bjorn Weckstrom, Finland

Bronze/copper/brass forms a minimal part of my collection.  Not from  choice - I love the stuff - but there doesn't seem to be much of it about. And the most prolific producers in the 1950/70 period seemed to live in Finland for reasons that will be revealed later.

We're talking cult Finnish designer Bjorn Weckstrom, featured in the previous issue, who produced a "Flame Bronze" range in the 70s and explored industrial themes and gave each design a memorable and evocative name.

Above: You can't have an article about bronze without referring to Bjorn Weckstrom. From left to right these two rings are called "b-52" and "Isotta Frascini" Below: Both rings by Pentti Sarpeneva, the one on the right has a a two-link chain dangle in each corner. Very light and comfortable to wear.

gilt cast bronze abstract plaques bracelet by
Jorma Laine, Finland


Pentti Sarpeneva, brother of the more famous Timo, also played with bronze, often warming it up with amethyst, rose and smoke quartz, all natural stones found in his homeland, whilst Seppo Tamminen more often worked with brass. These two combined modern with revival of ancient or at least traditional styles. Jorma Laine is also a name to be reckoned with. And there are probably scores of others whose names haven't (as yet) stood the test of time.

Three Pentti Sarpeneva pendants. The left, pear-shaped, version articulates in the middle. Middle: Gives an effect of melting icicles or flowing volcanic lava. Right: Has a raised bark effect, similar to his rings. I'm almost afraid to wear the last two in case I lose one of the baubles

fabricated brass necklace by Seppo Tamminen, Finland


Two shiny copper tone pendants both signed and stamped Bronze,Finland. Though the longer (right, 5.1/2-inch high) has a hand-scripted signature in two places, I can't read it. The other (3.1/2" high) just has initials, I thought JC, but as we've decided the other is probably Jorma Laine, make that JL. If someone can identify them more accurately, would appreciate details. They have long bronze-effect chains


Though Finland personified the "bronze" look, Patrick Kapty told me  about some American designers who also used these metals to create interesting work.

fabricated brass and Ebony wood pendant on neckring by Peggy Miller, Baltimore

Peggy Miller, who possibly studied with Betty Cooke in Baltimore, fabricated in brass and ebony in the 50s and 60s and brass featured in the 70's work of Norma Flanagan, a Greenwich Village artist. And if you want OTT, check out a brass ring with a huge chunk of quartz by "Arthur Court SF (San Francisco?) Design".

fabricated brass ring with a chunk of raw quartz by Arthur Court, San Francisco

fabricated pendant on neckring, Norma Flanagan, NY

Helen Drutt, in her book "Jewelry of Our Time" called Olaf Skoogfors - his surname means "forest stream" - one of the two or three most important jewellery designers of the 60s and 70s working in the area of abstractionism. He frequently exhibited and won numerous awards, including a grant from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. Prestigious museums in the USA, Canada and Europe own examples of his work.

fabricated buckle in bronze, one-of-a-kind, early 1970s by
Olaf Skoogfors, Philadelphia

The confidently-crafted bronze buckle from the 70s pictured here admirably demonstrates our theme and may have retro'd to his Swedish roots. He arrived on American shores as a four year old in 1934, re-invented himself by changing his name from Gustav Olaf Jansson (or did his mother re-marry?), and died unfairly young in 1975.

But this article is aimed at those of you who like to spot a trend.

My touchstone is the Trump Tower in New York. Though the serve-yourself café on the ground floor does the building no favours,  it affords a staggering view of the storey's-high cascade of water dropping flat and sheer against walls of dark green highlighted by copper and russet autumnal-coloured stone.

It's some years since I visited and I can't remember the materials: marble, granite, sandstone, who knows? But I retain an impression that the warm earth colours pointed the way to a post-millennium future. My gut tells me there is about to be a copper-toned revival.

When I started collecting 60's jewellery in 1988 I thought about it quite scientifically, trying to spot trends and definitive styles. In the late 1890s you had the soft curves of Art Nouveau which developed into sharp and angular Art Deco - short bobbed hair, flapper dresses, monotones, angular furniture, silver-tone"industrial" jewellery - the machine age using the latest materials like chrome and plastic. In case you're wondering, we are talking 1920s here, not 60s.

The next stage would/should have been 1956 had the war not intervened. Though 50's style was a kind of poor man's Deco, it was about 1964 when retro Deco developed into its own confidant, very confident, style. If memory serves me right, there were three distinct fashion periods in the 60s starting with the Jackie Kennedy look, through the Pierre Cardin-inspired Space look in mid-decade, then ethnic, hippie, flower power and all that to take us into the 70s.

I think it was in 1966 that Pierre Cardin shook the fashion world with plastic mini skirts, helmets, high boots, and big, bold discs in chrome and stainless steel in place of jewellery.  This is one of very few heavy thick-sheet brass pieces I've seen - 5.1/2" wide x 5" high,
unsigned, so not by Pierre Cardin, but certainly in the style of.

For years my favourite wear-with-anything ear rings were 2" long, hollow chrome tubes - so easy to wear. Then I found an identical set in brass 4" long (see below). The above music-stave spirals are bronzed plastic. Very '60s.

So my theory in the late 80s was that the next "new" development would be on board by 1996. We would retro to the 60s before creating a new post-millennium style as distinct, original and exciting as Nouveau, Deco and the 60s that preceded it.

This was one of the very first pieces I bought before I started thinking about "style" and whether they had "designer" names, etc.Simply cut-out brass circles with what look like half-marble no-value stones set in them. Maybe I could persuade myself it belonged to the Sun King and was found in the Pyramids.

Though there are hints, it hasn't really happened, and I don't know why. Maybe, like with the war years, the Millennium became a barrier and confused people as to which direction the future would take. Designer names - at least during the past 10 years - have constantly regurgitated earlier themes and haven't yet come up with anything distinctly original or identifiable.

In London "designer" shops contemporary gold and silver jewellery is diminutive, twiddly, insignificant and to my mind very boring. Gold now is so expensive, some consider it ostentatious and, maybe, people are afraid to openly wear bold gold pieces on city streets. The 30s and the 60s, personified by silver and steel, were stark, hard edged,in your face, iconoclastic and cool. Where do we go from here?

I'm writing this while watching the Sydney 2000 Olympics on TV. Everyone wants gold, will settle for silver, and somehow the third-place bronze seems almost an apologetic consolation prize for simply making an effort.

But my feeling is that this will soon change; that the New Age will be a gentler, more green and reflective place.

And fashion will demand a warmth and presence, interesting yet individual, and not overly expensive.. In past times people used to wear their wealth (their gold) in order to impress others. Now we're talking we're talking style over substance - quick change designer fashion. And if I were a young jewellery designer starting out and looking to push the boundaries with the big, the bold and the beautiful, I'd certainly give the bronze/copper/brass-coloured route a try.

cast patinated bronze and glass cabochon pendant, marked "Pexi"

After all, there is precedence. Just look at what the innovative and creative artists in the latter part of the last century were able to accomplish.

Copyright: Maggie Snell - maggie@ismacs.u-net.com

Vanessa Paterson of Retrogallery in the UK offers the following historical background on the innovative use of bronze by 60s/70s Finnish jewellery designers

N O T H I N G   N E W   U N D E R   T H E   S U N

b y   V a n e s s a   P a t e r s o n

gilt cast bronze abstract pendant  by Jorma Laine, Finland  

Bronze has adorned man for thousands of years. The Romans used it for personal adornment and currency, as did the Vikings. Not too sure about Viking history, but when English King Alfred the Great was enthroned AD 871, the Vikings controlled nearly half of the country.

In the1930s a collection of Viking jewellery was displayed in Finland. There was an immediate popular and media response that prompted a wonderful opportunity for museums to reproduce these early Viking designs.


Kalevela Koru started in 1935 as a women's co-operative re-creating the old traditions of the Viking period with bronze replicas of the type of crusade jewellery that had been found in old tombs and was displayed in Finnish museums. The company is still in business producing similar stylised Thor hammers, Celtic knots and simple forms relating to Finland's wildlife which have remained popular throughout its history, though silver has now been added to the more-traditional bronze.

Production stopped very suddenly during World War II but quickly started up again as a means of raising funds. Near neighbour Russia attempted an invasion of the country, but fierce resistance and an ability to cope and indeed use Finland's Arctic winter conditions eventually thwarted the invaders.

Residents of most of the occupied Scandinavian countries like Finland gave up their jewellery to help the war effort, so there was little about when hostilities ended.

Patinated bronze pendant, 1970s, by Pentti Sarpaneva, Finland

Though gold is a natural resource in the north of the country, many Finnish designers turned to bronze, as this material was easily available to them at little cost. It proved a great medium to work with as casting was easy and designs could be produced on a large scale.

Patinated bronze pendant, 1970s, by Pentti Sarpaneva, Finland

A well-known Finnish jeweller is Pentti Sarpaneva, a graphics designer, who started to experiment with jewellery styles in 1950. The public didn't take to his outrageous designs where he used natural materials such as bark, wood, feathers - and even incorporated zips and the like.

In the 60s Pentti came back with his wonderful bronze creations exploiting rough surfaces and unpolished gemstones, They had a look of volcanic lava flowing over them. He produced Folk jewellery as well but even here there was still an untamed rather than traditional feel to his designs.

Bronze in its new state of wearable jewellery became fashionable in
the 60s with bold, fun designs. I think there were several reasons why artists in this period employed more non-precious metals. One may be colour - copper/brass/bronze have more earthy tones than the spacey or austere colour of silver. Another is the revival of the Arts & Crafts philosophy of bringing good design to the jewellery-buying masses at affordable prices.

Perhaps we will see a resurgence of interest in copper/brass /bronze jewelry as we begin the 21st Century, the "back to the future bronze age".

patinated bronze pendant  1960s-70s by Jorma Laine, Finland

 Maggie Snell
is a London- based antiques dealer who has specialised in Victorian technology for more than 20 years. She has a world-class collection of antique and toy sewing machines, and edits an international journal on the subject with subscribers in 16 countries, the largest group being American. She has collected '60s and '70s jewellery for 10 years and has a special fondness for Scandinavian abstract, particularly Bjorn Weckstrom's Space Series Jewellery.


Vanessa Paterson
is a jewelry historian and specialist in Scandinavian Jewelry. She and her husband Tim are the owners of  Retro Gallery which features modern  Scandinavian jewelry & glass and Italian glass.

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Text Copyright © Maggie Snell and Vanessa Paterson
Photographs courtesy  Maggie Snell, Patrick Kapty, and Marbeth Schon
Web design by Marbeth Schon


Design Copyright ©Modern Silver Magazine October 2000

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