Modern for Men

  By Patrick Kapty

‘Modern for men’? That phrase, at least for me, conjures up images of modern furniture, glass, ceramics, or sculpture, and modern jewelry only joins the list somewhere far down near the bottom. As a matter of fact, most modern style jewelry was made with women in mind, even if many of the artists making the jewelry were themselves men. It’s probably safe to say that most collectors of modern jewelry are also women, thus accounting for the tepid interest overall in the male gender-specific categories. However, that group of modern style accouterments made specifically for men most certainly does exist, and this article will attempt to give the reader a brief overview of some of the examples available to the author.  

Russian silver and enamel money clip


Though some of today’s male modernist jewelry collectors can, and do, wear every jewelry form available in the arsenal of modern adornment, probably most men feel more comfortable with the range of items more specifically associated with their gender. Included on this list of ‘comfort’ jewelry for men are: cufflinks, belt buckles, tie bars and tacks, money clips, the ‘bola’, and in a few cases, even the modernist wedding ring. Over the course of the last century or so, all of the above items have been made in the various styles associated with the catchall term ‘modernism’.

unsigned copper, silver, brass, and rock crystal quartz belt buckle

bronze belt buckle by Olaf Skoogfors, USA

brass, wood, turquoise, and silver belt buckle

So, what is modernism? Even more so than the art-historical term, ‘Art Deco’, which in some of its manifestations modernism encompasses, the term ‘modernism’ has come to mean many things to many people. Generally, modernism can be argued to have begun around the early to middle 19th century with Biedermeier. Starting with this German-culture movement, modernism can be viewed as a move toward simplification, and was also, in part, a reaction to the over-wrought fancies of earlier decorative art movements. Also, modernism can be viewed as a movement away from strictly representational art, and toward the more stylized and thence to the abstract.

cufflinks in silver and enamel on left from Denmark, and silver from Taxco, Mexico

silver cufflinks by Hans Hansen of Denmark at right, and Rotter, USA, at left

Probably the first truly modern style jewelry for men was designed sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s, in the abstracted geometric Art Deco style. Another name for this style is functionalism, and examples are shown by the firm of Hans Hansen of Denmark, and by Rotter. This pared-down-to-essentials style exemplifies the credo, ‘form follows function’ that became the by-word of modernists generally for nearly half a century. Another example, though from much later, is the ring and tie bar by James Parker of La Mesa, California. This example is most likely from the 1950s, showing the endurance of such simple and timeless designs.

silver tie bar by James Parker, USA

In the mid-1930s or thereabouts, the genesis of the art jewelry movement came about in America, and spawned three primary modes of expression: primitivism, constructivism, and bio-morphism. (See last issue’s article “Architectonic Jewelry” for further discussion and examples of the above.) However, there were as many interpretations and permutations of these modes of expression as there were art-jewelers, and the cavalcade of fine art movements found many adherents among jewelers as well. 

silver cufflinks by Bent Knudsen of Denmark at right, Bernard Hertz of Denmark at center, and unsigned at left

After the second World War, and throughout most of the 1950s, the mainstream in modern accessories for men is best exemplified by that style known as Scandinavian modern. Three examples are shown here, and this style can be characterized as being sculptural, without unnecessary adornment, and usually finished to a high polish with consummate craftsmanship. 

four sets of cufflinks by James Parker, USA

unsigned silver cufflinks and tie bar


Alongside Scandinavian modern though, there was also to be found the work of American modernists, which, though perhaps less immediately appealing to the general public, was more diverse in it’s investigation of forms and the uses of alternative materials. 

unsigned silver modernist money clip

silver and brass cufflinks and tie pin by Vera Allison, USA

Regional and cultural differences had an effect on the mode of modern for men at this time,  as evidenced by this example of metales casados cufflinks and tie bar from a Taxco silversmith.   

silver and copper cufflinks and tie bar by Melecio Rodriguez of Taxco, Mexico

The 1960s and 1970s saw not only challenges to social norms, but also brought about a similar phenomenon in jewelry design. The 1970s witnessed a burgeoning of artistic expression, and has rightly been called the ‘golden age’ of art jewelry in America. Many styles existed concurrently, as well as an intense investigation into new materials and even new ways for jewelry to be worn.

unsigned silver cufflinks

Probably the most typical style associated with men’s jewelry from this period is that known as ‘organic’ modernism, which was an outgrowth of fine art movements with their roots in the late 1950s. 

silver cufflinks by Lacombe at right, Rotter at center, and Relo at left

Also, the use of silver as the predominant material in art jewelry was waning, thus similar examples can be found in gilded-silver, gold, or non-precious materials. 

unsigned silver vermeil cufflinks

cufflinks in copper and brass by Hogan Bolas, USA

Today’s post post-modern man has many choices from the arena of art jewelry with which to be-deck himself. Either from one of the multitude of 20th century art-historical styles, or from one of the many talented contemporary jewelers, the male of the species has a unique opportunity to carry a little bit of modern art on his person to every available social occasion.

Article by Patrick Kapty
“Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern”
(760) 671-4879 

photographs courtesy Patrick Kapty
Web design by Marbeth Schon
 Copyright © 2001 Modern Silver Magazine

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