Ed Wiener Gold Brooch with 2 Silver Pendants, all with pearls
Ed Wiener is a well known studio jewelry designer who worked out of Provincetown and Manhattan beginning in 1946 and then solely in New York City from the mid-1950’s until his death in 1986. He was significantly influenced by the work of Alexander Calder – who besides making his iconic mobile sculptures and paintings also created some groundbreaking modernist jewelry. Wiener was also influenced by fellow New York City jewelry designer and contemporary Sam Kramer and Art Smith. From the accounts I’ve read Kramer and Wiener were good friends as well as colleagues.
Ed Wiener Earrings, signed but hallmark is partially obscured by findings (org screwbacks, converted to posts)
Ed Wiener was not formally trained as a jeweler or silversmith, instead he began as a metal smith working on industrial types of materials during the war effort in the early 1940’s. He was drawn to jewelry after being inspired by the artists and designers in Greenwich Village and Providence, RI and with his unique training in metal craft he brought new techniques and ideas to the art of jewelry making. His first tentative steps into jewelry design came after WWII in 1945 when he took a general crafts class at Columbia University and made a woman’s belt buckle as his first project.
Wiener identified himself with the new emerging jazz scene in New York and participated in leftist politics. He credits living in Greenwich Village and Providencetown with expanding his consciousness and helping to open up his cultural horizons. He was drawn to the arts and crafts techniques in jewelry making, before upending convention and embracing casting in the 1950’s. Wiener usually eschewed diamonds and other precious stones, viewing them as status baubles and jewelry being secondary to the stone. The stones were the focal point, the jewelry design itself a distant second. His focus on pure design led him to work with silver, it was preferred by his social circle and meant the focus would be on the design of the piece rather than the value of the metal. (Later on Wiener would embrace 18k gold as a preferred medium, after discovering ancient goldsmith work and jewelry.) Some of his early work is in gold but as he stated in his autobiographical notes (in “Jewlery By Ed Wiener”) it was simply a metal substitution. He took a design originally done in silver and simply recreated it in 14k gold.
In the early years much of Wiener’s work was in sterling silver and he also liked using pearls (he described a pearl as a fully complete work of nature as opposed to the heavy machinery and polishing required for gemstones to be created) and coral. He tended to concentrate on work that had no machinery intervention in the process, everything was to be done by hand. He was inspired by certain motifs, hammered spirals, abacuses and abstract stars are three motifs that are found regularly in his work. As he evolved he became more aware of the effects of negative space and that is reflected in his beautiful abstractions of the 1950’s.
Wiener did sign much of his work, but certainly not all of it, especially if the pieces were small or a mark would mar their appearance. However, catalogs and other reference materials make it possible to identify many unsigned pieces. Being intimately familiar with his work has made it possible for me (and others) to identify unmarked pieces which I was later able to verify as his work. These two unmarked silver necklace pendants, with a pearl on the tip, are examples.
Unsigned Ed Wiener Pendants – verified work
I came across these pendants several years apart online. Both were only billed as “modernist sterling” but the shape and design of the pendant was so striking I had a very strong hunch it was Wiener’s work. I was able to obtain the first pendant from a seller who billed themselves as a expert in 20th century jewelry, so the fact they did not even mention the possibility of it beings Wiener’s work surprised me. I bought the first pendant purely due to its beautiful design, not knowing for sure who created it. I was later able to definitively verify it being Wiener’s work.
There is a very well known brooch design by Wiener (featured at the top of the page in gold with the two pendants) that is very similar to the design of the pendant. However, similar doesn’t cut it when it comes to verifying a designers work. So I researched quite a bit about Wiener and examples of his signed work. My first big hit was an old message board posting that showed the exact same design as the pendant, only done as a gold brooch and signed by Wiener. It made sense perfect sense. A pendant can display both sides, so you wouldn’t want to mar one side with a hallmark. On a brooch only one side of the piece is displayed, so there is no problem by using a hallmark. A year or so later another example of the pendant turned up on eBay, listed again as a piece of unknown modernist sterling, which I snapped up.
Later on I finally got a copy of “Jewelry by Ed Wiener” a small softcover book published for a retrospective exhibit of his work at Fifty/50 Gallery in NYC from Dec. 1988 – Jan. 1989. It is one of the best references you can get for Ed Wiener jewelry outside of his own catalogs and advertising from his studio – of which there isn’t a great deal. The publication allowed me to identify a few pieces of his work definitively that were unsigned.
“Jewelry by Ed Wiener” showing design, page 38 Ref # 34
In the publication I found yet another version of the pendant design in the form of earrings, pictured here. Only problem with this is I now desperately want these earrings but have never seen them anywhere outside of this catalog. The design is one of my all time favorites, simple, beautiful and elegant.
I will give one warning about the gold brooch with pearl style you see above. There was another jewelry designer named Sara, who I’ve seen some associate her as being connected to Wiener in some fashion, but Ed’s own daughter in the comments below states she is unaware of any connection between them. There is a brooch with almost identical design lines, but instead of the sleek elegance of Wiener’s work, this brooch is fat, puffy and just looks terrible – especially when compared to Wiener’s piece. Apparently this was done by Sara, I have seen this “fat brooch” marked with her name but I have also seen the same fat brooch without a hallmark and being sold as “Ed Wiener.” It is easy to see the difference between the two, but I’m always worried someone will buy it thinking it is a real piece of Wiener’s unsigned work when instead it is a poor imitation done by a contemporary of his. I hate anyone associating such a inelegant piece to Wiener. But if you every see a similar brooch, only 3x as thick and without the perfectly, sleek, angular curves – you are seeing the work of Sara. ( Sara also did other work which is much nicer, but this piece is probably one of the worst examples of her work. Generally her pieces are marked, “Sara Sterling.”
STYLE and FORM
Ed Wiener 1952 Sterling Silver Choker with Pearl, signed.
An example of Wiener’s later 18k gold work showing medieval influence.
When Wiener began crafting jewelry in the late 1940’s he worked mostly in sterling silver, with a few of his pieces done in 14K gold. His work shows a strong abstract expressionist element and the pieces he created during this period are among my favorite. Later in his career, from the late 1960’s until his death Wiener’s style evolved. He began studying medieval jewelry and the techniques of ancient goldsmiths. He was captivated by the color and the texture of the gold used in Medieval jewelry and as a result started working in 18K almost exclusively during the last decade of his career. The work was also heavily influenced by the medieval aesthetic, combined with Wiener’s own creativity and modernist design background.
ED WIENER HALLMARKS
Ed Wiener employed several variations on his hallmark. I have some examples pictured below. On his older silver work you will find “ED WIENER” or “ED WIENER STERLING” on the older gold work you will find “ED WIENER
“14K ED WIENER” mark found on gold brooch
14K” and on the later creations “E.W. 18K” or “ED WIENER 18K”
“ED WIENER” mark found on silver choker
For more information on Modernist Jewelry, and pieces by Ed Wiener and other mid century jewelry designers, I highly recommend Marbeth Schon’s two books “Modernist Jewelry (1930-1960)” and “Form and Function (1940-1970)” as the two best currently available books on American mid century modernist studio jewelry. You can find copies of the books, and other information, at her website here.