It's Brutal Out There: Rediscovering Brutalist Design

I wouldn't say that I'm a particularly "mystical" person but I do believe that the universe does sometimes speak to us.  I feel like the universe has been putting certain designs styles in front of me more often than not lately.  One style in particular has always been one that I had a sort of appreciation for but did not tend to actively collect; only picking up a piece here or there if it spoke to me in some way.


The only two Brutalist members of my personal collection (top): Morganite & 14k yellow gold ring, circa 1970, that I had updated by Setterberg Jewelers & (bottom) Ebony Wood & Sterling Brutalist style ring.  Both pieces have a variety of textures - typical of Brutalist design.


That particular style happens to be an offshoot of the early-20th century Modernist movement known as Brutalism.  It originally began as an architectural style in the 1950s.  Brutalist buildings are characterized by their massive, monolithic and almost 'blocky' appearances with a rigid geometric style and were often constructed of poured concrete.  The style had its fans…and its detractors.  It was controversial, but it was also unforgettable.  


Featuring a 1ct. emerald-cut diamond with smaller round & marquise diamonds in 14k yellow gold, circa 1970s, this beauty was found on Etsy at Simply Remember My Shop and is the epitome of the Brutalist style.  This vintage ring has been on my Jewelry Bucket List for several months now & is just so amazing!


What has since fascinated me was how this style of architecture spilled over to smaller objects of the time such as wall art, furniture, sculptures and other home decor items.  The Brutalist movement in jewelry did not fully emerge and truly take off until the 1960's-70's.  Within the confines of jewelry design, Brutalist pieces from that era often times had an almost handmade look with bumpy, knobby or rough textures.  Think repeated geometric forms that are often asymmetric and abstract.  This radical style of jewelry was typified by massive, jagged and highly abstract designs that are at once intriguing and perhaps slightly off-putting.  It was typically displayed in chunky almost heavy forms with large expanses of gold or silver.  Often times, metals like platinum, gold, silver and copper would be intermingled.  


This amazing 14k yellow gold vintage piece demonstrates the texture often seen in Brutalist designs.  
Found on eBay, this band is ideal for adding a little bit of visual interest to any wedding or ring stack.


Unusual gemstones were also frequently used in the pursuit of experimental, avant-garde color combinations to play off the mix of textures and metals.  Gemstone shapes like trillion, cabochon or custom-cut stones were sometimes found in Brutalist pieces.  Occasionally, stones were even carved or left as rough crystals for even greater effect.  Little thought was given to the value of the stones that were incorporated into the design.  Instead, they were chosen based on the visual effect they would have in the overall composition of the piece and/or the potential juxtaposition that could be created.  In many of those pieces from that era, it's not unusual to find a simple amber cabochon next to fine diamonds or a humble bit of mother of pearl nestled within heavy 18 karat gold.  In fact, even nontraditional materials like wood and fabric were occasionally incorporated into these wearable works of art.


Demonstrating the geometric nature typical of vintage Brutalist pieces from the 1970s, this emerald & sapphire yellow gold beauty from Inez Stodel Antique Jewelry is definitely a statement piece sure to draw attention wherever you go!


When buying Modernist or Brutalist jewelry, the single most important element is the overall stylistic impact of the piece.  A well designed example will pull you in with tactile surfaces, explosions of colors and shapes.  The hallmark of Brutalism was its uniqueness.  Like most valuable collectors' pieces, the most exceptional pieces are typically one-of-a-kind creations.  High-quality pieces that should feel solid, substantial and heavy.  And, of course, signed pieces will always command a premium over similar but unsigned examples.  Some highly collectable designers of that era include Robert Larin and Guy Vidal. 


This vintage beauty features a central emerald with melee diamonds in 18k yellow gold can be found on Etsy as well at Vintage Jewelry Vault. The offset emerald mixed with the rough texture of the gold demonstrates the juxaposition often seen in Brutalist jewelry.

In some ways, I feel like you can still see some Brutalist influences or elements in more modern interpretations by designers such as Emanuela Duca or Vivasmith Studio  - both of whom are designers that have already been on my personal "Jewelry Bucket List" for quite sometime.


The Celebration x Topaz Cuff from Vivasmith Studio has been on my Jewelry Bucket List since I first saw it years ago!  It features a yellow topaz set in sterling silver as the centerpiece & surrounded by a splash of fine gold with silver fused to the deeply oxidized steel.  The mix of varying materials & textures has an almost Brutalistic feel to me.


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