A Brief History of Contemporary Jewellery in Brazil. From 1950s to 2020. A research by Ana Bellagamba

Article  /  History   CriticalThinking   AnaBellagamba
Published: 16.03.2021
A Brief History of Contemporary Jewellery in Brazil. From 1950s to 2020. A research by Ana Bellagamba.
Ana Bellagamba
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Caio Mourão. Necklace: Gravetos, 1961. Silver.. Photo by: Luciana Queiroz. Awarded at: International Jewellery Award in the VII Biennal of São Paulo 1963. Caio Mourão
Necklace: Gravetos, 1961
Photo by: Luciana Queiroz
Awarded at: International Jewellery Award in the VII Biennal of São Paulo 1963
© By the author. Read Copyright.

The aim, firstly, is about emphasizing domestic culture: to uncover the Brazilian craft jewellery path with its influences and developments.

This article is a result of the research by Ana Bellagamba, as the outcome of the internship with Klimt02. It is based on a timeline of jewellery in Brazil in a political and social context.

The idea of is to understand why contemporary jewellery showed up and how it developed in relation to the social, political, and artistic context. The research outcome includes an article, a chronology timeline, as well as selected and cataloged jewels. This internship practice is proposed, guided by Klimt02. The copyright of the internship outcome is shared by Ana Bellagamba and Klimt02.

The Artistic Curve (1960 - 1980)
Contemporary jewellery in Brazil made its first steps during the middle of the 20th century whilst the country went through a change in political period. The 1950s and 1960s defined a new modernist and progressive mindset after a slow transition from Estado Novo, a civil dictatorship with a populist government, to a democratic government by 1947. New and developing industries resulted in a growing urban population and level of education as well as freedom of speech. At this moment, a strong and powerful middle class is presented conquering spaces on the working production and theory thinking both in a political and economic administration scene. In this flourishing scenario, music and television became influential and strong tools to promote the recent ideal of progress and changes, not only felt but now, seen.

This feeling of change was not exclusively Brazilian or in the jewellery scenery. There was also a great development for the Brazilian culture. The modernist ideals were already based on the minds of artists since the São Paulo Modern Art Week in 1922, which also contributed to the sedimentation of a traditional national cultural identity. The artistic production, on one hand, was influenced by European movements like Cubism and Futurism. On the other hand, there was a lack of breaking traditions and more of a re-creation of its one. Brazilian art begins to question its origins and criticize the elements that constructed its identity until then. It may be considered that there was not a strong cultural tradition to break, like what was happening in Europe at the same period. The effort is to be legitimized.

On Brazilian jewellery during these decades, we notice the growing importance of Brazilian gems. Their value was first seen through the eyes of immigrants from Europe, such as French, Jules Sauer, and German, Hans Stern. They were responsible for boosting internationally the colored gems we had, such as tourmalines and emeralds, as an opportunity in the jewellery market. Coloured gems were not concerned by the inner market. As it grew in importance internationally, Brazilian gemstones were more desired, but its language did not translate into particular cultural references yet, keeping the classical international European taste and typology.
Di Cavalcanti and Lucien Finkelstein. Ring: Untitled, 1964. Gold and enamel.

The main source of jewellery manufacture and knowledge was once in the hands of craftsmen, goldsmiths, and the recently formed jewellery industry. However, as it worked for the art field, the counterculture influenced a small group of artists who saw the beginning of a new poetic interpreted into adornment production. New aesthetics and techniques in small-scale processes influenced by Studio Craft were proposed by the emergent group coming from the Fine Arts or Architecture field. This exchange between artists and craftsmen was full of creativity and originality, in part because there was no previous traditional silversmithing knowledge that allowed these new artists to be free on their creation.

Slowly, the use of Brazilian gemstones was being changed from traditional settings to more free and expressive shapes of a unique piece, closer to art than industry. Even though there was a bigger range of materials, these explorations contrasted more on the shapes and aesthetic than the monetary value of the material being used. The chosen material was not an issue for the artist: a growing economic development saw a higher consumption by the middle class.

The statement of separation and rise of Brazilian contemporary jewellery has an intimate relation to the Bienal de Arte de São Paulo (Biennial of Art in São Paulo), an event that has a relevant importance in the promotion of Brazilian art. The first significant art jewellery exhibition happened in its 7th edition, 1963, after a strong lobby by artists that produced and perceived jewellery as an art-object. The idea was accepted, and in the next editions (1969, 1971, 1973, and 1975), jewellery was a constant presence at the event. Exhibitions, events, and discussions among interested people made this time an important phase for the reflections of shapes and concepts for a Brazilian contemporary jewel.

For these first years, the new artistic jewellery had incredible visibility: exhibitions in art galleries, television shows, news, the opening of the first jewellery gallery, Simetria, in 1982, and the first publication and exhibition “Joia Contemporânea Brasileira” by Renato Wagner, in 1980. An exciting scenery where the market was having a good response and the search for identity and individuality was present at every piece. All this fervor that once was the beginning of something interesting and different, by the 1990s was not explicit anymore.

Reny Golcman. Necklace: Mutável, 1971. Silver and Eilat stone. Photo by: José Terra.

Hiatus (1985 - 1990)
From 1964 to 1985, Brazil lived a military dictatorship, recognized for its heavy infrastructure investments and a growing economy at the expanse of gigantic external debt and strong censorship. The economic and social politic imposed by the military government brought the country to a deep recession and uncontrolled inflation by the middle of the 1980s.

The arts field was living a free experimentation time after the end of the dictatorship. It resulted in great activism and more cultural production. Contrarily, jewellery with an artistic expression was not doing so well. Many jeweler-artists had open their workshop and begun teaching. However, there was not so much advertising or news as before.

To try to maintain the market, there were many attempts to open galleries specialized in jewellery, but none of them were successful. For example, one of the most known was Galeria Plural, which opened its doors in 1987, which was closed by 1989. In August 1989, a group of artists organized the Seminário de Jóia Contemporânea (Contemporary Jewellery Seminar) hoping to establish the differences between commercial, artistic, and contemporary jewellery. In their words, the galleries were prioritizing the market sense instead of the artistic ideal when curating the pieces. That being harmful to jewellery artists.

When we come to the 1990s, artistic jewellery had lost a lot of its space. In 1994, Plano Real was implemented with the promise to put the market back on its growth track and it worked. From an uncontrolled economy, the market slowly grew and be competitive once again. National production became stronger and affordable. For jewellery, it represented an investment in design and a preference for gold pieces with a simple aesthetic. Schools, companies, awards, and markets were focused on new materials, exclusive projects, concepts, and innovations to create an identity turned to the industry and make a difference in the international market.

Although the presence of artist jewellery production was very important for a perceived aesthetic and expression, the search for a Brazilian identity was going forward mostly inside the industry. There was not a radical change in material: the colors and splendor of the gems became the reference for a Brazilian tropical identity.

Better prices for the national production, in special, the contribution of design in the industry meaning a more conservative aesthetic, the many trends in fashion that came from outside sources such as importation, the drop in the gold price and the great purchase power, the costume jewellery rise, and the diminutive and restricted artistic jewellery production could be reasons for the scarcity of information. This was a decade without much experiment or boldness, we can probably say it was a maintained time when schools were established and the market was being reconstructed. But in a general sense, nonetheless, as far as my research went, an “on hold” artistic jewellery.

Marina Sheetikoff. Piece: Figa & pepper, balangandan, 2015. Niobium. Amulet &  bracelets.

Promise (2000 – today)
During the 2000s the occasional artistic-jewelry production continued although we see increasing search and interest in the jewellery field. More and more people are curious to know about this subject and beginning to work and explore concepts as jewelers. This can be seen especially with the Latina America symposiums such as Walking the Gray Area (Mexico, 2010), En Construcción (Argentina, 2012), En Construcción II (Chile, 2015), En Construcción III (2018, Colombia), and recently, Brazil Jewellery Week II (Brazil, 2021).
This increasing artists’ activity has motivated the people to look nationally for markets, alliances, and different propositions which brought more explorations and questions on our reality. Artists are experimenting, studying, seeking relationships, and searching for its history. Consequently, more artists act with more expressions in the international field. New materials, new inspirations motivated the development of this Brazilian character, the so important identity we imagine and reinforce. For example, sustainability has become so expressive at some point that it can even be seen as a different jewellery section know as eco-jewellery. Organic material such as seeds and wood also grew into the idea of the Brazilian aesthetic.

In 2014, a gallerist and collector Thomas Cohn opened in São Paulo a new contemporary jewellery gallery. In his word, Brazil was “ready to take this step” but not because of its artists, also in his words, with works still “without consistency”.  Even so, his true intention was to instigate the market that, until then had no echo and thus giving no reason for the artist to work for a result.
Nina Lima. Camafeo: Thoughts about an endless story, 2019. Steel, acrylic, printing on acetate.

The arrangement of associations to discuss and question jewellery, for instance, the group Broca, formed by 12 artists from São Paulo, has been one of the sources of propagation and emergence of a strong contemporary expression. Exhibitions on contemporary jewellery such as Brazilian Contemporary Jewellery: one Day at Home in 2011, the Brazilian Contemporary Jewels: Journey in 2013, Reflections: Necklaces in 2018, and Contemporary Jewellery Brazil-Finland Polarities in 2020, all curated by Miriam Miriam Korolkovas and presented at the A Casa Museum create opportunities and possibilities for Brazilian artists. However, social, political, and economic aspects do not benefit the initiatives. Lack of traditional education in this specific professional activity is reflected directly in the jeweler production, market, and public misinformation. Currently, Galeria Alice Floriano is the only contemporary jewellery gallery open to issue its existence to the public and looking to trigger the field with events as the award FIO.
Jewellery is still considered a superfluous item, although there is significant growth in the understanding of jewellery as something important and meaningful. The researcher Ana Passos believes that due to historical circumstances there is a prevalence of more traditional jewellery over a contemporary approach, as jewellery is perceived as a statement of social belonging and a token of memory more than an individual distinction.

Moving forward is going at baby steps. We are only now paying attention to the repercussions of lack of institutionalization due to the non-consecrations of museums, galleries, or the presence of collectors to give a more important spotlight to jewellery. There are a lot of questions and attitudes yet to be studied and considered and maybe, this pandemic situation brings a good opportunity to reflect and change. Brazil has immense potential and we can only hope to have more initiatives that will guide us to open pathways to encourage the scenery. Quoting Ana Passos once again, “the future is brilliant but complicated”.

Notes on the research process
There are very few written studies or people engaging in this historic research that help to perceive the path jewellery walked in Latin America especially in each country’s history. Because of my nationality, Brazil was a natural choice as the country to delve into the investigation of contemporary jewellery from its emergence to today. The start of the research was to gather information on the Brazilian contemporary production and historic context (social, artistic, and jewellery). My main research was on texts, interviews, and websites available online and few contacts via email or video conference conversations. I would like to thank the help of Ana Passos, Atelier Mourão, Ivete Catani, and Alice Floriano for the words and attention to this research.

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(5) Grippa, C. B., & Bosak, J. F. Joias Artísticas: o caso da Bienal de São Paulo. In Visualidades. Access in 19 Oct, 2020.
(6) IBGM, Instituto Brasileiro de Gemas e metais precisos. Politicas e Açoes para a cadeia produtiva de gemas e joias. Brasilia, Brasil, 2005. Access in 12 Feb, 2021.
(7) Unkown author. A Breve História da Jóia no Brasil. Access in 25 Set, 2020.
(8) Videla, Ana. Seguindo a constituiçao da Joalheria contemporánea. In pragMATIZES, Revista Latino Americana de Estudos em Cultura, year 7, number 12, out/2016 to mar/2017. Access in 5 Feb, 2021.
(9) Videla, Ana. Arte joalheria, um campo em vias de constituição In pragMATIZES, Revista Latino Americana de Estudos em Cultura, ano 7, numero 12, out/2016 a mar/2017. Access in 12 Dec, 2020.
(10) Videla, Ana. Joalheria, Arte ou Design?. Doctor thesis in the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco. 2016. Access in 19 Feb, 2021.
(11) Vogue. Arte Portátil: Thomas Cohn abre a primeira joalheria de arte da America Latina. Access in 19 Feb, 2021.


About the author

Ana Bellagamba
was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She has graduated in Design at ESDi (Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial) in 2011. From 2010 to 2012, she studied silversmithing at Atelier Mourão, Rio de Janeiro, working as an independent jewelry design for the next years. She is currently studying for an M.F.A in jewelry and gemstone at the University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. In the semester of 2020/2021, she worked as an intern at Klimt02 in Barcelona.