The Graphic Art of Inlay

Inlaid Jewelry by Angela Cummings, Tiffany and Co. and Van Cleef and Arpels

Jewelry designs can embody qualities of both chic and whimsy, as perfectly displayed by a pair of Tiffany & Co. ‘Positive Negative’ earclips, lot 6 in the December 14, 2016 sale of Important Jewelry. The juxtaposition of symmetry and opposites create balance in the ying and yang of these earclips. Deceivingly simple, these earclips reflect masterful inlay and gold work. Similar examples can be seen in lots 1, 2, 3, 4 and 15.

In 1967, Angela Cummings began her 17-year stint at Tiffany & Co. and through the years created several iconic designs, including the inlay examples referenced above. With this work, Cummings established her reputation for graphic inlay, and today it remains among her most popular designs. The attractive balance between perfection and randomness is a quality that keeps these designs classic.

In addition to utilizing inlay as a principal design element, inlay can also be incorporated as an accent, as seen in lot 270, the gold, diamond and lapis bombé ring by Van Cleef & Arpels. Evoking the imagery of balloons, this playful ring juxtaposes diamonds and gold with the delicate inlay of lapis. Lot 343, also a Van Cleef & Arpels design, depicts slender black onyx against a gold and diamond random dot design. These motifs by Van Cleef keep the inlay playful and graphic, similar in concept to the Tiffany & Co. pieces.

While popularized again by Cummings and Tiffany & Co., inlay has in fact been used in jewelry for many years. Art Deco jewelry with a black-and-white motif has always been highly collectible. Lot 235 incorporates inlaid black onyx and delicately carved black onyx circles against perching love birds. The inlay work helps to highlight the sweetness of the design, and also adds drama and contrast to what otherwise would be a simple diamond design. Lots 232 and 238 display similar designs.

Even earlier examples of inlay include traditional American Indian and Southwestern jewelry, where turquoise, coral, mother-of-pearl and black onyx are commonly used to create linear and physical motifs.

Inlay work creates dramatic motifs in jewelry, accenting and enhancing the piece in which it is featured. Through the years and changing jewelry styles, inlay had remained in frequent use, and gauging from its recent popularity, inlaid jewelry will continue to remain in constant demand.

Portrait of specialist Ann Limer  Lange
SVP/Executive Director, Jewelry
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