Calder's Coils

Calder's Coils

NEW YORK, NY -- Prolific and synonymous with his ballistic mobiles and stabile monumental structures, Alexander Calder created lesser-known jewelry works that evoked the same sense of whimsical freedom that is so recognizable in his sculptures. Jewelry by Calder was first seen adorning the necks of his sister’s dolls in the early 1900s, though he produced the majority of his over 1,800 jewelry works later in life.

Calder's notable artistic style emerged during the 20s and 30s in Paris, where he socialized among the likes of Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp and Joan Miró. It was during this time that Calder, nicknamed ‘Sandy’, met his partner and wife, Louisa James, grandniece of Henry James.

The artist spiraled back toward jewelry after 1933, when he and Louisa returned to the United States and landed in Roxbury, Connecticut. His jewelry works from this time, often made for family and friends, are a purposeful and natural accompaniment to his art. Calder was deeply inspired by the women in his life. Not only his wife and muse Louisa, but also his mother and friends such as Peggy Guggenheim, Georgia O’Keefe, Angela Huston and Mary Rockefeller, among others.

Calder made his jewelry as gifts, their impractical forms mirroring the brave and strong women for whom he constructed them. These pieces were not intended to be exclusive or expensive. If he charged for them at all, it was only about $25. Often formed out of a single piece of steel wire, such as you might find holding a coat on a rack, or perhaps bracing teeth, motifs of coils, spirals, waves, zigzags and hearts made their way from his anvil and hammer onto the necks, ears, hands and wrists of his adorned. Using common materials to produce uncommon forms, our Sandy was not a jeweler and therefore used no torches to achieve his desired result -- quirky boldness. The wedding ring he made for his wife Louisa is a simple bronze spiral, an incredibly ancient symbol often associated with themes of fertility and eternity

Visitors would often arrive to Calder's Roxbury workshop and laugh in delight at the sight of his jewelry works hung along the walls. Such was the case for the consignor of the pieces in our upcoming Important Jewelry auction. On a trip to Calder's workshop with a friend in the late 1940s, our consignor was the lucky recipient of these three works, which Calder simply took off the wall and handed to her. She recalls that “he had just returned from his stay in Brazil. He had Brazilian music going on and food in the kitchen and his jewelry all over the place, and I guess he… And he showed us, of course, around his barn and all his mobiles that were being made and so forth. And I think he was a very generous man because he just gave away these pieces.”

Shirley K. Manely (right) circa 1949 wearing the Calder ring
Shirley K. Manley (right) circa 1949 wearing the Calder spiral ring (lot 87)

Freedom and generosity and joy. These are the adjectives that describe Alexander Calder’s jewelry, which transformed from little mementos to works of art in their own right, some going on to achieve auction results over $100,000. They serve as insight into the artist that defined a category, but also speak to man behind the mobile, and the friend he was to many.

Important Jewelry

The auction of Important Jewelry on October 1, 2020 offers three examples of jewelry by Alexander Calder.

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Portrait of specialist Martha Garcia
Vice President / Appraiser, Jewelry Department
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