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Paul Lobel Jewelry

Paul Lobel Jewelry: Masterpieces of Modernist Design

I must admit that I have become at least temporarily obsessed with modernist jewelry. It started with my investigation into Winifred Mason, and has steadily proceeded down a rabbit hole. This latest hole houses Paul Lobel. Paul Lobel was a significant figure in the world of mid-century modern design, recognized particularly for his contributions to jewelry making. His influence on the American design aesthetic of the era was substantial, leaving a legacy that is celebrated by collectors and connoisseurs of fine jewelry. Join me as I explore this latest obsession. Indulge me.  

Pair of Modernist Silver earrings by Paul Lobel
Brecciated Jasper and Silver Modernist Earrings by Paul Lobel. So busy!

 Lobel’s innovative approach to materials and design distinguished his work, setting him apart as a pioneer in the field. Crafted with a keen eye for form and function, Paul Lobel jewelry remains a testament to his artistic vision.

Biomorphic Silver cuff by Paul Lobel
Stunning fissured silver cuff by Paul Lobel

His creations in sterling silver are particularly esteemed, capturing the essence of mid-century modernism with their streamlined forms and inventive use of metal. Beyond silver, Lobel expanded his oeuvre to include a variety of mediums.

French Horn Brooch by Paul Lobel
Beautiful French Horn brooch by Paul from his 1950's musical instrument series

Lobel’s forays into the realms of plastics and paper during the 1960s and 1970s exemplify his fearless exploration of new materials and his commitment to pushing the boundaries of traditional jewelry design. Not confined to one material or style, Lobel’s work with various mediums reflected his versatility and creative spirit.

Table Lamp by Paul Lobel
Table lamp by Paul Lobel
Benduro Table Mirror by Paul Lobel
Benduro table mirror by Paul Lobel

Today, Paul Lobel’s pieces are highly sought after, not only for their beauty but also for their historical significance. They serve as relics of a bygone era that shaped contemporary jewelry design. 

Silver Bicycle brooch by Paul Lobel
Gorgeous bicycle brooch by Paul Lobel

For those interested in the mid-century modern aesthetic or the history of American jewelry, Lobel’s sterling silver pieces are particularly captivating, offering both a visually stunning experience and a link to the rich tapestry of 20th-century design innovation.

Life and Legacy of Paul Lobel

Early Years and Education

Paul Lobel was born in Romania in 1899 and emigrated to the United States as an infant. His formative years were spent on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Lobel’s artistic journey began at the Art Students League in New York City where he cultivated his talents and laid the groundwork for his distinctive style.

Silver leaf brooch by Paul Lobel
Silver leaf brooch by Paul Lobel
Silver violin brooch by Paul Lobel
Silver violin brooch by Paul Lobel. (Source: IG @roma.arellano)

Lobel’s first foray into industrial design was a flattened tobacco tin embellished with stiff calla lilies that he created as a hanging match holder while a member of the P.S. 34 art club. Under the tutelage of mentor Mr. Reich, Lobel and his fellow students were encouraged to compete with the arts and crafts group of P.S. 62, “the snobs of Hester Street.” 

Silver squirrel brooch by Paul Lobel
Silver squirrel brooch by Paul Lobel

Eager to join the workforce, Lobel obtained the necessary paperwork and began working as soon as he was eligible. His early jobs included stints at a neckwear factory, as a safety razor blade reconditioner, a men’s clothing examiner, and for a ribbon and silk house. After completing a mechanical drafting course at the Mechanic’s Institute, he secured a position as an apprentice with an electrical construction company. Within six months, he had leveraged that experience to gain employment with the U.S. Rubber Co. as a junior draftsman.

Silver Lion brooch by Paul Lobel
Silver lion brooch by Paul Lobel

Lobel joined the merchant marine and spent two years at sea in Europe and South America, as their ships had an ongoing need for radio operators. As merchant fleet jobs decreased, Lobel transitioned careers by studying commercial art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Within a year, he had rented desk space at an advertising agency in the Tribune Building, embarking on a new path in commercial art.

Pair of Silver earrings by Paul Lobel
Pair of modernist silver earrings by Paul Lobel

In addition to his commercial art foray, Lobel took illustration classes with cartoonist/painter Boardman Robinson at the Art Students’ League. He sold sketches to New York Times Book Review editor Brooks Atkinson and decorative drawings to emerging publications like The New Yorker, Colliers’ Weekly, and book publishers for jackets. He used these skills later in life to publish an art kit in the 1960’s (see image below).

Paper plays by Paul Lobel
Paul Lobel's Paper Plays sculpture kit from the 1960's

After a year of commercial art work, Lobel had saved enough to visit Europe. Arriving in Paris in 1925 just in time for the groundbreaking “Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes,” he realized a revolution in 3D design was underway after viewing the famous Art Deco exhibition.

Modernist silver brooch by Paul Lobel
Modernist silver brooch by Paul Lobel

 Inspired to experiment with metal beyond his early school days, Lobel created some of his first pieces, including a miniature bull-ring sculpture reminiscent of Picasso’s 1940s bullfight-themed Antibes work, though Lobel had not yet seen a bullfight in person. The exhibition marked a turning point for Lobel into 3D art.

Silver Modernist cuff by Paul Lobel
Silver modernist cuff by Paul Lobel

In the summer of 1926 Lobel exhibited 35 works, including drawings, etchings, paintings, metalwork and sculpture, in a one-man show in Paris.

Metal Ram Relief for ROXY NYC by Paul Lobel
Metal Ram relief that Lobel made for the Roxy in NYC

Career Beginnings

After his successful one-man show in Paris, Lobel established himself as a prominent figure in the art world. His career was marked by significant achievements, including winning two awards at the International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1932.

Silver Tea set by Paul Lobel
Stunning moderne silver tea set by Paul Lobel

The onset of World War II saw Lobel adapt to material restrictions by turning to silver jewelry, and in 1944, he opened his shop in Greenwich Village, which became a hub for modernist jewelry design.

Artistic Style and Influence

Key Characteristics of Lobel’s Work:

  • Bold, sculptural forms
  • Minimalist aesthetic
  • Emphasis on functionalism
Silver Modernist bracelet by Paul Lobel

Lobel’s jewelry designs were informed by the modernist movement, favoring clean lines and abstraction. His work is distinguished by a deliberate exploration of form and a keen attention to how pieces interact with the human body.

Modernist Lion brooch by Paul Lobel
Modernist lion brooch by Paul Lobel

Major Works and Exhibitions

Throughout his career, Lobel’s works were showcased in numerous exhibitions, solidifying his reputation. His contributions to modernism were highlighted at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. Additionally, his innovative glass bending process, Benduro, was employed to create prize-winning furniture.

Brecciated Jasper
Amazing Benduro glass candle stick from earlier in Paul Lobel's career.

 Lobel’s legacy is maintained through the ongoing display of his pieces in museum exhibits and the continued admiration by collectors and art enthusiasts.

Collecting Paul Lobel Jewelry

Collectors of mid-century modernist jewelry highly regard Paul Lobel’s creations, which are noted for their unique design and craftsmanship. Authenticity and market trends are critical for collectors to consider.

Silver brooch with ball by Paul Lobel
Unique silver brooch with ball by Paul Lobel

Identifying Authentic Pieces

Authentic Paul Lobel jewelry often features his signature and displays distinct modernist design elements. Collectors should look for hallmarks such as Lobel or Lobel Sterling, which verify the provenance of the piece. High-resolution photographs and physical inspections can aid in verifying the authenticity, focusing particularly on the quality of metalwork and unique stylistic touches indicative of Lobel’s approach.

Paul Lobel Silver Markings
Paull Lobel silver markings

Market Value and Trends

The market value of Paul Lobel jewelry is influenced by its rarity, condition, and historical significance. Prices can range significantly, with rarer items like the Sterling and Pearl Pendant or the Sterling Silver Whale Brooch commanding higher figures. Trends can be observed through auction results and dealer prices, with museums and notable collections often setting benchmarks for desirability.

Piece Type Typical Price Range
Brooches/Pins
$200 - $1,500
Earrings
$100 - $700
Bracelets
$300 - $2,000
Necklaces/Pendant
$400 - $2,500
Paul Lobel silver necklace with pearls
Paul Lobel Silver Pendant With Pearls
Paul Lobel whale brooch
Paul Lobel Sterling Silver Whale Brooch

Collectors are keen to acquire pieces that have been exhibited or included in museum collections, often seeing them as investment pieces.

Paul Lobel’s Legacy

When Paul Lobel passed away in 1983, he left behind an unmatched legacy as a pioneering metalsmith and jewelry designer. With his avant-garde designs, Lobel paved the way for studio jewelry as an art form in America. His innovative use of materials and sculptural aesthetic brought a new vision to wearable art. Along with modernist jewelry making contemporaries like Art Smith, Sam Kramer, and Arthur King,  Lobel was instrumental in elevating jewelry making into an artistic pursuit equal to sculpture and painting. His boundary-pushing creativity and lasting influence reshaped the world of American jewelry over a career spanning six decades. Even decades after his death, Lobel’s iconic jewelry and hollowware pieces remain highly sought after by collectors and continue to inspire new generations of artists. Through his vision and talent, Paul Lobel helped define what fine jewelry could be as an artistic medium in the 20th century. His indelible contributions ensure Lobel’s place among the most important American jewelry artists and modern designers of his era. 

References

Books:

Lobel, R. (2007). Modernist Jewelry 1930-1960: The Wearable Art Movement. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing.

Phillips, C. (2004). Jewels and Jewelry. New York: Yale University Press.

Turner, R. (2021). American Modernist Jewelry: 1940-1970. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing.

Journal Articles:

Codina, C. (2016). Paul Lobel and Mid-Century Modern Jewelry Design. Ornament, 39(2), 36-41.

Drutt, M. & Dormer, P. (1995). Jewelry of Our Time: Art, Ornament and Obsession. Art Journal, 54(1), 29-33.

Phillips, C. (2002). Jewelry from Art Nouveau to Art Deco. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 59(4), 2-48.

Online Resources:

Metropolitan Design Museum. Paul Lobel Collection. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/482753

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Paul Lobel Jewelry. https://collections.mfa.org/download/459063

Sotheby’s. (2015). Paul Lobel: Master of Midcentury Modernist Jewelry Design. https://kammteapotfoundation.org/modernism-lobel-puiforcat/

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