Salvador Dali'S Jewelry
Jewelry designed by Salvador Dali is the hot ticket these days at auction and museums. Three major exhibits are spotlighting the jeweled versions of his surrealism this year.
Eye of Time watch of blue enamel, diamonds, platinum and cabochon ruby. “Man cannot escape or change his time. The eye sees the present and the future.” -Dali
“My art encompasses physics, mathematics, architecture, nuclear science – the psycho-nuclear, the mystico-nuclear – and jewelry – not paint alone,” Dali wrote in the 1959 catalog Dalí: A Study of his Art-in-Jewels. “My jewels are a protest against emphasis upon the cost of the materials of jewelry.
“Honeycomb Heart” brooch by Salvador Dalí of 18k gold, diamonds and rubies, c. 1953-1954, offered with matching earrings at Sotheby’s in 2006
“My object is to show the jeweler’s art in true perspective – where the design and craftsmanship are to be valued above the material worth of the gems, as in Renaissance times."
Dali had everything to do with the design but little to do with the craftsmanship of his jewels. Like most Modern artists who experimented with jewelry, he relied on others for that – specifically, New York goldsmith Carlos Alemany.
But Dali personally selected the stones: rubies to represent energy, sapphires tranquility and lapis lazuli the subconscious mind. His early attempts produced striking, bejeweled translations of his surrealist paintings: hearts bursting open and dripping blood, eyes weeping and melting, sensuous lips.
Mae West’s come-hither smile inspired this 1949 brooch. “Poets of the ages, of all lands, write of ruby lips and teeth like pearls.” -Dali
Years later, Dali produced an uninspired series of commemorative medallions for operas which were widely copied. “Dali’s jewelry is a mixed bag,” Joan Sonnabend told me in 2000. “Those extraordinary early pieces are rare and hard to find.” Sonnabend helped create the demand for artist-made jewelry in the early ’70s at Sculpture to Wear, the Manhattan gallery where she sold jewels by famous artists, including Picasso. Dali was one artist whose work she avoided. “The world was flooded with phony Dalis,” she said.
Dalí was a prolific jewelry designer by the time that 1959 catalog was published for the Owen Cheatham Foundation. “Though many of Dali’s jewels would also amuse the most surfeited, others startle with a note that is not common in such expensive objects, for they explode with agony,” wrote the late A. Hyatt Major, then curator of prints for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the foreword. “Crystals pierce; rubies bleed.”