‘Simply Brilliant’ ’60s and ’70s artist-designed jewelry

A break from the family business and a trip to Europe led Kim Klosterman to begin what would become one of the world’s most important private collections of 1960s and 1970s artist-designed jewelry. 

You can see part of her collection of artistic pieces reflecting the era at the Cincinnati Art Museum beginning Oct. 22. “Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s,” which runs through Feb. 6, showcases approximately 120 pieces from Klosterman’s collection and shines a light on jewelers who might otherwise be forgotten.

Kim Klosterman
Kim Klosterman wearing a piece of artist-designed jewelry from her collection

The collection begins

That collection got its start around 1996, when Klosterman wanted a break from the family business, Klosterman Baking Company. She and husband Michael Lowe sold some art and headed to Europe for six months.

But Klosterman wasn’t one to spend her time off doing nothing. Jewelry had already piqued her interest – a love she traces back to her grandmothers – so she took an intensive course on the topic from Sotheby’s Institute in London. Amanda Triossi, jewelry historian and the course’s instructor, showed Klosterman her collection of 1960s and 1970s jewelry.

“This jewelry was big and bold and made with all kinds of unusual materials,” Klosterman said. “It was something I’d never seen before, and I immediately took to it.” 

The mostly yellow gold, large-scale pieces incorporate precious and semiprecious stones. Inspired by nature and the Space Age, they contain unusual materials, including crystalized gemstones, coral, shells, even animal hair – “a lot of materials that are drawn straight from the earth or the sea,” as Cynthia Amnéus, chief curator and curator of fashion arts and textiles at the Cincinnati Art Museum, describes it. 

Klosterman started searching for ’60s and ’70s artist-designed pieces at jewelry shows, auctions and antique stores. She bought what she liked and researched the pieces later, often through their maker’s marks. Information about the jewelers was scarce back then, so she researched the 1961 Goldsmiths’ Hall exhibition in London and perused old issues of Vogue at the library. 

“A lot of it was learning as I went along,” she said.

Selling jewelry became her side gig – and helped fund her collection. 

“I woke up one morning and said ‘I think I’ll sell jewelry,’ and that was my business plan. It was all passion.”

Choosing which pieces to sell at www.kklostermanjewelry.com can be a numbers game. Celebrated jewelers of the period often created one-of-a-kind or limited-edition pieces, she explains. The pieces she sells were produced in multiples, but all the pieces are “wonderful and wearable” (and yes, she wears her own pieces).

“I was really concentrating on a collection that was museum-worthy,” she said.

Sharing the brilliance of artist-designed jewelry 

Klosterman has loaned some of her 450 pieces to museums in the past, but she hasn’t done an exhibition on the scale of this one, which has already been shown in Belgium and Germany.

“Many of these people were very heralded in the ’60s and ’70s, but they’ve long been forgotten,” Amnéus said. “I think it’s really important to bring them back to people’s minds.

“We set out to give the public and scholars an overview of the period, what instigated the change in fine jewelry at that time and to put these makers in context,” she added.

The exhibition’s design pays homage to prominent modern jeweler Andrew Grima’s London storefront circa 1966. Psychedelic graphics, along with music and women’s fashions from the period (Pucci, a miniskirt and a trouser outfit, to name a few), will help set the ’60s/’70s mood.

“It was a time of really tumultuous change,” Amnéus said. “We have the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassinations, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the Pill, free love.” 

Change was happening in the world of jewelry, too, where many makers were artists first and approached jewelry as such, she said.

“They wanted their work to be the focal point rather than an accessory to what people were wearing,” Amnéus said. “It was very much the zeitgeist of the period. Everything was changing, and jewelers were eager to change how they looked at their jewelry making as well.” 

The exhibition highlights independent jewelers such as Grima, Gilbert Albert, Arthur King, Jean Vendome and Barbara Anton as well as pieces created for major jewelry houses such as Bulgari, Cartier and Boucheron. Some jewelry houses set up separate boutiques with female salespeople (“unheard of at the time”), music and this more avant-garde jewelry, Amnéus said. 

“They wanted to hang onto their more conservative clients and their more conservative lines, but they also wanted to invest in a younger, more contemporary, more modern group,” she said.

They sold to the “jet set” – famous women like Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Liz Taylor – and many ran in those circles as well, Klosterman said. Pieces were expensive at the time; today, Klosterman’s collection is so valuable that she stores it in a vault. 

“Kim’s collection is probably the most comprehensive anywhere that I’m aware of in the world,” Amnéus said. “It’s something that most people and most museums haven’t seen or don’t collect.”

“When I proposed the show in 2015 to the Cincinnati Art Museum, I had made up my mind that it was time to share the knowledge I have of this material,” Klosterman said. “I just felt like it was time to really let the world know about these jewelers, who … for one reason or another may not have survived jewelry history.”

Kim Klosterman
Kim Klosterman

Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the ’60s and ’70s

When: Oct. 22–Feb., 6. Amanda Triossi will give a lecture after the Oct. 21 members opening.

Where: Vance Waddell and Mayerson Galleries, Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Dr.

Cost: Free 

www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org/simplybrilliant

Leave a Reply