The Art of Fine Jewelry

Most jewelry is just jewelry—pretty, wearable ornaments for the body—but some pieces rise above the ordinary to the level of wearable art. Art critics, historians, and conservators often consider jewelry to be a minor art at best, with their highest accolades reserved for larger works such as painting and sculpture. Ironically, many artists, recognized for their larger works, are also accomplished goldsmiths and jewelers.

Cillini's Perseus

Cellini’s Perseus with Head of Medusa


Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini was renowned for his heroic bronze sculpture of Perseus, but he considered himself a goldsmith. Salvador Dali, whose surrealist paintings grace many museums and galleries, designed a lot of jewelry and small religious objects. Rene’ Lalique, known for his beautiful works in glass, really found his niche as a jewelry designer.

We call ourselves MONTANARI Fine Art Jewelers, because I firmly believe that jewelry making is an art form. Though we often find ourselves engaged in mundane pursuits, such as changing watch batteries or sizing rings, our real joy comes from the creative process of combining excellent materials with fine craftsmanship and innovative design. When mixing these ingredients, something beautiful usually results. Whether deliberately or by accident, now and then we cross the line and create art. And just exactly what is art? Don’t ask me. But I’m pretty sure we hit the target now and then.

Trilliant Solitaire Ring

Montanari Trilliant Solitaire Ring


Joe Montanari


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A Dazzling Floral Basket

while back, we were approached with a challenging task. We were presented with a handful of diamond rings, some inherited from family and some acquired in years past, none of which suited the client’s current lifestyle. She asked us to design a large circular pendant, somewhat larger than a silver dollar, that would contain all of her diamonds and show them to their best advantage.

The object was to create a new design, incorporating all the stones, without having any left over, and without having to add any additional ones. After careful examination of the diamonds, we discovered that there were 104 small stones, six of which were square and the rest round, of many different sizes and cutting patterns.

We puzzled over the design for a week or two, trying every           conceivable geometric arrangement, concentric circles, star bursts, spokes on a wheel, spirals, and snowflakes, but the numbers and sizes just didn’t work.  There were either too many diamonds of one size or not enough of another. Frustrated, we contacted the client and suggested an entirely different approach, abandoning the geometric pattern, opting instead for a representational concept. Perhaps we could depict some object or scene within a circle, that would give us more  flexibility with respect to the diamond sizes.

We suggested a floral theme. Flowers may all look alike, but they are rarely exactly alike, and that fact gave us the “wiggle room” we needed. In the series of photos, you can see the sequence of steps required to create this complex piece of jewelry.


This photo shows the initial crude pen and ink drawing, showing the layout, location, and spacing of the various sizes of diamonds.


This photo shows the flower blossoms hand-forged in 14 karat white gold and set with some of the diamonds. Randy’s wonderful diamond setting skill is evident here.


This photo shows the various elements embedded in clay, which was done in order to visualize their exact placement and to mark the position of the diamonds to be set in the border.


This last photo shows the finished piece with all 104 diamonds in place and all the flowers with their “stems” attached.

Several days of careful hand work produced this pretty floral       bouquet, and, as you can see, the results are worth the effort. We     transformed some out-of-style rings that our client never wore into a signature piece she wears often and truly enjoys. I know she was pleased, because her eyes teared up a little, partly from writing the check, I suppose, but mostly from the joy of owning a beautiful new dazzler!


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Diamond Tidbits

  • That diamonds are 100 times harder than the next hardest material known? Yes. The incredibly hard man-made industrial abrasive scores 9.25 on the hardness scale, even harder than sapphire, but still vastly softer than diamond at 10.
  • That diamonds can be “nuked” to produce a wide array of fancy colors? Since the 1960s, technicians have bombarded off-color white diamonds with gamma particles to produce wonderful blue, blue green, yellow, orange, brown, and pink diamonds.  The delightful vivid colors produced by irradiation are permanent, and these “color-treated” diamonds are much less expensive than their natural color counterparts.
  • That diamonds really are forever? Yes, or nearly so. According to current geological theory, diamonds were formed when Earth was in its infancy, more than 3.3 billion years ago. Now, 3.3 billion years ago may not be absolutely forever, but its a long, long, time, and close enough for us.
  • That most all diamonds existing today were mined in the past 150 years? Yes. Although diamonds were known to the ancient Greeks, before the discovery of the rich diamond fields in Africa in 1864, there were very few diamonds to be had. A few trickled out of India, and a few more from Brazil and Venezuela, but not enough to create a commercial market. Before 1864, diamonds were owned almost exclusively by the aristocracy. Improved diamond mining and cutting technologies of the mid-1800’s, together with the discovery of the rich African mines, made it possible for middle class consumers to own diamonds for the very first time in history.
  • That a black diamond is a white diamond gone bad? Yes. Cut mostly as a novelty, black diamonds are colorless diamonds with so many dark “inclusions” that the whole stone appears to be black, and it is believed that some even fell to Earth as meteorites.


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