At the Cranbrook Academy of Art where Bertoia was a student and then assumed management of the metal shop in the early 1940s, the war was approaching and metal supplies were short. Having dabbled in jewelry at Cass Technical High School, Bertoia began to create silver and gold jewelry which he entered into competitions, showed at local exhibitions, and sold whenever possible. Abstract brooches, heavy bracelets, and lovely pendants were found on many fashionable women in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in those days. Bertoia gained valuable experience with metal working during this time. Many of the tiny jewelry pieces seemed to be precursors of later large sculptures.
The jewelry was sometimes cast, and other times scraped, bent or punched into various shapes and textures. No material was off limits, as we see ebony or cherry wood in the tea pot handles and colored cotton thread in some of the brooches.
He made wedding rings for Charles Eames and himself, as well as other commissioned pieces. The late 1930s and early 1940s saw the bulk of Bertoia’s jewelry creations, although a very few rare gong-like pendants were produced in the 1970s. There was talk of reproducing the mini-gongs for public consumption, but the project did not materialize before his death. The family has pursued a gong pendant, as well as a brooch, and a ring; these are available as exact reproductions in sterling silver in a limited edition. This is an exciting offer, as the reproductions are high quality and indistinguishable from the originals. The jewelry reproductions are now available and can be seen at our store.
Right away (at Cranbrook) we began to hear of the Bauhaus and other schools and what was happening in such centers… One begins to benefit from every direction. It was among the very best times of my life.