For more than a decade, Palm Beach County has been home to one of the nation’s largest and most important art jewelry shows, Bijoux. The brainchild of Miami native and New York City transplant Donna Schneier, Bijoux! A Contemporary Art Jewelry Sale offers an incredible annual survey of today’s art jewelry landscape, while also presenting a thrilling shopping experience where attendees can explore and purchase unique treasures on view from the world’s most celebrated and au courant artists.
This year, Bijoux kicks off at its new location, the Boca Raton Museum, on Wednesday, March 23 and continues through Saturday, March 26. It will include numerous international artists and dealers, and, for the first time in the show’s 13-year history, a special symposium from the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, examining all aspects of glass jewelry, a cornerstone of the art jewelry movement.
A longtime collector, Schneier explains that art jewelry isn’t about precious metals and gems — these innovative pieces of wearable art are very different from the expensive baubles, or even couture jewelry one might procure along Palm Beach’s luxurious Worth Avenue. “You have to create the idea for the work yourself,” she says, listing the criteria for artists who want to show at Bijoux. “You have to produce it … you can’t design it like Picasso,” Schneier continues, pointing out that nothing at Bijoux is manufactured. “The artists have to execute it themselves.”
To ensure the quality remains high, Schneier says all Bijoux artists must also earn a living from their work. Everything on display, and for sale, is made by hand in an artist’s studio, promoting it to the realm of art. These objects have meaning beyond simply fashion, accessorizing or demonstrating one’s wealth. “Art jewelry, like any other form of collecting art, is like a code — when someone sees it on you, they realize that you’re really a serious member of the art world. It’s quite elevating for the wearer and the collector,” Schneier says, describing the work as part of a vibrant and evolving movement, like any other major art form.
And she really knows her stuff. Before launching Bijoux in Florida, Schneier first cofounded the internationally renowned LOOT: MAD About Jewelry show at NYC’s Museum of Arts & Design (MAD) when she lived in that city, and it, too, is still going strong. Her eye for and understanding of art jewelry is in fact so keen that 200 pieces she donated from her collection are now part of the permanent collection at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and more than 80 of them were exhibited there for six months in 2014. “I didn’t have anything to leave New York when I left except my collection, and I’m really thrilled that the Met chose to accept it,” Schneier says, noting that she moved to Manalapan in 2007 after living in NYC for more than 50 years.
“Because my goal was always to push the movement forward, I never purchased only what I liked,” she says, explaining how she ended up donating her jewelry to the Met, and why the collection was important enough to warrant an exhibition. “I tried very hard to buy only what I believe moved the movement forward,” Schneier continues, noting that her collection told a story about the history of art jewelry, from its explosion in Europe during the 1960s and ’70s, all the way up through the 1980s and into the 21st century.
Her show at the Met, Unique by Design: Contemporary Jewelry in the Donna Schneier Collection, even had its own catalogue, highlighting the pieces which were designed by some 88 artists from 17 countries. Among the innovators specifically cited by the Met at the time were Thomas Gentille, William Harper, Mary Lee Hu, Hermann Junger, Gijs Bakker, and Peter Chang, along with avant-garde jewelry makers Robert Baines, Ted Noten and Lola Brooks. Though some still used traditional smithing methods to make their pieces, these artists were especially exciting during the adventurous era when they experimented with alternative materials — such as Attai Chen’s use of paper, linen, charcoal and paint, or David Bielander’s combination of elastic polymer and copper-anodized silver. They were creating something new and refreshing that the art world elite could no longer deny or relegate to the art-adjacent “craft” category, which should also be celebrated.
The artists at Bijoux continue the traditions of their forebears, but their prices are far more manageable. Significant, museum-quality pieces from the movement’s history now capture great sums — in the realm of $25,000 and well beyond — at auction or from dealers, Schneier says, explaining that contemporary work remains much more approachable. “$150 to $1,500 is the price range that’s most popular because a woman doesn’t have to ask her husband about that price point,” Schneier continues, describing the average prices for jewelry at Bijoux. “They don’t have to go bring their husband back. It’s pretty accessible, especially in Palm Beach or Boca, which are wealthy communities.”
Bijoux’s top-selling jewelry maker, Israeli glass artist Nirit Dekel, for example, is in very high demand, but her wide range of colorful beaded pieces are typically priced between $600 and $3,500, Schneier says, adding, “It’s astonishing work.” Dekel — who was inspired to leave her career in computers and become an artist after seeing glass artist Dale Chihuly’s “David’s Tower” in Jerusalem — is participating in this year’s glass symposium. American glass jewelry artist Donald Freidlich and Australian Blanche Tilden, who works with discarded lenses from cameras and eyeglasses, are also joining the symposium and showing their work at Bijoux.
These artists represent just a handful of the many talented, contemporary stars setting up shop at the Boca Raton Museum in March. Bijoux is the perfect venue for anyone interested in art jewelry, from the seasoned collector, to neophytes making their very first purchase.
“We changed the face of jewelry in Palm Beach,” Schneier say of Bijoux’s impact locally. “Wherever I go, I hear one statement and one question: ‘Look what I bought at Bijoux!’ And the other is, ‘When is Bijoux, when is Bijoux, when is Bijoux?’ It’s one of the most popular events in Palm Beach County, and we’re looking forward to another successful year.”
For more info about this event, visit bijouxcontemporary.com.