If you fancy the fine arts in the Hamptons or Palm Beach, Donna Schneier needs no introduction. The longtime art consultant and jewelry collector has been renowned and respected in the field for the better part of six decades. A native Floridian and New York transplant, Schneier has a keen eye for the timeless and inimitable.
While to some, jewelry may be an accessory to their “Sunday finest,” to Schneier, a bracelet, necklace or earring is a wearable work of art. Each article is individual in its own right, and pieces of art jewelry possess intrinsic characteristics that display their artist’s expressions.
Much like an admired portrait, a piece of art jewelry similarly purveys its artist’s intents, feelings as well as external effects of the era. By this measure, art tells the story of history, displayed through timeless works of jewelry.
“In the 1960s, art jewelry exploded on the scene in Europe,” Schneier says. “It was explosive, indeed, and innovative. Oftentimes unwearable, these same characteristics continued through the 1970s and 1980s. As the climate changed across the globe, such as in the 1990s when things got quieter, so did the art of jewelry.
“Like any great novel or painting, for art jewelry to be great it has to be the art of its time,” she continues. “The political situation, the economic circumstances, are always reflected in artwork — art jewelry also does this.”
With a collection that largely encompasses this era, dating to the latter half of the 20th century, Schneier has broadened people’s horizons and their appreciation for art jewelry. Schneier says that art jewelry is unique, because regardless of your previous experiences with it, whether considered a novice or a connoisseur, it can be appreciated.
“The jewelry in my collection is so innovative and inspiring, even the most uninformed person can appreciate the work,” she says. “No matter who you are, you can appreciate the excitement of finding a new piece of art-to-wear jewelry.”
Schneier is the founder and host of Bijoux — meaning “jewelry” in French. The exhibition, which is oftentimes called her brainchild by those who attend, offers a viewing and shopping exhibit. Regarded as one of the nation’s largest and most important jewelry shows, Schneier takes an active role in identifying and preserving notable, groundbreaking and historically significant art jewelry.
“Bijoux is like Macy’s at Christmas,” Schneier says. “It’s really wild.
“The art jewelry movement really evolved in the second half of the 20th century, and I started collecting it,” she adds. “At the time, I sold 20th century ceramics and glass and realized quickly that I could not collect what I sold. So, I looked at this rather new movement, decided yes, this is what I wanted to collect, and that’s what I did.
“After some time, I approached the Museum of Art and Design in New York and I suggested we hold an event — originally called LOOT — in 1994,” she continues. “It began and it is still running to this day, though now it’s called Mad for Jewelry. When I came down to Palm Beach, I thought of starting Florida’s version of that, which is where Bijoux got its start.”
The exhibition, which features national and international leaders in the industry, is hosted at the prestigious Boca Raton Museum. Going on its 14th year, the exclusive exhibition brings the epicenter of the art jewelry world to beautiful Palm Beach County.
Residents await Bijoux every year in Palm Beach, but in New York, Schneier remains notable for her own personal collection of art jewelry. The vast compilation of culture represented in her collection led her to donate 200 works to New York’s iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Once the gift was accepted, the Met’s leadership determined it appropriate to exhibit nearly 80 works, for which they produced a catalog. While each of the works was distinctly unique and from various artists, Schneier says that together they told a beautiful story about the history of art jewelry — beginning in the early 1960s and continuing through the early 21st century.
“When people first looked at my collection, they noted the diversity,” she says. “They asked, ‘Why didn’t you collect just one type of art jewelry?’ I replied that I only collected what moved the field forward. In other words, I didn’t collect just what I liked, I collected what I thought moved the envelope forward.
“It is my opinion that in order for a work to be considered great, it needs to be innovative,” she continues. “The artist needs to design and execute it themselves. It doesn’t meet the requirement if the artist just designs jewelry,”
Schneier notes that the famed Picasso did so, but his works never qualified for her collection.
“They need to do it themselves — no casting, no throwing it in a mold,” she says. “Sometimes an artist can create something wonderful, but it’s just an accident by the artist. To me, that doesn’t mean much. It needs to be deliberately designed and conceived by the artist. It’s part of the work for the artist to be established and serious, making a commitment to the field.”
When asked what keeps her inspired to do more, Schneier describes the experience of uncovering an inimitable piece of jewelry for the first time.
“They give you an intellectual surprise,” Schneier says. “When you come across a work that moves the envelope of art jewelry forward, you get a visceral reaction. It’s like a big touchdown in a game of football. Uncovering these works is more than mental, it’s physical, it hits you in the stomach, and it excites your whole body.”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.