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Angela Cummings

Angela Cummings (b. 1944) In April 2003, The New York Times published an article that surprised many in the jewelry trade: Angela Cummings, one of America’s best-known jewelry designers planned to close her Manhattan office, pay off her staff, and withdraw all her diamond, gold, moonstone, and enameled inventory, plus close the eponymous boutiques offered in her two main outlets, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, effective June 1 of that year.

The early 2000’s were a difficult time for retailers especially those designing jewelry and apparel for department stores. Perhaps, the stores sensed the growth of online sales and were trying to get the designers to pay them more for the privilege of offering their wares. In Ms. Cumming’s case, she declared that she wanted to spend more time building a house in Utah.

At that time, Ms. Cummings, who began her career at Tiffany’s in 1968 and formed her own business in 1984, owned 100 percent of the jewelry displayed in her 13 Neiman Marcus boutiques. Simultaneous speculation also suggested that Ms. Cummings was quitting because the Hong Kong factory that did the delicate inlays that made her famous — jade, lapis lazuli and mother of pearl set in gold — was not doing that type of work anymore. Ms. Cummings denied the suggestion even though that factory was no longer her supplier. In fact the said that she had already begun embracing elaborate enamelwork – e.g. one gold necklace with glowing enameled cherries hanging from it — to replace the inlay designs.

Cummings was born in Klagenfurt, Austria but raised in America from the age of three after re-locating with her family in 1947.She returned to Europe to study painting in Perugia, Italy at the Accademia di Belle Arti and, for advanced studies including a degree as a gemologist, goldsmith, and designer, from Staatliche Zeichenakademie in Hanau, Germany.

After returning to New York, she joined Tiffany & Co. working under the guidance of Donald Claffin for several years before launching her first full collection under her own name in 1975. She remained with Tiffany until 1984 during which time she created many beautiful jewels, predominantly in yellow gold and typically featuring inlaid gem materials such as lapis lazuli, jade and mother of pearl as well as coral, wood and opal.

She said that she frequently drew inspiration from nature, in particular the sea, flora and wildlife, one of which was among her best loved designs. The gold Rose Petal necklace and earring suite remain remarkable in their life-like form and detail.

Cummings left Tiffany in 1984 yet remained one of very few identified and promoted jewelry designers to work with the firm. Others include Paloma Picasso, Jean Schlumberger, and Elsa Peretti.

It was also in 1984 that she launched her business, partnering with her husband of fourteen years, Bruce Cummings a gemologist who also worked for Tiffany. It was through her solo work that she began working with a wider range of materials, particularly silver, and in more fields including tableware and accessories.

She opened her first Angela Cummings Fine Jewelry Boutique at Bergdorf Goodman’s on Fifth Avenue and this led to further openings in Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her early collections included a wide range of pieces using gems such as black opals, South Sea pearls, black jade and diamonds with nature inspired motifs, inlay work, and a mixture of both gold and silver. Prices for her pieces now ranged from under $100 to $100,000+. It was her intention to make her work affordable to everyone. Her designs were produced in a range of materials to fit different price points.

She partnered with other companies to produce accessories including the fashion brand Candie’s for whom she created shoe accessories to aid the American Cancer Society. For Estée Lauder she designed a limited edition compact for solid perfume that could also be worn as a pendant and later she worked with the television channel QVC to design a range of silver jewelry.

Cummings is known mainly for working in 18-karat gold as well as platinum and sterling silver, highlighted with exquisite gems. Often, she mixed these materials with unconventional materials such as wood. She has experimented with classic jewelry-making techniques, such as inlaying precious metals into iron, a process known as damascene, and broke rules of high-end jewelry early in her career by using lots of color.

Cummings’ inspiration is rooted in nature. She incorporates forms such as ginkgo leaves, spider webs, vines, shells, feathers, sea foam, dragonflies, and orchids into her jewelry. Cummings is also known for her innovative trompe d’lœil effects, intricate designs, attention to the surface of metal, and her concern with the smallest of details.

Several examples of Cummings’ work for Tiffany were featured in a September 1982 People magazine article, including a $38,000 gold-and-diamond spider web necklace; $12,000 earrings made of gold and diamonds shaped like elm leaves; $150-and-up brooches of 18-karat gold, inspired by seagulls; a $5,800 crocodile bracelet fashioned out of 18-karat gold; and a $1.5 million geometric emerald and diamond necklace. One of Cummings’ bestselling jewelry pieces, a $3,875 petal necklace, was inspired when Cummings held a rose in her hand and accidently crushed it when surprised by a ringing telephone.

CNN’s style guru, Elsa Klensch, noted that many Cummings’ pieces during the late 1990s featured movement including stems that twisted and curving leaves. One necklace called Breakers (1997) was composed of a series of waves going around the neck.

The slightly asymmetrical quality of many of Cummings’ pieces extend the illusion of movement. Some of her creations have been influenced by Asian motifs, such as gold bracelets, earrings, and necklaces with cloud-like shapes that incorporate jade into the design. Cummings often designed around a particularly beautiful stone be it an emerald or a semiprecious stone such as tourmaline or peridot.

Cummings’ 1999 collection was described by Klensch as more abstract than her organic designs although they continued to retain their sculptural quality. Cummings combined semiprecious and precious stones with metals, such as peridot with diamonds and gold. Her sense of color was demonstrated in a piece mixing mauve-, brown-and gold-colored black pearls with diamonds that were also slightly tinted in mauve and brown. Cummings’ sense of texture was demonstrated in the brushed finishes.

In 2001 Cummings designed a limited-edition compact called Beautiful Blossom to house the Estée Lauder perfume, Beautiful.

Among her most prized creations is Fabulous Vintage, earrings made of sterling silver. Each earring is square in shape and has a slightly convex face, carrying a button-like appearance. The entire surface is covered in a weaved, herringbone design that gives the pieces an interesting yet classic look. The earrings are clip-on style and each is stamped “CUMMINGS STERLING” on the back and “STG” on the earring clip. The striking 3-dimensional design on each earring measures a little more than 3/4″ tall and wide with a depth of 1/4”.

Although she “retired” in 2003, Angela could not resist the allure of South Sea pearls and, in 2013, joined forces with Assael to design a capsule collection of very special pieces that highlight the pearl but do not overwhelm it.

Both her signed pieces for Tiffany, created during the 70s and 80s, and also her own subsequent work remain highly collectible, admired for their beauty and recognizable style that Cummings perfected over a lifetime of designing.

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