The women in Man Ray’s life, as well as his wider reverence for the female form, were reflected in his jewels. He always kept the wearer in mind; never impractical or obtrusive, his jewels played with illusion, language and form as he employed the medium to further explore the artistic preoccupations of his career.
He made several pieces with Italian jeweller, and friend, GianCarlo Montebello in the 1960s and 70s, some of which were based on earlier designs.
Man Ray’s artistic output in the 1930s was profoundly influenced by his passionate relationship with fellow artist and muse Lee Miller. These years saw some of his most sensual and sexually charged images. Though the relationship ended acrimoniously, Miller’s voluminous lips became a recurring image in Man Ray’s work.
Optic Topic Mask, 1974/1987, Photographed by Alexander English.
They are the subject of his 1975 necklace, Les Amoureux, and his famous 1931 canvas, A L’heure de l’Observatoire – les Amoureux. This was painted in Miller’s memory after the couple parted. Man Ray worked and re-worked the canvas over two years while it hung above his bed. Though conceived when Man Ray had returned to America, the recurring image of an eye was also closely linked to Miller. Indeed, an image of Miller’s eye was used in Indestructible Object, one of his most famous surrealist works.
In 1961, Man Ray made La Jolie, his first piece of jewellery in precious metal, created for the celebrated International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890-1961’, held at Goldsmiths’ Hall, London. The catalogue only carried one line of description (for all other entries there were ten to fifteen lines of text): ‘660A Pendant 1961 gold, face. Lent by the designer.’ He redesigned La Jolie in 1970, when Montebello and Man Ray finally met and published the piece in an edition of twelve. It was made of 24ct gold and is the profile of Juliet, Man Ray’s wife, with whom Montebello was very friendly. The eye is made of a large lapis lazuli stone (as befitted his blue-eyed wife), which can be seen equally well from both sides. Executed in 24ct gold, only the highest carat was deemed precious enough for Juliet.
The known extent of Man Ray’s collaborations with Montebello stretches to seven works, including Le Trou, The Oculist, Optic Topic Mask, La Jolie, Hommage, Pendantif-Pendant earrings (of which there were several versions and are so famously photographed on Catherine Deneuve) and Les Amoureux. These editions formed the bulk of his jewellery oeuvre but there are other editions created with different makers known to exist.