American jewelry designer
Born: Klagenfurt, Austria, in 1944. Education: Art Academy, Perugia, Italy; Zeichenakademie, Hanau, West Germany. Family: Married Bruce Cummings, 1970. Career: Joined Tiffany & Co., 1967; designed first full jewelry collection under own name, 1975; started Angela Cummings, Inc., 1984; launched first branded in-store boutique, at Bergdorf Goodman, 1984; designed accents for Candie's shoes for charitable line, 1997; designed limited-edition compact for Estée Lauder exhibition, 2001. Address: 730 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10019 USA.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York,1996.
Loring, John, Tiffany Jewels, New York, 1999.
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Duka, John, "An Angela Cummings Shop," in the New York Times, 21 February 1984.
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Beard, Patricia, "Country Charm," in Harper's Bazaar, October 1990.
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——, "Comfortable and Beautiful: Cummings' New Jewelry Combines Abstract Design, Soft Finishes," on CNN Interactive, 21 February 1999.
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Born in Klagenfurt, Austria, in 1944, Angela Cummings moved to the United States with her family at age three. She returned to Europe to study at the Art Academy in Perugia, Italy, and in 1967 earned degrees in goldsmithing and gemology from Zeichenakademie in Hanau, West Germany. Upon graduation at age 23, she moved to New York and immediately joined Tiffany & Company, where she remained until 1984. After creating her first full collection under her own name in 1975, she became one of a small group of well-known, innovative jewelry designers (along with Paloma Picasso, Jean Schlumberger, and Elsa Peretti) associated with Tiffany.
Several representative examples of Cummings' work for Tiffany were featured in a September 1982 People magazine article, including a $38,000 gold-and-diamond spiderweb necklace; $12,000 earrings made of gold and diamonds and 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 her bestselling jewlery 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. According to Working Woman magazine, her line was bringing in $10 million in revenues by 1982.
Cummings was known mainly for working in 18-karat gold as well as platinum and sterling silver, highlighted with exquisite gems. But she often mixed these materials with unconventional counterpoints such as wood. She experimented with classic jewelry-making techniques, such as inlaying precious metals into iron, a process known as damascene, and broke the rules of high-end jewelry early in her career by using lots of color.
The inspiration for Cummings' work is rooted in nature. She incorporates forms such as ginkgo leaves, spiderwebs, vines, shells, feathers, sea foam, dragonflies, and orchids into her jewelry. Cummings is known for her innovation, trompe d'?il effects, intricate designs, attention to the surface of the metal, and her concern with the smallest of details. Her work has been praised by critics as well as loved by customers.
In 1984 Cummings left Tiffany to form her own business with her husband, Bruce Cummings, a former Tiffany gemologist whom she had married in 1970. One of the reasons Cummings decided to leave Tiffany was to have more control over her work. She wanted to expand into other categories such as tabletop accessories, leather goods, and flatware, and she hoped to expand her price range so her pieces would be more affordable. She opened her first boutique across the street from Tiffany at the upscale Bergdorf Goodman department store. The 500-square-foot space, a first for a jewelry designer at the Fifth Avenue retailer, was located in the middle of the first floor. Soon Cummings had other boutiques in stores such as Bloomingdale's and Macy's San Francisco.
Cummings' first collection as an independent included a great deal of silver—she had not been allowed to sign her silver works at Tiffany—as well her trademark gold. A February 1984 article in the New York Times about her new boutique detailed several of her new, unique pieces: a linked necklace made of gold with an etched woodgrain surface; a matching cuff and collar of inlaid black opals; an inlaid black opal necklace of gold, with links shaped like orchids; gold and burnished silver pieces inlaid with a zebra pattern of black jade; and a necklace of South Sea pearls with a 4.5-carat (total) diamond clasp. Although the collection included many of the high-end pieces for which Cummings had long been known (the top price was $117,000), there were also items as low as $30. In addition, she mirrored some of the same designs in different media to appeal to a broad range of customers. Thirty percent of the items were nonjewelry pieces, including tableware and leather goods; she has since moved into other categories such as watches. Cummings also established international operations in Japan and elsewhere.
In 1997 Candie's shoe company partnered with several jewelry designers to create a line of footwear to benefit the American Cancer Society. Cummings designed metal accessories for four styles of shoes in the line, each pair of which retailed for $180 to $350. Her simple accents for the slip-ons included a single, squared gold button at the top of the shoe.
Style and fashion guru Elsa Klensch of CNN has noted that many Cummings pieces during the late 1990s featured movement, such as through 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 is not only eye-catching but extends this illusion of movement. Some of her creations have been influenced by Asian motifs, such as gold bracelets, earrings, and necklaces with a cloud-like shape incorporating jade into the design. Cummings often designs around a particularly beautiful stone, whether an emerald or a semiprecious stone such as tourmaline or peridot.
Cummings' 1999 collection was described by Klench as more abstract than her organic designs of the past, although they retained 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 illustrated in the brushed finishes; she has said that to achieve more light in a piece, she would rather use additional diamonds than a highly polished metal.
In 2001 Cummings designed a limited-edition compact called Beautiful Blossom to house an Estée Lauder perfume called aptly titled Beautiful. The work debuted at Estée Lauder's Solid Perfume Compact Exhibit in Washington, D.C., after which it was sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.
Although Cummings continues to favor organic designs, she sometimes surprises by adding geometric pieces to her collections. Yet one goal remains constant: the finished piece has to be comfortable. The beauty of an Angela Cummings jewelry design is undisputed, but the comfort it provides to the wearer is always a top priority.