Designer Profile: Angela Cummings for Assael Pearls

Angela Cummings is recognized by jewelry historians, curators and collectors alike as one of the most important fine jewelry designers of the modern age — and a star in the pantheon of women jewelry designers. Throughout her 50+ year career, her extraordinary jewelry has reflected her love of nature, as well as the three-dimensional art of sculpture. The Angela Cummings for Assael Collection perpetuated that love of nature—and the sea—with stunning jewels featuring the world’s most magnificent pearls.

“Angela Cummings’ designs for Assael are both timely and timeless,” says Assael President and CEO Christina Lang Assael. ”They appeal to everyone from collectors of her earliest work to a new generation of pearl girls—and boys! This is contemporary pearl jewelry by one of the leading designers of the modern era.”

The Past Is Prologue

Angela Cummings early designs for Tiffany & Co.

Born in Austria in 1944, Cummings grew up outside Washington, D.C. As a young woman she returned to Europe to study painting in Italy and went on to earn degrees in gemology and goldsmithing in Germany. Once back the States, in 1967, she was hired “on the spot” by Tiffany & Co. as an in-house designer, serving as assistant to the legendary Donald Claflin. In 1974, she became the first woman to be awarded a named collection, “Angela Cummings Exclusively for Tiffany & Co.” Named collections by Elsa Peretti and Paloma Picasso would soon follow, rounding out a triumvirate of formidable female designers at Tiffany.

In 1984, Cummings and her husband Bruce founded Angela Cummings Inc., an independent design studio. Her collections were featured in fine jewelry and department stores worldwide, including her self-named boutique at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. In 2003, the designer retired to Utah to spend more time with her family. A decade later, Assael persuaded her to collaborate on an exclusive collection of South Sea Pearl and Akoya Pearl jewelry, many examples of which celebrate the natural world.

Of course it should come as no surprise that the woman-owned and women-led House of Assael would collaborate with this female titan of jewelry design. “Angela Cummings for Assael reflects a perfect balance of power and sensuality, sophistication and whimsy,” says Peggy Grosz, Senior Vice President of Assael. “With organic themes and sustainable pearls, she hits all the right notes for discerning collectors.”

The Nature of Her Pearls

Clockwise from Upper Left – Diamond Dangling Swirl and South Sea Pearl Earrings by Angela Cummings for Assael, 18K Gold and Diamond Leaf pendant by Angela Cummings for Assael, Akoya Pearl Bib Necklace with Swan Clasp by Angela Cummings for Assael, Wave Ring by Angela Cummings for Assael featuring a 16 – 15.7 mm South Sea Pearl and 2.76 carats of diamonds set  in Platinum and 18K Yellow Gold   

Angela Cummings became famous in the ‘70s and ‘80s for her inlaid designs featuring 18K gold and semiprecious stones such as black jade, red jasper, coral, lapis lazuli, and, notably, mother of pearl. According to esteemed jewelry historian Vivienne Becker, “Shaking up traditions surrounding pearls was a preoccupation for Angela Cummings when she began designing, under her own name, at Tiffany, and it’s interesting to see how she followed this mission in her designs for Assael, in which she plays with the light, luster and shape of pearls.”

Angela Cummings for Assael

Clockwise from Upper Left – Swirl Earrings by Angela Cummings for Assael, South Sea Baroque Pearl and “Coral” Necklace by Angela Cummings for Assael, 18K Gold and South Sea Pearl Scallop Earrings by Angela Cummings for Assael

With motifs including scallops, seahorses, coral branches, and swirls of the ocean’s waves, Angela Cummings’ modern pearl masterpieces for Assael instantly earned collectible heirloom status. Her luxurious South Sea Baroque Pearl Choker and Earrings, for instance, are highlighted with coral-shaped branches studded in diamonds. While her South Sea Pearl Wave Ring with Diamonds is a modern take on classic cocktail rings from the ‘60s and ‘70s, a wonderful right-hand ring or engagement ring for these pearl-centric times.

When it comes to Akoya Pearls, Cummings’ Pearl Bib Necklace with Swan Clasp has reminded at least one collector of the lace collars favored by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg…a strong yet feminine fashion statement. And the designer’s sprightly Thorn Sprig Necklace, available with or without diamonds, frames the face in the unmatched luster of Japanese Akoyas. (Modern brides take note: it can serve as the perfect hair jewel as well.)

Back to the Future

Clockwise from Upper Right – 18K Gold and South Sea Pearl Scroll Necklace by Angela Cummings for Assael, Open Petal Earrings by Angela Cummings for Assael, Greta Gerwig wearing Angela Cummings at 2018 Golden Globe Awards

 In May, 2021, London-based Vivienne Becker co-curated Phillips Flawless X Vivarium: Woman to Woman, a private sale/exhibition of fine jewelry in collaboration with the prestigious Phillips auction house. Becker and her colleagues selected 15 of the most influential 20th and 21st century female jewelry designers, and notably included two of Angela Cummings’ early pieces in their dazzling lineup.

“She was, is certainly one of the great design talents of the 20th century,” concludes Becker, a self-proclaimed “huge fan” of Angela Cummings’ jewelry. “It’s rather wonderful to see her favorite themes interpreted again, now in a new era, for a new generation of jewelry lovers.”

Featured Image at Top, Clockwise from Upper Right – Angela Cummings for Assael 18K Gold Leaf pendant, Angela Cummings wearing a pair of Assael earrings, a detail of an example Angela Cummings scallop design, Thorn Sprig Necklace by Angela Cummings for Assael   

 

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