Jewelry maker Anthony Lent honed his skills among master goldsmiths in Europe. Through old-fashioned craftsmanship and an eye for classic motifs that continue to intrigue, he takes long-established traditions and creates modern pieces full of whimsy, refinement, and delight. His work is a natural complement to the masterpieces on display in Making Marvels: Science and Splendor in the Courts of Europe—and we’re proud to feature his designs in the show’s exhibition store. Earlier this month, we asked Lent a few questions.
How did you get your start as a jewelry designer?
After studying Industrial Design at Pratt, then sculpture, glass, and metals at the Philadelphia College of Art, I found that the work I wanted to emulate was that of Renaissance metalsmiths. I began working as a jeweler for a small shop on Sansom Street—Philadelphia’s jewelers’ row. I immediately realized that I needed classic, formal training in goldsmithing. I set off to study in Europe, and was accepted at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany.
What is new about this ancient art, and what has stayed the same over time?
The “art” of goldsmithing has remained basically unchanged for centuries. The basic tools are still the same: heat, hammer, polish. With the Industrial Revolution came mass-production stamping tools, and in the late 19th century, the use of gas for soldering and melting. The early 20th century brought bottled gas and oxygen, which allowed the working of platinum, and delicate soldering.
The development of centrifugal casting after World War II revolutionized the jewelry industry and greatly simplified production. The most powerful changes have been with the 21st century and the development of the laser, really working with light (thank you Einstein!). The laser gives us the power to cut and weld with the power of the sun—and the complete integration of the laser with the digital world opens unseen and yet-undreamed-of possibilities to create, design, and manufacture.
All of these new tools simply add to our toolbox. I am embracing the new technology alongside the traditional tools I have worked with for 40 years. My shop has 19th-century stamping tools, a modern hydraulic press, and laser welders.
Do you have a favorite artwork in The Met collection? Favorite gallery? Department?
So many—and they are always changing, I fall in love every time I’m there. I have always been captivated by the French terracottas, particularly the amazing work of Claude Michel (or “Clodion”). Rodin also is continually inspiring.
What inspired your sunface and moonface designs?
Late 19th- and early 20th-century children’s illustrations, comics, fantasy, and science fiction were the main sources. I never found an image I could directly develop, so after much searching, the images I developed came out of my own head, perhaps from the collective unconscious.
Your skull designs are both very beautiful and slightly macabre. What kind of customer did you create them for?
The skulls developed from my automata “Mr. Bones,” a large dancing sterling silver skeleton based on Andreas Vesalius’s 16th-century anatomy. (Mr. Bones is one of a series of automata designed and constructed with my associate Steven Parker.) As I saw that the skull was invading popular culture, bringing the motif into my jewelry world was easy. The customers for the skulls are varied, from hipsters to physicians to fashionistas—not forgetting the biker world.
What excites you the most about jewelry making?
There is always a new door to explore, in every way—from inspiration, to process, to marketing. The world just gets bigger and bigger.
What’s the one piece of jewelry every woman should have in her jewelry box?
The answer is simple: the Moonface ear posts or pendant.
Find Anthony Lent’s assortment of pendant necklaces, earrings, rings, and more at the Making Marvels exhibition store at The Met Fifth Avenue, through March 1, 2020—and shop art-inspired jewelry all year round at store.metmuseum.org.