Josef Hoffmann was a central figure in the evolution of modern design at a time when pretentious ostentation was giving way to more sophisticated and elegant simplicity. If you are looking to add a piece of rare history to your jewelry collection, vintage Josef Hoffman jewelry is one way to get it.
Brief History of Josef Hoffman Jewelry
Josef Hoffmann was born in 1870 in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic). It was not until he was 17 years old that he was able to pursue an education in the arts—his father finally let go of his dream that his son become a lawyer. Josef attended first the Higher School of Arts and Craft in Brno, the capital city of Moravia, then the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. He graduated with a degree in architecture, and his graduation project, updating a Renaissance building, won the Prix de Rome, a prestigious French scholarship that allowed Josef to study in Rome for a year.
When he returned home, he joined an architectural firm, and in 1903 he founded the Wiener Werkstatte (“Vienna Workshop”) with his colleague, Koloman Moser, and a financial backer, Fritz Waerndorfer. The Werkstatte was a cooperative venture of artists and craftsmen who worked together to create works of art, both fine arts and applied arts. One of its purposes was to propagate the belief that all arts were of equal aesthetic value: the architect and glass blower, for example, was as artistic and their works as valued as that of the painter and sculptor.
Jewelry was among the first items produced by the Werkstatte, and Josef its most successful jewelry designer. From his first jewelry designs, he tended toward angular geometric forms and unusual shapes of color. Later, he was influenced by the influx of Japanese prints as were many other artists. The opening up of Japan demonstrated previously unseen two-dimensional designs, sleek outlines and energetic compositions. Josef's designs became less severe, more organic, purer. Within square or rectangular frames, Josef created arabesques of vines, leaves and flowers. The miniature “painting” in colorful shapes of gemstones was contained within a frame. It still is Josef's signature style, and it lands him in the art history annals as an important precursor to the Modernist Movement and Art Deco.
His jewelry was versatile and each piece was a “stand-alone” work of art. The high society of Vienna appreciated, mostly, the feeling that the piece reflected the wearer's personality—and that was not anything that costume jewelry had ever done. Josef's enamels were exceptionally popular with their bold colors used with soft, lighthearted floral designs.
Josef died in 1956. Unfortunately, the younger generation of architects and art historians did not know of him or, if they did, they ignored him and his great contributions to 20th jewelry design. He is now getting his due as more and more collectors become enamored of his singular designs.
Watch Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werktaette:
- “Made in Austria, WW, JH, 900”
- The goddess Diana's crowned head in a circle with “A” for Vienna and “2” for 900/1000
- Stylized “JH”
- Gold Plate
- Jelly Opal
- Lapis Lazuli
- Tiger’s Eye
Noteworthy Collectibles - Vintage Josef Hoffmann Jewelry
Designed by Josef Hoffmann and executed by Johann Souval in enamel and copper at the Wiener Werkstatte in 1910. The round shape is unusual for Josef Hoffmann.
Art Deco Brooch in Sterling Silver and Malachite
Designed by Josef Hoffmann and executed by a Wiener Werkstatte craftsman in 1911-1912
Silver Brooch Foliage Motif in Relief
This elegant silver brooch with a relief-like foliage motif in a “perlschnur” (beaded) frame was designed in 1911.
Made in 1911. Comes with original jewelry box with a gilt “WW” (Wiener Werkstatte) on the front.
Sterling Silver Art Deco Brooch
Brooch made from sterling silver, malachite, opal, lapis lazuli, moonstone and sapphire c. 1908.
There are only 69 rings known to be created by Josef. This one was created 1910-1919.
Tips for Buying Josef Hoffmann Jewelry
- Finding Josef's jewelry is not as easy as some other designers, but once you find a piece, the thrill is worth the wait and the work. Besides, it's not really fun collecting things that you see every day!
- Examine it closely to make sure it is in good condition—particularly the brooches with many different gemstones on them. Wear and tear is not “natural” as some vendors would have you believe.
- Josef did not have a wide variety of hallmarks, so it is easier to verify an authentic signature.
- Ask for a guarantee of authenticity.
- Check the vendor’s reviews and feedback from customers. Make sure they look legitimate and not like they were written by his/her family and friends.
- Read the vendor’s "Shipping and Return Policies."
- Use a safe method of payment, e.g., PayPal, in case of any disputes.
Most websites contain examples of all of Josef's works in addition to jewelry: furniture, glassware, lighting fixtures, vases, home décor accessories, etc. Visit his works on eBay for a general overview, plus it is a good place to keep an eye out for when that perfect brooch is posted.
Also the Josef Hoffman pages on Etsy give a wonderful view of all of his works.