Austrian • 1944
Born Angela Baumker in Austria, in 1944, Cummings grew up outside Washington D.C. when her family moved to the United States in 1947, and she returned to Europe to study painting in Perugia, Italy at the Accademia di Belle Arti. She then moved onto a degree course in gemology, goldsmithing, and design at the Staatliche Zeichenakademie in Hanau, Germany. Deciding New York was the place to be in the late 1960s, she went back to the United States, and, as she later related, simply walked into Tiffany with her portfolio and asked for a job; she was hired by Tiffany chairman Walter Hoving, as Donald Claflin’s assistant in 1967, and soon began creating her own designs, becoming a Tiffany named designer in 1974. Her first collection was in wood, inlaid with diamonds, and intricate hand-crafted inlay became her signature, featuring materials such as black jade, red jasper, mother-of-pearl, coral, lapis lazuli, and green aventurine. In the same spirit, she revived and adapted the ancient technique of damascening, inlaying precious metals into blackened steel, in modern, geometric designs, squares, or bouncy circles, combining age-old Orientalist craft skills with sleek, contemporary Western design. Her main inspiration, however, came from nature; a keen gardener and animal lover, Cummings found new ways to translate leaves, flowers, rose petals, and insects – including the gossamer openwork wing motif – in gold and gems, stylized, yet soft, fluid and lyrical, with a rhythmic sensuality. She also worked with beads, giving them a new sense of movement in twisted torsade necklaces. Her jewels embodied modern femininity, and in Cummings’ own quiet, low-key way, they rebelled against the jewel as a show of wealth or status.
In 1984, Angela and her husband, Bruce Cummings, a Tiffany gemologist, took the decision to strike out on their own and establish their own business and design studio, Angela Cummings Inc. Cummings was the first fine jewelry designer to be given her own boutique within Bergdorf Goodman, New York, and its success led to other boutiques and outlets in the U.S and around the world. Her newfound freedom meant that Cummings could also explore other design disciplines, gifts, accessories, and tableware. In 1990 she formed a collaboration with Shiseido, opening shops across Tokyo including a flagship store in Ginza.