First, yours is a question that I asked myself about 2 years ago.
When I couldn’t find a logical explanation for how the field of art
jewelry arrived at its present state, I began a campaign of
voracious reading, which still continues. To answer your question
very generally, wealth and status started being taken for granted
around 1940 because as Modernist thinkers like Clement Greenberg
asserted the autonomy of Painting and Sculpture. Jewelry makers (and
craft artists) tried to assert the autonomy of jewelry as a form of
expression as well. Once jewelry was taught and institutionalized as
an art discipline in universities, etc. the basic question of
identity became perfunctory. To acknowledge that jewelry functions
as a signifier of wealth and status, and that these signifiers are
fundamental obstacles jewelry being a communicative form of
expression would mean that academics (the people most likely to
write the you are looking for) would have to admit that
jewelry is unique unto itself, and not, in fact, autonomous art. I
probe this issue deeper in my essay Transparency: The Key to
Communication. Here is a link:
Anyhow, the reason that there aren’t very many comprehensive books
is because there aren’t (very many) contemporary jewelry historians,
at least in the US. However there are some good resources to be
If you don’t already read Metalsmith, that is the logical place to
start. It has the best writing about contemporary jewelry theory.
Also, you should check out my blog conceptualmetalsmithing.com
But those don’t really answer your question about how we arrived at
taking wealth and status for granted.
Here is a short bibliography:
Toni Greenbaum - Messengers of Modernism (about the studio
jewelry movement c.1930-60)
Glenn Adamson - Thinking Through Craft (one of the best texts
ever about craft beyond the object)
Jivan Astfalk has published and lectured widely about semiotics
as a lens to view jewelry through. I wonder if this is who Brian
was talking about?
Bruce Metcalf and Janet Koplos are working on a textbook, which
should be out in the relatively near future, about the history of
craft in the 20th century...promising...
Anyhow, that is a start. I invite you to email me for a more in
depth bibliography. @Gabriel_Craig. I would love to know
exactly what you are looking for or what direction you are headed in
that might give me clue as to where to direct you. Also, there is
definitely more writing coming out of the UK, Europe, and Canada
than the US. You might widen your net a bit.