Friedrich Becker (1922–1997)



Friedrich Becker’s precise, functional jewellery remains revolutionary. The German sculptor and goldsmith was a pioneer of kinetic works of art and one of the most important figures in the development of Modernism in contemporary jewellery in the second half of the twentieth century. Rings were at the forefront of his aesthetic and technical experimentation, and he created over 500 ring designs during his lifetime. Becker is well known for his stainless steel jewellery incorporating bespoke cut synthetic stones, but the Goldsmiths’ Company holds nine significant early rings by him in its Collection, all made of precious metal and gemstones.

Rings below, reading clockwise from left:
‘Kugelspannring’, 1957
18 carat gold, interchangeable rutilated quartz, amethyst and chrysoprase beads
Winner of the 1959 Bavarian State Prize
‘Wassertropfen’ (Water Drop) ring, 1966
18 carat gold, topaz
Ring, 1959
18 carat gold

Becker, who initially trained as an aeronautical engineer, was particularly innovative and technically advanced with regards to stone setting. His ring settings are designed to be virtually invisible, so that the gemstones can be seen in the round and appear to be floating. In 1959 he won the prestigious Bavarian State Prize for his ‘Kugelspannring’, a ring design in which an interchangeable spherical gemstone is held in place by tension alone. The hoop of the gold ring sweeps forward to secure the gemstone in two clips so that the hoop and the setting are one; when the hoop is pushed outwards from the inside the two sprung ‘claws’ open up and the gemstone is released, allowing an alternative to be inserted. Becker initially kept the details of the design a mysterious secret; the gold had to be cold forged rather than annealed to give the spring reaction to the metal, and the hoop widens at the back to counterbalance the weight of the gemstone.

Rings below, reading clockwise from left:
Ring, 1962, 18 carat white gold, hematite, carnelian
Ring, 1962, 18 carat gold, amethyst
‘Ring sculpture’, 1959, 18 carat gold

Becker studied at the Werkkunstschule, Düsseldorf in 1947, where he later returned to teach himself as Head of the Department of Metalwork. He exhibited several rings at the 1961 ‘International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery’ at Goldsmiths’ Hall, and the Company held the first solo exhibition of his work in 1966; a number of his rings in the Company Collection were acquired directly from that exhibition. On Becker’s death in 1997, fellow German jeweller Gerd Rothmann recounted his impression of Becker’s jewellery when he had first encountered it decades before: “This innovativeness was not so much a breath of fresh air as a tornado”.

Rings below, reading clockwise from left:
‘Spindelform’ ring, 1958
18 carat gold with rose quartz, amethyst and rock crystal spindles held by tension
This ring is a variation on an earlier design for a ‘two-way ring’ and can be worn so that the spindles are either horizontal or vertical across the finger. The original ‘two-way ring’, developed around 1956, was the prototype for many of Becker’s technical innovations in ring making, and paved the way for his later ‘variable jewellery’, jewels made up of moveable elements which could be worn in myriad different arrangements
Ring, 1962
18 carat gold, smoky quartz

A superb steel and synthetic sapphire bangle by Friedrich Becker is held in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).