Throughout the 1950s, Dalí dreamed up ever more intricate and fantastical designs. With the help of Argentina-born jeweler Carlos Alemany, who ran a workshop in the St. Regis Hotel, these complicated visions were realized in spectacular fashion. Most were one-offs, crafted from luxurious arrays of sapphires, emeralds, lapis lazuli, or malachite from the Belgian Congo.
Some were even mechanical, like a diamond-encrusted flower whose petals opened and closed or a ruby brooch in the shape of a steadily pulsing heart
. A fully articulated starfish made from rows of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and a single central pearl would go limp when picked up and could then be arranged to cling to a wearer’s arm or hand—or even breast, like one former owner who wore it with an asymmetrical dress.
By this time, Dalí had been expelled from the Surrealist movement. In 1934, he’d been put on “trial” by
, and by the end of the 1940s, his work was no longer included in Surrealist shows. He had instead begun to style himself as an artist in the tradition of the Renaissance masters. In the introduction of a 1959 catalogue of his jewels, Dalí wrote: “Paladin of a new Renaissance, I too refuse to be confined. My art encompasses physics, mathematics, architecture, nuclear science—the psycho-nuclear, the mystico-nuclear—and jewelry—not paint alone.”
As Dalí expert Elliott H. King notes, during these decades “his work became more multifarious, encompassing sculpture, advertising, ballet designs. He was just doing things that were very different from what people expected artists to do.” Critics were not impressed by this range—rather, they viewed Dalí’s new ventures as merely commercial, a sign of his descent into excess and frivolity.
In fact, art historical scholarship ignored the second half of the artist’s life so thoroughly that, initially, King said he simply assumed Dalí had died in 1940. “All of the books in the ’80s and ’90s stopped then,” he explained with a laugh. “I had no idea he kept working for another 40 years.”