The Glamour of Art Deco Jewelry

The Jazz Age, The Charleston, Flappers, Tutankhamun, Cubism, Graphic Design, Airplanes, Automobiles, Industrialism, Russe Ballet, “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industrials Modernes”, Prohibition, Cocktails and Speakeasies defined the Art Deco era.

When: Art Deco, which encompasses all the decorative arts including jewelry was from 1920 to 1939.  It began to manifest a couple of years before World War I and took off when the war ended, building and evolving until World War II came along. Some jewelry historians refer to 1930s Art Deco as Art Moderne or Modernism. The era is also known as the “style between the wars”. Art Deco was fully launched in 1925 at the Paris “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes” where this new look was on full display.

Famous Makers: Boucheron, Black Starr & Frost, Cartier, Chaumet, Jean Deprès, Georges & Jean Fouquet, Lalique, LaCloche, Mauboussin, Raymond Templier, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Raymond Yard

Motifs: Egyptian, Asian, African and Native American Art, Geometric Forms, Flora and Fauna, Architecture, Tassels

The Look: 1920s Art Deco: Flat, Linear, Symmetrical, Geometric, White on White, Black and White, Bold Color, Long Necklaces. 1930s Art Deco: Bigger, Wider Bracelets; Convertible Jewelry, Rounded Scrolling Forms, Bib and Collar Necklaces

Materials: Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, Rock Crystal, Onyx, Lapis, Coral, Pearls, Carved Gems, Cabochon Gems, Enamel, Lacquer, Platinum, White Gold, Yellow Gold

The 1920s, often referred to as the “Roaring 20s” was a time of great prosperity and innovation. World War I had just ended bringing major societal changes along with it. In particular, the role of women in society had dramatically changed by the early 1920s. During the war years women went to work holding down the jobs that men had held before leaving to join the war effort. Wardrobe changes were a necessity. Working women ditched their corsets, raised their hemlines and shortened their hair so they could move more easily. In the U.S. some women were further empowered when they won the right to vote in 1920. After enduring the hardships of a world war and a global flu pandemic during the previous few years, by the early 1920s people were ready to dress-up and party.

Prohibition laws from 1920 until their repeal in 1933 made the sale and consumption of liquor illegal in the U.S. The law didn’t stop people from imbibing and the speakeasy launched – secret rooms where revelers would drink hidden away from the world. Flappers — the “it” girls of the era — danced the Charleston in speakeasies and scandalously wore hemlines raised up to their knees, seamed stockings, sleeveless shift dresses, sleek bobbed hair and most shocking of all they wore lipstick, rouged their cheeks and smoked cigarettes. Cigarette holders, cases and minaudières adorned with gems were all part of the glamourous look of the era. And of course every outfit was accessorized with sparkling jewelry.

During the Art Deco era, jewelry design was pared down to its most basic elements creating sleek silhouettes that were easy to wear. It was an embracing of machination and the industrialism that was spreading quickly through the world during that time. The white on white look of diamonds and platinum continued from the Edwardian era, but the jewelry became geometric and streamlined and was often punctuated with patterns created from the use of black onyx, black enamel, ruby, sapphire or emerald. Platinum continued its streak of popularity. Diamonds remained a favorite in the 1920s and 1930s, with pavé becoming an important design element. There were also some new advances in diamond cutting and with that came new diamond shapes that complemented the geometry of jewelry designs – including the Asscher cut and the baguette.

Sautoirs — a long necklace comprised of strands of pearls or colored gemstones, often with a tassel of pearls or pearl and colored gemstone beads — swung from the necks of fashionable women. Cultured pearl production ramped up in the early 1920s making the gems more available and their popularity soared. Flappers wore long ropes of pearls — often knotted — sometimes even letting them dangle chicly down the back of a low cut dress.

Shorter hair made statement earrings an important jewel, with long, linear earrings taking centerstage. The style also worked well with the straight, drop waist dresses of the 1920s.

Bracelets were a favorite in the Art Deco era and were often worn over elbow length gloves and stacked together to create maximum high voltage glamour. Diamonds were the base of these flat, linear bracelets which were embellished with colored gemstones that broke up the whiteness of the diamonds while at the same time outlining and amplifying the geometric forms that were a key look of the era. Wider bracelets were often used to tell the stories of exotic places and were embellished with birds, florals and Egyptian motifs, which had become popular with the discovery and opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

The Maharajahs of India also influenced jewelry design in the 1920s as they took carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires to European jewelers and had them turned into extravagant jewels. Cartier was the leader in this colorful look dubbed tutti-frutti.

Rings followed a similar pattern of geometric shapes covered in diamonds with a line of colored gemstones that defined the symmetry of the design. Multiple rings were worn at the same time often with a big center stone and like bracelets, rings were worn on top of gloves. Brooches and dress clips were worn primarily during the day and they were attached to everything from hats, collars and coat lapels to shoes.

The Bandeau was an important part of jewelry fashion in the 1920s.  A headband worn on the forehead and generally crafted from diamonds did double duty by converting to a necklace, bracelets, brooch and/or dress clips.

In October 1929, the stock market collapsed causing the world to fall into an economic depression that left the global economy in tatters. While millions were unemployed and standing in line at soup kitchens, there were still plenty of people with money and the glamour of the Art Deco era continued, but the style evolved during the 1930s.

Sleek suits, silk and satin gowns that clung to a woman’s figure, long furs and lots of jewelry defined the decade. Hemlines dropped, hair was longer and worn up and the mood was subdued. Prohibition ended and cocktail parties came out in the open, which continued the trend of a big stone ring that looked so glamorous on a hand holding a champagne glass.

Platinum was still the desired metal, but 18-karat white gold was used as a less expensive alternative. Necklaces changed, they were now collars and bibs with some rounding and scrolling beginning to appear that broke up the flat geometric style that had dominated in previous years. Necklaces in the 1930s were often constructed to come apart as two dress clips that could also be put together to wear as one brooch. While brooches and dress clips were highly coveted in the 1920s, they surged in popularity in the 1930s. Suit lapels were the perfect backdrop for a sophisticated brooch while dress clips on each side of a party dress or gown twinkled flirtatiously at night.

Earrings also changed during the 1930s, shortening from long drops to scrolling forms that framed the face. Some earrings even had detachable components. Bracelets became wider and curves and rounded forms began to appear by the end of the 1930s.

The glamourous parties and free-wheeling lifestyle of the Art Deco era ended in 1939 when World War II exploded.

You can find the Art Deco jewelry featured in this article on The Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Sapphire, diamond and platinum bracelet, circa 1925, from Ernst Faerber.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Art Nouveau Jewelry: An Artistic Awakening

Art Nouveau brooch signed Lalique, enamel, rose cut diamonds and gold, circa 1890, photo courtesy Christie’s.

Naturalistic, Exotic, Flowing Lines, Curves, Fanciful Women, Sinewy, Sensual, Sexual, Scandalous, Colored Gemstones, Enamel, Asymmetry all defined the Art Nouveau movement.

WHEN: Jewelry historians have slightly different dates for the Art Nouveau jewelry movement. It is widely accepted that it began in France and Belgium during the late 1800’s around 1895, although some historians put that date a bit earlier at 1890. The movement ended with the start of World War I in 1915, or even slightly earlier according to some historians. While the movement was decidedly French, it did have a following in Avant Garde circles elsewhere in Europe and America.

FAMOUS MAKERS: George Fouquet, Rene Foy, Gabriel Falguieres, Lucien Galliard, Lucien Gautrait, Rene Lalique, Georges Le Tureq, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henri Verver

MOTIFS: The Female Form, Nymphs, Mermaids, Fairies, Long Flowing Hair, Vines, Leaves, Exotic Flowers, Dragonflies, Butterflies, Insects, Japanese Art, Subdued Colors

THE LOOK: Large scale, enamel and colored gemstone pieces depicting naturalistic scenes and/or fanciful women, insects and stylized flowers

MATERIALS: Colored Gemstones with Opal, Moonstones, Peridot, Amber and Amethyst favored; Diamonds, Enamel, Silver, Gold, Bone, Horn, Glass

The Art Nouveau movement started in France beginning around 1890 to 1895 and it encompassed the decorative arts as well as jewelry. Generally when we talk about a style of jewelry it is associated with a time frame often involving reigning monarchs or a particular decade. Art Nouveau jewelry was a bit different. It was an artistic movement that started as a backlash to the machinated world of the Industrial Age. The artists involved in the movement made their pieces by hand with rapt attention to details portrayed in the imagery, believing that design was more important than materials used. The designs were influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement in England, Japanese art and the Symbolist Movement that started in France but spread through Europe.

Most of the jewelry during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was very formal and gem intensive. It was a time of great wealth and people wanted to show it through the jewelry they wore, so the value of the pieces was in the gems. But the Art Nouveau movement was the opposite, since it was about design over materials, to some degree it redefined precious by incorporating materials such as bone, horn or even glass into the designs. It was a rebellion against the practice of jewelry only being valued for the gems. That being said, diamonds and other gemstones were used to define elements of a design, but they were generally not the central focus.

Enamel was one of the most important materials used in fabricating Art Nouveau jewelry and there were different types of enameling techniques used. Some pieces even combined different types of enameling.  The two main enameling techniques used were Plique-à-Jour and Guilloche.

Plique-à-Jour, French for letting in daylight, is a transparent enamel that requires a high level of skill to create. The enamel is placed into the openings of filigree metalwork, but there is no metal behind the enamel. The finished effect is often compared to stained glass due to the enamel’s transparency. Guilloche enamel work is created very differently, but also has tremendous artistic merit. Guilloche is a type of metal work that engraves an intricate, repetitive pattern into a metal which is then “painted” with a thin layer of enamel so that the pattern remains visible. Both enameling techniques allowed for large areas of pastel color on a piece. Enamel is rather fragile and consequently many pieces of Art Nouveau jewelry have not survived because they broke or were damaged.

From a design perspective Art Nouveau focused heavily on the feminine form. The curves of the female body were emphasized as was long flowing wavy hair. Women were often depicted as being almost holy, or as a sensual seductress, perhaps even slightly sinister or dangerous – these two archetypes were a reflection of the changing role of women in society at that time. Women were actively seeking the right to vote and they were looking for opportunities outside the home, both of which threatened to upend the status quo. Nymphs, fairies and mermaids, either nude, or partially covered by their hair, frolic on Art Nouveau jewels, scandalizing, the prim and proper aristocratic, wealthy society mavens who found this style of jewelry too risqué to wear.   Instead it was worn by those who were free thinkers,  artists themselves or bohemians, which in that era meant supporters of the arts. Actress Sarah Bernhardt, for example, was known to favor Art Nouveau jewelry.

Nature, in the form of vines, exotic florals and leaves were another very important theme in Art Nouveau jewelry. Dragonflies, butterflies and other insects often with splendid plique-à-Jour wings were also prevalent. These naturalistic themes were again a backlash to the industrial age as people moved from rural areas to cities to find work. The jewelry was a reminder of nature’s beauty and a message to stay connected to its nurturing presence.

The Art Nouveau movement was short-lived, but impactful. It brought attention to jewelry design as an art form, but like everything else in that time period, it abruptly ended with the start of World War I.  

Authored by Amber Michelle

Swinging 1970s Jewelry

From Left to Right: Silver Elsa Peretti Bone Cuff, signed Tiffany & Co., courtesy Tiffany & Co.; Coral, diamond and gold earrings, 1970s, signed David Morris, courtesy Berganza; Lapis, turquoise, diamond and gold brooch, 1970s, signed Kutchinsky, courtesy D&E Singer; and Gold Taurus zodiac medallion, 1970s, signed Fred, courtesy Charlotte Fine Jewelry.

Bohemian, The Me Decade, Jet Set, Women’s Rights, Watergate, Eastern Influences, Ethnic, Oversized, Bellbottoms, Disco, Environmentalism, Earth Day all defined the 1970s.

WHEN: 1970-1979. The 1970s started out with the Vietnam war at the forefront of the news as protesters continued to fill the streets with antiwar demonstrations. The war ended in the mid 1970s and the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon. Pop psychology directed people to explore feelings and relationships. Rock remained popular with the Rolling Stones, Elton John, David Bowie, Led Zepplin and Queen leading the pack. As the decade progressed disco hustled in to take over clubs and music radio spawning a whole new fashion story and cultural touchpoint. The movie “Saturday Night Fever” crystallized the disco scene along with music by the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and the Village People among others.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Bulgari, Cartier, Chaumet, David Morris, David Webb, Fred Paris, Kutchinsky, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels

MOTIFS: Florals, Zodiacs, Fanciful Animals, Abstract Forms, Bold Color, Geometric, Medallions, Big Link Chains, Ancient Coins

THE LOOK:  Statement Pieces, Textured Gold, Sleek Silver, Chunky, Colorful, Layered, Multicultural

MATERIALS: Yellow Gold, Silver, Lapis and Other Hardstones, Wood/Shell Combined with Gems or Gold, Fancy Shaped Diamonds, Antique Coins  

The early 1970s were an extension of the 1960s with bellbottoms and frayed jeans, prairie dresses and floral prints a core style. Towards the middle of the decade, miniskirts headed south and the mid-calf length midi took hold. “What’s your sign?” was the question on everyone’s mind and the interest in astrology spawned a constellation of zodiac jewelry. During the 1970s large, intricately designed gold medallions — sometimes with gemstones — on long chunky link chains were popular. The large scale of the pieces held up well to the highly patterned fabrics that were everywhere in clothes. Layering was back in style and chain link and/or bead necklaces were piled gleefully around the neck, while multiple bangles jingled on the wrist and large hoop or drop earrings completed the look. Who could forget Rhoda Morgenstern and her huge hoop earrings on the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

In 1975 the Vietnam war ended; hippies and the peace movement began to fade into the background as the counter culture turned mainstream.  As the decade progressed, clothes and jewelry changed especially as disco took hold and the look became much more streamlined.

Daytime was easy dressing, the Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress was ubiquitous. Nighttime brought out all the glitter and glam of the club scene — sequins and rhinestones sizzled unapologetically. The look was sleek and the stretchy fabrics were made for easy movement. Patterns were replaced with shiny fabrics and monochromatic pieces.  Studio 54 was famous for its dancing and decadence and many of the decade’s most influential artists and designers were regulars, including jewelry designer Elsa Peretti who joined Tiffany & Co. in 1974. Her sensual silver designs gave the white metal a new glamour and her Diamonds by the Yard made it simple to wear diamonds during the day with more casual clothes – even jeans. The Cartier Love Bracelet designed by Aldo Cipullo was a huge 1970s hit that continues to entice couples today.

The jetsetters — a term that had been around for a number of years, but saw a resurgence with the introduction of the Concorde Jet in 1976 — were jetting off to the world’s most glamourous playgrounds inspiring a more multicultural style that borrowed motifs from other countries, especially Morocco and India. Morocco made its way into fashion through Yves Saint Laurent. The fashion designer had homes there where he hosted his jetsetting friends and clients as his fame was rising during the 1970s. Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier were both leaders in jewelry that drew upon the East for inspiration, creating oversized pieces with colorful gemstones generally set in gold. Another very popular motif in the 1970s was coin jewelry. Bulgari introduced its Monte Collection of jewelry made with ancient coins in the mid 1960s and by the 1970s it was everywhere, gaining in popularity as the 1980s took hold and everything big – hair, shoulders, jewelry and life in general was on a grand scale.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Glamour of the Art Deco Era

By Florence Brabant

Platinum Art Deco Emerald and Diamonds Ring. New York, circa 1925. Courtesy of J. & S.S. DeYoung, Inc.

The Art Deco era was a very interesting and dynamic period in jewelry history. Even the depression happened in the middle of this era — people bounced back with luxury and style! Diamonds sparkle everywhere! Nothing is too much!

“What do you mean I can’t get a purse finished with diamonds?” Not in this era! Geometric cut diamonds such as baguettes, trapezoids, and marquises were introduced — creativity jumped to a higher level and innovation was tickling in the hands of jewelry craftsmen.

The most glamorous rings, bracelets, sautoirs, headbands, cuffs, and clips were designed. The pieces were living up along with the growing haute couture. One of the famous designers back then was Madame Grès. She was known for her elegant pleated Greek dress designs. She was quoted as saying, “For a dress to survive from one era to the next, it must be marked with an extreme purity.”

Others shared her vision in their creations: Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Chaumet, Boucheron, and many other leading jewelry houses. Their quality and outstanding design were reflected in their jewelry. Many other anonymous artists were pushing to deliver the same quality as their leaders.

And here we are; their creations survived from one era to the next. Art deco glamour remains one of the most desirable styles in jewelry. Why don’t you treat yourself or your loved ones with something that is just as beautiful today as 100 years ago? It is the ideal accessory to mark the word “chic” in the “casual-chic” dress code of today.

Blue jeans topped with a white shirt and rocking an art deco cocktail ring might just do it. Or for an evening look, that same ring can be dressed up to celebrate even something as festive as New Year’s Eve… It will dazzle just as fabulously in the disco lights as in the morning daylight. Diamonds dance in any kind of light with a different charm.

If you want to go deeper into the history of glamour and luxury, a must-visit is the exposition “Luxes” in Paris. It is taking place at the musée des arts décoratifs and it runs until May 2nd 2021. There is a flow of different themes and it brings appreciation for designers and artists that made a difference in luxury history. Enjoy!

Boucheron velvet, platinum and diamond evening bag. Courtesy of Camille Bessard for La Galerie Parisienne

The Magic of Silver Over Gold Jewelry

By Florence Brabant

Silver over gold or silver-topped jewelry was very popular during the Georgian jewelry period. It dates from circa 1714 to 1835, spanning the reigns of four kings of England, all named George. It makes it easy to remember.

Back then, they used silver and gold for jewelry design. Platinum, although discovered in the 1700s, was not widely used in jewelry until the late 1800s.

The jewelry designs were inspired by the Baroque and Rococo style. Bow motifs and teardrop shapes were in fashion. Jewelry was set with colorful large stones such as sapphires, emeralds, topazes, citrines, amethysts, garnets, and diamonds, of course.

It was especially important for the security of the gemstones that they were set in gold. A layer of silver over the gold was added afterwards to get a different shiny look than the glowing gold one.

The silver topping works its magic when the diamonds sparkle in candlelight. It looks like the diamonds are floating out of their mountings. This unique appearance actually happened unintentionally.

We can all picture the elegant balls, dinners, and parties that were held with huge chandeliers and candle holders everywhere as electricity did not exist yet. The ladies were dressed up in large elegant dresses, wearing wigs and shined up with a ton of jewelry. The movie of “Marie Antoinette” of 2006 with Kirsten Dust has a few scenes where you can see this floating effect of the stones in candlelight (Fig. 1).

How to wear this jewelry today?

The elegant flows and romanticism in its design is in line with the boho chic dress code.  Earrings, rings, headbands and necklaces are especially popular in style.

Georgian silver over gold rose cut diamond pendant earrings. Courtesy of Paul Fisher Inc.