The Art Deco period was an inspirational time for all designers – and especially for jewelry.
Elegant, geometric lines of jewelry complemented the sleek linear designs of fashion. The fascination for travel and discovery inspired designers to create rings, bracelets, necklaces and other adornments with Oriental, Aztec, Egyptian, African and Ancient Greek and Roman themes.
The art of enamelling through its connections with early civilisations became one of many approaches to creating new forms of jewelry
The excitement of the “Roaring Twenties”, the period when Art Deco was at its peak of popularity, brought color back into jewelry – a welcome change after the Edwardian trend for “white jewelry” with its platinum and white diamond settings.
Art deco designs were more sensational: light colored gemstones were dramatically mixed with the black of onyx and vivid green emeralds, blue sapphires, rubies and coral combined with diamonds for maximum effect.
New metals emerging from advanced technologies in industry were used to create intricate, innovative and contemporary designs.
Materials like Bakelite that had been developed for industry and for household appliances, also found their way into jewelry design – particularly after the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
The austerity following this economic crisis created a need for less expensive jewelry and cost effective materials with which to reduce jewelry costs.
As a result, designs became more innovative – and paved the way for people like Coco Chanel to promote costume jewelry as an attractive and acceptable way to wear jewelry.
The Art Deco period was a coming together of many design influences. These ranged from a desire to move away from the floral curves of the Art Nouveau designs, to the impact of Cubism in Europe, Bauhaus in Germany and The Arts and Craft Movement in England
French jewelers were particularly influential in the evolution of Art Deco design. The Vever brothers, Paul and Henry had been successful jewellers since the late 19th century and had become well known for using new techniques and different enamels.
Having achieved recognition for their work in the Art Nouveau style, Paul and Henry Vever were early pioneers in the development of Art Deco designs – introducing their first geometric collection in 1907.
Louis Boucheron, who took over his father, Frederic’s award winning jewelry business in 1902, was a major player in the creation of Art Deco jewelry.
His love of travel took him to India, where he became enthralled by the Astronomical Garden of Jaipur. The Gardens acted as a muse for his fascination with a wide range of gemstones and materials that included jade, amber, lapis lazuli, coral, onyx, malachite and turquoise. Boucheron jewelry used new gemstone cuts such as baguettes, table cuts and trapeziums
During the Art Deco period, both Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels produced stunning ranges of platinum, diamond and colored gemstone jewelry. Van Cleef and Arpels produced simple shapes with an abundance of diamonds and created their famous “mystery setting” during the 1930’s.
The three Cartier brothers, Louis, Jacques and Pierre, made a major contribution to the development of Art Deco jewelry.
During the period 1911-1935, their Paris branch took popular Oriental designs of the day and translated these into Art Deco designs.
One of their most iconic images was that of a Panther – a design that led to many Panther jewelry pieces being produced – some of which were purchased by The Duke of Windsor for the Duchess. The Duchess is shown on the left, wearing a Panther bracelet.
Many artisans contributed hugely to the development of the Art Deco movement by experimenting with a range of different materials. Jean Fouquet created elegant jewelry using materials like ebony and chrome or enamel with diamonds, and Raymond Templier created bold geometric designs that combined gemstones with onyx, set in platinum or silver.
Paul Emile Brandt experimented with engraving precious gemstones and investigated the effect of light on lapis lazuli and lacquer with translucent stones like crystal or diamonds.
This experimentation with light reflection qualities was also undertaken by Templier as well as another designer, Jean Despres, who used his industrial training to produce modernistic, industrial designs. Working primarily in metals with some geometrically cut gemstones these pieces were dramatic in character and androgynous in design.
Another artisan, Gerard Sandoz, started designing jewelry as a teenager and soon became a significant designer creating geometric jewelry in the Art Deco style. He is also known for his designs using eggshell lacquers and Niello – a type of metal work that was used by the Romans.
Elsewhere in Copenhagen, George Jensen was producing silver jewelry in elegant sculptural forms, due to the influence of his early years as an unsuccessful sculptor.
Experimenting with gemstones like moonstones and opals as well as amber and malachite, Jensen’s jewelry was intended for the middle classes and not the wealthy upper classes, who preferred precious gemstones in elaborate settings.
Evidence of this can still be seen in much of the architecture remaining from that period – some examples of which are: The Chrysler and The Empire State buildings in New York.
The Art Deco style movement that took hold in the USA can be attributed to some extent, by the Bauhaus School of Art and Design in Germany during the early 20th century. Known for its Avant Garde style, the School was closed by the Nazis in 1933, which subsequently led to many of its teachers moving to the USA. As a result of this, the Bauhaus style of design came to dominate art and architecture for many decades.
The two most important American jewellers during the Art Deco period were Tiffany and Co and Harry Winston. Both companies specialised in high quality, luxury jewellery designs, using diamonds set in exquisite platinum settings. Some of Tiffany’s jewelry featured geometrically cut stones like square cut emeralds set amongst diamonds and pave settings whilst Harry Winston, designed jewelry with exceptional quality diamonds in invisible settings.
The Art Deco period was a time when some of the greatest amount of jewelry design and production took place. Whilst it has experienced various declines and revivals of popularity, Art Deco jewelry is currently experiencing a renaissance, with many couples opting either to buy an original Art Deco engagement and Wedding Ring, or a good copy in the style of their choice.