Art Deco Jewelry– Origins, Styles and Influences (circa 1900-1939)

Whilst other Vintage and Antique periods of jewellery can be defined specifically to dates during which a monarch reigned – eg. Victorian and Edwardian – the commencement of the Art Deco period is less able to be specified, since the movement was influenced by a wide range of designers, architects and other creative people.

The Art Deco movement was originally known as “Style Moderne” and was only called “Art Deco” when the English art historian, Bevis Hillier defined the name for his book in 1968.

The new movement, Art Deco, evolved around the beginning of the 1900’s as designers looked for something different from the Art Nouveau style that had been so popular during the Victorian era. Art Deco was the complete opposite. Whereas Art Nouveau designs had been flowery, feminine and with curvy lines, Art Deco was streamlined, linear and androgynous. Art Nouveau was “romantic” and Art Deco was “decadent and exotic”.

The origins of the Art Deco movement can be traced back to members of the French artists collective, known as La Societe des Aristes Decorateurs, shortly after the Paris Exposition the Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels, that was held in 1925. The movement occurred alongside other movements of the time and embraced such influences as Bauhaus, Cubism, Empire Neoclasicism, Russian Constructivism, Modernism and Futurism.

Art Deco therefore, came about through a period of gradual transition, with architects industrial designers, fashion and jewelry designers, manufacturers, artists and film directors and many others, bringing about a major design shift.

The peak of Art Deco occurred during the 1920’s – “The Roaring Twenties” – one of the most affluent periods in history and a time when the greatest volume of work was produced. Occurring soon after the end of the First World War, the evolving opulent style of Art Deco was attributed to a reaction to the austerity and gloom that people had experienced.

The Roaring Twenties was a time of breaking free from the past and trying all things new. Life was changing – Women had got the vote, The Machine age had begun and with it came technologies that brought about magnificent architecture like the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building in the USA plus streamline designs for modern aviation, ocean liners and automobiles. Jewelry reflected the geometric lines of architecture, Women’s clothing became shorter and more streamlined, due to the pioneering designs of people like Coco Chanel.

The Jazz age had arrived and life was full of energy, creativity and excitement. People started travelling more to new and exotic places. It was an age of discovery, of invention and a time when some of the greatest volumes of work were produced. In the words of the writer, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Art Deco was shaped by “all the nervous energy stored up and expended in the War”.

Although most people define the Art Deco period as occurring between 1900-1930, with it’s peak of popularity during the 1920’s, the Art Deco trend actually continued to evolve during the 1930’s and up to the start of the Second World War in 1939. However, certain elements of Art Deco jewelry had to change in response to the effects of the Wall Street crisis of 1929 in America and Europe. With less opulence than there had been during the 1920’s there was a real need for jewellers to diversify and start to use alternative materials that were less expensive. Alongside this, was a trend towards the use of chunkier and bolder designs.

The onset of World War 2 led to a further period of austerity. This, combined with a developing view that Art Deco jewelry was overindulgent and vulgar, led to its overall decline. However, it has since experienced a number of popularity revivals: the first being during the 1960’s due to the influence of Bevis Hillier’s book and again the 1980’s, during another period of decadent excess. More recently, due to a general interest in vintage and antique style jewelry, the Art Deco period is once again experiencing a renaissance – and in particular for Art Deco engagement rings and wedding rings.

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