Whilst other Vintage and Antique periods of jewelry 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.
Whilst the origins of Art Deco can be traced back to a developing influence of designers during the late 19th and early 20th century, it was not until the 1920’s that a major design shift occurred that affected everything from architecture and aviation through to ceramics, fashion and jewelry. Originally known as “Style Moderne”, this nique period of creativity was only later, termed Art Deco – when Bevis Hillier defined the term in the 1960’s.
Art Deco jewelry was very much a reflection of the trends happening in society during the 1920’s. Elegant, geometric lines of jewelry complemented the sleek, linear designs of fashion. New household materials, like Bakelite became components for mixing with precious jewels. The new streamlined, symmetrical buildings like The Chrysler and The Empire State, inspired jewellers to produce sparkling diamond brooches in these images – and the fascination for travel and archaeology led to an enchantment with Oriental, Aztec, Egyptian, African and Ancient Greek and Roman designs for rings, bracelets, necklaces and other adornments.
Following the trend for “white jewelry” and the beautiful platinum and white diamond rings of the Edwardian period, the excitement of the Jazz age during the “roaring twenties” brought color back into jewelry. Light colored gemstones were mixed with onyx or Bakelite and vivid green emeralds, blue sapphires, rubies and coral were teamed with diamonds for maximum effect.
New cutting technologies created geometric shapes with baguettes, emerald cuts, triangles, pentagons, triangles, step cuts, trillion cuts, ballerina cuts and arc shape corners being incorporated into jewelry designs.
The Art Deco period saw a continuation of the platinum and white gold of the Edwardian era but also with some alternative metals like copper, brass and silver being used for a greater contemporary look. However, the yellow gold that had been so popular during the Victorian era, was hardly ever seen.
Settings were also geometrically and symmetrically designed. Channel settings using diamonds and colored gemstones were commonly found, as well as filigree and pave settings. Millegrain finishes, that were popular during the Edwardian period, continued to be used during the Art Deco period.
After the austerity of the First World War, a period of wealth and excitement during the 1920’s led to jewelry becoming both luxurious and dramatic in its construction. However, the effects of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 brought about a decline in the decadent design trends of the 1920.
Following a period of economic recovery, the Art Deco trend continued to evolve although to a lesser extent than it had been during the “roaring twenties”. Engagement ring trends during the 1930’s comprised a considerable amount of diamonds and platinum, with round brilliant and pave set baguettes – although color was still to be found due to the continued influence of foreign travel and design inspiration derived from places like India and the Orient.
The onset of the 2nd World War brought about an end to the innovative style of the Art Deco period. By the time the war had ended, attitudes to jewelry had changed and Art Deco was viewed as gaudy and inappropriate for the austere post war years.
It was not until the 1960’s when Bevis Hillier created the name “Art Deco” in his renown book about the early 20th century design period, that interest in jewelry and other style items of the Art Deco period, was renewed.
A further revival occurred during the 1980’s – another time when greed was seen to be good – and the glamour of Art Deco was once again incorporated into fashion, jewelry and other products of the day.
More recently, the demand for Art Deco engagement and wedding rings has revived yet again . Art Deco rings with their luxurious and originally cut gemstones and designs with channel, filigree and pave settings have become the top choice for many couples.
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.
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.
Whilst much of Art Deco originated from designers in France and other parts of Europe, the style soon spread to many other parts of the world. 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.