The Art Deco era derives its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts). The expedition took place in Paris, 1925 and is said to have influenced the worldwide popularity of Art Deco design. Although the expedition itself wasn’t until 1925, the Art Deco era is known to span from around 1918 (at the end of WW1) until the late 1930’s.
The Art Deco era, which above all reflected advances in technology, was characterized by smooth lines, geometric and symmetrical shapes, streamlined forms and bright colours. The period was a very influential time which provided a plethora of beautiful masterpieces.
An array of social, political and cultural influences affected the styles and trends at the time, all of which contributed to the emergence of Art Deco jewellery.
Women in War
The victory and end of the World War in 1918 led to a new attitude in society as everyone worked to re-build the country. As a result of the role women played in the war, Victorian ideals were rejected, and women were emancipated. Women were now allowed to vote, smoke, drink and engage with society in a way that could not have been imagined in years prior.
This hugely impacted women’s fashion in a way never seen before. Corsets were no more and sleeves and hemlines were shortened along with hair styles. Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel began designing simple, elegant clothing with straight lines and a freer silhouette. In turn, this also required a rethinking of jewellery styles.
The shorter haircuts and lower necklines meant that long earrings were the perfect accessories to fill up this newly empty space between hair and shoulders. The loose straight dresses also meant they looked great dressed up with long strands of beads.
Art Nouveau Rejection
The Art Nouveau movement, which was popular before Art Deco, focused on soft curving lines, delicate details and natural imagery. In jewellery, figures of women with fairy wings and images from nature were popular, as well as subtle, soft-looking stones such as moonstone and pearl.
French Art Nouveau Griffin Brooch.
Like most movements in design, a new movement begins due to a rejection of the previous out dated movement; and this is exactly what happened in the late 1910’s. The Art Deco movement was produced out of a rejection of soft, curvy forms and instead transformed into bolder, geometric styles.
There were many influences on Art Deco jewellery that actually began to take shape about a decade earlier. In 1909, Serge Diaghilev brought the Ballet Russes to Paris, and women went wild for the exotic and vibrant costumes. Jade, Lapis, Coral, Turquoise and other bright gemstones became all the rage and a fascination with the East, particularly China and Japan, started showing up in jewellery.
Ballets Russes dancers in an on-stage dance class, 1928. ©
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The exciting new archaeological discoveries in Egypt, primarily the tomb of Tutankhamun, hugely influenced jewellery during the period. Pierre Cartier wrote in 1923 that “The discovery of the tomb will bring some sweeping changes in fashion jewellery” and he was right! The Egyptian designs influenced all of the major jewellery houses, from Cartier to Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron and Georges Fouquet.
Inside Tutankhamun’s tomb
Figurative representations of lotus blossoms, pyramids, the eye of Horus, scarabs and nearly anything from the ancient time of the Pharaohs, was used as a motif in jewellery. Entire scenes of ancient Egyptian life were seen played out over bracelets, all rendered in new colour combinations created by combining lapis lazuli with gold and cornelian with turquoise.
During this time, Europe as a continent had finally began to accept the ever-increasing industrial nature of 20th-century living, and artists were able to mirror this in their work. Despite the hesitance of predecessors to accept the movement, people found a middle ground between man and machine with the Art Deco movement, allowing art and industry to co-exist.
The designs that followed were more popular than could ever be imagined by both jewellery and fashion industries in previous years. The design itself could be applied to almost anything related to popular culture, from Art Deco cufflinks to the Chrysler building in New York, and everything in between. Themes included geometry and symmetry, along with boldness, colour and statement. In terms of jewellery, this could be seen as a reflection of the empowerment being felt by women across the continent and beyond, as they began their long, arduous, and arguably ongoing fight for equality.
- Platinum- Similarly, to Edwardian jewellery, Art Deco jewellery is primarily “white jewellery.” White metals, mainly platinum, were favoured over yellow gold. In South Africa 1924, the world’s largest platinum deposit was discovered and in turn led to an outbreak in platinum popularity. Platinum could be manipulated to create very fine and durable settings that, unlike silver, did not tarnish.
- Diamonds- The technology for diamond cutting also improved during the period and jewellers were able to achieve various geometric cuts. Old cut diamonds were prevalent through the 1920’s and 30’s and then the end of the 1930s brought transitional cut diamonds, which eventually evolved into the round brilliant cuts that we commonly see toay.
- Cultured Pearls- A process whereby pearl-bearing oysters could be implanted with mother-of-pearl beads to produce cultured pearls became very popular. This meant pearls were now readily available and much more affordable, making the Pearl necklace a staple in any Flappers wardrobe.
- Filigree- Filigree work is defined by small intricate cut-outs and was perfected in the late 1920s through the use of die-cast machines. These designs incorporate a lot of synthetic stones as well as diamonds, platinum, and white gold.
- Bakelite- A plethora of plastic and other synthetic materials, most notably Bakelite, used to imitate gemstones, bone, wood, amber and other “natural” materials became widely available and popular in jewellery.
- Clip Brooch- During the 1930’s the clip brooch came into its own. Worn in pairs, one on either side of a dress, they could often be joined by the use of a brooch frame into one larger brooch.
End of an Era
The Art Deco style in jewellery lasted through the 1930s, and it was only in the 1940s that there was a major shift in design. However, the Art Deco style witnessed a revival in the late 1960s, and even today jewellery designers continue to be inspired by the period with many of the designs being timeless classics.
Buying Art Deco Jewellery
At Lancastrian Jewellers, we have a range of genuine Art Deco pieces in our shop and we are always also constantly sourcing new acquisitions for our shop every day. If you want to own a genuine Art Deco piece for your collection, rich in history and timeless in style.
Please get in touch if you need any further help finding the perfect piece of jewellery.