About Art Deco Jewelry

Art Deco Period - 1920's through 30's
Art Deco

The Roaring Twenties are known as a fun-loving, decadent era; a time of gangsters, speakeasies and dancing the Charleston. Prohibition was passed in 1919, making it fashionable to break the law. Women won the right to vote in 1920. Society embraced the new "modern art" engendered by Cubism and the Ballet Russe. King Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt was discovered in 1922. Fifteen million new cars were registered between 1920-1929. Fortunes were made in the stock market; the bubble burst, however, with the crash of 1929, and the Thirties began under the cloud of the Great Depression.

Women asserted their new equality with radical changes in fashion. They bobbed their hair, painted their lips, bared their arms, bound their chests and wore short drop-waisted dresses in the new "flapper" style. The boyish silhouette was accessorized with long dangling earrings, long strands of pearls, diamond watches, dress clips and cocktail rings, and bracelets in multiples on both upper and lower arms. Cloche hats completed the look.

Platinum and Precious Stones: Post-war prosperity broadened the market for for platinum, diamonds and precious stones. Popularity of the white-on-white look carried over from pre-WWI days, with the addition of ruby, emerald and sapphire accents

Dramatic Combinations: Society's emphasis on freedom of expression and uninhibited values gave rise to unexpected and dramatic combinations of materials in jewelry; for example, coral and diamonds, or turquoise and sapphire. The bright colors were inspired in part by the scenery of the Ballet Russe. Black enamel was often used to add contrast. A seemingly random "jumble" of carved colored gemstones, termed the "fruit salad" look, became popular.

Geometric Shapes: The influence of Cubism is apparent in the strong symmetry and geometry, and streamlined shapes of Art Deco jewelry. Geometric diamond cuts like the baguette, emerald, triangle, shield and calibre cuts were developed and widely used.

Egyptian Motifs: The discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1923 incited a craze for Egyptian motifs like the scarab, sphinx and falcon. Stones which had been used in King Tut's jewelry, like lapis lazuli, carnelian and chalcedony, became popular.

Eastern Influence: The influence of India and the Orient is evident in the use of carved gemstones, ivory, jade and highly-stylized natural motifs.

Speed Motifs: As the automobile rose in importance, Art Deco culture became one that glorified speed and motion. Jewelry designs include motifs like autos, planes, arrows, gazelles and panthers.

Popular Items: Several unique jewelry forms enjoyed a particular vogue during this era, including dress clips, flexible diamond "strip" bracelets, and pearls worn as sautoirs or long ropes. The recent marketing of the cultured pearl made the latter much more affordable.

Antique engagement rings from this period are highly sought after today. These engagement rings are usually made of white gold and platinum, and contain antique diamonds such as Old European Cut and Asscher Cut diamonds. The rings often have baguettes or uniquely shaped side diamonds; colored gemstones like sapphires, rubies and emeralds are sometimes used as accents. Wedding bands from the period are also usually white gold or platinum, and set with diamonds.
The disruption and havoc of WWI brought a halt to jewelry creation. When it ended, it also marked an end to the values, traditions and fashions that had come before. World War I overwhelmingly changed the role of women in society. The need for women to take over the men's jobs during the war, created a great emancipation. When the war ended, the "Roaring Twenties" blossomed with a rather decadent lust for life.

Women's clothing evolved into a more masculine and streamlined style. Trousers became the symbol for the liberated woman during the day but at night, dramatic and provocative dresses were all the rage. Skirts were short enough to reveal the knee and often had slits so that popular dances like the Tango, Charleston and Fox Trot could be enjoyed without restriction. Fashion magazines and periodicals coupled with the motion picture industry brought about huge changes in fashion. Hollywood starlets became the new fashion royalty.

Hairstyles were cropped, "a la garçonne", sparking a revival of earrings. Art Deco earrings often had non-pierced screw-backs, termed "French backs", because many "modern" women did not want to pierce their ears.

Women not only got the right to vote in the United States in 1920, but also the right to smoke! Philip Morris introduced Marlboro Cigarettes in 1924 as a cigarette for women and later boasted, "Women quickly develop discerning taste. That is why Marlboros now ride in so many limousines, attend so many bridge parties, and repose in so many handbags." !

Women celebrated their postwar success by piling on the jewelry. Evening fashion of fluid, low belted, sleeveless tunics, was perfect for showcasing multiple Art Deco bracelets. Platinum and diamonds were again in vogue but the Art Deco jewelry style was more geometric and linear than the earlier Edwardian "belle époque" jewels. Jewelry sales in the 1920's were stellar. This reflected not only the affluence of the general public but the trend for unbridled consumerism.

Endless variations of Art Deco bracelets were designed and referred to as plaque, flexible link, box, strap, band or straight-line. The straight-line bracelet often featured the new square cut diamonds developed in Paris, aptly termed "French-cut" diamonds. Art Deco bracelets were frequently accented with natural and synthetic rubies and sapphires. The "emerald" accents often seen in Art Deco jewels were, more often than not, actually green glass. Some examples of natural emerald accents are seen, but they are rare.

In the late 1920's, small diamond incrusted watches with miniature movements were paired up with machine made, diamond line bracelets used as watch straps. This was the birth of the cocktail watch! The popularity of anything and everything "cocktail" was a defiant slap in the face of Prohibition. It became quite chic to break the law.

Strapless and backless dresses called for long strands of pearls, sautoirs and lorgnettes. The Art Deco sautoirs were modernized. They were now predominantly made entirely out of platinum and diamonds. The tassel at the end was commonly replaced by a diamond-set drop. These Deco sautoirs were often designed to be convertible. They could be taken apart making bracelets, chokers and pendants!

Cultured pearls became more available and affordable for the Middle class. Long ropes of cultured Japanese pearls were common accessories for Art Deco evening-wear, either worn around the neck or twisted several times around the wrist.

Art Deco dress clip style brooches were designed in pairs. According to Christie Romero, in Warman's Jewelry, Louis Cartier was inspired to create the design as the result of watching a woman hang clothes out to dry with clothes pins.

Art deco clips could be worn on necklines, belts, jacket lapels, purses, shoes and hats. They were held in place with a flat backed hinged mechanism.

Art Deco Jewelry motifs are characterized by geometric designs, diverse combinations of color and abstract patterns. In 1922, the opening of Tutankhamen's Tomb in Egypt inspired another Egyptian revival. Influences from cubism as well as African, Oriental, Persian/Islamic, Jugendstil and Native American designs were common in Art Deco Jewelry.

Leading Art Deco jewelry designers include Cartier, Mauboussin, Lalique, Jean Fouquet, Frederic Boucheron, Gerald Sandoz, Raymond Templier, Jean Desprès, Jean Dunand and Paul Brandt. In the United States, the jewelry houses of Tiffany, Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Marcus and Co., Shreve, Crump & Low, Black, Starr and Frost, and Spaulding & Co. produced some of the finest examples of Art Deco Jewelry in existence today. It was very common for these jewelry houses to sign their pieces, which is a great aid for identification.

The most popular gemstones of the Art Deco period were diamonds. Art Deco diamond solitaires were very fashionable. Rubies, sapphires, black onyx, emeralds, coral, ivory, jade, coral, mother-of-pearl and quartz crystal were often used as linear accents with the diamonds or alone. Lapidaries were producing a wide assortment of geometric gem cuts including baguettes, emerald-cuts, triangles and shields. Gems were usually channel-set or bead-set in Art Deco jewelry.

The preferred metal for Art Deco Jewelry was platinum, although white gold and silver is also seen. The finer pieces of Art Deco ornaments are handmade, with hand engraving and milgraining. Examples of these jewels are traditionally well-finished, both on the front and back of the pieces.

Throughout the 1920s a long economic boom took stock prices to peaks never before seen. From 1920 to 1929 stocks more than quadrupled in value. Many investors became convinced that stocks were a sure thing and borrowed heavily to invest more money in the market. The bubble burst in 1929. The stock market crashed! Banks were left holding huge private and corporate debts. This was followed by the Great Depression of the 30's. These sobering events dramatically ended the high spirited frivolity of the 20's.

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