Deco Period - 1920's through 30's
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
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
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.
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.
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,
The influence of India and the
Orient is evident in the use of carved gemstones, ivory,
jade and highly-stylized natural 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.
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.
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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.