A Little Background
Indeed the opposite of Art Nouveau, Art Deco style was modernistic, with bold colors, geometric shapes and sharp, distinctive lines.
Art Deco got its name from Paris’ 1925 Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, although the era’s heyday is now ascribed to the 1920s and 1930s. Art and modern industry were the themes that drove the era.
The Chrysler Building in New York City is often referred to as a quintessential example of Art Deco style. Cubism, Futurism and Machine Aesthetic all inspired Art Deco jewelry.
The Great War was a game changer in so many ways. Young men by the millions never made it home again. The class system in Britain was decimated. And women, who had filled in at factories and businesses while men were away at war, were often reluctant to return to their prewar status.
The two decades saw significant innovations in business and industry, with big changes that impacted domestic life. People drove cars, enjoyed electricity in their homes and discovered how modern appliances could make domestic chores less onerous.
In addition, war-weary citizens across the world were enjoying a respite from the horrors of “The War to End All Wars.” They wanted to enjoy themselves…and forget.
Hemlines were raised, corsets were removed, hair was bobbed and comfort was king. Designers Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret led the pack with simple, elegant fashions that featured straight lines and flowing fabrics. In addition, women were enjoying leisure and sporting activities formerly engaged in only by men. The fairer sex could play golf and tennis, drive a car, enjoy cocktails and cigarettes in public, and dance the night away. All of this, naturally, impacted jewelry styles, as well.
Art Deco Influencers
Exciting discoveries in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, in particular the tomb of Tutankhamen, started a rage for Egyptian themed everything, including jewels. Pyramids, lotus blossoms, scarabs and the eye of Horus were just some of the motifs that found their way into Art Deco jewelry. Ancient Egyptian life was depicted on bracelets fashioned in lapis lazuli with gold and carnelian with turquoise.
India-inspired themes were also trendy, featuring carved gemstones that depicted leaves, flowers and fruit, as well as appearing as colorful accents. Inspiration borrowed from other cultures included Islamic art; natural motifs from Persia; Chinese architecture; Pre-Columbian design motifs; and African tribal art.
Art Deco Innovations
Parisian jewelers used calibré-cut precious gems, adding other unusual cuts that included trapeze, triangle and half-moon shapes. Carved gemstones were mixed with turquoise, agate, lapis lazuli, quartz and coral in designs that reflected the artisans’ fascination with Far East themes.
The modern brilliant-cut round diamond was discovered by Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919. Using a mathematical formula, Marcel Tolkowsky came up with an “ideal-cut” diamond, one that maximized the most exceptional characteristics of the diamond.
While diamonds and other precious gemstones dominated the era, a variety of synthetic materials were also used as substitutes for these gemstones, as well as for wood, bone, amber and other materials. The best known of these was Bakelite.
Tutti-Frutti design (also known as Fruit Salad) featured diamonds and carved colored gemstones. Initially designed by artisans at Cartier, it continued to be a popular theme well beyond the Art Deco era.
Art Deco Favorites
The 1929 stock market crash did little to stop the progression of inspired jewelry designs. During the 1930s, large brooches, ear clips and wide diamond bracelets were very much in vogue.
Convertible jewelry was a hot ticket. Double clips that formed a brooch could be removed and worn as dress clips. Bandeaus (head ornaments that encircled the forehead) could be dissembled into necklaces, bracelets and brooches. Earrings sometimes featured elements that were detachable to dress up or dress down one’s look for either day or evening wear.
Geometric earrings dangled playfully from ears that were now visible, thanks to shortened hairstyles. Linear in design, the dangly earrings, decorated with diamonds, often featured colorful gemstones at the tips. More elaborate earrings were awash with diamonds in multiple cuts. As the era progressed, earrings worked their way back up the ears, with larger styles and natural-themed designs. These were often fastened using clip-on backs, a new technology introduced in the 1930s.
Long rope necklaces with tassels (also known as sautoirs) were all the rage in the Roaring ‘20s. Pendants of all geometric shapes were the true must-have of the Art Deco era. Covered in diamonds and colored gemstones, pendants displayed step and zigzag motifs, with fringe and tassels supplying the finishing touches. Pendants swayed from silk cords or ornate chains decorated with pearls or gemstones and were layered in varying lengths.
As far as rings were concerned, the bigger the better. Large geometric shapes housed a cabochon-cut diamond or gemstone surrounded by an entire chorus of smaller gemstones. Emerald-cut diamond rings and step-cut colored gemstones were also hugely popular. And bands with a row of diamonds or gemstones set all the way around the ring were perfect for stacking.
From narrow geometric links adorned with gemstones to more full strap bracelets, the Art Deco period encompassed a variety of bracelet themes. Thin bangles were worn in multiples. Charm bracelets, customized to express the hobbies and likes of its wearer, were very popular, as were cuff bracelets.
Brooches were a mainstay of Art Deco jewelry wardrobes. They could be pinned to any and every piece of clothing and haberdashery. Carved quartz, coral, onyx and jade arranged in Asian motifs were commonly seen. Ribbons, bows, sporting and novelty brooches were also favorites.
Timepieces of all kinds, including pendant and lapel watches, were must-haves. Wristwatches, which had gained favor with troops during World War I, found their way into popular culture, bedecking the wrists of women as well as men.
As World War II loomed, Art Deco style faded, to enjoy a revival in the late 1960s. To this day, jewelry designers continue to be inspired by styles created during the Jazz Age.