The Ex­tra­or­di­nary World Of Art Deco


As con­sumers look for orig­i­nal­ity, his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance and gen­uine value in jew­ellery, sales of vin­tage and an­tique jew­ellery are ris­ing. One of the most pop­u­lar vin­tage pe­ri­ods was Art Deco, which spanned the Roar­ing Twen­ties and the Great De­pres­sion of the early 1930s. Dur­ing its short life­span, the Art Deco style in­flu­enced ar­chi­tec­ture, fash­ion, jew­ellery, cars, fur­ni­ture, art, movie the­atres, trains and even ev­ery­day ob­jects, such as ra­dios and vac­uum clean­ers.

The term Art Deco is gen­er­ally ap­plied to a dec­o­ra­tive style of the 1920s and 1930s. In­ter­est­ingly, the term was not used a lot dur­ing the time in which the style was pop­u­lar, which has led to much dis­cus­sion about its ori­gins. One of the dif­fi­cul­ties in defin­ing what con­sti­tutes Art Deco can be at­trib­uted to the many var­ied in­flu­ences that came to­gether to pro­duce this style. The Rus­sian Bal­let, Cu­bism, King Tu­tankhamen, Ger­man Bauhaus and the Paris Ex­po­si­tion all con­trib­uted to the col­lage that be­came known as Art Deco.

The Art Deco pe­riod was the era of the flap­per, jazz and ma­chines. It was be­tween the decades of war and evoked a care­free at­ti­tude, yet one com­bined with con­ser­vatism, all re­flected in the artis­tic out­put of the pe­riod. The jewellers of the Art Deco epoch, 1920-1939, pro­duced some of the most daz­zling pieces ever cre­ated.

The de­signs were dar­ing, flam­boy­ant, pris­tine and play­ful. Un­like the Art Nou­veau and Arts & Crafts pe­ri­ods, when noted de­sign­ers held prime po­si­tions and ex­erted strong in­flu­ences on other in­di­vid­u­als and firms, the Art Deco years were heavy on de­sign it­self, and pro­duced many quin­tes­sen­tial pieces, anony­mously de­signed, un­signed (ex­cept for per­haps a re­tailer’s mark) and of­ten de­void of na­tional ori­gin.


The cat­a­strophic events of World War I had a fairly dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on art and artis­tic de­sign in gen­eral. Jew­ellery was certainly no ex­cep­tion. Af­ter 1918, it seemed sin­gu­larly in­ap­pro­pri­ate to

wear del­i­cate di­a­mond gar­land sprays or Art Nou­veau nat­u­ral­is­tic enam­els that were firmly rooted in a time that was oblit­er­ated in the trenches of the Western Front.

The new motto be­came “Live now and for­get the past.” A sense of rest­less­ness and change was quickly spread­ing through­out Europe and Amer­ica. In­evitably, this would be ar­tic­u­lated in new and dar­ing artis­tic forms and shapes that con­trasted with the es­tab­lished for­mula of the past. Women were also gain­ing a sense of free­dom and in­de­pen­dence in so­ci­ety. Dur­ing the war, women worked along­side men and, for the first time ever, many be­came the prin­ci­pal bread­win­ners while their hus­bands were fight­ing at the Front.

It was soon ap­par­ent that the values and at­ti­tudes of life be­fore the war— when help­less and flut­ter­ing ladies were adorned from head to foot in for­mal jew­els to re­in­force the con­cept of fem­i­nine per­fec­tion—were truly over. A more ma­ture and busi­nesslike woman now emerged and she favoured

sim­ple, straight-lined clothes and jew­ellery. She also smoked and drank al­co­hol, learned to drive a car, play ten­nis and spend her evenings in night­clubs.


The very first in­flu­ences of the Art Deco Era came a bit ear­lier. In 1910, Di­aghilev’s Rus­sian Bal­let Com­pany made its de­but per­for­mance. The bold colours in the scenery and cos­tumes de­signed by Leon Bakst sig­nalled a lib­er­a­tion of colour for the “pas­tel” world. By the 1920s, his bright emer­ald greens, vivid reds and shim­mer­ing blues (along with his sten­cilled pat­terns and lux­u­ri­ous fab­rics) had be­come in­cor­po­rated into all fields of fash­ion and de­sign.

In 1925, the “Ex­po­si­tion In­ter­na­tionale des Art Dec­o­rat­ifs et In­dus­triels Modernes” opened in Paris, at­tract­ing sev­eral mil­lion vis­i­tors who came to ad­mire fur­ni­ture, sculp­ture, glass, ce­ram­ics, sil­ver­ware and jew­ellery. The com­mon thread of all these forms was new in­spi­ra­tion and real orig­i­nal­ity. The ex­hi­bi­tion made a huge cul­tural im­pact, and be­came

syn­ony­mous with the el­e­gance and chic that, to­day, is called Art Deco.

In Novem­ber 1922, Howard Carter dis­cov­ered the tomb of King Tu­tankhamen. When the dis­cov­ery was of­fi­cially an­nounced, it was pub­li­cised through­out the world as per­haps the most im­por­tant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find of the 20th cen­tury. News­pa­pers were filled with the de­scrip­tions of the many an­cient ob­jects and riches of the young king that were al­most be­yond be­lief. They also had an in­flu­ence on fash­ion and de­sign of the epoch. King Tut hats and jew­ellery were now en vogue. Egyp­tian mo­tifs, in­clud­ing the fal­con, cat, pyra­mids, lo­tus flower and scarab, were in­cor­po­rated into many kinds of jew­ellery. Gem­stones such as lapis lazuli, cor­nelian and chal­cedony be­came very pop­u­lar. At first, these unusual ma­te­ri­als and de­signs were used in recre­ations of the an­cient ob­jects, but soon they were as­sim­i­lated into the Art Deco style. This kind of jew­ellery is ex­tremely rare to­day.

The new style was per­haps fore­shad­owed by the del­i­cate lin­ear­ity of the Gar­land style, and was in­flu­enced by the chro­matic con­trasts pop­u­larised by the Bal­lets Russes, while in­spired by the ex­otic forms of Ori­en­tal, African and South Amer­i­can art, as well as the con­tem­po­rary Cu­bist and Fauve move­ments.

The Vi­enna Se­ces­sion­ists, Cu­bism, Fau­vism and the Ger­man Bauhaus all in­flu­enced the Art Deco move­ment. Geo­met­ric con­tours, the elim­i­na­tion of su­per­flu­ous dec­o­ra­tive or­na­men­ta­tion, for­mal con­cepts and aes­thetic ideals com­bined with func­tion­al­ism.

The min­i­mal, lin­ear ex­pres­sion was con­se­quently adopted by fash­ion­able cou­turi­ers such as Paul Poiret, Elsa Schi­a­par­elli, Jeanne Paquin and Coco Chanel, who cre­ated smart and com­fort­able suits for the an­drog­y­nous, yet sexy woman of the 1920s. Jew­els be­came an ac­ces­sory to match the shape and colour of the dress, rather than a valu­able or­na­ment to dis­play the wearer’s wealth, as had been the case in the pre-war years.


The ori­en­tal in­spi­ra­tion came from Per­sian car­pets, plants, flow­ers, leaves, lines and arabesques, geo­met­ric forms of Is­lamic Art as well as the use

of bright com­bi­na­tions of pri­mary colours found in pot­tery and mo­saic tiles. In the 1920s, nu­mer­ous pieces of In­dian jew­ellery found their way to Europe to­gether with carved emer­alds, ru­bies and sap­phires and beads. In­spired by the In­dian style, jewellers used these gems to cre­ate au­then­tic Art Deco pieces. The sarpech be­came a mo­tif for pins and brooches. These tas­selled tur­ban or­na­ments were then trans­ferred to neck­laces and sautoirs.

From the Far East, Art Deco jew­ellery de­signs were in­spired by ex­otic mo­tifs such as pago­das, drag­ons, Chi­nese char­ac­ters and sym­bols. From Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, Mayan and pre-Colom­bian civil­i­sa­tions came con­cen­tric squares, pyra­mids, steps and rec­tan­gu­lar mo­tifs—all a per­fect match to the ge­o­met­ri­cal forms of Art Deco. African art be­came an­other source of in­spi­ra­tion. Large neck­laces and ban­gles from wood and metal came into fash­ion along with the use of African masks mo­tifs.

At this time, too, for the first time in his­tory, peo­ple be­gan wear­ing wrist­watches. They were sim­ple and sportive for day­time wear, but were partly or en­tirely set with di­a­monds or pre­cious stones for the evening. Art Deco watches were some of the most beloved pieces of jew­ellery for both men and women.


Jew­ellery cre­ated in the 1920s was some­what dif­fer­ent than jew­ellery

made in the 1930s. The 1920s styles were flat, two-di­men­sional and geo­met­ric. Long sautoir neck­laces of­ten worn with a tas­sel or geo­met­ric pen­dant, ban­deaus and long lin­ear earrings were the char­ac­ter­is­tic de­signs of the day. Af­ter the mar­ket crash in 1929, you might ex­pect a de­cline in jew­ellery pro­duc­tion, but just the op­po­site hap­pened.

From the be­gin­ning of the 1930s, jew­ellery be­came bolder and big­ger, char­ac­terised by mas­sive con­struc­tions of rib­bons, straps, plaques and buck­les. By the mid-1930s, jew­ellery was chunkier, three­d­i­men­sional and adorned with bows and curves. The sim­ple geo­met­ric links of 1920s’ bracelets be­came wider and were worn in large num­bers of­ten set with big di­a­monds or coloured gem­stones, some­times of ex­tra­or­di­nary qual­ity. Clips were worn in pairs and the pen­dant earrings were re­placed by large clips of scrolls, flow­ers or leaf pat­terns.

Along with the very skil­ful and fa­mous jewellers of this era, an­other group—artist-jewellers—made a dra­matic ap­pear­ance. Mostly in­flu­enced by the con­tem­po­rary artis­tic move­ments and the ma­chine age, these artist-jewellers cre­ated de­signs that were re­duced to the bare min­i­mum. Nearly de­void of or­na­men­ta­tion, their pieces were sim­ple, an­gu­lar, geo­met­ric, flat and lin­ear, yet they also cre­ated three­d­i­men­sional sculp­tural pieces.

Large metal­lic sur­faces, carved gem­stones, such as jade, co­ral, onyx and rock crys­tal gave an orig­i­nal and amaz­ing feel to the piece. Lapis lazuli was also used, al­though the favourite gems at the time were aqua­ma­rine, citrine, topaz and amethyst. Di­a­monds were used as ac­cents, while sap­phire, ruby and emer­ald were not so much in favour. The best known artist-jewellers of the Art Deco epoch were George and Jean Fou­quet, Gérard San­doz, Ray­mond

Ioan­nis Alexan­dris is a gem­mol­o­gist and an ex­pert on vin­tage, an­tique and pe­riod jew­ellery (­ He can be reached at ge­ Tem­plier, Jean Deprés and Jean Du­nand.

In terms of met­als, the very strong plat­inum was per­fect to hold the gem­stones, with­out us­ing much metal. This made the jew­ellery very light and placed the im­por­tance on gem­stones rather than the metal. A less ex­pen­sive sub­sti­tute for plat­inum was plati­nor.

In gem­stones, new cuts were in­tro­duced to suit the geo­met­ric mo­tifs. Baguettes, cal­i­brated stones, trapezes, half­moons, bar­rettes, tri­an­gles and prisms – all gave a to­tally new di­men­sion to the de­sign, even in sim­ple and re­peat­edly used forms and mo­tifs from other decades.

In the 1930s, in ad­di­tion to the gem­stones men­tioned above, other favourite gems were mala­chite, turquoise, dyed chal­cedony, amber, chryso­prase and the new cul­tured pearls, which ap­peared in the mar­ket around 1921. Motherof-pearl, plas­tic and other syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als, mostly bake­lite, were also pop­u­lar. Lac­quer in jew­ellery and ac­ces­sories, such as cig­a­rette cases, re­placed the enam­elling of the Art Nou­veau pe­riod.

The most fa­mous jewellers, apart from the artist-jewellers men­tioned above, were Chaumet, Cartier, Boucheron, Mellerio, La­cloche, Mauboussin, Van Cleef & Ar­pels (around 1934, the com­pany cre­ated the fa­mous Ludo Hexagone bracelet and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary In­vis­i­ble Set­ting), René Boivin, Louis Au­coc, Suzanne Belper­ron, Walfers, Ostertag, Janesich, Wolfers, Jensen, Tif­fany & Co., Black Star & Frost, Shreve & Co., Os­car Hey­man & Bros., Mai­son Birks, Charl­ton & Co., Wil­liam Scheer Inc., and Udall & Bal­lou.

Prized and of­ten im­i­tated to­day, Art Deco jew­ellery is in­deed a won­der­ful ad­di­tion to any woman’s jew­ellery wardrobe.

CARVED RUBY and di­a­mond brooch. (Ge­molithos Pri­vate Col­lec­tion)

CURVED JADE cig­a­rette case with di­a­mond and ruby ac­cents. (Ge­molithos)

DI­A­MOND and onyx brooch. (Lang An­tiques)

EMER­ALD, sap­phire and di­a­mond brooch. (Ge­molithos)

Di­a­mond and gem dou­ble clip-brooch. (Lang An­tiques)

Emer­ald and di­a­mond neck­lace in plat­inum, ca 1915-25. (Lang An­tiques)

DI­A­MOND and emer­ald plat­inum bow brooch, ca 1925. (Lang An­tiques)

OPAL and di­a­mond ring. (Lang An­tiques)

“FOUGERAY” di­a­mond and sap­phire brooch, ca 1925. (Lang An­tiques)

DI­A­MOND CLIP (Ge­molithos)

One of the most fa­mous Art Deco struc­tures is the Chrysler Build­ing in New York City.

PLAT­INUM, EMER­ALD and Euro­pean-cut di­a­mond brooch by J.E. Cald­well. (Un­der the Crown)

1920s di­a­mond and rock crys­tal brooch. (Richard Og­den Ltd.)

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