Art Deco Jewelry

The new style which stemmed from a rejection of the excessive Art Nouveau naturalism was perhaps foreshadowed by the delicate linearity of the garland style, had its roots in the chromatic contrasts popularized by the Ballets Russes, found sources of inspiration in the exotic forms of Oriental, African and South American art and was influenced by the contemporary Cubist and Fauve movements in Art.

The Vienna Sessessionists, with their austere style of confining the flowing Art Nouveau lines to geometric contours aimed at reducing each ornamental object to its utilitarian lines, played an important role in the evolution of jewelry design towards geometrics and stylization.

Critics were particularly aware of the aesthetic and sociological significance of the new creations and France continued to lead the world in jewelry, followed as always with varying degrees of success, by the rest of Europe. However, some European countries kept their individuality although they were drawn along with the current. The Catalan Pavillon provoked amused reactions with a series of Cubist jewels while the Austrians distinguished themselves by their gaiety and the imagination and richness of their designs. The name of Dagobert Peche who had been one of the most brilliant artists of the Wiener Werkstaette was particularly acclaimed.

As far as the Swiss were concerned, the watch seemed to be more or less closely connected with jewelry, but from a point of view completely different from earlier times. While in the eighteenth century, the watch, chatelaine and pendants had provided large surfaces to be decorated with enamels, diamonds and gems, the reverse was now true. Prodigiously tiny watches were integrated into ornaments, which hid and eclipsed them completely.

Belgium, too, achieved great distinction in this Exhibition with the works of the Leyssen Brothers and Goosemans. Parisian influence was quite strong in Brussels, but it did not obscure a certain originality of form. Wolfers is quoted in all the accounts but more for his interior decorations than his jewelry, although the firm was producing extremely interesting pieces during that period. The geometric designs of his bracelets were remarkably varies, shapes and colors alternated, set off by black onyx and pave backgrounds of tiny brilliants. Wolfers colorful brooches showed constant eagerness to adapt the new repertoire to the art of jewelry without relinquishing either delicacy of execution or richness of material.

Art Deco announced the definitive arrival of color, foreseen since 1900 by some, confirmed in 1910 by the success of the Russian Ballet, but subsequently retarded by traditional if not commercial considerations. The obsession of Dufy, Matisse and the other Fauve painters with color led them to abolish perspective, chiaroscuro and detail in favor of chromatic contrasts and essentially simple lines. Another movement which influenced the designs of ‘avant-garde’ jewelers was ‘Futurism’. Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto praised speed and urban life, suggested that the artists inspiration had to come from the mechanical world and encouraged the removal of decorative excess in favor of geometrical lines. Flexible enough to incorporate Native American, African, Egyptian and Oriental images into its functional lines, Art Deco was the personification of geometry and symmetry. Black and white with dramatic color was a typical contrast depicted in jewelry with the brilliance of diamonds, the darkness of black onyx, the richness of red coral and the reflectiveness of platinum. The colorful fruit salad bracelet, the scarab ring and the sleek greyhound were popular period pieces, graceful and feminine with formalized floral designs seemingly borrowed from Art Nouveau’s radical free flowing curves and naturalistic motifs. It took them to an extreme, with precise curves and ovals and starkly formalized floral representations. The lateral period of Art Deco was known as Art Modern or Modernism and offered yet another version of ‘decorative’.

Exotic civilizations also inspired numerous creations of avant-garde and even conservative jewelers. I the year 1922 the joint efforts of Lord Carnavon and Howard Carter, culminated in the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen in the remote Valley of the Kings in Egypt and their remarkable discovery aroused interest around the world. The opening of the quartz sarcophagus of the young pharaoh revealed the famous gold mask, his gold pectoral, armlets, diadem, and rings. The Egyptian civilization became an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the figurative arts, literature, fashion and jewelry design. Cartier, Boucheron, and Van Cleef & Arpels were strongly influenced by the fascination of Egypt and the Persian style revived by Paul Poiret continued in vogue. Persian carpets and miniatures supplied a rich source of inspiration for chromatic combinations and decorative motifs; plants and flowers, leaves and arabesques of Islamic influence invaded the design of period brooches, aigrettes and vanity cases. The linear and geometric forms of Islamic art with its stylization of natural forms was well suited to the ideals of the Art Deco movement, as were the bright combinations of primary colors depicted on pottery and mosque tiles.

The primary colors of Jaipur enamel jewelry inspired a great number of the ruby, emerald and diamond creations of the late 1920′s and the traditional Indian turban ornament called the ‘sarpesh’ became a motif for pins and brooches. Turban ornaments were transferred from Indian traditional costumes to necklaces and sautoirs and the typically Indian necklace of ruby, sapphire and emerald beads was introduced to Europe and westernized with diamond plaques pierced in geometrical patterns. Carved rubies, sapphires and emeralds, typical of Indian jewelry, also found their way to Europe and were frequently mounted in jewels of Oriental inspiration in the form of flowerheads, fruits and berries and in ‘girdinetto’ brooches of Western tradition.
The Far East supplied exotic motifs such as pagodas, dragons, Chinese symbols and stylization of nature. The favorite stones of the East such as coral, pearl, mother-of-pearl and jade were introduced in Western jewels, while African art revealed its impact as another source of inspiration. The two ‘Expositions Coloniales’ of Marseille and Paris in 1922 and 1931 drew European attention to the fresh and original forms of tribal art, and the ‘Revue Negre’ of Josephine Baker was to fascinate Paris society in 1925, popularizing the rhythms and traditions of Black Africa. Large bangles simply carved in ivory or wood, or made of metal, came into vogue and were worn several at a time.

And finally, archeological research in central and South America attracted attention to the Mayan and pre-Colombian civilizations and the geometrical quality, characteristic of Central and Southern American art was introduced into jewelry design, encompassing concentric, quadrangular and rectangular motifs and Mayan pyramids were used as complementary motifs in decorative arts as a whole.

To suit the vast variety of new and exotic motifs realized with strictly geometrical lines, the gem-cutters embarked upon new experiments and, along with the baguettes and the calibre stones of the first years of the century, trapezes, semi-circles, half-moons, barrels, triangles and prisms made their appearance. Table and baguette cut stones were set alongside the classic cuts, producing a play of light in the scintillating surface of the ornament, which was even more subtly pleasing to the eye in that the reason for it was not immediately apparent. The growing popularity of pearls and their scarcity and high price gave birth to the technique of pearl cultivation, pioneered by a group of Japanese scientists led by Mikimoto. The first cultured pearls appeared on the market in 1922, and in spite of strong opposition on the part of natural pearl merchants, they quickly became a features of the jewels of the Art Deco era, worn both by day and by night, alone or combined with precious and semi-precious stones.

Platinum had become the metal par excellence, favored by many Art Deco jewelry designers, but its rarity and high cost soon encouraged research for a less expensive substitute and led to the discovery of an alternative metal consisting of an alloy which was given the name of ‘osmior’, ‘plator’ or ‘platinor’.

The jewels of the 1920′s favored circles, ovals, rectangles and squares and were essentially light and simple. Only towards the end of the decade did they become heavier and chunkier in style. Some were designed with versatility so that they could be taken apart and worn in different forms: Bandaux and sautoirs were divided into bracelets and clips, brooches into clips, and necklace pendants were occasionally worn as earrings.

The bijoutiers-joailliers exhibiting at the 1925 Paris salon had a significant impact, through their innovative designs, upon jewelry production of the 1920′s and 1930′s, thus contributing to the creation of a definitive Art Deco style in jewelry. The most influential participants at the Exhibition were the houses of Cartier, Boucheron, Chaumet and Mellerio, Lacloche, Mauboussin and Van Cleef & Arpels.

Cartier embraced the new Art Deco fashion while maintaining the moderation, style and balance typical of the famous Maison which had to meet the tastes of a privileged life. Cartier’s 1920′s production in art Deco style was derived from the formal and geometrical compositions of the garland style, rather than from the contemporary Cubist experimentation. The Far East, India, and Persia had strong influences on Cartier’s design, subjects, choice of material and chromatic combinations.

Boucheron, produced striking brooches, oval or scrolled in shape and inlaid with carved jade, coral and lapis lazuli in geometrical and stylized shell patterns, embellished with small diamonds. The floral motifs were newly interpreted and stylized by Boucheron in simplified sprays and bouquets of diamonds, outlined with black enamel or onyx, occasionally enriched with corals. Alongside those naturalistic stylizations, Boucheron also produced more abstract and geometrical jewels, applying zigzag, circular and angular patterns.

Chaumet & Mellerio were open to the various sources of inspirations of the period, and produced jewels of Oriental taste, making use of carved precious and semi-precious stones. Their giardinetto brooches were set with carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires, vanity cases set with lapis lazuli and coral flower-heads, etc, and their collections also encompassed sober and strictly geometric jewels set with paves of diamonds, embellished with colored stones.

Lacloche’s production of the 1920′s was characterized by the bright colors and strong geometrics of lacquered and enameled cigarette and vanity cases, set with diamonds and precious stones, depicting motifs of various inspirations. Lacloche also presented an avant-garde series of rectangular pendants in the ‘narrative’ style, depicting anecdotes of fables of La Fontaine, drawn with simple geometrical lines, set with precious colored stones against a background paved with diamonds.

Mauboussin was particularly attracted to floral designs which frequently appeared in bracelets and brooches, where colored stones and enamels contrasted with the white brilliance of diamonds. Mauboussin preferred the curved lines of ovals and circles rather than the angular geometry of prismatic forms.

Van Cleef & Arpels were sensitive to the influence of the Egyptian archeological discoveries and produced a series of jewels, particularly flexible band bracelets, decorated with ruby, emerald and sapphire pharaonic motifs.

Other jewelers who contributed to creating the aesthetic Art Deco style of the 1920′s but whose names are less known, are Aucoc, Rene Boivin, Herz-Belperron, Ostertag and Worms, Although French jewelers excelled in the production of Art Deco jewelry, an international contribution to the formation of the new style also came from the Italian Ravasco and Janesich, from the Belgian Wolfers and the Danish Jensen.

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