To me, the most interesting period in jewellery design is the Art Deco. It is highly priced on auctions these days, and the design is easy to wear in a modern life style.
This is exactly how it was intended when the Art Deco was designed just after World War 1. Before World War 1, women didn’t work, and would wear huge dresses adorned from head to toe in jewels to reinforce the concept of helplessness. This changed during World War 1, where women had to work, while their husbands were fighting at the front. The women became more mature, business-like and favoured simple clothes and jewellery which was practical and simple in concept and design. Enjoying cocktails and cigarettes, wearing make-up, playing golf and tennis, driving, yachting and dancing till dawn were all part of the new woman.
Paris was still the epi center of artistic inspiration, and in 1925 there was a major exhibition in the centre of Paris named “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes”, where several million visitors came to admire furniture, sculptures, glass, ceramics, silver and especially jewellery, where the principle in common to all was “new inspiration and real originality”.
This exhibition made a huge cultural impact and gave its name to a movement which is synonymous today with elegance and chic – Art Deco.
The lines of Art Deco include Fauvism, Cubisme and minimal geometric lines, and the simple, linear expressions was also adopted by Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli who launched elegant tailored suits for daywear, and evening gowns in silk, which was worn with long diamond earrings and ropes of pearls and sautoirs.
In 1922 Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun, and this discovery inspired Parisian jewellers such as Cartier, Van Cleef and La cloche to create a range of Pharaonic bracelets, brooches, and clips. All set with clusters of emeralds, rubies, onyx and diamonds in Egyptian designs including hieroglyphics, pyramids, scarabs and lotus flowers.
The most popular gemstones in art deco jewellery are of course diamonds, but also Burmese rubies and sapphires and Colombian emeralds polished into sleek geometric shapes. This was for example rectangular step-cuts, triangles and squares, and diamonds were cut into the shape closely associated with Art Deco Jewellery, the baguette. This cut is ideal for slotting into geometric frames and contrasted perfectly with similarly shaped calibre-cut emeralds, rubies and sapphires.
The brilliant cut diamonds were also very ‘a la mode’ in 1920s, and they were well cut and would be set in regular lines or clusters.
The most beautiful jewellery of the art deco period is to me the bracelets, which started out in the 1920s by being pretty narrow lined bracelets and by 1930s they became broader, heavier and more angular. They can still be found in auctions or at antique jewellery shops, and are worth trying on.
Broches were also very popular in the Art Deco period, and is very popular for the moment, as it is easy to wear, and a wonderful different way of wearing jewellery. The sought after designs include bows and indeed the hoop brooch was the quintessential Art Deco jewel, which is made of a large ring of onyx or rock crystal between diamond chevron sides. Also the double clip brooches are very sought after, they are composed of a pair of identical “back-to-back” sections, each clip fastened on to a simple platinum or white gold frame. The double clip broches could be worn as a single jewel or dismantled to be attached to both lapels of a jacket.
Earrings from the Art Deco period are geometrically shaped, long and feminine, dangling from ear lobes, usually in linear designs set with diamonds, terminating to a featured, larger coloured gem. Normally they can be turned into broches.
Necklaces were extremely long sautoirs, and the iconic necklaces in the 1920s often featured a tassel, or geometric pendant. Long strands of beads and pearls were knotted carelessly around the neck, and worn down the front or back to finish the styling of the dress.
Rings, larger and more massive in the style with platforms and planes decorated by a myriad of gemstones. The center stone is often a coloured stone cut in cabochon or a large diamond, surrounded by a border of smaller diamonds. Large emerald cut stones, like emerald or aquamarine were very popular in the late 1920s.
What to look out for when buying Art Deco Jewellery:
Look for the general quality of the piece. You want it to be nice to the touch, have a nice finish. The design should be geometrical, or inspired by Egypt.
The gemstones need to be of a good cut, there is so much Art Deco jewellery of bad quality on the market. The sapphires can be man made, it is very common to find man made sapphires in Art Deco jewellery, and it doesn’t really affect the price, except if the gemstone is the central stone of the piece. Check the diamond qualities, it is better to have brilliant cut diamonds, than single cuts.
Also it is very important to check that the piece is actually made in the Art Deco period, and not a newly made copy.