It is often said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And in our next historical jewelry manufacturing period, that couldn’t ring more true. We left off last with the Art Deco period and its grand geometric shapes, where the diamond was king of the hill. But as has so often been the case, the period known for its flamboyance and frivolity was cut short by the return of war. WWII was a major blow to the jewelry arts. Platinum again became impossible to come by and gold somewhat scarce. In some instances, if you were to request a newly created piece of jewelry, you’d be expected to provide your own precious metals and even then you’d be required to “share” some with God and country.
So, let’s see where we are in our series about the different historical periods in jewelry manufacturing. We left off with the French stepping out from the watchful eye of the Edwardian period with the curvy lines, soft colors and the Art Nouveau aesthetic. But just like all of the eras previous, Art Nouveau was fated not to last. Times change. Fashions change. And change they did. As WWI began, jewelry making all but stopped. Women had been required to go to work while their men were off at battle. Gone were the corsets of the days past, and the long hair that required fussy daily maintenance. And now the war was over. Prohibition was in full swing, as were cocktail parties, women getting the vote, Asian trade routes. Fashions had changed dramatically too and short hair worn with equally short hemlines and plunging necklines were the all the rage for the newly liberated female. The Russian Ballet was in town, stirring things up with their avant-garde sets, which were bold, colorful and infused with oriental (as we called it back then) influence. King Tut’s tomb had ben discovered and opened and hints of Egyptian design could be seen sneaking into all of the fashions of the day. And with that, the Art Deco period began.
Prohibition, Flappers and King Tut: The Art Deco Period
The time frame here is roughly the 1920’s through 1935. In 1925 there had been the Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industrial Modernes (Exposition of Decorative Arts and Modern Manufacturers). Out of that exposition a fresh, new style was born and named. Women (and men) were anxious to slough off the stuffy Victorian and Edwardian accouterments. They ditched the fancy and intricate cameos, chatelaines, tiaras and diadems of their parents. And opted instead for an aesthetic influenced somewhat by the Art Nouveau period, but one that at the same time was altogether different. The flowy lines from the Art Nouveau movement had been replaced with its more austere characteristics that were much more highly stylized and full of symmetry, bold color and geometric forms. Diamonds ruled the roost now, although, rubies, emeralds and sapphires were style very much in vogue.
Not everything was completely turned upside down on its head. There were slivers of the older periods that remained. For example, the bow, basket of flowers and garland themes were still present, albeit expressed and viewed through a very new and different lens. The Edwardian period had introduced the world to the use of platinum and the various setting techniques the metal was well suited for, like knife-wire and millegrain mountings. New technologies, like seri invisible (invisible setting) created by Van Cleef and Arpels (VCA) built on the old methods and offered an element of mystery and magic to brightly colored pieces made from precious stones. And the stones themselves were experiencing a renaissance. New cuts like the calibré, bullet and the like were being fueled by the drive towards clean lines and geometry. Jewelers named Tiffany, Cartier, VCA, Harry Winston, Lalique and Mauboussin, among others, would forevermore become household names as a result of their new modern creations.
The Diamond Rules the Roost
Beyond the precious four (diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires), the era saw great use of onyx, rock crystal, jade, turquoise, coral and mother of pearl. Both natural and cultured pearls were in abundance, as was “flame fashion” synthetic corundum (sapphires and rubies) gemstones. Coco Chanel had made it not only acceptable but chic to wear costume jewelry. It was not frowned on at all, but instead often referred to as “Frankly Fake” and viewed as just as valuable as its real counterparts. Until the costume pieces became direct imitations, that is, and then they quickly fell out of favor. Center stones were usually of great quality and the star of the show – often faceted to shine brightly. The side stones, on the other hand, were subdued in their cut, usually showing up as cabochon cuts, carved leaf patters or the above mentioned new geometric cuts.
With the drastic changes in garment fashions, so did we see the same in their complimentary accessories. Plunging necklines now called for a new kind of necklace. The sautoir, a long necklace made of strands of pearls or beads, ending in one or two tassels, were all the rage. With newly shortened sleeves (or no sleeves at all), we now saw bracelets stacked up both arms en mass. Possibly the most popular piece of the day was the double clip brooch. Convertible in nature, in that the two pieces could be worn to appear to be as one, or separated and found at the end of a lapels, the belt of a dress or on the newly popular cloche hat. Wristwatches were a new fad and Cartier was known to make the best. With cocktail parties came cocktail rings – big, bold, sparkly and colorful. Accessories that had at one time been mundane – the necessary compacts, minaudières (small jeweled clutches containing cosmetic and other small necessities), cigarette holders and cigarette cases were now emblazoned and encrusted with jewels, enamel, lacquer or all of the above and glamourous. Frivolity and flamboyance was the name of the game.
Art Deco Period: A Crowd Favorite
While the styles of the Art Deco Period only lasted a handful of years, we can see their influence well into the 1950s and 1960s. And today, it’s one of the most sought-after periods for collectors of antique and vintage jewelry. We have to admit it’s one of our very favorites. Is it one of yours? Tell us in the comments what you think about the era. And if you’d like to read up a little further, we recommend Art Deco Jewelry Designs in Full Color or Art Deco Jewelry. Both are great resources. Next up later this week: Retro Modern Jewelry – the final piece of our history puzzle.
So far in our series focusing on the various periods and eras of jewelry production, we’ve been pretty myopic in looking at the impact the British had on the industry. But the Brits weren’t the only one influencing the trends. Let’s not forget that the French had a royal court and were quite keen on their adornments, as well.
What’s So Nouveau About Art Nouveau?
Throughout the Georgian and Victorian periods, they were quietly adopting the trends of the British peoples and swapping them back and forth, while occasionally influencing them. But in the late mid-to-late 19th century, that all began to change. There was a lot of change, actually. Due to the reopening of the trade routes between the East and the West in 1858, Japanese style was making a major impact on all things design. For those looking for something new and different, the Japanese esthetic known as Japonisme was just what they were searching for. Victorian jewelry was starting to be viewed as overdone and fussy and the connection between nature, mixed metals and simplicity that the Japanese designs offered was true inspiration.
For the Brits were intent on bringing back some fun and frivolity after the country had been cloaked in the darkness of mourning with Queen Victoria for so long. They were focused on the Edwardian period (with the exception of a few who were ushering the Arts and Crafts movement there) and the newly used precious metal platinum. Meanwhile, the French were stretching their wings and embracing this new decorative style: Art Nouveau.
Samuel Bing Accidentally Creates A Revolution
In 1895, an art dealer in Paris by the name of Samuel Bing was one of those looking for something new and different. The Arts and Crafts movement that had been building underground in France, Europe and the United States was proving to be a gateway to new, more simplistic ideas in jewelry and metalwork. Like the Edwardian period, consumers were uninterested in mass-produced works, and were now instead looking for a way to include more art into their everyday lives. Bing, essentially and probably inadvertently, gave this new movement a name by curating an international exhibit to celebrate the re-opening of his gallery: L’Art Nouveau .
Artists like Tiffany and Lalique were invited to participate, along with Edward Colonna, Georges de Feure and Eugene Gaillard. Throughout their respective works there was one common theme – the flowing line. Sometimes called the “whiplash” line, it was really an interpretation of any type of movement; womanly curves, the curl of one’s hair, lines and shapes found in nature in the plants. For all intents and purposes, anything that moved or undulated was fair game. Within that framework, fantasy figures were often depicted – dragons, butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers and spiders – anything that may have a gossamer effect to them was replicated in glorious hues. On the flip side, darker elements, like grotesques, bats, owls and buzzards were a favorite of many and often heavily jeweled for effect.
The Femme Fatale
And after a fairly prudish run through the Victorian times, the female form, most notably depicted as nude, was now prominent and a rebellion of sorts and growing daily in popularity. Gold, silver, opal, moonstone, horn, ivory and the like were used to depict sensual female figures. Enameling was resurrected in the Plique-à-jour, Champlevé and Pâte de verse styles – also delicate and flowing. As the dawn of the Art Nouveau period began, the rigid naturalism typical of European decorative arts was being rejected as a whole and nothing exemplified that more than the sensuous “femme”.
The period, while short-lived (1890-1910) made a lasting contribution to the world of jewelry and more broadly, art, leaving behind some magnificent works. If you’d like to read further about the Art Nouveau movement, we’d recommend Art Nouveau Jewelry or Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry. Both excellent resources providing a wealth of information, not to mention photographs of fantastic examples of this work.
Do you have a favorite Art Nouveau designer (we do!)? Do you own any fabulous pieces that you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below. As always, we’d love to hear from you.
Continuing on as we chronologically explore the various eras in vintage and antique jewelry, we’re leaving Queen Victoria behind and instead focusing on her first-born son. It’s not that the Edwardian period began the day Victoria passed on to be with her beloved husband Albert. Or ended immediately after King Edward’s brief reign. You see, Edward was a bit of a showman and playboy. While his mother was firmly entrenched in her mourning (perhaps wearing it a bit as if it were an old coat), Edward was known for living it up.
Oh, October. How did you get to be so lucky? You have as your birthstone what some call the gem of all gemstones: the opal. Opals, which are also used to celebrate the 14th year of marriage, are really just a pile of hydrated amorphous silica. Ok, we’ll explain what that means.
As we continue to meander down the chronological lane from one jewelry era to another, today we’re making a pit stop at the Victorian Era. It’s simple and yet so complex. Simple, in that we owe much of the jewelry fashion trends of the period to one woman (more on that in a few). And complex in that there were LOTS of trends within the period. Lots. We’ll cover few of them here.
Emerald Isle. Emerald City. Emerald Coast. Emerald Buddha. Emerald Ash Borer (we may have taken that last one too far, we realize). There’s a reason that things vividly green are associated with the lovely emerald. As Rome’s Pliny the Elder described emerald in his Natural History, published in the first century AD: “…nothing greens greener”
We know them as the birthstone for September and for their deep blues to medium violets. But there’s so much more to sapphires than that. The ancients believed they could provide healing (but then again, what stone didn’t they think could help heal something?). They were collected by royalty and favored by nobles, as well as Hollywood kings and queens. We’ll dive into their origin, chemical make up and see some amazing pieces here today.
Martha Stewart knows weddings. That’s a given. But does she (and/or her team) know engagement rings? VINTAGE engagement rings to be specific? We decided to check out her article 11 Tips for Finding A Vintage Engagement Ring You’ll Cherish and were thrilled to read that MSW consulted with someone we consider quite an expert – Elizabeth Doyle of Doyle and Doyle in NYC (we repost lots of their lovelies in our Instagram feed for our #AsILayMeDownToSleep nightly feature. You really should be following us on IG. Lots of awesome stuff there. But we digress. . . .). So what did Elizabeth have to say? We’ll recap it here, with some embellishments of our own.
Once upon a time, many moons ago, diamonds didn’t rule supreme in the jewelry world – there was a more colorful King of the Hill – the ruby. Many know the ruby to be the birthstone for July (our owner WendyKate’s birthstone, in fact), but long before it was appointed to that post, it held myths and mysteries for many.
Since we’re on a bit of a diamond kick lately, I thought I’d talk about colored diamonds next in our series on gemstones. Almost everyone knows about a colorless diamond. But did you know that diamonds come in all shades of the rainbow? It’s true. “How?” you ask. Well we’ll talk about that today, as well as what makes one color over another more valuable.
April and May are notorious for bringing us a few staple items. Rain showers. Spring flowers. Weddings. Graduations. But this year, they brought us something we weren’t counting on. Record breaking jewelry auctions. Like, the crazy record-breaking kind. Let’s go over some of the biggies that made the news and some stunners that might not have made it to the front page of your local paper, but were wowzers just the same.
We all think of them when we hear that someone got engaged. And some of the biggest and best are literally word famous and worth untold sums of money. But what do we really know about diamonds? When were they first valued as something to be prized? At what point in history did they become something one would use to adorn themselves? And when the heck did they gain the popularity we know today as something to be set in a ring that proposes a lifetime together?
For the most part, the beginning of the Victorian Period (during the time of Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901) was a jovial one. It was a pretty good time to be alive. The Industrial Revolution was brewing right along and London was a hotbed of activity. Great Britain as a whole actually was. Overall, things were peaceful, prosperous and generally refined. The people of the time were in a mystical and romantic mood and the styles of the time reflected such. Colors were bright. Themes were lighthearted. And their jewelry? Well, it followed suit.
I’m often asked by women (mostly) if they had to pick one item of jewelry to purchase, what should that one item be? Ironically, I was reading an article in Harpers Bazar UK that suggested that it’s not about owning ONE piece of jewelry. There are TEN pieces every woman should have in her collection. As it turns out, with a few minor tweaks, we couldn’t agree more. Here are our collective suggestions:
Here come the royals, fiddling with our jewels again. This time they’ve got their hands in naming a particular gemstone cut: the marquise. However, it’s not the British this go round, but the French, their King and his Chief Mistress (yup – that was a title for one lucky woman).
Let’s say it’s the year 1861. You’re living in London and you’re enjoying all of the things that the new “Industrial Revolution” has brought with it. This revolution has made it much easier for commoners, like you and I, to afford some of life’s luxuries. Luxuries like jewelry, that had, up until now, been reserved for the well-heeled and wealthy. Just as you’re preparing to celebrate the Christmas season, terrible news sweeps the country. Queen Victoria’s beloved husband, Prince Albert, has died with the Queen and five of their nine children at his side.
They sit in a drawer, forgotten and forlorn, their former contents more likely to see the light of day. They once held amazing treasure. Eliciting gasps of joy when revealing their contents. But now? Now what?
So, you finally got that gorgeous rock. You know the one. That <you insert your new awesome piece of antique jewelry here>. And it’s beautiful. And sparkly. And clean. Very clean. Now the big question is, how do you keep it that way?! We’re here to help with a few quick and dirty (see what I did there?) guidelines for clean jewelry.
You love jewelry. Gorgeous, exquisite, expensive jewelry. But what’s a gal of somewhat modest means to do? How can you possibly create a drool-worthy, off the charts, amazing jewelry collection? Well, it doesn’t hurt to start off a with a pretty pedigree.
It’s an age-old question. Is bigger really better? No, we’re not talking about that! Get this is a jewelry blog not Dr. Ruth’s website. We’re talking about engagement rings. Does the size of your diamond (or whatever stone you choose – last week we gave you X reasons why you might want to choose a colored stone engagement ring), really represent how much your future spouse loves you? Does it ensure that you’ll have a solid marriage and stay together forever? And if you have a “tiny” ring, should you upgrade later? All great questions and addressed in the backlash of a Facebook post that went viral a few weeks ago.