Widely appreciated for its timeless sophistication, the Art Deco style marked an explosion of creativity in the world of jewelry design at its inception. The Art Deco jewelry style was birthed of a world within a celebratory mode after the end of World War I; exuberant jewels were created to express this newfound optimism. The style takes its name from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a world's fair hosted in Paris to exhibit the groundbreaking new Art Deco movement, in the realms of design, architecture, furniture, buildings, jewelry pieces, glass, and more. The fair proved to be immensely popular; over 16 million people from around the world visited to catch site of the captivating “style moderne.”
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Jewelers in the Art Deco era returned to white diamonds, which had featured heavily in the recent Belle Époque. Whereas Belle Époque designers largely took their inspiration from crowns and other royal jewels, Art Deco jewelry artists embraced the new aesthetic of their rapidly changing world. This included the technological developments of the Machine Age, including the increased prevalence of airplanes and automobiles. Modern art even influenced the geometric output of Art Deco designers, with the work of cubist painters Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso leading the way and the 1919 founding of the Bauhaus school in Germany perpetuating the stylistic evolution in the Art Deco era.
Actress and style icon Louise Brooks (1906-1985)
These combined influences speak for the prevalence of clean, geometric sahpes and lines that grew more curvilinear as the style progressed in Art Deco jewelry. Contrasting colors play heavily into the style, with onyx being a gemstone of choice that complements white diamonds. The below Tiffany & Co. Diamond and Onyx Bracelet dates to the period, perfectly epitomizing the Art Deco era. It also speaks to the popularity of bracelets and bangles, with flapper style icons likes Louise Brooks often sporting numerous simultaneously.
Non-western motifs also feature prominently in the fine jewelry of the Art Deco period. South and East Asian motifs proved especially popular, with this Cartier Jade Jabot Pin being an elegant example. Non-western-inspired jewelry pieces often incorporated a larger variety of materials and colors. The Cartier Jabot Pin, for instance, includes a handsome specimen of jade, which is embellished with asymmetrically placed diamonds and rubies, as well as black and red enameling.
A discussion of Art Deco pieces would be incomplete without a mention of the sautoir, or long necklace chains that suspended large pendants or tassels. The necklace style gracefully complemented the new flapper style of the era, in which women were liberated from the corset and began to sport fluid gowns with comfortable wide waists, which accommodated the rambunctious new dance moves of the day. These simple shift shapes beckoned for elegant adornment in the form of long pearl strands or diamond pendants. In the example below, the sautoir's pendant includes a tassel of strands of glistening natural pearls, as well as diamond and enamel geometric motifs.
Women were not the only ones privy to Art Deco creations. Men of style and privilege commissioned or bought equally enviable clocks, watches, cigarette cases and more. Below you'll find a most stunning Art Deco-period pocket watch created by the famed Audemars Piguet firm of Le Brassus, Switzerland and retailed by E. Gübelin of Lucerne. The open-faced timepiece is housed in a 14K gold case with fine enamel detailing and a white enamel face with stylistically synonymous numerals.
The Art Deco design and style left a lasting impression, amazingly achieving something both timely and timeless that continues to appeal to collectors today. Contemporary jewelers continue to emulate the magnificent colored gemstones that emerged in the period, giving further testament to the Art Deco's sophistication and desirability. These pieces were more than fine jewelry, they were decorative art that deserves to be admired for a lifetime.