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Art Deco Jewellery

artdeco1The Art Deco period is one of the most popular and enduring design periods in jewellery’s history. The style reflected the flamboyant and playful attitudes of the era and gave birth to forms and motifs that continue to live on today.

Some consumers seek out authentic vintage and antique pieces from 1920 to 1935 for collections, and others purchase contemporary fashion jewellery featuring Art Deco styles simply because they like the patterns and looks.

Art Deco had strong roots in France, and while the name is thought to have been taken from L’Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne in Paris in 1925, the phrase was not commonly ascribed to the aesthetic until 1968, when English art historian Bevis Hillier wrote his definitive “Art Deco of the 20s and 30s.”

Art Deco jewellery is marked by its geometry and symmetry. In this respect, Art Deco has more in common with the highly graphic and stylized designs of Arts and Crafts than Art Nouveau. In addition, Art Deco is a product of the machine age. Thus, Art Deco designs often adhere to grids, while other examples appear to be in motion, as if their lines had been pulled by the mechanical acceleration of the object itself.

Two of the most revered jewellery designers of the period were Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels, whose diamond-studded bracelets, ruby-flecked brooches, and sapphire earrings expressed the opulence and free-spending abandon of the 1920s. Black onyx and red coral were also popular materials, for the graphic properties if not their intrinsic value.

Of course, Art Deco jewellery did more than just reference geometry and machines. Many pieces were influenced by trends in fine art, particularly Cubism and Futurism. Egyptian Revival designs are also sometimes lumped into the sphere of Art Deco, thanks to their repeated and radiating patterns in colored enamels as well as precious metals and stones.

And Art Deco jewellery was produced in gold, perhaps nowhere better than in Pforzheim, Germany, where goldsmiths such as Emil Lettre and Theodor Wende made pendants, brooches, and other forms in graphic, geometric designs, sometimes incorporating emeralds and pearls into their work.


Women adorned themselves with bold, colorful pieces of jewellery during the Art Deco period. Those who could afford large gemstones and diamond-studded accessories bought fine jewellery. With scientific advancements, designers created costume jewellery that mimicked the look of higher end pieces by using cheaper materials.


Fine jewellery of the era featured diamonds of varying sizes and colorful gemstones. Ruby, sapphire, and emerald were popular gemstones due to their vibrant and contrasting colors. Geometric cuts, such as emerald, Asscher, and trilliant, were commonly used to match the angular designs of Art Deco. Diamond baguettes filled entire pieces of jewellery for sparkling effects. Designers also used colorful stones, such as jade, pearl, onyx, coral, and carnelian. White metals became more popular for their futuristic appeal, so platinum and white gold jewellery is prevalent in Art Deco styles.


Designers incorporated fake gemstones, faux stones, and cheaper materials in costume jewellery to imitate the looks of fine jewellery at lower prices. Crystal beads and Venetian glass with bright colors replaced expensive gemstones. Rhodium plating imitated the silvery-white color of platinum. Scientists developed new plastics that were crafted into beads, earrings, and bangle bracelets. Bakelite is a type of plastic made from formaldehyde and phenol, and jewellery made from this material is a popular collector’s item due to its vintage origin. Designers made Art Deco jewellery from enamel, ceramics, celluloid, and other plastics available during that era.


Art Deco incorporates a few recurring themes that were influenced by different cultures, societal changes, and other styles. Maintaining some aspects of the Art Nouveau style, Art Deco includes images of graceful animals like panthers, gazelles, and greyhounds. Egyptian influence is apparent in jewellery pieces featuring pyramidal shapes, scarabs, and sphinxes. Interest in this culture expanded after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Some Art Deco jewellery includes images of arrows, which maintain the geometric theme and allude to African culture. Rockets and dragons sometimes appear in jewellery and stem from Chinese customs.


After women gained the right to vote, they expressed their independence and individuality through Art Deco jewellery and accessories. Bobbed haircuts, shorter dresses, and the flapper lifestyle were characteristics of many women during the 1920s, and their jewellery helped express their newfound attitudes toward society. The following table highlights some common styles of Art Deco Jewellery.


Early in the period combs, used to support heavier longer hair, were no longer a necessity and Hatpins, not needed on the smaller cloche style hats, all but disappeared. In the 1920’s the tiara was replaced by the bandeau which was worn low on the forehead providing the perfect framing to the new shorter hairstyles. Adapted to the Art Deco style, they were designed with honeycomb patterns, lozenge shapes and other geometric motifs and were often convertible to bracelets, brooches, necklaces or clips when not in use as a bandeau. The exception to this style was found in England where court etiquette still dictated the wearing of tiaras for important state functions. Tiaras were thus produced with Art Deco styling for use at such occasions. Late in the period, tiaras re-emerged with a wider popularity and a new heavier more substantial look to compliment the new longer hairstyles. Hair clips, combs and aigrettes also returned showing new versatility in their convertibility to brooches.


Often underestimated Art-Deco jewellery has made a come back amongst serious collectors and even investors. Says David Bennett, the head of Sotheby’s jewellery department for Europe and the Middle East: “Art Deco was everything jewellery was meant to be beautiful, glamorous, and romantic.”


The current interest in Art Deco jewellery only dates from the late 1970’s. There was a time when Art Deco jewellery was actually worth less than the stones it was made off, thus leading to many pieces being taken apart to sell or use the stones separately. There are several reasons why this situation has changed so dramatically, and is expected to stay that way:


Devotees vary from the Duchess of Windsor to Sarah Jessica Parker. “It goes with everything, and it’s still absolutely chic,” says David Bennett, the head of Sotheby’s jewellery department for Europe and the Middle East.


Where designers sell thousands of jewellery pieces per year nowadays it used to be a few dozen in the 1920’s. QUALITY: These pieces are the product of a time many consider the pinnacle of jewellery craftsmanship. “You’ll never see anything like it again,” declares Esmerian. “Back then, you had to apprentice under a master jeweler. It is not as it was in the 1920s and ‘30s. Today, people want coffee breaks.”

Prices can hit $100,000 plus, but the starter collector can get in for $1,500. Truly exceptional pieces-made with precious stones and crafted by top designers-can go for much higher. Besides quality of craftsmanship and the strength of the design other key factors in establishing value are a dog’s head stamped inside a piece, employed by French designers only, and for all, the visibility of scant metal on the underside of bracelets, necklaces and earrings. The less metal used, the more skillful the artisan, and the more valuable the piece. Pieces made with jade are especially valuable today too, due to interest from Asian collectors.



• Long, pendant earrings were popular in the Art Deco style.

• The pendants featured large stones, gemstones, or diamonds to stand out as a bold statement.

• Multiple strands of beads complemented the flapper-style dress and other accessories.

• Long earrings accentuated bobbed hairstyles and called attention to the women.

• Chandelier earrings were also popular during the Art Deco era.



• Necklaces often featured numerous beads or pearls.

• Excessively long strands of beads were wrapped around the neck several times to create a layered look.

• The beads featured bright colors that typically contrasted the tones of the wearer’s dress or outfit.

• For formal occasions, women wore pearl necklaces of varying colors.



• Short-sleeved and sleeveless dresses were popular in the 1920s, so women adorned their bare arms

• In multiple bracelets and thicker cuffs. Flappers often wore thin Bakelite bangles stacked on top of one another.

• The multitude of bracelets clinked against each other as the wearer danced at social events.

• Thicker bracelets featured large gemstones or colored glass accents and were often studded with diamonds or crystals.

• Upper-class women wore tennis bracelets with diamonds and gemstones in square settings.



• Cocktail rings were one of the most popular styles of the Art Deco era.

• These accessories are oversized rings that often feature a large, centered gem or jewel.

• Women wore these eye-catching rings to cocktail parties and illegal speakeasies to flaunt their style.

• In later decades, cocktail rings were worn as statement pieces and fashionable accessories for casual events.



• Diamond watches became popular for women to wear during the Art Deco era.

• Square or rectangular faces were studded with diamonds and featured white metal.

• Narrow wrist bands were made of metal and contained more diamonds.

• Less expensive styles used leather, plastic, or rhodium-plated wrist bands without stones.



• During the Art Deco era, brooches evolved in style to become dress clips, fur clips, and duettes.

• Originally known as pin clips, these accessories were more secure than brooches and contained prongs, clips, or hinged clasps that attached to the fabric. Traditionally, dress clips were worn at the center of the neckline or in pairs at the corners of square necklines. In the 1920s, women starting clipping these accessories to other parts of their ensemble. Dress clips were attached to hats, purses, shoes, belts, and the shoulders of sleeveless dresses. Fur clips were durable enough to grasp fur coats and to secure fur stolls.

• Duettes were a special type of clip that featured two pieces that could be worn together as one large accent or separately as coordinating pieces of jewellery. Pin clip designs were intricate and elaborate with multiple gemstones or faux jewels.


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