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The flourish of art deco

Art Deco remains a popular style not just for engagement rings but also for other jewellery items. KATHRYN WYATT expands on her previous column by delving deeper into the Art Deco movement.

From exquisite, luxury-end pieces by Cartier and Boucheron to obviously fake costume pieces, jewellery from the Art Deco period covered many categories.

A style of the time, defined as 1920 to 1935, involved matching accessories to clothing. Coco Chanel, for example, was a prominent clothes designer who extended her range into costume jewellery.

It was no longer enough just to wear fabulous jewellery; pieces had to complement the clothes of the day.

Art Deco resulted from the confluence of a multitude of influences from around the world. At the time, the Russian ballet (Ballet Russe) was the toast of Europe with its magnificent sets and strident, colourful costumes. Other influences included cubism from the art world and exotic art from Asian and Islamic countries, India and Africa.

Outrageous African-American dancer Josephine Baker dominated Paris in 1925 and, consequently, African motifs in jewellery began to appear – bangles carved in ivory, wood, plastics and non-precious metals.

Patterns derived from plant leaves, flowers and arabesques of Islamic influence also materialised. The linear and geometric forms of this art conformed well to the Art Deco movement – Jaipur enamel jewellery was the inspiration of ruby and emerald pieces of the late 1920s; the Sarpesh (traditional Indian turban ornament) became a motif for pins and brooches; tasselled turban ornaments were transferred from traditional Indian costumes to necklaces, sautoirs and beads.

In 1922, Lord Carnavon and Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamen. This most important discovery soon became the inspiration for many designs with pyramids, sphinxes, obelisks, lotus flowers, scarabs and hieroglyphics all used as jewellery motifs.

Also very popular was the “all-white effect”. Created by using all diamonds and platinum, this was a stark contrast to the colourful, bold jewellery of Indian and African influence.

New cutting technology brought new shapes; triangles, trapezoids, half-moons, baguettes, oblongs, shields and emerald-cuts were the main ones that came into being.

If stones could not be cut to fit a shape, they would be inserted into a bezel of the appropriate shape to give the illusion of a particular form.

The use of cabochon was also popular, providing contrast in textures and shapes against faceted stones. Hardstones such as onyx, rock crystal, jade, lapis lazuli, malachite, turquoise, amber and chrysoprase were carved into geometric shapes to become the central motifs of brooches, pendants and bracelets.

Stark black and white was another favoured contrast that can be seen in many black onyx and diamond rings.

Art Deco was a diverse and exciting fashion that existed nearly a full century ago. Now the style has inspired many marcasite pieces of jewellery that make it a very affordable luxury for the middle classes of the 21st century.

Whether customers are searching for an authentic or ‘inspired’ Art Deco piece, retailers familiar with the ‘flavour’ of Art Deco jewellery will be able to deliver.

Kathryn Wyatt

Contributor • 

Kathryn Wyatt BSc FGAA Dip DT, is a qualified gemmologist, diamond technologist, registered jewellery valuer, educator and member of the Australian Antique & Art Dealers Association. For more information on antique and vintage jewellery courses, visit:


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