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Articles from ANTIQUE-STYLE JEWELLERY (21 Articles)

Image courtesy: The French Jewel Box
Image courtesy: The French Jewel Box

Art nouveau jewellery: investigating origins

Art Nouveau is evident today in pieces that date back more than a century and also in ephemera from the ‘hippy’ days of the 1960s. In Part 1 of this look at Art Nouveau, KATHRYN WYATT investigates the origins of this defining movement.

As a design style, Art Nouveau faded out around one century ago; however, its distinctive, flowing lines and graceful curves remain visible in architecture, interior design, furniture, glassware and other decorative arts as well as paintings, posters and jewellery. Think of Gaudi’s amazing structures in Barcelona, design specialists Horta, Bugatti and Lalique and jewellery brands Ashbee, Gaillard and Fouquet.

The origin of Art Nouveau is often traced to two sources of inspiration from around 1860. The first was dissatisfaction that the industrial revolution had resulted in mass-produced, machine-made furniture, jewellery and other decorative-art pieces that lacked quality and originality. This prompted the Arts and Crafts movement in England, led by William Morris, that aimed to revive the status of good craftsmanship and self-expression with the hand-making of individual pieces, hence bringing art into people’s homes. This movement spread into North America and Europe and supported new craft techniques.

The second inspiration came from oriental artwork filtering into Europe. The Japanese presence in the 1862 London International Exhibition stimulated a fascination with Japanese art, particularly the elegant ways that nature was depicted in prints and wood cuts. The confluence of these two inspirations produced a flowing design style that reached into architecture, crafts and creative arts.

A significant moment occurred in late 1895 when Samuel Bing, a German-French art dealer who championed Japanese art and other oriental objets d’art renamed his Paris gallery Maison de l’Art Nouveau. Its architecture, interior design and fittings exemplified the modern style that became synonymous with the gallery’s name. Among European and Oriental art, Bing also showcased the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany who promoted the style in America. Art Nouveau reached its peak at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, where Bing’s pavilion exhibiting contemporary artists received great acclaim.

Although there were varying preferences for style and materials in different countries, Art Nouveau is recognisable by its use of the free-flowing ‘line’, often referred to as ‘the whiplash’. Asymmetrical, graceful curves suggested movement, vigour and passion. Designs in jewellery and decorative objects drew from nature: flowers, trees, vines, and colourful insects such as dragonflies and butterflies. Also dominant were expressions of the female form, flaunting flowing hair with diaphanous robes draping feminine curves. Fantasy creatures, such as serpents and dragons, were reinvented with action and flow, sometimes combining eroticism with the macabre.

As is often the case with a successful style, artists began to over-elaborate their designs. As mass-production took hold, the elegant and graceful interpretation of nature underpinning Art Nouveau was often misunderstood and, by 1915, Art Nouveau had lost its way in overdesign and fussiness.

Next month’s continuation of the Art Nouveau story will provide an overview of the manufacturing techniques of this style of jewellery, which lend themselves to creative, modern pieces.  

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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Monday, 16 December, 2019 08:58pm
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