I’ve yet to find the person who doesn’t adore Art Nouveau jewelry. Hot, hot, hot – it is in high demand. The period under discussion would be from 1890 to 1905. Not a long time for an art movement to make such a huge impact. To this day, you can’t walk the streets of Paris without falling in love with the beautiful Art Nouveau railings of the Paris Metro. What do we know about Art Nouveau jewelry?
Henry Vever claims that jewelry towards the end of the 19th century was uninspired and boring.
New forces began to blow from creative sources and jewelry was one area amongst many that was influenced by the new movement, called Art Nouveau. While not responsible for the theory behind the style, S Bing opened his shop in Paris and called it L’Art Nouveau, which is the origin of the name.
The Art Nouveau movement was strongly influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement and shares much of its philosophy.
The same revolt against dreary machine-made products inspired the Art Nouveau movement as it did the Arts & Crafts movement. While the focus of the Arts & Crafts philosophers was on the dignity of the artist-craftsman, the Art Nouveau philosopher looked to Japan for inspiration.
Japanese art was deeply rooted in nature. Nature in all its forms is a large part of the Art Nouveau style and jewelry. Organic shapes in nature – curving and curling as though in perpetual motion replaced static historicity. Art Nouveau jewelry may metamorphosize from one form to another and there is always a sense of motion. The most represented form in Art Nouveau jewelry is the female – both body and head, with flowing locks and tresses often forming the dominant motive in a design. Figures were elongated, curvaceous and languid. When males are represented, they are often hermaphrodite in appearance.
For Art Nouveau jewelers, the process was deemed as important as the product, as were the materials chosen and the methods used. Art Nouveau did not differentiate between painting and sculpture and the applied arts, which traditionally were considered inferior to the more serious fine arts.
The greatest innovator of the period was the French brilliant jeweler Rene Lalique. L.C. Tiffany in New York and Carl Faberge in Russia also created exquisite jewels. Everywhere else, these genius craftsmen and true artists were emulated by other jewelry makers.
The Nouveau movement is characterized by elongated, elegant forms, sensuality, especially representations of women with flowing locks, snakes and vines twining and overlapping, nature themes and at its finest, it did not shy away from using top quality, expensive materials (but not only these materials such as glass and horn were also used). Metamorphosing forms - women with dragonfly arms or serpents - Art Nouveau was ultimately imaginative and often symbolic.
A mish-mash of Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau jewelry became popular in Newark, NJ, which became an enormous manufacturing center towards the close of the 19th century. In factories that totally contradicted the spirit of Arts and Crafts philosophy, standards that fell short of the original French Art Nouveau, attempts to emulate these movements on a cheap scale, made jewelry mirroring these movements truly available to the masses.
At about the same time, in Germany, the town of Pforzheim was producing very similar fare. Much of it in silver, typically enameled, and using cheap stones and even paste, this jewelry has become highly sought after today. Jewelry from these towns are difficult to find and will include twining, scrolling, whiplash features of the Nouveau, enameling (plique a jour being most desirable) and secondary gems.
Often baroque pearls are suspended from these pieces.
Many books are to be found on both the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts movements, but it is important to remember that they took place concurrently and each influenced the other. Often we find jewelry that does not distinctly belong to one single movement but shows features of more than one design and philosophical trends.
The most overwhelming fact about jewelry from the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau period is that they are so scarce. More traditional earrings from this period are more readily available.