Art Deco design is a standout. Jewelry from this era is one of the most exciting areas of Art Deco design.
The Art Deco period lasted approximately from 1925 – 1935. It was strongly influenced by movements that came before it, both within and without the world of jewelry, and it is strongly echoed in the Retro era that followed after it.
Art Deco design is unmistakable: in most cases it is geometric, linear, often abstract and highly colorful. Colors are often very bright. Like movements before Art Deco, earrings were influenced by earlier and foreign cultures, such as African, Egyptian and especially Chinese. (Think of the numerous uses of Chinese jade in Deco jewelry). Most striking is the influence of American architecture and skyscrapers symbolizing the period.
Tall, stepped and streamlined!
Cubism left its mark on Art Deco design as well – once again with geometric forms.
When nature prevailed in Deco jewelry, it was often in the form of a fast, running animal such as a gazelle or greyhound. Speed was a definite theme of the Deco era. Airplanes, fast cars and pilots are sometimes naturalistically depicted, as are more abstract streamlined forms and suggestions of racing. Squares, rectangles, triangles and circles prevailed in Art Deco jewelry. Think of Rene Lalique’s car mascots with hair flowing back in the wind.
Art Deco was a movement that swept the entire world. Similar jewelry was made across the globe and without a known maker’s mark, it is usually impossible to differentiate between Art Deco jewelry made in the USA, France or any other location.
Materials used range from the new, cheap plastics such as Bakelite and chrome, through enamels and intermediary materials, to rare metals and gemstones. Deco earrings might include both valuable and semi-precious gems, juxtaposed to set off one another to best effect.
Striking contrasts were popular – whether in value of material, colors or matte or shiny surfaces. Platinum became popular as it showed diamonds in their best light and is stronger than gold. A number of new materials were introduced such as onyx (often used to offset diamonds or colored stones) and ebony, besides the above-mentioned Bakelite and chrome. A little earlier in the 20th century, Mikimoto perfected the manufacture of cultured pearls, which became immensely popular. VCA began working on one of their greatest innovations: the mystery or invisible setting and pave settings where the entire surface of the jewel was ‘paved’ in a carpet of gemstones.
Another huge innovation in the 1920’s was the use of studs to secure earring. Not only more secure, but they were less obtrusive. In the 1930’s a no-less-revolutionary innovation was the clip fitting for earrings. For the first time in history, earrings could be worn without the need to have pierced ears. This also allowed for earrings that flowed ‘up’ the ear-lobe, instead of dropping from it.
Women cut their hair for the first time ever. Short hair and exposed necks were perfect for long, dangling earrings and ear pendants, often in bright, contrasting colors, incorporating onyx, jade and coral. Earrings were by far the most popular form of jewelry adornment during this era, possibly seconded by long necklaces, called sautoirs.
Long, dangling earrings that swing between ear and shoulder, are typical of the Art Deco period. These long ear pendants swinging as the wearer moved, were the perfect foil for The ‘Roaring Twenties’ with Flappers bobbin and dancing up and down.
Small ear clips could also be seen to advantage. Some of the top designers of Art Deco earrings are still popular and in demand today. Founded in the 19th century, houses such as Cartier, Chaumet, Mauboussin, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Tiffany produced magnificent earrings through the 1920’s. Other designers such as Lalique produced jewelry that is very rare and sought after today. Many Americans travelled to Paris to buy their jewelry, or went to the French Houses that opened luxury stores in New York. Other big names of the era were Dunhill and Aspreys in the UK.
During the 1930’s, earrings lost something of their length and linearity. Hoop earrings became highly fashionable, especially thanks to the advent of the clip-on.
Semantically, Art Deco jewelry can be referred to as either ‘antique jewelry’ or ‘vintage jewelry’. That is a discussion for another day.
Art Deco: Judith Miller.
Art Deco: Todtri Book Publishers.
Earrings from antiquity to the Present: Daniela Mascetti and Amanda Triossi.