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Jewelry history : Discover great period of antique jewelry

Antique jewelry from the end of the 19th century to today

At the end of the 19th century, antique jewelry, which until then had been inspired by history and archaeology, tended to deliberately break with traditional jewelry.

A new artistic trend arrived from England around 1860 and was introduced in France by Samuel Bing, an antique dealer, specialist and lover of Japanese art who created the "movement". In this context, the encounter with "Japonism" inflamed the West. Although trade with China was common, the Empire of the Rising Sun was closed to foreigners and as soon as a new emperor arrived in 1866, determined to bring his country out of its confinement, Japanese objects and culture reached us. The calligraphy, the objects, the lines, these arts in their sobriety, turned towards nature reveal a new creative conception. Art Nouveau was born.

Discover the different currents and styles of the 20th century, the golden age of jewelry that still influences the greatest jewelers today. 

Art Nouveau jewelry, the "Noodle Style" from : 1870s to 1915

A little history of Art Nouveau jewelry

All fields of applied arts are affected, but it is in the creation of jewelry that Art Nouveau will change everything. Gone are the expensive and stoned ornaments, sign of a social rank. It is the appearance of gems and materials little or not used until then as the moonstone jewels, the opal jewels, the baroque pearl jewels, the horn jewels or the ivory jewels but more particularly the translucent enamel jewels and the glass paste jewels. Extraordinary jewels created and shown at the time of the universal exposures or living rooms, produced in very small quantities, which did not put these parts at the range of all the women.

The shape and materials of Art Nouveau jewelry

Nature is fully represented with flowers with visible and open calyxes like iris, orchid but also pine cones and thistles. Trees, buds, berries, twigs, ivy and wisteria. Among the animals, it is the universe of the small with the insects : bees, grasshoppers and other butterflies and dragonflies whose wings made of enamel bring a transparency of iridescent colors. Snakes, fish, lizards and frogs recall the aquatic world. The birds with swans, bats, swallows but also the fantastic animals represented by dragons, chimeras and other mermaids. But above all, the Woman, this woman who makes scandal, rid of her corset, her hair untied and who shocks with her naked body hardly hidden by floating veils. She has become a fairy, a nymph, winged with her undulating body with marked lines.


Art Deco jewelry, the Roaring Twenties : 1920 to 1935

The brooch is the art deco jewel par excellence, with double clips, plate brooches, loop brooches, pins, barrettes, shoulder brooches, fibulas. Some were worn on lapels but also on cloche hats or belts. The bracelets worn on the wrists but also on the upper arm; wide and rigid, they are also made of plates or articulated patterns or particular material. Necklaces and pendants on open necks are worn during the day as well as at night. They can be short or in volumes, long in saltire of pearls, hard stones or bayadères of pearls finished by a ring supporting a reason with or without pompom.

Women have cut their hair "à la garçonne" thus revealing long pendant earrings in the form of drops, rings or disks. The rings are geometrical in the form of signet rings, more or less massive in plan and volume. The central stone is often framed by a staircase set or not with rods extending the ring. 

The opposition of materials, colors and shapes are the basis of the choice of materials. In platinum most often with diamonds in paving, alone or with other stones or precious materials such as rubies, emeralds or sapphire in calibrated stones, pearls and also all the fine stones, mother-of-pearl, coral, rock crystal, lapis lazuli, amber, jet, ivory, tortoiseshell, precious woods such as ebony, macassar or amourette wood.  

A little history of Art deco jewelry

At the end of the First World War, after 4 years of nightmare, everyone wants to have fun, to believe in a new future where nothing will be the same, progress and modernism are the key words of a great revival, of new times... The creative artists of the moment founded the UAM, the Union of Modern Artists, they regularly exhibited their work at the Marsan Pavilion, in the Louvre; they wanted to revive an international exhibition like the great universal exhibition of 1901 which crowned Art Nouveau and which would bring the proof of the French supremacy in decorative arts. Fauvism and cubism made their appearance. The forms and volumes starting from the basic geometrical figures such as the circle, the rectangle, the cone and the triangle influenced them very strongly and this, until the second world war. Finally in 1925, the hoped-for exhibition opened. This event will be considerable. 21 countries will be represented there with obligation for the exhibitors to show only modern art. 

The shapes and materials of the antique Art Deco jewel

We are talking about jewelry objects, jewelry sculptures, jewelry architectures where geometric purity dominates with flat surfaces, clean lines, offsets, and frank colors brought by the choice of materials. The great jewelers who had shunned the art nouveau are launched in their turn in this style. The art deco jewels are inspired by very diverse themes linked to the industrial evolution with the bolts, screw threads, propellers of planes, nuts or connecting rods recalling the automobile sports, the planes, the horse riding. Architectural motifs such as columns, pediments, staircases... and again nature with all the plants. A lot of animal jewelry with panthers, gazelles or tigers, horses, cats and dogs like fox, scotch terriers and greyhounds very fashionable.    

Then jewelry with Asian motifs made of pagodas, Buddhas, dragons and themes on Egypt with sphinxes, winged scarabs, palm trees.... inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamen.

Some great names of this period

  • The signatures : Fouquet, Templier, Sandoz, Brandt, Desprès, Dunand....
  • The creators : Cartier, Boucheron, Van Cleef, Mauboussin, Chaumet, Boivin, Lacloche pour les joailliers.  

Tank jewelry from 1936 to 1950

The most worn are the Tank brooches with shapes described below. The birds in pendants or brooches are nightingales or birds of paradise, often represented in a cage whose door is closed during the war and opened after the war. The bracelets are large and voluminous with a succession of articulated geometric motifs, some of which are reminiscent of the caterpillars of the tanks that crisscrossed our country at the time, hence the name "Tank", or sometimes with a single large motif set with gems or not. The necklaces are made of a mesh called "gas pipe or tubogas" or snake mesh, which are crisscrossed and assembled on the front by a knot, a flower or a bouquet with sometimes bangs.  The tank rings are typical and recognizable for sure by their volume : like large signet rings whose shapes are called "bridge, open book, Turkish, knot, turban ..." often set with diamonds and synthetic rubies. 

A little history of the Tank jewelry

The dark clouds are gathering over the States. In 1937 the World's Fair opened. The atmosphere was stormy, and as is often the case in these periods, the price of gold rose again. Massive jewelry appeared, in a bright yellow gold, the opposite of the whiteness of the previous style. 

The shapes and materials of Tank Jewelry

The shapes are heavy and complicated. The war is here, and with it the difficulties to get precious metals. The quota gold must be provided by its customer to the jeweler who works "in room". one makes melt its antique jewels. But in these troubled times, the possession of jewels obeyed very opposite motives. For some, they are the refuge value which will allow in case of need to take its goods under a weak volume, for the others they symbolize without modesty nor discretion a beautiful success in the "businesses" sometimes of the black market.

The 40's jewels are mostly in yellow or rose gold. Platinum is always used to set diamonds. Colored stones are very expensive or non-existent on the market during the war, so some emeralds and sapphires are recovered from old jewelry. Many of them are set with round or calibrated rubies which are mostly synthetic. The 40's jewels are characterized by their heavy, voluminous, full forms where the curve and the winding dominate. The metal is treated like a fabric with its drapes, its pleats, its crumpled, its ruffles, its ribbons and knots... The plant motifs are figurative with large leaves, alone or in pairs, rolled one on top of the other, tapered, with very pronounced tips. 

Some great names of this period

  • The creators : Braque, Picasso, Dali (100)
  • The signatures : Cartier, Van Cleef Boucheron, Mauboussin, Mellerio         

Article written by Geneviève Baume, Expert jewels approved, Gemmologist graduate of State.
Bibliography :
Le guide de vos bijoux de Darys/Cohen M.A éditionsR. Lalique RMN 1991      

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