written by JC Blackburn
Art Deco was spawned from two major movements in the art world: Cubism and Fauvism.
Cubism is a method of art that displays several different viewpoints at the same time. Most of the elements are cube shaped or utilize other geometrical shapes. The pioneers of the Cubism movement were Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Cubism began in France in 1907 and flourished until the 1920’s.
Fauvism, on the other hand, was popularized around 1905 by one of the art world’s most avant garde artists of the time, Henri Matisse. Fauvism utilized vivid, unrealistic colors, often within a structure of more traditional, idealized landscapes, giving the art a highly modernized and new expression.
The fusing of Cubism and Fauvism became know as Art Deco, although that specific term would not be coined until the 1960’s.
These two art styles became so popular in the beginning of the 20th century that their essence began to seep into other forms of art, product design and architecture.
Art Deco would become so popular that it became the longest lasting art style ever seen in modern history and would influence how everything was designed, from jewelry to household appliances, skyscrapers to automobiles and everything in between.
Art Deco represented early, modern 20th century life of the industrial revolution by utilizing clean, straight lines and geometric shapes with highly contrasting colors. This was a clear break from the frilly, overdecorated garland style of Edwardian style and the flowy, curvy and pastel attributes of Art Nouveau.
The pioneers of high-end Art Deco jewelry were Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Fouquet and Maboussin.
Art Deco jewelry really kicked into gear after World War I. In the spirit of rebuilding and renewal, jewelry design reflected everything that was going on at the time. Technical advancements, new machinery and innovation really pushed the modern, linear, geometric look of Art Deco design.
Women’s clothing fashion influenced the type of Art Deco jewelry that was made as well. The sleeveless dress became popular. Women’s roles were changing. While their husbands were off at war, many women worked in the war effort, in factories, hospitals or administration offices.
Overly layered, ruffled dresses were not practical anymore and clothing designers transitioned accordingly by making dresses that reflected the needs and styles of the modern woman.
Bare armed dresses gave jewelry designers the opportunity to design large bangles and wide bracelets in the Art Deco fashion of the day. Large, geometric shaped pieces, often with multi-colored stones and accented with diamonds became hugely popular.
The discovery of King Tutankhamen’s grave in 1922 revealed colors and shapes that melded perfectly with the Art Deco style. Shortly after photos were published worldwide of the incredible find, jewelers were making Art Deco jewelry with ancient Egyptian themes. Scarabs, pharaoh heads, wall paintings from the tomb and countless other icons were used to create a display of stunning jewelry designs.
In order to mimic the bold colors and petrified stone textures found in the King Tut tomb, jewelers utilized coral, black onyx, turquoise, bone, ivory, using diamonds as accent stones, often set in platinum. Diamonds were no longer the exclusive centerpiece in high end jewelry and often played second fiddle to much more affordable stones.
One of the most influential moments for Art Deco jewelry came in 1922 at the Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industrial Modernes. It was a massive event held in Paris where exhibitors came from all around the globe to attend and display their respective countries’ artwork, crafts and special niche in the world of design.
The event only expanded the Art Deco movement by exposing European artisans and designers to an array of International wonders. It wasn’t long before the big-name jewelry houses of the time were making amazing Art Deco jewelry influenced by the far and middle east.
The so called “tutti frutti” color combinations found in Indian Moghul jewelry and Persian art made their way onto Art Deco pieces utilizing special-cut colored stones in a medley of colors.
The use of dragons, jade, coral and pearls from China and Japan made their way onto European and American Art Deco jewelry from the big jewelry names at the time.
Art Deco jewelry signed from jewelers like Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels command extremely high prices at auction today.
The Art Deco period flourished until around 1940 with the start of World War II, where it fizzled and then had a brief “revival” in the 1960’s.”