From the Victorian and Art Deco eras to the present time, all that was old is new once more – at least when exploring historic trend-setting jewelry styles of the early 19th and 20th centuries. Current jewelry designs often reflect the same gems, shapes and motifs of bygone eras.
During the reign of England’s Queen Victoria, a variety of distinct styles was popular – including sentimental, romantic, mourning, and ornate matching sets of gemstone jewelry. Cameos were customary. Some Victorian jewelry idealized past cultures, and was inspired by ancient Assyrian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman , Egyptian, Gothic, and Renaissance themes.
This woven-gold snake bracelet is from the Victorian era.
Art Nouveau, 1890-1914
French for “new art,” Art Nouveau was a radical departure from historic revival styles. Inspired by the natural world, it was characterized by imaginative and sinuous artistic expressions. Flowers, animals, butterflies, and insects were common, along with fantasy figures, such as fairies and mermaids. Themes of women being transformed into exotic creatures prevailed, characterizing the beginning of women’s liberation. Actress Sarah Bernhardt was a patron of Art Nouveau.
Here, an Art Nouveau dragonfly brooch is made of plique-a-jour enamel, with opals and silver.
Also known as the “Garland” style, Edwardian jewelry typically featured garlands of flowers tied with ribbons and bows. It was luxuriously flaunted among the affluent to purposely display wealth. Prominent society women, such as Princess Alexandra of Wales, wore jewelry in this decorative fashion, derived from 18th century ornamentation. Platinum often replaced silver. The greater availability of diamonds allowed for improvements in faceting, placing new emphasis on gem quality. Phenomenal gemstones – opals, moonstones, and alexandrites – were favored, along with exceptionally fine sapphires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Rare and expensive fancy colored diamonds in platinum mountings of exceptional workmanship distinguished the Edwardian theme.
Edwardian brooch set in platinum and gold with diamond and natural pearl.
Art Deco, 1920s and 30s
Emerging after World War I, Art Deco jewelry demonstrated a strong reaction against the ethereal sensuality of Art Nouveau and the delicate elegance of the Garland style. Strong geometric patterns in bold, contrasting colors reflected post-war pragmatism. Abstract features in sleek, streamlined designs were the trend until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
Art Deco clip with Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Diamond and Platinum.
Marked by a short supply of gems, and with platinum conscripted for military use, Retro jewelry was typically fashioned in gold in the early 1940s. Bold, sculpted curves were often featured with sparingly set small diamonds and rubies (often synthetic). The late 1940s reflected the post-war return of prosperity, and more opulent uses of colored stones were seen. Designs were inspired by mechanical objects such as bicycle chains and padlocks. In contrast, floral and bow motifs expressed the feminine side.
The yellow gold ribbon and floral brooch seen here represents the feminine side of the Retro era.
New Millenium, Present
Today’s jewelry incorporates many of these historic themes all over again. Exceptional gemstone carvings, such as the superb works of Idar-Oberstein, are still appreciated. In fact, a number of modern artists specialize in using gemstones as a medium for abstract art, similar to the imaginative Art Nouveau era.
This brooch features bold curves of platinum pave with diamonds. Modern styles often integrate themes of old.
Prosperity in the 1990s, similar to that of the Edwardian period, renewed the fascination for rare diamonds and unusual gemstones. New high-tech cuts such as the princess and radiant cuts were introduced, and a revived interest in antique cuts – briolette, rose, old mine, and cushion cuts – emerged. The 1990s also ushered in new techniques for mounting gemstones, such as invisible and tension settings for diamonds. A unique mixture of gemstones in pavé settings was introduced in the late 1980s. Motifs of butterflies and dragons, similar to Art Nouveau, returned.