Consider the changing beauty of the humble leaf: it is a tender shoot in spring…a lush green canopy in summer…a blaze of reds, yellows, and purples in autumn. Jewelry designers have been captivated by them for centuries, turning Mother Nature’s displays into bejeweled creations.

Let’s take a trip through the decades and see how jewelry designers have incorporated the leaf motif to make wearable works of art.

Victorian (1837 – 1901)

Late Victorian Clover

Photo by Valerie Power/GIA, courtesy Mary Mathews

Victorians were enamored with nature, and their love of it can be seen in this brooch. Green enamel gives color to the cloverleaves; tiny diamonds at the center of each leaf adds sparkle.

Art Nouveau (1890s-1910s)

Brooch with enameled leaves

Photo by David Behl, © GIA and Janet Mavec.

This brooch with its beautifully enameled leaves exemplifies the natural motifs of the Art Nouveau Era. The delicate flower looks like it was plucked from a pre-industrial paradise – a theme that spoke to artists rebelling against the effects of the Industrial Revolution.

Art Deco (1920s – 1930s)

Van Cleaf & Arpels Fruit Salad

Photo © GIA and Tino Hammid

Tutti Frutti (sometimes referred to as fruit salad) was a style popularized by Cartier in the 1920s during the Art Deco period. Cartier saw the spectacular jewels of the Mogul emperors on a trip to India and was inspired by the colorful carved gems. Upon his return to New York, he reimagined them as pieces set with carved rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. This bracelet is by Van Cleef & Arpels.

1940s – 1950s

Lacy double-leaf brooch

Photo © GIA and Tino Hammid

Van Cleef & Arpels created this double-leaf brooch and pair of earrings in the mid to late 1940s. The top leaf of the brooch has a diamond stem, is sprinkled with rubies, and edged with sapphires. The lower leaf has a ruby stem, sparkles with sapphires, and is bounded by rubies. Its lacy design creates a feeling of openness – like wind blowing through the trees.

Rene Bolvin Leaf Brooch & Earrings

Photo © GIA and Tino Hammid

The celebrated Parisian jewelry designer Rene Boivin (1864 – 1917) started his firm in the early 1890s. His jewelry house created pieces for the fashion elite of the time: Elsa Schiaparelli, Empress Nam Phoung of Vietnam, Diana Vreeland, and other notables. Pastel-colored gemstones make this brooch and earring set, circa 1950, look like leaves just past their summer peak, touched by the first chill of autumn.

Black & white pearl bracelet

Photo Robert Weldon/GIA, courtesy of a Private Collector.

Jean Schlumberger (1907 – 1987), famed for his work with Tiffany & Co., designed this black and white pearl bracelet with matching earrings in the mid-1950s. Stylized leaves were a favorite and often used in Schlumberger’s designs, as were whimsical interpretations of natural forms. The pearls in the bracelet are cultured; the pearls in the earrings are natural.

Emerald and gold leaf earrings

Photo © GIA and Tino Hammid, courtesy of a Private Collector.

What better way to capture the lush green of summer leaves than with emeralds? Frame the gemstones with gold, and you have a beautiful design by Cartier.

Late 20th Century – Present

Perry Davis stone sculpture

Photo Kevin Schumacher/GIA.

Perry Davis’ sculpture, Ice Tree, is an abstract interpretation of a leaf. Energy and movement are more important than accuracy of details. The base is granite, the stem is bronze and the leaf is carved out of rock crystal quartz from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Chalcedony leaf

Photo Robert Weldon/GIA, courtesy Gary and Linda Roskin.

This startlingly lifelike leaf is chalcedony. The green area has been dyed. It was carved in Idar-Oberstein, a centuries-old cutting center in Europe.

Leaves undergo a transformation with the changing of the seasons. Thanks to the artistry of talented jewelers, we can enjoy a moment forever captured in time.

Learn more about the fanciful and unusual style of Art Nouveau jewelry and its surprising influences.