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What’s So Nouveau About Art Nouveau?

Art Nouveau Sapphire, Diamond and Enamel Pendant
Art Nouveau Sapphire, Diamond and Enamel Pendant
Photo credit: Pinterest (no track back)

So far in our series focusing on the various periods and eras of jewelry production, we’ve been pretty myopic in looking at the impact the British had on the industry. But the Brits weren’t the only one influencing the trends. Let’s not forget that the French had a royal court and were quite keen on their adornments, as well.

An Art Nouveau horn, enamelled gold, opal and pearl hair comb, 1900 - 1910.
An Art Nouveau horn, enamelled gold, opal and pearl hair comb, 1900 – 1910. Photo credit: Pinterest (no track back)

What’s So Nouveau About Art Nouveau?

Throughout the Georgian and Victorian periods, they were quietly adopting the trends of the British peoples and swapping them back and forth, while occasionally influencing them. But in the late mid-to-late 19th century, that all began to change. There was a lot of change, actually. Due to the reopening of the trade routes between the East and the West in 1858, Japanese style was making a major impact on all things design. For those looking for something new and different, the Japanese esthetic known as Japonisme was just what they were searching for. Victorian jewelry was starting to be viewed as overdone and fussy and the connection between nature, mixed metals and simplicity that the Japanese designs offered was true inspiration.

Art Nouveau Masriera Pendant Brooch
Masriera pendant brooch. Spanish jeweller Luis Masriera (1872-1958) was born into a family of jewellers and artisans. After attending the Centennial exhibition in Paris in 1900, he melted down his entire gold stock and switched to art nouveau. Photo credit: Pinterest (no track back)

For the Brits were intent on bringing back some fun and frivolity after the country had been cloaked in the darkness of mourning with Queen Victoria for so long. They were focused on the Edwardian period (with the exception of a few who were ushering the Arts and Crafts movement there) and the newly used precious metal platinum. Meanwhile, the French were stretching their wings and embracing this new decorative style: Art Nouveau.

ART NOUVEAU Ring Gold Plique-à-jour Pearl
ART NOUVEAU Ring Gold Plique-à-jour Pearl
Photo credit: Pinterest (no track back)

Samuel Bing Accidentally Creates A Revolution

In 1895, an art dealer in Paris by the name of Samuel Bing was one of those looking for something new and different. The Arts and Crafts movement that had been building underground in France, Europe and the United States was proving to be a gateway to new, more simplistic ideas in jewelry and metalwork. Like the Edwardian period, consumers were uninterested in mass-produced works, and were now instead looking for a way to include more art into their everyday lives. Bing, essentially and probably inadvertently, gave this new movement a name by curating an international exhibit to celebrate the re-opening of his gallery: L’Art Nouveau .

Bing Gallery L'Art Nouveau
Samuel Bing Gallery L’Art Nouveau

Artists like Tiffany and Lalique were invited to participate, along with Edward Colonna, Georges de Feure and Eugene Gaillard. Throughout their respective works there was one common theme – the flowing line. Sometimes called the “whiplash” line, it was really an interpretation of any type of movement; womanly curves, the curl of one’s hair, lines and shapes found in nature in the plants. For all intents and purposes, anything that moved or undulated was fair game. Within that framework, fantasy figures were often depicted – dragons, butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers and spiders – anything that may have a gossamer effect to them was replicated in glorious hues. On the flip side, darker elements, like grotesques, bats, owls and buzzards were a favorite of many and often heavily jeweled for effect.

Louis Aucoc Gold Art Nouveau Ring
Louis Aucoc (21 September 1850 Paris – 10 December 1932 Paris), was a leading Parisian art nouveau jeweller and goldsmith, working with his father and brother André. The Aucoc family firm at 6 Rue de la Paix was established in Paris in 1821 and was patronised by the house of King Louis Philippe, the House of Orléans, Napolean III and Empress Eugenie.

The Femme Fatale

And after a fairly prudish run through the Victorian times, the female form, most notably depicted as nude, was now prominent and a rebellion of sorts and growing daily in popularity. Gold, silver, opal, moonstone, horn, ivory and the like were used to depict sensual female figures. Enameling was resurrected in the Plique-à-jour, Champlevé and Pâte de verse styles – also delicate and flowing. As the dawn of the Art Nouveau period began, the rigid naturalism typical of European decorative arts was being rejected as a whole and nothing exemplified that more than the sensuous “femme”.

An Art Nouveau pendant-brooch with leaves and berries. Gold, enamel, diamond and tourmaline - circa 1900.
An Art Nouveau pendant-brooch with leaves and berries. Gold, enamel, diamond and tourmaline – circa 1900.
Photo credit: Pinterest (no track back)

The period, while short-lived (1890-1910) made a lasting contribution to the world of jewelry and more broadly, art, leaving behind some magnificent works. If you’d like to read further about the Art Nouveau movement, we’d recommend Art Nouveau Jewelry or Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau JewelryBoth excellent resources providing a wealth of information, not to mention photographs of fantastic examples of this work.

14kt Rose Gold Art Nouveau Diamond Locket

Do you have a favorite Art Nouveau designer (we do!)? Do you own any fabulous pieces that you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below. As always, we’d love to hear from you.


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