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What The Heck Is Art Deco Jewelry, Anyway?

A Georgian Diamond Necklace once belonging to Queen Amélie-Auguste. Photo credit: Pinterest
A Georgian Diamond Necklace once belonging to Queen Amélie-Auguste. Photo credit: Pinterest

Ever wonder just how old that antique ring that grandma gave you really is? I mean, the jeweler told you it was an Art Deco piece when you had it sized to fit your finger. But just what exactly does that mean?  Those of us at Katie Callahan and Co. are here to help!

Let’s be like the Sound of Music and start at the very beginning:

The Georgian Era (1700’s to 1830’s). Once upon a time, there were four kings named George and they ruled the lands for a very long time. And during that time, it became quite fashionable to wear jewelry to adorn oneself. It’s rare to find jewels of this time period these days, but some dead-giveaways would be Rose Cut or Old Mine Cut diamonds and stones were often set with backings of silver fused to gold. Items stemming from nature (vines, foliage, flowers and the like) were common themes of the time.

Victorian Mourning Brooch inset: Victorian Cameo Photo Credit: Pinterest
Victorian Mourning Brooch
inset: Victorian Cameo
Photo Credit: Pinterest

All of the Georges eventually passed on to the next life and a very young queen named Victoria stepped in. It’s after her that the Victorian Period (1837 to 1901) is named. She was a rock star-like queen and with her reign, Great Britain became the hub for many things, including jewelry. The Industrial Revolution was also occurring at the same time and thus enabling common folk to be able to afford things with which to adorn themselves. Cameos and lockets were the trends of the day. Until Victoria’s beloved Albert died, that is. With his death, mourning jewelry came into fashion. Often a picture of the deceased was incorporated into jewelry to be worn to commemorate them and sometimes even hair was included (but it was more often horse hair and not human hair.

Arts and Crafts Period Earrings Photo credit: Pinterest
Arts and Crafts Period Onyx and Seed Pearl Earrings
Photo credit: Pinterest

Occasionally, we have eras that overlap and the Arts and Crafts Period (1860’s to 1890’s) is case in point. Along with the Industrial Revolution came a focus on the arts. During this time, you’ll again see a move back to nature along with earth tones and handcrafted techniques.

Art Nouveau Brooch Photo Credit: Pinterest
Art Nouveau Brooch
Photo Credit: Pinterest

After a while, folks got kind of tired of the “we’re very sad all the time” thing (bless Victoria’s little heart) and decide to change it up a bit. And the Art Nouveau Era (early 1890’s to 1905) was born.  Jewelry went from dark and somber to sensuous and flowing (mostly sensuous women with flowing hair). There was lots of enameling (that’s a post for another day) and these folks were REALLY into their bugs. All kinds of insects would be crafted from jewels of all colors during this era.

Edwardian Diamond, Pearl and Chyrsoprase Brooch
Edwardian Diamond, Pearl and Chyrsoprase Brooch

Also after Vicky’s death, there was yet another king to be crowned. This one was Edward and he was all about a return to elegance. Thus ushering in the Edwardian Period (1901 to 1910). His was a short-lived era, but with it we saw the use of platinum come into fashion. Diamonds and pearls reigned supreme and since platinum was so strong, we started to see fancy works made to look like fine lace or lattice.

What The Heck Is Art Deco Jewelry, Anyway?
Art Deco Diamond and Sapphire Bracelet

In 1925 there was a big party known as the “Exposition Internationale de Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderns” in Paris. Now the epicenter of the arts (and jewelry) world shifted from London to le Paris (said in my best French accent). This time in history was all about living it up and flamboyance. Also known as the Art Deco Period (1920’s and 1930’s). The First World War was over and everyone was celebrating with jewelry incorporating dramatic features, geometric shapes and most of all – LOTS of contrasting color. Egyptian motifs, diamond bar pins, fancy link bracelets dripping in jewels and “clips” (be they fur coat, shoe or dress) were all the rage.

Retro Modern Diamond and Sapphire "Sputnik" Ring
Retro Modern Diamond and Sapphire “Sputnik” Ring

But alas, the party eventually had to end (and there was another nasty war to help with that). And those Americans? Well, they wanted their time to shine. So in was ushered the Retro Modern Period (1935 to  1955). It really didn’t get swinging until after WWII was over, but once it did? Whoooo boy. Hollywood had taken over the spotlight and they didn’t do anything that was understated. Flashy is a word, instead, that comes to mind. Gold took on a new look – colors (it was mixed with different alloys to create Rose/Pink Gold and Green Gold) and bows, scrolls and sweeping curves were everywhere to be seen. And the rubies. Oh the rubies! But not everything was as it appeared. Synthetic rubies became quite popular, since it was hard to get the real thing from India and Burma with that nasty war going on.

question_mark2And that brings us to. . . . the late 20th century and today. We’re still defining our era. Ok, so the 1960’s and 70’s are in there and then the crazy 80’s but who’s to say just yet how it will all shake out. What do you think this time period will be called and/or remembered for? Drop us a note below and share your thoughts.

Jewelry: From Antiquity to the PresentAnd if you need some extra help trying to figure out what era grandma’s ring really comes from or you’re like me and just geek out on this stuff, here’s a great book about jewelry from the beginning of time until present day.  It’s absolutely fascinating!


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