A Short History of Art Deco Jewellery | Kit Clayton – Kit Clayton Jewellery
Member of the National Association of Jewellers | Free Worldwide Delivery

Art Deco Jewellery

1920 - 1940

1920s Art Deco Ladies

Society emerged from World War I with an appetite for a life of reckless abandon, and it is this period between the two World Wars that we call 'Art Deco', named so after the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925. Women had worked alongside men during the war in addition to managing their household, and after it ended they emerged different: businesslike, independent and keen to do away with the fragility or formality of the older jewels.

Despite being a country devastated by war, France and in particular Paris continued to lead the word in fashion and taste. Parisian jewellers such as Cartier, Boucheron, Mauboussin, Chaumet, Lacloche and Van Cleef and Arpels created jewels of the highest standard of craftsmanship during the 1920s and 1930s.

Art Deco Cartier Watch

The 1920s-1930s were the age of the cocktail party and it was during this period that watches changed quite dramatically. Thanks to the efforts of Louis Cartier, they now became major item so decoration, and beautiful jewelled pieces became part of evening wear, and on the wrist rather than in the pocket. Complimenting these, fine bracelets were slender, fashioned from platinum and set with diamonds and coloured gemstones in themes centred around abstraction, geometry or exoticism.

Buckles or clips were popular items of Art Deco jewellery, and these were worn on cloche hats or clipped to the neckline of a dress. Pendants were worn on very long chains to compliment the dropped waistlines or dresses, and sautoirs made with pearls or other jewels were incredibly popular. The short, bobbed hairstyles suited long, sleek and slim earrings that swayed with the body, and dress or 'cocktail' rings in a typically oblong design became a jewellery box staple. 

Tutti Frutti Art Deco pendant earrings

Art Deco jewellery was a reaction to Art Nouveau yet at the same time it borrowed from and developed it. Where Art Nouveau featured pale coloured stones and flowing organic lines, Art Deco favoured bold colours and a stronger use of lines and curves. By the 1930s, even curves were out, instead converted into angles and streamlined shapes, influenced by Cubism.

Platinum was used freely in Art Deco jewels until the 1930s, when white gold was considered a more practical alternative. New cuts were developed for precious stones - triangle, trapeze, baguettes, calibre, oblong or emerald cuts. Cutting experiments with diamonds continued, and it is in the jewellery of this period that we find transitional cut diamonds - an improvement on Old European cuts in terms of their proportions, but not quite up to the accuracy of the modern round brilliant cuts we see in jewellery today.

Semi-precious stones were also used to great effect during the 1920s and 1930s. Onyx, crystal, jade, coral and turquoise were mixed with enamel and pastes. Chinese and oriental influences encouraged the use of jade, and pearls were contrast with coloured stones throughout Art Deco jewellery.

The discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1923 lead to a plethora of Egyptian inspired jewellery designs and exoticism became a firm feature of Art Deco design. Tutti Frutti jewellery (left) was made from old Mughal emeralds, rubies and sapphires - the gems that would have one adorned splendid turbans and neck ornaments, were carved into the shape of flowers and set into platinum to great effects by the great jewellers of the time like Cartier.