Art Nouveau Jewellery
As discussed in Arts & Crafts jewellery, at the end of the Victorian period industrialisation had taken hold of the Western world, and the jewellery trade had become efficient, mechanised and mass-producing. Arts & Crafts jewellery was a response to this, and stylistically there are several comparisons to be drawn with Art Nouveau: both depicted an idealised view of nature, both were a response to mass-produced jewels, and both used an abundant amount of enamel or gems picked for their aesthetic beauty.
Rallying against what they saw as banality in the jewellery of the time, Art Nouveau pieces were works of art. Free-flowing, sinuous lines with stylised flowers, leaves, insects and golden haired nymphs were set in gold; valuable precious stones such as diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire were used as decorative embellishments. Plique-à-jour enamel was used to great effect, and horn and glass were also combined in designs.
In France, the style was at its most pure: highly decorative, opulent, elaborate and very sensuous. The movement was spear-headed by the great master of the time, René Lalique, a true innovator whose designs would become an example and inspiration to jewellers in Europe and America. He dedicated himself to the study of enamelling and developed an incredibly skilful and unique style, culminating in a collection of jewels he exhibited in Paris in 1895.
By the end of the 19th century, many well-established jewellery firms in Paris turned to Art Nouveau design and a whole industry devoted to cheaper imitations developed, making the movement more accessible to the masses. In London, Liberty & Co successfully commercialised Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts jewellery, so much so that their name became synonymous with the movement.
Archibald Knox became Liberty's chief designer, and his 'Cymric', Celtic inspired pieces are recognised and highly collectable today. Made in both gold and silver, these feature knot motifs, the famous whiplash motif and other abstract designs set with turquoise, pearls and opals. A similar jewellery designer of the time and also highly collectable today are the pieces by Murrle Bennett & Co (pictured left).
Art Nouveau as a movement was short lived, yet its legacy to evoke and not imitate endures; it was without question one of the most powerful trends of the 19th century. From here, and overlapping in timescale, we will move into Edwardian jewellery.