Art Deco jewelry has ten basic style traits: architectural, geometric, colorful, monotone, extravagant, opulent, exotic, mechanical, synthetic, and avant-garde.
Knowing what to look for makes it easy to find true, historical pieces that are authentic without being antique.
Each piece of Art Deco style jewelry will have one of more of these qualities, whether it was made in the 1920s or made today, inspired by Art Deco one hundred years later.
1. long and streamlined
Impossibly tall metal buildings inspired long and streamlined jewelry designs.
Construction of the Chrysler Building in New York City started in 1928. It’s only one example of how skylines transformed in the 1920s and 1930s.
As Coco Chanel said, “Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.”
Below is Brigitte Helm wearing earrings designed by Raymond Templier meant to celebrated the Empire State Building.
Art Deco period furniture designer Paul Frankl said the era had an “architectural spirit.”
This Frankl-designed desk and cabinet is only one piece in a line of home decor and furnishings inspired by architecture in the 1920s.
Nature-inspired Art Nouveau jewelry had curving lines. But Art Nouveau lost popularity as Art Deco’s geometric styles with interlocking shapes started to trend.
Cubist artists like Juan Gris (shown below) entered the “school of the straight line.” And jewelry designers followed.
Cubism likely also inspired the use of several different cuts for puzzle-like gemstone pieces. High-end necklaces and bracelets by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels are literally festooned with interlocking Tetris-style diamonds.
The baguette cut was developed by jewelers for the first time in the 1920s. See, for example. the cuff by Lacloche below.
Alistair Duncan in the Encyclopedia of Art Deco writes, “The principal motifs in Art Deco jewelry design were simple geometric forms, such as the square, circle, rectangle and triangle. These shapes were juxtaposed or overlapped to create complex linear configurations.”
“Abstract patterns, derived from the architecture of ancient civilizations, such as Babylonian ziggurats and stepped Mayan and Aztec temples, likewise found their way into the contours of jewelry design.”
What colors are popular in Art Deco style jewelry? All of them!
On the one hand, gemstones were brought together in colorful masses. Popular precious gems included rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli, jade, and carnelian were inspired by treasures unearthed during archaeological digs in Egypt.
Designers brought together natural gems and later synthetic materials of many different colors in a style called “tutti frutti.”
On the other hand, color was paired often with black. Color matches like black and jade green, or black and orange were very popular. (See the dresses of the day in similar colors in the post When was Art Deco Jewelry Popular?)
This trend can be found often in tea and dish sets, and home decor as well as with jewelry.
Art Deco jewelry could also be monotone, white and washed out.
In contrast to the splashes of color found in Art Deco, some of the most expensive jewelry featured diamonds, rock crystal, silver, platinum, and white pearls.
Chrome-plated metals also were used during this period in jewelry design.
You can see examples below where photographs of chrome-plated ball bearing bracelets and necklaces actually look like they were taken in black and white.
The 1920s had a spirit of exuberant optimism. This meant that when a person had flamboyant taste, they really went for it.
Flapper style jewelry has been showcased in two movie adaptations of the book The Great Gatsby (1925). They’re good examples of the extravagance of Art Deco jewelry.
More was more! Long open chain necklaces called sautoirs wrapped around a woman’s neck and followed the dress down with open ends on either side.
A floor-lenth necklace of pearls or other semi-precious or synthetic bead, might have shown either a woman’s adventurous spirit, or her wealth.
The wealthy wore opulent jewelry. Jewelry houses like Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany & Co. catered to the wealthy. There was old money, like Daisy in The Great Gatsby, and new money like Jay Gatsby.
In either case, diamonds reigned.
High-style house jewelers devised new cuts like the baguette so that more and more diamonds could be brought together in interlocking masses of gems.
This bracelet cuff by the Paris jewelry house Lacloche showcases brilliant-cut and baguette-cut and pavé-set diamonds in platinum. It also uses a buckle motif popular during the period.
Because the 1920s was a time of innovation in the cinema, the movie star was celebrated both on- and off-screen, and the expensive jewelry they wore was part of the mystique.
See the photograph of Gloria Swanson above, as an example. Images of Josephine Baker wearing Jean Dunand jewelry are the period’s historical markers of the relationship between jewelry and the upperclass, a relationship evidenced in ancient times.
Non-Western visual themes, or motifs, are central to many Art Deco style jewelry pieces. Art Deco jewelry wass inspired by the exotic
Exotic influences on Art Deco design from around 1910 to 1937 were anything that seemed foreign to Europe, the United States, and Britain. This included Arabesque, Ancient Egyptian, Modern African and Ancient Asian arts and cultures.
Egyptian Revival is an Art Deco era jewelry style inspired by the archaeological digs in Egypt that unearthed King Tut’s tomb in 1922. Read more about Egyptian Revival and popularity of snake jewelry in the 1920s.
Read more about the Exotic in Art Deco Style Jewelry.
8. inspired by mechanical innovation
Art Deco jewelry showcased mechical innovations of the day.
In addition to new gemstone cut techniques, like the baguette, jewelers also played with the mechanics of jewelry. Dunand’s Giraffe collar imaged above has a gorgeous hinge, for example.
Other designers incorporated designs that echoed actual machinery. This included gears and ball bearings.
In fact, the French Ball Bearing Industry was an exhibitor at Art Deco’s signature launch – the 1925 Paris Exposition.
Art Deco Jewelry author Évelyne Possémé explains how jewelry designers like Jean Fourquet, Jean Dunand, and Charlotte Perriand used the look of ball bearings as part of their design vocabularies.
- Top left: Charlotte Perriand, Ball Bearing necklace in chrome-plated copper, 1928, private collection
- Top right: Jean Fouquet, Ball Bearing bracelet in ebonite and chrome-plated steel, c. 1931. Musée des Arts Decoratifs et de l’Art Moderne, Gourdon.
- Bottom left: Jean Fouquet, Roller Bearings bracelet in ebonite and chrome-plated copper, c. 1931. Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, Fouquet collection.
- Bottom right: Jean Dunand, necklace in chrome-plated metal, copper, c. 1930. Dunand-T family collection.
Avant-garde was a trend in the larger Art Deco design style that rejected tradition and cultural norms. Cubism is an example of avant-garde art.
In addition, although much of Art Deco designs were by definition decorative and often inspired by bringing innovative design to everyday things like teapots, avant-garde argued for art for art’s sake.
Perhaps one example of the subversive influence of Art Deco jewelry was its participation in the changing role of women. Women had new liberties tied to the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 that gave white women the right to vote.
Lapel watches signaled this new independence and more control over how some women spent their time.
Interestingly, the face of the clock was hidden against the lapel, so that this new liberty was enjoyed secretly.
10. synthetic and affordable
Synthetic materials made Art Deco jewelry more affordable.
Industrialists created Bakelite and other plastics. Jewelers and interior designers incorporated new and experimental metals like Oréum, a faux gold used in Dunand’s giraffe necklaces and bracelets, for example.
Jewelers also experimented with chrome, as shown above in the ball-bearing bracelet collection.
Techniques like plating and enameling that could be used in mass-production also meant that jewelry became more affordable for the middle classes.
And, as Alastair Duncan explains in his Encyclopedia of Art Deco: “Luxury and beauty are not necessarily dependent on precious materials: fine techniques of metalwork, with inlays and lacquer techniques, often embellished with eggshell or mother-of-pearl, have given us objects of elegance and opulence that even surpass those in the most precious materials.”
Thus came the rise of costume jewelry for the masses, which seems to be both the legacy and the sunset of over two-decades of Art Deco jewelry style’s reign.
Read more about the historical timeline of when Art Deco jewelry was popular.
Is collecting real antique Art Deco jewelry pieces outside your budget? You can find elegant, affordable period-inspired Art Deco style jewelry that is contemporary but still evokes the spirit of the age.
If you love history and you love jewelry, subscribe to the minusOne newsletter. I send emails twice a month.