Vintage 40s Carved Red Bakelite Art Deco Duesenberg Car Figural Brooch Pin. Sold for $68 on Etsy by SanDiegoJewelryShop.

Transportation’s Influence on Art Deco Jewelry

Mar 15, 2023 | art deco jewelry

Winold Reiss mural c. 1930. Speed against a background of skyscrapers.
Winold Reiss mural c. 1930. Speed against a background of skyscrapers.

How did transportation change during Art Deco?

The express train, the roadster, gorgeous transatlantic ships, the bus, and the airplane all became part of the world’s imagination in the 1920s and 1930s for the first time.vSpeed in particular was fetishized during the interwar period because fast mass travel was new.

Art Deco designs evoked speed

The way that Art Deco designers evoked speed was through streamlining. Streamlining inspired by speed was sleek and smooth. Curves represented the curls of exhaust smoke, and the fast turns of winding roads. Streamlined bakelite radios, and pastel-colored refrigerators with smooth, curving corners remain icons of the Art Deco style.

1940 Fada Bullet 116 Bakelite Catalin Radio, Blue with Pumpkin Trim sold on 1stdibs for $5750
This 1940 Fada Bakelite Catalin Radio radio was actually called a “Bullet.”

“Streamlining was applied to many kinds of object never intended for speed: radios, refrigerators, accordians, fans, irons, vacuum-cleaners, sales registers, alarm clocks, tractors, toasters, Chinese restaurants and underwear” (Beavis Hillier, 1971, Minneapolis Institute of Arts in The World of Art Deco).

Skyscrapers also inspired long and lean streamlined jewelry, and the representation of skyscrapers in design was also more literal. Long, tall straight lines in furniture and earrings actually looked like buildings.

The Roadster in Art Deco Jewelry & Fashion

Not all speed was represented by streamlining. Cars, for example, were a literal emblem of the age.

1931 ART DECO MOTOR Advert Jean Berté Watercolour Printing Process Drophead Roadster Convertible Car offered by JohnMintonandMore on Etsy for $60
1931 roadster watercolor advertisement by Jean Berté

The roadster was the icon of speed in daily life, and it found its way into the common fashion sense. Whole new genres of clothing – motoring clothes from car coats to driving gloves – had been inspired the previous decade when the car was first introduced.

“The popularity of automobile touring and cross-country racing in the 1920s is evident in the whimsical decoration of this purse woven in 1928 by the seventeenth century tapestry factory at Beauvais” (The Jazz Age).

Colorful beaded women's small purse with image of airplane woven in 1928 | The Jazz Age | minusOne jewelry
Women’s purse c. 1928 with iconic scarf flapping behind | The Jazz Age

Marketers understood that people with cars had more money than people without. They tried selling all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, such as backseat egg-beaters.

But by the 1920s, the fashion around roadsters became less ridiculous. Travel-wear blended with sportswear. Fashion designers for sports like golf, horseback riding and tennis were also interested in what men and women might wear while day-tripping.

1920s fashion illustration of chic, smart casual daytime visiting outfit. Kissing foster sisters with roadster in the background.
Fashion illustration of daytime visiting outfit with roadster in the background.

Examples of Art Deco Car Jewelry

Vintage 40s Carved Red Bakelite Art Deco Duesenberg Car Figural Brooch Pin  sold for $68 on etsy by SanDiegoJewelryShop
Vintage 40s Carved Red Bakelite Art Deco Duesenberg Car. Photo credit SanDiegoJewelryShop on Etsy

Duesenbergs won the Indianapolis 500 in 1924, 1925, and 1927.

Roadster Revival – 80s Does Art Deco Jewelry

Nostalgia for the 1920s started mid-century. But Art Deco’s real fashion revival hit in the 1980s. This line of roadster brooches is a great example.

First brooch by American Jewelry Chain Co. Photo credit Etsy-SemiRetired.

Photo credit for next three brooch variations: Poshmark-southernultd; Etsy-KenPaulstreasures; Etsy-WilburVintage.

It’s also evidence of the role that the car played in the Art Deco period, that when it comes time for a revival, it is one of the primary symbols used to represent the era’s style.

Art Deco Jewelry in Flight: Planes

The speed of technological change was the spirit of the age. People identified the expansion of mass and personal travel with the incredibly fast changes taking place between the world wars across the globe.

1920s passengers board a commercial flight. The first commercial flight was in 1914.
1920s passengers board a commercial flight. The first commercial flight was in 1914. Image by Fox/Getty.

The Spirit of St. Louis captured the world’s imagination in 1927 with the first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic ocean. Imagine it as a 33 1/2-hour nail-biter for millions of people who saw a charming, well-known man take flight from Garden City, NY, then disappear into the clouds.

The fragrance shown was produced by 1920s fashion designer Paul Poiret’s perfume house, Rosine.

The beaded small purse was woven in 1928 by the same seventeenth century factory as the purse above.

Like the roadster, the airplane – both the commercial planes and Lindbergh’s single-seat monoplane – was an emblem of the age.

Although commercial flight was available to some in 1914, most people still relied on ocean liners like the lavishly decorated Normandie to travel between American and Europe. After the Spirit of St. Louis made the trip, commercial transatlantic flight would not be far behind.

Examples of Planes in Art Deco Jewelry

Jewelry inspired by flight included literal representations of the planes themselves.

“By the end of the 1920s, flying had become a popular sport among rival daredevils in Europe and America as well as a fascination for the general public. Flying clubs and air shows abounded.

Cartier designed these diamond novelty brooches in the shape of planes in the 1930s to appeal to women with pilots on their minds” (The Jazz Age).

Cartier Diamond airplane brooches with baguette and other cuts.
Carter diamond brooches. c. 1930.
Vintage silver airplane Art Deco brooch | minusOne jewelry
Vintage silver airplane Art Deco brooch | minusOne jewelry

But airplanes seemed not to inspire the women who wore the jewelry. Not a lot of airplane motif jewelry from the 1920s remains.

There’s quite a bit from the 1940s through the 1960s, with the arrival of mass commercial air travel, but more than half is in cuff links and tie clips.

Examples of Art Nouveau & Art Deco Butterfly Jewelry

In fact, it was the winged insect – butterflies and dragonflies in particular – that ended up being designers’ icon of choice for flight-inspired jewelry for women.

Butterfly #1: Artist unknown. c. 1890. Photo credit Bavier-Brook

Butterfly #2: Henri Vever, Paris, c. 1900. Photo credit Boylerpf Antique Vintage Jewelry

Butterfly #3: Georges Fouquet c. 1900. Photo credit Collin Du Bocage & Vendôme Expertise

Butterfly/Scarab #4: Plique-à-jour scarab pin c. 1920. Photo credit: Wilson Estate

The motif that exploded in the Art Nouveau era continued for decades, and remains part of jewelry’s contemporary parlance. Not necessarily a legacy of speed, but of motion.

Read more about Art Nouveau vs Art Deco.

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minusOne jewelry logo of a pink Art Deco scallop | Trumansburg NY
minusOne jewelry | Trumansburg NY

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