Art Deco diamond and gemstone jewelry was unique for its geometric baguettes and emerald cuts, the invisible setting by Van Cleef & Arpels, and the new availability of platinum, which was both strong and lightweight and allowed designers to make jewelry with an ever larger number of gemstones that actually required less metal to be held securely.
Stay in your budget! Shop affordable, contemporary Art Deco revival jewelry at minusOne.
Art Deco style jewelry was different than anything that had come before it. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were incorporated into extravagantly long necklaces, dangling earrings, stacking bracelets and cuffs, and cocktail and engagement rings during the 1920s and 1930s. An ever-growing upper-class increased the supply for precious gems, so new techniques and materials for cutting, setting, and designing gemstone jewelry emerged to meet the demand.
At the same time, Art Deco artists and designers were inspired by ancient crafts and cut-and-set techniques that had been used during Georgian, Edwardian, and Art Nouveau eras.
This is a basic introduction to gemstone and diamond cuts, shapes, and settings of the 1920s and 1930s using stand-out pieces for their inspiring, teachable moments.
Or as a start, read up on the history and origins of Art Deco.
Or ten basic features of what Art Deco jewelry looks like, with or without the gemstones.
Preface: Cartier’s Diamond Palm Tree Brooch with Briolette Coconuts
Cartier’s Diamond Palm Tree Brooch is a great place to start learning about Art Deco era diamond and other gemstone cuts. This brooch was made at the tail-end of Art Deco (circa 1939).
This “exotic” Cartier palm tree brooch is unusual in that it features ‘briolette-cut diamond coconuts’. Briolettes are multi-faceted, cut drops that lack a girdle, the usually unseen waist of the stone between the top and the pointed bottom that supports a setting.
The briolettes shown here are suspended by their tips. Can you imagine worrying about a coconut falling from the tree when you’re out on the town? I’d sit someplace quiet, drink my whiskey, and let people come pay court under the palm.
Less precious gemstones of this shape are frequently drilled through to be used as beads.
In addition to briolettes, this brooch incorporates both round and rectangle diamonds. The baguette cut, a cutting technique refined just as cubist mathematics took hold of jewelry design, is shown in one of the front, forward-facing fronds.
When did baguette diamonds become popular?
Baguettes became popular in the 1920s after the cut was re-introduced by Cartier in 1912. The popularity of the baguette is tied to its easily repeatable use as a puzzle piece in Art Deco’s geometric designs. Unlike other advances in gemstone cutting, the baguette did not produce a more brilliant diamond. In fact, in spite of their popularly, step-cut baguettes lack the sparkle of other diamond cuts.
Why do baguette diamonds lack brilliance?
The baguette cut is less brilliant that other diamond cuts, because baguette diamonds only have 14 facets, compared to traditional diamond cuts, which normally have 58 facets. That’s considerably less opportunity for light to be trapped and reflected, so they sparkle with less brilliance.
How were baguettes used in Art Deco jewelry?
The baguette cut allowed for Cubist-inspired jewelers to develop Art Deco’s signature geometric designs. This Carlton sapphire and diamond brooch (circa 1930) shows baguette stones trimming the lower edge. Above the baguettes are deep, royal blue sapphires shown off better with an invisible setting, developed by Van Cleef and Arpels.
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What is an invisible setting?
The invisible setting, also know as the mystery setting, was patented by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1933. The mystery of this mystery setting lies in how the gems are mounted, since the setting itself cannot be seen. (In French, the setting is called serti mysterieux.)
Jewelers today believe that the invisible setting was the most important innovation in jewelry design.
How were invisible settings used in Art Deco jewelry?
Invisible settings allowed Art Deco jewelry designers to color negative space, to simulate an expanse of unbroken surface, to highlight a single gemstone or gem series, or to detail a whimsical figural.
This emerald and diamond ring (above) circa 1930 shows a series of three round cut, bead-set diamonds that appear to be floating in an ocean of green. The emeralds in this ring serve as a foil and indeed like negative space, serving to highlight the diamonds in the center and along the ring borders.
In this ruby and diamond brooch (above), the petals of the flowers show an unbroken expanse of red. The metal of the setting can’t be seen, allowing for a more perfect representation of the actual flower, here trimmed in gold as the only metal accent.
This bunny butler cocktail brooch by American Art Deco jeweler Raymond Yard incorporates many of the innovations in Art Deco jewelry design, including the invisible setting. Here, although the bunny’s legs are channel set, the cuff of each pant leg are made from invisible set sapphires.
As in many of his figural brooches, Yard also uses the pavé method to cover an extended surface with gems.
What is pavé?
Pavé is a way of “paving” a surface with gemstones, much like a road is paved with cobblestones in France, where the term originated. Micro-prongs hold each tiny gemstone in place very close to the gemstone beside it. A finely textured expanse of gems results.
Is pavé setting an Art Deco jewelry design?
Pavé style settings were popular with jewelers in the 1920s and 30s. The emergence of platinum as a viable option for intricate setting meant that more and more gemstones could be incorporated into each design.
Although the pavé technique was developed in the 1700s, it can be seen throughout Art Deco jewelry designs in fresh, whimsical ways. Pavé continued to be popular throughout the twentieth century in figural brooches, including large wild cats, an icon of 1980s and 1990s costume and high-end jewelry.
But did you know? You can’t have pavé without bead-setting.
Bead set Art Deco rings
“Bead set gemstones are placed on top of a small hole that is drilled on the surface of the metal. Once the stone is positioned properly, small beads of metal are raised from the surrounding surface to hold it in place. Bead setting is perfect for adding accent diamonds. Pavé is multiple rows of bead set stones, instead of just a single road. ” (JMedwardsjewelry.com)
The diamonds for this emerald ring are bead set.
How important was the Tiffany setting?
Since 1886, the iconic Tiffany® Setting has featured a triple excellent round brilliant diamond, setting the standard against which all engagement rings are measured.
At least, according to Tiffany’s. In reality, did it make all that big of a difference when we think about what makes Art Deco gemstone jewelry unique? Nah.
How were diamonds cut in the 1920s?
There were four types of gemstone cuts popular with Art Deco jewelers:
- Old European cut (OEC)
- Emerald cut
- Asscher cut
- Cushion cut
What is an Old European Cut (OEC) diamond?
The Old European Cut is also known as the Victorian cut. This is a round cut with a circle at the center.
Old European Cut (OEC) diamonds were popular from the 1890s until the 1930s, and were a popular diamond cut during the Art Deco period and the decades before, including the Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco eras.
This incredible Art Deco revival ring (ie: not actually an antique from the 20s) is striped like a circus tent with diamonds and rubies. It features a 1 CT Old European Cut diamond at its center. Since they’ve stopped producing OEC diamonds, this newer estate ring would’ve been made with an antique gem.
Found on 1st Dibs for $12,000.
How much did diamonds in the 1920s cost, anyway?
By the mid to late 1920s, the one-carat “blue white perfect” (D flawless) was up to approximately $500 per carat.
$1 in 1923 has the same buying power as $17.65 in 2023.
This means that a pretty amazing one carat diamond in 1923 would’ve cost the equivalent of our $8,825 one hundred years later.
Based on the $12,000 asking price of the gorgeous circus tent ring (above), this feels like the market for diamonds hasn’t changed much over the last century.
The Emerald cut: Art Deco’s rectangle gem
The emerald cut is iconic Art Deco: a rectangle shape with long stepped facets that lead to a high table top center.
Perfect for a time when designers and consumers both loved straight lines, the emerald cut gem was very popular in the 1920s and 30s.
Art Deco geometry on steroids: the Asscher Cut
Like emerald-cut gems, the Asscher cut is square, but the corners are cropped at angles. Large step facets come to a pointed crown, so when looking down on an Asscher-cut gem, you see a series of concentric octagons. A geometric Deco-lover’s dream.
The refraction – light-bending – in an Asscher cut is more brilliant than in an emerald cut, even though both have wide “steps”. The Asscher cut was created in 1902 by Joseph Asscher, so it was a relatively new development in gemstone jewelry design in the 1920s.
Cushion Cut in Art Deco gemstone jewelry
Whereas Asscher cut stones have their corners straight-cut, cushion-cut corners are round. Cushion cuts give a soft and pillowy feel to gemstones mostly due to their rounded edges.
This necklace shows off its Deco in the pointed geometric patterns of diamonds in platinum that are placed in alternating patterns with the graduated aquamarines (totaling 280 carats, by the way). The straight, linear geometry of the diamond patterns is a cool contrast to the almost circular blue stones.
All ten aquamarines in this Art Deco necklace are cushion cut. Can you feel the pillowy softness?
Even Rounder: Art Deco’s cabochon cut
The round, smooth cabochon cut was popular in Art Deco jewelry because it allowed designers to incorporate gemstones both colorful and carved, and so to combine colors and textures in big style.
Cartier’s tutti frutti collection is a great example of Art Deco’s use of cabochon cut not only because of its candy-coloring. The carved gems featured in this wide tutti frutti bracelet point to another unique feature of Art Deco jewelry, its non-Western, “exotic” influences.
Read more about African, Arabic, and Asian influences on Art Deco jewelry design.
Of course, not all cabochon cut stones were carved. Most of them remained smooth like this Art Deco Platinum Cabochon Sapphire Diamond Ring found on 1st Dibs on sale (20% off) for $35,000. (Almost 42 carats, circa 1930s.)
Cabochon jewelry thrived throughout Art Deco and into mid-century, especially in American costume jewelry. These ruby glass earrings are early- to-mid century glass cabochons, for sale on new 14KGF earring backs at minusOne.
Although these are open-backed cabs, many cabochons are foil-backed to allow light to be reflected rather than to pass through the stone or glass.
Finally, the “rise” of the cabochon was also a feature in Art Deco. Sugarloaf gems are a high, pyramidal cabochon stone with four sides. Like skyscrapers, Art Deco cabochons could be unusually tall. HIgh-cut, “sugarloaf” cabochons were often featured in Art Deco era rings.
The dimensionality of the cabochon cut helped Art Deco jewelry live up to demands for geometry, texture, and color.
And something never seen before.
Long live Deco!!
Art Deco Gem Quiz!
Deco Gem Quiz Question #1
Can you tell which of the following bracelets are from the Art Deco era? (Hint three of the five are Art Deco bracelets.)
Deco Gem Quiz Question #2
Which of these rings are from the Art Deco era? (Hint two of the four are Art Deco rings.)
See how much you know?!