At the one-hundred-year mark, Art Deco feels trite.
What’s been distilled for the 2020s through the filter of a half-dozen fashion cycles is the Flapper, ornamental, diamond-studded rectangular things, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and if you’re lucky, Gertrude Stein.
But the Art Deco era was a time of things altogether new.
Things and people began to move quickly, faster than they ever had before. There was the roadster. Not to mention the airplane. The first transatlantic flight was in 1927.
In the very same year, Chanel’s jewelry line developed its first iconic piece of costume jewelry: the Maltese Cross Cuff.
For the first time, really, magazines became sources of colorful illustration and global marketing.
Everything was happening, all at once. There’s so much more to know of the Art Deco era, what inspired it and how it influenced what came after.
When was art deco?
Many people call Art Deco anything made between the two world wars. Art Deco jewelry, fashion, interior and architectural design was popular beginning around 1910, as the Art Nouveau movement lost traction. Art Deco reached its apex in 1925 during the first Paris Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
Art Deco Timeline
Art Deco’s timeline unofficially begins at the end of World War I in 1918 and reaches it peak at the First Paris Exhibition at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in 1925. During the height of Art Deco’s popularity, King Tut’s tomb was unearthed in 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in 1925, and Coco Chanel commissioned the first piece of costume jewelry in 1927. Art Deco begins to lose its appeal by the second Paris Exhibition at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in 1937, and is considered over by the start of World War II in 1939.
WHAT INSPIRED THE ART DECO MOVEMENT?
Innovation is, in fact, the heart of Art Deco jewelry designers, furniture designers, artists, and architects.
French designers at the turn of the century lamented Paris’ lost position as the epitome of style on the global stage. They blamed this lost position on the loss of handcraftsmanship.
The origin of Art Deco was a desire to return to handcraftsmanship after the the dominance of machine production in the 1800s.
Hand-crafted goods were no longer in production, so no one noticed the difference between hand-crafted goods and goods that were machine-produced.
People lost their sense of taste, their enthusiasm and connoisseurship. Goss writes that “a sense of decline prevailed.”
We may feel the same sense of decline in product quality today that they felt in the early 1900s, but the turn of the twentieth century was a time of optimism and opulence.
Art Deco is proof that people believed they could reverse the trend. And there is some evidence of the success of designers, jewelers, artists and manufacturers with their new techniques in innovating ancient hand crafts, like plating, welding, and and glass-making.
Of course, silver-gilded flatware with a blade made of glass was a niche market.
People were considerate of ancient craft while they incorporated contemporary mechanics and materials, and their own modern sense of place.
An important element, too, is the word that is one of Art Deco’s centers: decor. Everyday function was a muse for the era’s designers.
The 2009-2011 Art Deco exhibition at the MET
The MET’s French Art Deco exhibition was set up in 2009, and taken apart and re-archived in 2011. It might have been years in the hunting and gathering.
Unpacking storage crates would’ve felt for curators like the unearthing of King Tut’s tomb.
That might have been the feeling that prevailed with artists, designers, and tool and die guys as they brought together the mechanical knowledge of industry with the techniques of ancient craftsmanship from around the world.
And they had more than just knowledge of technique. Modern stylists now had ancient arts to bring to the mix, too.
Archaeologists started digging in the last quarter of the 1800s, and they’d been finding wondrous things.
Design-forward industrialists had also found wondrous things a few decades before: cars, skyscrapers, trains, and transatlantic ships.
“The ocean liner Normandie was the last great expression of French Art Deco taste. Government subsidies made it possible in 1932 for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique to begin building a ship that was to be the largest, fastest, and most beautiful afloat. The unprecedented cost of the construction and lavish decoration were justified in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis because the ship’s mission was to serve as an ambassador, carrying the art and glory of France to foreign lands. Just as the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes had impressed the world with its unabashedly patriotic display of French luxury products, so too the Normandie was to seduce its passengers with its sumptuous décor, food, wine, and other on-board extravagances.”
Poiret’s Fashion Plates: Fashion innovation in the first decade
Art Deco was also a major shift in fashion sense.
Paul Poiret is a name to remember when considering the inspiration of Art Deco jewelry. His dresses are iconic to the age and the precursor, perhaps the very seed and heart, of flapper style.
The streamlined designs of Poiret and his contemporaries freed women from layers and constricting waistlines. (It did, however, make it difficult to walk in the tight, waist to ankle skirts.)
In the colorful illustrations from this period, fashion artists “both created and recorded fashion history.” Magazines like Gazette du Bon Ton “depicted the latest confections of the ultra-chic maisons de haute couture.”
Jewelry is an accessory to fashion. A necklace must be worn with something else, at least for now.
The jewelry adorning the illustrated dresses are mostly long, beaded necklaces, and dangling earrings. Sometimes a beaded choker, sometimes a simple bangle. Clothing embellishments like clips, fringe, and beading are also shown.
- André Marty illustration, uncited
- THE FOSTER SISTERS (Les soeurs de lait): afternoon dress by Doeuillet; drawn by André Marty (Feb 1914, Plate 17)
- RIGHT THROUGH THE HEART (En plein Coeur) Marty drawing an evening dress by Poiret, (Gazette du Bon Ton, 1922, issue 2, Plate 12)
- STUDIES IN RED (Sanguine): evening gowns by Worth; drawn by George Barbier (1923, issue 4, Plate 16)
- THE INOPPORTUNE SHOWER (L’Averse intempestive): Riviera dress by Worth; drawn by George Barbier (1922, issue 2, Plate 14). Black marocain lined with marocain of cock-of-the-rock orange.
PHOTO CREDIT / CITATION: The illustrations above were taken most recently from the frames off my wall. Before that they were in the Dover Publication (1979) edition of French Fashion Plates in Full Color from the Gazette du Bon Ton (1912-1925): 58 Illustrations of Styles by Paul Poiret, Worth, Paquin and Others as Rendered by Georges Lepape, George Babrbier et al.
Before that, the illustrations were with Mr. Benjamin Blom, “who conceived of [the Dover] volume and made its realization possible through his complete run of the Gazette du Bon Ton (approx trans. Magazine of Good Taste) and its loan to the publisher.
ART DECO AT ITS height: the 1925 Paris Exposition
The aim of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels in Paris was to display “works combining new inspiration with real originality.”
The exhibition organizers wanted to showcase the innovation and return to craft that was inspiring designers and artists across France.
Innovation was the actual order of the day. Reproductions and imitations of ancient styles were strictly prohibited.
Ancient styles and imitation of the arts of other places and other time periods were actually central to Art Deco jewelry. Art Deco designers incorporated ancient Egyptian, African, and Arabic motifs. Read more about the Exotic in Art Deco Jewelry.
Décoratifs was the word chosen for the first exposition in Paris in 1925. At the time, it meant decorative. But the distinction between functional and decorative for us has been maybe lost.
We live in an era where we can represent our decorative desires on a budget of pennies. Laser printers and cutters at DIY department stores. We have materials, techniques and their apprenticeship at our fingertips.
But I don’t think the current age will be known for it decor. Nor its optimism.
Art Deco Jewelry Beginnings: a Luxury Trade for the Upper Class
When people think about Art Deco jewelry and when it was popular, they often think about the 1920s flapper, the fashion style described in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and worn in the two movies made about the book.
The flapper style showcased long necklaces to complement streamlined dresses. It also featured head dresses that fell forward onto the forehead like fringed bangs instead of tiaras, which by then were old-school.
Jewelry in this style was made with lots of pearls and interlocking white diamonds or rock crystals.
As explained in The Jazz Age: “Tiffany & Co. remained America’s preeminent jeweler throughout the 1920s, adapting their designs to the changing lifestyles and tastes of its clients.”
“A bandeau for the forehead transformed the outdated tiara while long necklaces to bounce along the bodice, called sautoirs, replaced the Victorian dog collar and choker.”
Art Deco Jewelry was at first part of the new modern style wave for the 1920s upper classes, old moneyed elite and new moneyed industrialists – like Jay Gatsby – but it soon found wider popularity among the middle-classes, until it was available and selling well at department stores.
height of Art Deco: The “Architectural Spirit” of the Age
Art Deco was called at its beginning the Style Moderne. We can imagine it was a turn-of-the-century phenomenon. It started gearing up in the 1890s and took a few decades to really get going. None of the books I’ve read agree on a specific span of years, so I think about the period in terms of skyscrapers.
It takes a long time to build a skyscraper from idea to execution, and the sprawl of Art Deco architecture is vast.
Skyscrapers were a central inspiration of Art Deco jewelry and design, and the first skyscraper – the Equitable Life Building – was built as early as 1870 in New York City.
For the next 25 years, the New York City skyline rose with ever-taller buildings that served as a muse of the period and its “architectural spirit.”
It wasn’t until the later 1920s when the streamlined quality of skyscrapers began to reflect the geometric character of Art Deco design.
Called a “a timeless work of Jazz Age poetry in steel” by Salon.com, the Chrysler Building construction for example, didn’t begin until 1928. It was finished two years later.
Read about the ten characteristics of Art Deco style jewelry.
Later Art Deco: Costume Jewelry for the Middle Class
For all intents and purposes, Coco Chanel’s first piece of costume jewelry was the Maltese Cross Cuff, designed for her company by employed designer Duke Fulco di Vedura. Vedura still sells fine jewelry.
Art Deco jewelry designers like Coco Chanel were able to launch lines of jewelry for the masses and usher in the reigning era of costume or “cocktail” jewelry.
Beginning as early as the 1940s, it was high-end “fake” costume jewelry designers like Miriam Haskell, Monet, Trifari, Napier, Anne Klein and Kenneth Jay Lane that won the middle class public’s imagination and spending power.
Costume jewelry is now the norm. Diamond-studded collections made by Cartier and Tiffany & Co. are still available to the 1%.
These upscale jewelry design houses set the trends for costume jewelry, just like high-end fashion designers set the trend for H&M.
Bakelite, Plastics & SYNTHETIC Art Deco Jewelry
Mass-produced, machine-made jewelry increased in scope and design during the Art Deco period. Jewelers used machine rollers as early as the 1700s to flatten metal for rings, which in the past had been done by hand-hammering.
But machines during the interwar period in jewelry design allowed for new gemstone cuts, like the baguette, and new synthetic material like Bakelite and orleum, a faux gold metal.
Bakelite and other synthetic “stones” allowed for new, more affordable jewelry design and the launch of mass-produced costumer jewelry as we know it today, minus our 3D printers, laser cutters, and digital imaging.
The 1940s & the Sunset of Art Deco Jewelry
By the end of World War II in 1945, what is known as 1940’s style jewelry was widely considered fashionable, and Art Deco jewelry was out of style.
Art Deco Making a Comeback? Again?
We saw it hit the fashion market in the 80s. An eBay search of Monet’s art deco jewelry gives a good sense of the impact of art deco on costume jewelry design and manufacture 50 years later.
Reports are that already, again art deco jewelry is making a comeback.
Read about the Ten Characteristics of Art Deco Style Jewelry.