Art Deco Glamour

Art Deco diamond, onyx, natural pearl and platinum tassel brooch, signed Cartier, circa 1921

Art Deco diamond, sapphire and platinum plaque ring, circa 1920-1925

The Jazz Age, The Charleston, Flappers, Tutankhamun, Cubism, Graphic Design, Airplanes, Automobiles, Industrialism, Russe Ballet, “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industrials Modernes”, Prohibition, Cocktails and Speakeasies all defined the Art Deco era.

Art Deco, which encompasses all the decorative arts including jewelry was from 1920 to 1939.  It began to manifest a couple of years before World War I and took off when the war ended, building and evolving until World War II came along. The era is also known as the “style between the wars”. Art Deco launched in 1925 at the Paris “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes” where this new look was on full display.

The 1920s

Flapper and actress, Louise Brooks

The 1920s, often referred to as the “Roaring 20s” was a time of great prosperity and innovation. World War I had just ended bringing major societal changes along with it. In particular, the role of women in society had dramatically changed by the early 1920s. During the war years women went to work holding down the jobs that men had held before leaving to join the war effort. Wardrobe changes were a necessity. Working women ditched their corsets, raised their hemlines and shortened their hair so they could move more easily. In the U.S. some women were further empowered when they won the right to vote in 1920. After enduring the hardships of a world war and a global flu pandemic during the previous few years, by the early 1920s people were ready to dress-up and party, despite prohibition being in full swing.

Flappers — the “it” girls of the era — danced the Charleston in speakeasies and scandalously wore hemlines raised up to their knees, seamed stockings, sleeveless shift dresses, sleek bobbed hair and most shocking of all they wore lipstick, rouged their cheeks and smoked cigarettes. Cigarette holders, cases and minaudières adorned with gems were all part of the glamourous look of the era. And of course every outfit was accessorized with sparkling jewelry.

Sleek and Sophisticated

Art Deco onyx, coral, diamond, platinum and 18-karat gold necklace, circa 1920

During the Art Deco era, jewelry design was pared down to its most basic elements creating sleek silhouettes that were easy to wear. It was an embracing of machination and the industrialism that was spreading quickly through the world at the time. The white on white look of diamonds and platinum continued from the Edwardian era, but the jewelry became geometric, angular and streamlined, often punctuated with patterns created from the use of black onyx, black enamel, ruby, sapphire or emerald. Platinum continued its streak of popularity during the Art Deco years. Diamonds remained a favorite in the 1920s and 1930s, with pavé becoming an important design element. Various shaped diamonds were used in one piece to create patterns and texture. There were also some new advances in diamond cutting and with that came new diamond shapes that complemented the geometry of Art Deco jewelry designs – including the Asscher cut and the baguette.

Pearls and More

Cultured pearl production ramped up in the early 1920s making the gems more available and their popularity soared. Flappers wore long ropes of pearls — often knotted — sometimes even letting them dangle chicly down the back of a low cut dress.

Art Deco diamond, sapphire and platinum bracelet

Shorter hair made statement earrings an important jewel, with long, linear earrings taking centerstage.  Bracelets were a favorite in the Art Deco era and were often worn over elbow length gloves and stacked together to create maximum high voltage glamour. Diamonds were the base of these flat, linear bracelets which were embellished with colored gemstones that broke up the whiteness of the diamonds while at the same time outlining and amplifying the geometric forms that were a key look of the era. Wider bracelets were often used to tell the stories of exotic places and were embellished with birds, florals and Egyptian motifs, which had become popular with the discovery and opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

Multiple rings were worn at the same time often with a big center stone and like bracelets, rings were worn on top of gloves. Brooches and dress clips were worn primarily during the day and they were attached to everything from hats, collars and coat lapels to shoes.

The 1930s

In October 1929, the stock market collapsed causing the world to fall into an economic depression that left the global economy in tatters. While millions were unemployed and standing in line at soup kitchens, there were still plenty of people with money and the glamour of the Art Deco era continued, but the style evolved during the 1930s.

French Art Deco diamond and platinum earrings.

Sleek suits, silk and satin gowns that clung to a woman’s figure, long furs and lots of jewelry defined the decade. Hemlines dropped, hair was longer and worn up and the mood was subdued. Prohibition ended and cocktail parties came out in the open, which continued the trend of a big stone ring that looked so glamorous on a hand holding a cocktail.

Platinum was still the desired metal, but 18-karat white gold was used as a less expensive alternative. Necklaces changed, they were now collars and bibs with some rounding and scrolling beginning to appear that broke up the flat geometric style that had dominated in previous years. While brooches and dress clips were highly coveted in the 1920s, they surged in popularity in the 1930s. Suit lapels were the perfect backdrop for a sophisticated brooch while dress clips on each side of the neckline of a party dress or gown twinkled flirtatiously at night. Earrings also changed during the 1930s, shortening from long drops to scrolling forms that framed the face. Some earrings even had detachable components.

The glamourous parties and free-wheeling lifestyle of the Art Deco era ended in 1939 when World War II exploded.

Featured image (top of page): Art Deco diamond, onyx, natural pearl and platinum tassel brooch, signed Cartier, circa 1921

First: Art Deco diamond, sapphire and platinum plaque ring, circa 1920-1925; Second: Flapper and actress, Louise Brooks; Third: Art Deco onyx, coral, diamond, platinum and 18-karat gold necklace, circa 1920; Fourth: Art Deco diamond, sapphire and platinum bracelet; Fifth: French Art Deco diamond and platinum earrings.

Authored by Amber Michelle