The Art Deco Period - 1920's through 30's

The disruption and havoc of WWI brought a halt to jewelry creation. When it ended, it also marked an end to the values, traditions and fashions that had come before. World War I overwhelmingly changed the role of women in society. The need for women to take over the men's jobs during the war, created a great emancipation. When the war ended, the "Roaring Twenties" blossomed with a rather decadent lust for life.


Women's clothing evolved into a more masculine and streamlined style. Trousers became the symbol for the liberated woman during the day but at night, dramatic and provocative dresses were all the rage. Skirts were short enough to reveal the knee and often had slits so that popular dances like the Tango, Charleston and Fox Trot could be enjoyed without restriction. Fashion magazines and periodicals coupled with the motion picture industry brought about huge changes in fashion. Hollywood starlets became the new fashion royalty.

Hairstyles were cropped, "a la garonne", sparking a revival of earrings. Art Deco earrings often had non-pierced screw-backs, termed "French backs", because many "modern" women did not want to pierce their ears.

Women not only got the right to vote in the United States in 1920, but also the right to smoke! Philip Morris introduced Marlboro Cigarettes in 1924 as a cigarette for women and later boasted, "Women quickly develop discerning taste. That is why Marlboros now ride in so many limousines, attend so many bridge parties, and repose in so many handbags."!

Women celebrated their postwar success by piling on the jewelry. Evening fashion of fluid, low belted, sleeveless tunics, was perfect for showcasing multiple Art Deco bracelets. Platinum and diamonds were again in vogue but the Art Deco jewelry style was more geometric and linear than the earlier Edwardian "belle Époque" jewels. Jewelry sales in the 1920's were stellar. This reflected not only the affluence of the general public but the trend for unbridled consumerism.

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Endless variations of Art Deco bracelets were designed and referred to as plaque, flexible link, box, strap, band or straight-line. The straight-line bracelet often featured the new square cut diamonds developed in Paris, aptly termed "French-cut" diamonds. Art Deco bracelets were frequently accented with natural and synthetic rubies and sapphires. The "emerald" accents often seen in Art Deco jewels were, more often than not, actually green glass. Some examples of natural emerald accents are seen, but they are rare.

In the late 1920's, small diamond incrusted watches with miniature movements were paired up with machine made, diamond line bracelets used as watch straps. This was the birth of the cocktail watch! The popularity of anything and everything "cocktail" was a defiant slap in the face of Prohibition. It became quite chic to break the law.

Strapless and backless dresses called for long strands of pearls, sautoirs and lorgnettes. The Art Deco sautoirs were modernized. They were now predominantly made entirely out of platinum and diamonds. The tassel at the end was commonly replaced by a diamond-set drop. These Deco sautoirs were often designed to be convertible. They could be taken apart making bracelets, chokers and pendants!

Cultured pearls became more available and affordable for the Middle class. Long ropes of cultured Japanese pearls were common accessories for Art Deco evening-wear, either worn around the neck or twisted several times around the wrist.

Art Deco dress clip style brooches were designed in pairs. According to Christie Romero, in Warman's Jewelry, Louis Cartier was inspired to create the design as the result of watching a woman hang clothes out to dry with clothes pins.

Art deco clips could be worn on necklines, belts, jacket lapels, purses, shoes and hats. They were held in place with a flat backed hinged mechanism.

Art Deco Jewelry motifs are characterized by geometric designs, diverse combinations of color and abstract patterns. In 1922, the opening of Tutankhamen's Tomb in Egypt inspired another Egyptian revival. Influences from cubism as well as African, Oriental, Persian/Islamic, Jugendstil and Native American designs were common in Art Deco Jewelry.

Leading Art Deco jewelry designers include Cartier, Mauboussin, Lalique, Jean Fouquet, Frederic Boucheron, Gerald Sandoz, Raymond Templier, Jean Desprês, Jean Dunand and Paul Brandt. In the United States, the jewelry houses of Tiffany, Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Marcus and Co., Shreve, Crump & Low, Black, Starr and Frost, and Spaulding & Co. produced some of the finest examples of Art Deco Jewelry in existence today. It was very common for these jewelry houses to sign their pieces, which is a great aid for identification.


The most popular gemstones of the Art Deco period were diamonds. Art Deco diamond solitaires were very fashionable. Rubies, sapphires, black onyx, emeralds, coral, ivory, jade, coral, mother-of-pearl and quartz crystal were often used as linear accents with the diamonds or alone. Lapidaries were producing a wide assortment of geometric gem cuts including baguettes, emerald-cuts, triangles and shields. Gems were usually channel-set or bead-set in Art Deco jewelry.

The preferred metal for Art Deco Jewelry was platinum, although white gold and silver is also seen. The finer pieces of Art Deco ornaments are handmade, with hand engraving and milgraining. Examples of these jewels are traditionally well-finished, both on the front and back of the pieces.

Throughout the 1920s a long economic boom took stock prices to peaks never before seen. From 1920 to 1929 stocks more than quadrupled in value. Many investors became convinced that stocks were a sure thing and borrowed heavily to invest more money in the market. The bubble burst in 1929. The stock market crashed! Banks were left holding huge private and corporate debts. This was followed by the Great Depression of the 30's. These sobering events dramatically ended the high spirited frivolity of the 20's.

Even when the economy improved, there was a public need for moderation.

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