NEW YORK - The end of World War I and a booming economy helped spark a whirlwind of sensory overload: the pulse of jazz beat through the streets, skyscrapers punctured urban skylines and the forbidden taste of liquor hit the lips of a new class of flappers dancing the Charleston in underground speakeasies. People were changing as fast as the things around them, and the new consumer-driven economy that roared along celebrated such growth. Gone were the fluid garland-styles of the Belle Époque, replaced with the sleek geometry of Art Deco. Stringent class systems of previous decades dictating the look of the ‘proper’ lady gave way to more relaxed structures dominated by the growing middle classes and changing roles of women. Empowered by an increased presence in the workforce and the Suffragist movement, women now had more power to choose and what they chose were bracelets!
Platinum, Onyx, Emerald and Diamond Bracelet, Van Cleef & Arpels, Paris. Estimate $15,000–20,000.
Art Deco jewels are a highly sought after auction staple, however the selection of Art Deco bracelets in the December 9th Magnificent Jewels sale provides consummate examples of the evolution of design during this pivotal era. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, easily stackable strap bracelets provided jewelers canvases with which to display the growing wealth of design inspirations. Geometric motifs reigned supreme as is seen in lot 393, a Van Cleef & Arpels diamond bracelet with contrasting yet complementary onyx and emerald accents. Egyptomania was sparked by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb and maisons such as Lacloche Frères used calibré-cut stones in a variety of hues to bring this newly-discovered world to life, as is seen in lot 405. Inspired by the vibrancy of the Ballets Russes, jewelers such as Oscar Heyman & Brothers (lot 394) let an assortment of colored stones and diamonds in various shapes and cuts take the stage. Looking farther East to India, Cartier’s iconic ‘Tutti Frutti’ (lot 395) designs turned carved colored stones into delicately arranged floral masterpieces.
Rare and Important Egyptian-Revival Platinum, Diamond and Colored Stone Bracelet, Lacloche Frères, Paris. Estimate $300,000–500,000.
Artist Tamara de Lempicka once famously vowed to buy herself a diamond bracelet for every other painting sold, allowing her to display the look of the time which was to allow one’s forearm to disappear into a sparkling pillar of jewels. As the 1920s became the 1930s, bracelets became wider and the bursting color of the 1920s evolved into crisp white designs. New technologies and diamond cuts allowed American jewelers such as J.E. Caldwell (lot 336) and Raymond Yard (lot 130) to create openwork diamond delights with contrasting cuts joined in harmonious patterns. The influence of the Machine Age and the new perspectives seen in abstract art inspired designs such as lot 189 by Van Cleef & Arpels, featuring diamond-set ‘steps’ which cast unique flashes of light when worn.
Platinum and Diamond Bracelet, Raymond Yard. Estimate $100,000–150,000.
Whereas earlier decades in jewelry history show much more defined boundaries in terms of what was “in” and what was “out,” the plethora of options available during this time makes the Art Deco years unique. Newly formed careers allowed women to now gift jewels to themselves and newly formed fashions allowed them to be worn in unique ways. As a modern gal with an eclectic eye, I would like to thank the pioneer women of the Deco days for paving the way for individuality and for perfecting the art of mixing and matching. In today’s modern world where our smart phones, e-readers and tablets keep our wrists on prominent display, what better a time to pay homage to the bracelet-bearing flappers?
So go on, brace yourselves, and find a style that suits your inner Nancy Cunard, Josephine Baker or Zelda Fitzgerald. The wrist of your look will speak for itself.