G eometric jewellery design has been making quite the splash of late; statement pieces sporting basic design elements such as triangles, ovals, squares, paired with bold, precise lines and chiseled angles. Popular during the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s – widely considered as one of the most creative movements in history – geometric design in jewellery saw a revival in the 1960s and 1970s, and is now experiencing yet another comeback.
Art Deco – first introduced at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925 marking the beginning of a new period of modernity, progress and innovation – influenced a range of disciplines from architecture and the visual arts to fashion. But it was within the world of jewellery design that Art Deco really made its most indelible mark. Even today it is widely regarded as one of the most significant and prolific periods for jewellery design and its influence is still evident in the creations of some of the world’s most celebrated jewellery maisons and designers.
The celebration of geometry in its purest form was perhaps one of the most iconic features of Art Deco jewellery design. The movement was very much influenced by Cubism, and as a result many of the jewels explored the relationships between angles and surfaces. Designs embraced clean lines and forms, often featuring unvaried patterns that were repeated multiple times in the same piece.
This unique geometry was achieved thanks to the period’s technical advancements and use of innovative machinery, which allowed jewellers to experiment with new techniques. Van Cleef & Arpels, for example, developed their iconic mystery setting (or invisible setting) during this period. This cutting-edge technique involves sliding gemstones onto an intricate metal framework so that no metal is visible to the naked eye. Gems are transformed into bold geometric shapes allowing patterns burst to life, creating new proportions.
From Art Deco to Contemporary Geometry
Thanks to its timeless appeal and modernity, Art Deco styles and techniques continue to influence designers in the 21st century. Advanced cutting techniques during the Art Deco period also led to the creation of new and unusual diamond cuts including the baguette (sometimes referred to as matchstick diamonds), emerald, trapeze, half-moon and triangle cuts. These were often combined in one design to create mosaic-like motifs and geometrical effects.
The baguette cut, which was created at the height of the Art Deco movement, has also given contemporary designers freedom to play with scale and proportions. The Emerald and Diamond Bangle-Bracelet, featured in Sotheby’s Important Jewels, features an eye-catching combination of baguette and round cut diamonds to form a unique decorative pattern and a beautiful clasp. Such Art Deco-inspired, chunky and wide diamond bracelets were very popular in the early 20th century.
Meanwhile, seamless geometric motifs is exemplified in a diamond necklace by Cartier, where brilliant cut diamonds form a geometric pattern. A similar piece was featured in the exhibition “Cartier and Islamic Art – In Search of Modernity” at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Dallas Museum of Art in 2022. The landmark exhibition explored how Islamic art – strong in the use of motifs, pattern and form – influenced Cartier’s jewellery design.
Innovations in Colour and Form
In addition to new techniques, colour and materials also played a key role in creating the unique symmetry Art Deco jewels were known for. Aside from diamonds, jewellers incorporated unexpected materials such as rock crystal into their designs. Crystal could be cut into fluid shapes, resulting in eye-catching pieces such as the Art Deco Rock Crystal, Enamel and Diamond Brooch by Cartier (circa 1910). Extremely popular in its day, the palmette motifs with a meander addition on the terminal shows the variation in aesthetic influence Cartier explored at the time. Such brooches were also worn as hat pins. Other popular materials included lacquer (which replaced enamel) and cultured pearls which were cultivated in abundance during the 1920s. To further highlight form and symmetry, many jewellers embraced a monochromatic colour palette to create sleek lines, as seen in the Pair of Art Deco Pearl, Rock Crystal, Onyx and Diamond Clip Brooches (circa 1910), a double clip brooch with stunning contrasting textures of pearl and onyx.
Bulgari was always creative when it came to mixing and matching colours with various materials. Bulgari’s Serpenti, which is considered one of Italian jeweller’s most iconic collections, was inspired by the seductive serpent which dates back to ancient Greek and Roman mythology. The design made its debut in the 1940s, but its latest incarnations are very much influenced by the aesthetics of the Art Deco period. In more recent pieces, a bracelet features the snake’s “scales” crafted from black enamel contrasted with white diamonds. Another bangle is decorated with black Onyx cut in geometric shapes, while the snake’s eyes are brought to life using emerald cabochons. Each onyx was cut and carved to fit into the shapes of the scales precisely, a demonstration of true craftsmanship of the lapidary and jeweller.
Geometric patterns and the contrasting of form and colour is also at the heart of the Gem Set and Diamond Pendant Necklace, a signature piece from Jewellery Theatre. Inspired by the kaleidoscope, the pendant is worn in two different ways – one side is gem-set, the other side is black-and-white – and recreates the effect of textured layers seamlessly morphing into one another.
Inspiration for Generations to Come
Art Deco jewellery was considered bold and unique, especially when compared to the designs of the Art Nouveau period that proceeded it. There were specific stylistic traits that characterised a piece of jewellery during this period, be it the monochrome colour combinations, contemporary crafting techniques (the period extolled the virtues of machine-made objects and the emergence of new diamond cuts) to the use of unexpected materials in abstract designs. For many collectors, Art Deco jewels have become especially covetable thanks to their meticulous attention to design, materials and craftsmanship.
Original yet fearless, timeless yet contemporary – it’s no wonder that the mesmerising geometric designs set forth by Art Deco will continue to influence jewellers and woo collectors for many generations to come.