The A-Z of Jewelry: A is for... Art Deco

By Sarah Jordan
As part of Sotheby's series of articles exploring the history of jewelry trends, Sarah Jordan looks at how Art Deco emerged during a period of global turbulence and took inspiration from everything from Cubism to ancient Egypt.
Sapphire and Diamond Bracelet, Cartier, 1930s. Sold £168,750

At the close of the First World War, the impending arrival of a new decade was like a beacon of optimism for Europe. The 1920s signalled a step towards the future, where hemlines were shorter, buildings were taller, transport was faster and jazz age decadence reigned supreme. It was from this contemporary spirit that the Art Deco design movement was born; first appearing in Paris at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925.

Silver and Lacquer Pendant-Necklace, Jean Fouquet, France. 1928-1929.

To be Art Deco in the period from 1920 to 1935 was to be decidedly modern. Artists turned away from the delicate flowers of the Art Nouveau style in favour of Cubism’s bold shapes and colours, as well as ‘futuristic’ geometrical patterns and symmetrical lines. Burgeoning access to faraway cultures saw Art Deco influenced by art forms from China, Japan, India and South America, while the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 sparked a global obsession with the ‘newly rediscovered’ Ancient Egyptians.

Art Deco Natural Seed Pearl and Diamond Sautoir Necklace, J.E. Caldwell, circa 1920. Sold HKD 524,000

As society moved to the future, so too did jewelry design. Although the most influential houses of the day, such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Jean Fouquet, Jeanne Bovin, Boucheron, Chaumet and Lalique had their own interpretations of Art Deco, certain themes emerged, such as monochrome combination of platinum, rock crystal, onyx and white diamonds. Swathes of coloured gemstones, including rubies, emeralds, coral and jade, packed a ‘tutti frutti’ punch, while long sautoir necklaces with gem-set tassels, clip brooches and wide cuff bracelets were ideally designed for the fashionable flapper dress.

Mystery-Set Ruby and Diamond Bracelet, Van Cleef & Arpels, New York, 1936. Sold $198,000

This inter-war period was also a time of great advances in diamond cutting and setting, resulting in some of the earliest uses of baguette, or matchstick-like rods, of diamonds. Perhaps the most important innovation was Van Cleef & Arpels’ ‘invisible’ Mystery Set, patented in 1933, which allowed for carpet-like surfaces of diamonds and gemstones without visible prongs. With this, the glamour, decadence and modernity of Art Deco could be lavishly expressed.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's