S otheby’s is pleased to present 20th Century Jewels: Design by the Decade, open for bidding from 23–30 September. Featuring nearly 60 exemplary pieces covering the span of a century, discover the best examples of each era by celebrated makers such as Cartier, Bulgari, Graff, as well as Tiffany & Co. Discover highlights from delicate Edwardian jewels, highly collectible pieces from Cartier’s Art Deco period, vintage classics by Van Cleef & Arpels, fantastical animal bangles by David Webb, instantly recognizable ‘Monete’ jewels by Bulgari to present day red carpet jewels by Graff.
20th Century Jewels: Design by the Decade
This collection offers a fascinating retrospective on the use of colored stones throughout the 20th Century. These ten decades saw a remarkable transition beyond the traditional, bringing previously overlooked gems and never-before-seen techniques to the forefront of fashion and design. In the Edwardian sapphire ring by Marcus & Co., we see the timeless aesthetic of a bezel-set central gem within a setting of great intricacy and symmetry. Two lovely clip brooches by Cartier, each set with citrine, exemplify their Art Deco and Retro eras. Both were produced during a period when the Maison introduced gems such as citrine and aquamarine to connoisseurs in bold, au courant designs that would forever elevate these previously “semi-precious” stones to coveted collectibles. Examples both vintage and recent from Bulgari illustrate their mastery of contrasting color palette and the juxtaposition of faceted stones with those cut en cabochon. In a bracelet by Seaman Schepps, the painstakingly carved and richly colored carnelian serves as both ornament and integral structure. This use of carved hardstone, recalling the jewels of antiquity in a novel and compelling way, is on full display in a stunning mid-century cuff by David Webb combining extraordinary lapis lazuli with jewel-tone enamel. Finally, a contemporary pair of ruby earrings by Graff show a refreshingly modern take by encircling round rubies against accenting brilliant diamonds for maximum contrast. We are delighted to share this ongoing evolution in colored gems with you.
The period often referred to as ‘la Belle Époque’ in France and the Edwardian era in England began in the 1890’s and lasted until the outbreak of World War I. A golden age for the upper classes, society was defined by its elegance. It was a time of peace between European powers. New technologies were improving lifestyles and the arts were adapting the past into the present. Fashion became a priority, setting a lighter tone, implementing delicate lace and feathers with muted pastel clothing. The introduction of mountings in platinum, the hardest of metals, made it possible for workshops to create fabric-like jewels. Characteristic motifs of the period included swags, bows, tassels and garlands. The jewelry of this period had a delicate quality reflecting the femininity of the generation.
In 1939, a new wave of jewelry appeared at the World’s Fair in New York. For a second time in the century, Europe was at war and the United States was soon to join the conflict. Wartime austerity suppressed the whims of fashion and taste, as precious materials and diamonds were hard to come by. Geometric forms were replaced with bold and striking designs that better suited the fashion of the war years that were masculine and almost military in inspiration. Jewelers substituted small and sparse precious gems with large semi-precious alternatives such as aquamarines and citrines. Yellow gold replaced platinum and became the dominant material of choice for jewelry in the ‘40s. The acceptance of gold jewelry for day and night from this decade served as an important creative source of jewelry design for the 1950’s.