Marchak Gold, diam, and sapphire 30's clips There is an important 20th century jewelry style out there that has been woefully ignored, and that is jewelry from the 1930’s –  it “don’t get no respect”,  which is a shame, as it produced some very beautiful and innovative jewelry that is different from what came before or after.

Part of this identity crisis was bad timing.  Modernist jewelry is squeezed in between Art Deco and the 1940’s, and sometimes contains elements of either of these. Back when jewelry of the 1930’s and 1940’s became popular, the auction houses decided to lump these two very different styles together as “Retro”. Although the auction houses obviously wanted to give this jewelry a name that clients could remember, it was an unfortunate and inaccurate choice, and has resulted in a lot of confusion. In fact, I was just looking on Google for 1930’s jewelry, and what came up ranged from Art Nouveau through Art Deco through to the 1950’s, with very few pieces actually from the 1930’s.

Most jewelry books also write about jewelry from Art Deco through the 1940’s, and fail to mention the Modernist style, or even to differentiate jewelry styles of the 1930’s from those of the 1940’s. For starters, jewelry from the 1930’s evolved from Art Deco, and quite a bit of jewelry from the early ’30’s still has a very Art Deco feeling, but by the mid ’30’s, Art Deco was essentially over. Jewelry from the 1940’s took a lot of ideas from Victorian jewelry, but that’s another show! Secondly, neither jewelry from the ’30’s or ’40’s looks back on anything, so why call it by the rather unflattering term “Retro”? The correct name for the most important style of 1930’s jewelry is MODERNIST, and the term “Retro” should be abolished. Templier-brooch-turquoise-a

Yellow gold, rarely seen since around 1910, was now very much back in fashion, and  was now used almost exclusively, although we do still see pieces in white metal. Fluted and swirled gold, highly polished, was now a major stylistic element, and we now see jewelry made only in gold, with no stones. Belperron gold earrings   Boucheron silver bracelet - front view   Art Deco Jewelry     1930’s Modernist Sapphire Hoop Earrings

Geometric forms of Art Deco were often still there, but softened and curved.   Cartier-gold-balls-suite Cartier gold and sapphire 1930's bracelet   Gold-30's-bracelet

Heavy link bracelets, now often called “Contessa” bracelets for their opulent quantity of gold, made use of many different link styles, often combining several kinds of link in one bracelet. The most “Modernist” jewelry, though, usually made use of only one or two elements. When stones were used, they were often rectangular or square. Seaman Schepps 1930's bracelet web   Mauboussin Modernist Rose Gold Bracelet

Cartier Paris ruby and dias bracelet c 1935 closed view Bracelets were  now fairly wide and rigid, or  narrower and flexible. One very notable style of flexible bracelet was the introduction of the Ludo-Hexagone by Van Cleef & Arpels. Small, six-sided elements were closely attached to form a completely flexible whole that resembled  honeycomb, and often, each element has a small stone set in the  sertie etoilé style, with tiny rays cut into the setting.


Van-Cleef&Arpels-Ludo-Hexag Gold and Diamond Ludo Bracelet with Bow Other jewelry houses picked up on these two stylistic elements very quickly, and they became very  associated with 1930’s jewelry, and continued to be in fashion through the 1940’s. VC&A Belle Helene necklace Tiffany gold necklace

Another major stylistic element of 1930’s jewelry was the“tubo-gaz, “gas pipe” or “passe-partout“. This was first developed by Van Cleef & Arpels, and was made by closely winding thin gold elements so that they attached invisibly to each-other, creating a flexible tube, which could be round, flat, or even have curves. This was very popular for necklaces and bracelets.  VC&A had developed the process for producing this, and as they had the necessary machinery, they often made it for other jewelers. Universal Geneve 1930's gold bracelet watch It was very effective for either a necklace or bracelet with no stones – a very pure jewelry design. Sometimes, a central element with stones was added, often in the form of a clip that could be removed and worn separately, making is less Modernist, but very beautiful.Cartier, Paris gold balls w lapis tips bracelet

Van Cleef & Arpels was especially known for this, using beautiful, stylized flowers, often of yellow and pale blue sapphires.

VC&A passe-partout bracelet-necklace Discussion of 1930’s jewelry would not be complete without mention of the highly important “mystery” or invisible setting, wherein grooves are cut into the sides of square or rectangular stones so that they can be slid onto “tracks” , and so create a surface of stones without the appearance of any means of support! images While Van Cleef claims invention of this technique, there is dispute about this. They were, however, the ones who perfected it and used it to its full potential. It was and is very expensive to produce – there is a lot of waste in cutting the stones to line up perfectly, and the technique is very labor-intensive.

Different colors of gold were now also seen everywhere. Pink gold, produced by adding copper to the gold, was especially popular, and green gold is also seen. More than one color of gold is often seen in one piece, especially bracelets. Gold and Diamond Watch Ring Rings were now seen using only gold, and were often quite large. Simple settings holding a  sizable amethyst, citrine, or aquamarine, usually rectangular, and with perhaps a few small colored stones on the side for accent were very popular – the most Modernist, however, did not have any additional ornament to the stone. 30's gold and sapphire ringFouquet-gold-ring Cartier Modernist ring         Templier gold rings

Long sautoires, popular during the 1920’s, were no longer in fashion, with necklaces now sitting close to the neck. VC&A 1930's neck w convertible hemispheres   Boucheron gold necklace

The new, popular stone was citrine – a quartz in the same family as amethyst – in fact, citrine can be created by heating amethyst. Citrine was a very useful stone. It exists in a range of shades from dark, rich orange-brown, known as Madiera citrine, through to very pale yellow. Citrines complimented yellow gold by bringing in sparkle and texture without introducing a new color, giving the jewelry a very harmonious look. It is also flattering to most complexions, and plays well with other colors. Cartier citrine ring     BoivinGold and Citrine Lapel Pin

As yellow gold was replacing white gold and platinum (except, perhaps, for formal evening jewelry), the straight lines Jaeger - Le Coultre gold and citrine bracelet watchof Art Deco were morphing into  curves, but often curves still rooted in geometry. More colored stones were appearing in day-time jewelry – rubies, and sapphires in particular, which were usually small, and set into jewelry in the delightfully subtle star setting, known as sertie etoilé. Gold and Multi-Gem “Ball” Earrings Double clips were already popular during the Art Deco period, and became even more popular and useful during the 1930’s. Boucheron dia clips They could be worn separately, or joined to form one brooch.

They became very popular for both day and evening use, and  worked well in yellow gold for less formal wear, and in white metal and diamonds, were stunning for evening wear, clipped to the edge of the dress neckline. Modernist jewelry is not only beautiful — the designs are strong and clean — but also often more “feminine” than the Art Deco jewelry that preceded it.

Heading into the 1940’s, jewelry styles underwent many changes. Victorian elements began to appear, and in order to use less gold, which was now hard to come by because of the war, ruffles of lacy gold were used, as this required less metal. Very large semi-precious stones were in favor, also to compensate for the scarcity of gold.

One thing interesting to note – jewelry of the early 1950’s often looks very much like the jewelry of the late 1930’s – early 1940’s. The explanation?  When jewelers returned to their trade after leaving to fight in WW2, they picked-up where they had left off, and it took a few years for the very different jewelry styles of the 1950’s to evolve. In the interests of clarity, I do want to mention that there were other jewelry styles in play during the 1930’s that are quite different.

The House of Boivin was producing beautiful pieces based on nature, such as flowers and animals. Fulco de Verdura was also designing jewelry that referenced nature, along with heraldry and many other motifs, and he also introduced gold twisted to look like rope, and gold tassels were becoming a design feature that would continue through the 1950’s. There were other styles emerging that would become much more prevalent in the 1950’s, but Modernist jewelry, with its simplicity and strong design, remains arguably the most important style to emerge during the 1930’s, and deserves to be recognized as an important style in its own right.

By Audrey Friedman. No portion of the above blog may be used without written permission of Audrey Friedman.

To see pieces of Modernist and other jewelry on our website, please click here.


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Everything you have wanted to know about Art Deco jewelry – Part 2

One of the most fascinating  aspects of  Art Deco jewelry is the diversity of stylistic elements it encompasses.

While one important aspect of Art Deco jewelry is rigorously geometric, and limited in color largely to white and black, with occasional touches of color, there is another major aspect of Art Deco jewelry that is full of curves, set with colorful stones, often carved, and embellished with lushly colored enamels in motifs that reflect many exotic influences.

The term Art Deco was coined from l’Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels held in Paris in 1925. This was, essentially, a huge trade fair, intended to revitalize the flagging demand for French luxury goods. It was supposed to have taken place in 1917, but the outbreak of WW1 made this impossible, and the event finally took place in 1925. While Art Deco usually refers to the period from 1920 – 1932, many important influences  were present much earlier. Cubism, which reduced the world to geometric planes, emerged in 1907.  For more about the avant-garde jewelry based on Cubism and machine images – see my previous blog – Art Deco in Black and White.

In 1909, Diaghilev and his famed Ballets Russes came to Paris, and they immediately created a sensation.  The costumes, designed by Leon Bakst, were full of lush colors and flowing lines. They were wildly exotic, and so different from what Paris, and by extension, the rest of Europe, was used to. This had an immediate effect on art and design, and provided one of the earliest and strongest influences on the style that would become known as Art Deco.  

The reds and purples, greens and oranges of the Ballets Russes sets and costumes jolted eyes that had grown tired of the mauves and other muted colors of Art Nouveau, and of the unrelenting “whiteness” of Edwardian jewelry.  These vibrant colors were translated into jewelry set with semi-precious stones, such as coral, amethyst, jade, turquoise, and lapis lazul, and a host of colorful precious stones. The stones were often carved or fluted for a richer effect. Thesemi-precious stones created large areas of color and texture, and could be readily carved into a variety of shapes. For the more rigorously geometric jewelry, they were cut into domes, circles, baguettes, squares and other geometric forms, often super-imposed on one-another to create depth and dimension.  

Airplanes, fast trains, ocean liners were the new symbols of speed and power. They made it possible for more people to travel to ever more distant and exotic places, and  they conferred sleek, polished white metal surfaces and stream-lined shapes to the vocabulary of Art Deco jewelry design.  These Art Deco jewels owed nothing to any other time or place, and were completely original to the 20th century.

Many people, however, as “modern” as they considered themselves to be, were not willing to give up the familiar images that they loved, and naturalistic elements were still very much in evidence in Art Deco jewelry. We still see an abundance of birds, flowers and animals, but instead of the sinuous, flowing lines of Art Nouveau, Nature was now geometrically stylized, captive to new ways of viewing the world.  

World War 1 necessitated technological advances, and many of them proved to have great benefits in peacetime. The end of the war also saw many cultural changes both in Europe and in America. Women were enjoying greater freedom, and rejected the cumbersome long skirts and petticoats for lighter, shorter and sleeker garments.

The famed French designer Paul Poiret re-introduced the “Empire” style.  New jewelry styles emerged to compliment the new fashions – long chains with a decorative pendant, known as sautoirs became popular, as well as shorter necklaces that filled in an open neckline.








The jabot – a pin with a decorative element at each end connected by a metal rod hidden beneath the garment also became a must-have jewel.

Bare arms cried out for dramatic bracelets, and the new, short hairstyles required hanging earrings to set them off.  

It was now acceptable for women to smoke and apply makeup in public, and a profusion of cigarette cases, compacts, and lipstick cases  appeared, so that a woman could engage in these activities with style. The minaudiere was created –a small, purse-like accessory that contained a mirror,  face powder and rouge, lipstick and sometimes a place for a few cigarettes or money. The word “minauder” means “to simper” in French, and it was so named for the women making faces as they peered into the tiny mirrors.  These compacts and minaudieres gave rise to some of the most beautiful and extravagant jeweled and enameled objects that we see in the Art Deco period.  For the less wealthy, all of these things were available made from metal, artificial stones and enamels, and soon, the new plastics like Bakelite and Galilite.  

New techniques in watch-making now made possible small movements, so that a watch could be worn on the wrist, or incorporated into a beautiful jewel to be worn on a lapel.

All of these new jewelry styles gave jewelry designers the chance to translate the diverse stylistic influences that characterize Art Deco into beautiful and stylish jewelry for every taste, and we see some of the most exciting, lush and dramatic jewels of the 20th century.

Precious stones, such as rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were used in new and startling combinations. Semi precious stones, such as amethyst, citrine,  aquamarine and tourmaline were valued for their translucency and delicate colors.  Opaque hard stones, usually lapis lazuli, coral, jade, onyx and turquoise provided large expanses of strong color, and were fashioned into geometric elements, or perhaps carved to represent the dragons of Chinese and Indian mythology. Jewelry designers used all of these vibrant colors as an artist used paint —  to create jewelry of a beauty and drama that had never before been seen.

Enamels were now back in fashion, and strong reds, blues and greens could be used to echo the colors of the stones, or to contrast with them in new and sophisticated ways. Black enamel was especially important.  Now that it was permissible for women to smoke and apply make-up in public, boxes of various sizes were created for these purposes, and they ranged from the amusing to the splendid.  The large, flat surfaces of these boxes provided the perfect canvas for the enamel artist.  Polo players, crouching tigers, leaping gazelles and speeding trains could be found decorating these new fashion necessities.

Enamels could also be used to mimic lapis, jade and coral, and magnificent ladies’ compacts were lavishly enameled, and encrusted with diamonds, precious stones, and mother-of-pearl inlays in a dizzying profusion of styles and colors. This very painstaking techniqhe was often done by the Russian master Vladimir Makovsky, and one can find the initial M on his pieces.

In addition to the Ballets Russes, there were other influences that introduced the rich and striking color that inspired so much of Art Deco jewelry design. The early 20th century saw many radical changes in both culture and technology. Increased trade with “exotic” lands brought new and original images into the gene pool of European decorative arts. The influence of  Asia  was major.

One must keep in mind that for most Europeans and Americans, the “East “ was a very vague and mysterious place. It was a strange, far-away and romantic part of the world that included Russia, Persia, India, Egypt, China and Japan. Decorative elements from all of these cultures found their way into what has become one of the best loved and most sought – after area of 20th century jewelry. Jewelry designers enthusiastically combined  “Eastern” elements from various cultures, with a blithe unconcern for their origins, creating jewels that were exuberantly exotic.

Increased trade with China and Japan gave Europeans the chance to admire the refined esthetics of these cultures.  The simplicity of Japanese art and decoration began showing up in the mid-1900’s.  Westerners were enchanted by the flowing, sinuous movement, refined palette, flat planes and stylized simplicity of Japanese art, and an entire style, known as Japonisme, emerged in the late 19th century.  Art Nouveau, the style that flourished from 1890 until 1910, borrowed much of its esthetic direction from the naturalism and stylization that characterized Japanese Art in Western eyes.

China provided different, if equally exotic images. Red and black enamels were enormously popular, often using elements of Chinese culture associated with long life, wealth, good luck and happiness. Vibrant and dramatic, these colors paid homage to the famous lacquer work associated with China.

Exquisite and precious small boxes were created, ornamented by intricate scenes of life in Imperial China created from inlays of tinted mother-of-pearl. Hanging earrings appeared that looked like Chinese lanterns, and stylized branches of flowers, or scenes from court life could be found delicately displayed on brooches and bracelets.

Jacques Cartier designed and produced some of the most beautiful and important Art Deco jewelry. He was fascinated by Islamic art, and had many volumes of finely bound books on the subject in his library. He based some of his earliest designs on these bindings, and on the imagery that he found within. Beautiful “jardinières”, baskets of rounded vases filled with lush flowers were exquisitely translated into jewelry and objects of every description using diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds, often with touches of enamel. Fountains, birds and animals were given similar treatments. Turquoise, believed by Muslims to protect the wearer from evil, became newly popular. Other jewelers certainly took note of this, and also began using these Eastern elements in their designs.  Van Cleef and Arpels, Tiffany & Co., Mauboussin, Boucheron …virtually every jewelry house seized this wealth of fresh and exotic imagery and made it their own.

India also contributed hugely to Art Deco jewelry design.  Jewelry forms, such as the bracelet of facing dragons provided endless inspiration.

The Sarpeh, a feathered and jeweled piece worn by noblemen on their turbans was translated into hair ornaments as well as brooch and necklace motifs. Rubies, sapphires and emeralds were carved into dainty leaves and flowers, and had long been an element in Indian jewelry. They had the advantage of making good use of less than perfect stones, and Jacques Cartier used them to create his celebrated and highly sought-after “”Fruit Salad” or “Tutti Fruiti” jewels, named for their glowing assemblage of colors.    

Cartier prided himself in being the first jeweler to use such daring color combinations,  although other jewelry houses disputed this claim. He also pioneered the use of emerald and sapphire together for many of his Persian inspired pieces, sometimes using stones of impressive size for his wealthy, and often royal, clients.  He also claimed to be the first jeweler to combine emeralds with coral. Touches of black enamel, and the brilliance of diamonds brought even more splendor to the already extravagant color combinations.  

Arguably, the most important exotic influence on Art Deco jewelry was that of ancient Egypt. Egyptian elements had been popular since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. There was renewed interest following the Franco-Egyptian Exhibition at the Louvre in 1911, but it reached a positive frenzy with the opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

The magnificent objects found there were more fabulous than anything anyone had ever seen before.

Advances in publishing made these images available to a general public hungry for novelty.  Ancient Egyptian images showed up in every aspect of the decorative arts, and nowhere was this more visible and more strikingly translated than in jewelry design. Actual archaeological artifacts, such as small faience pieces, were often incorporated into a piece of Egyptian Revival jewelry, and can be seen on some of Cartier’s famed boxes.  

While an Egyptologist would have had great difficulty deciphering the often randomly chosen hieroglyphics ornamenting a piece of Art Deco jewelry, the public had no difficulty at all enjoying them.

Strongly associated with Art Deco jewelry was the preference for white metal. Historically this had been silver, and then white gold, which was developed after WW1. The most important new white metal for jewelry, however, was platinum. Platinum had previously been little used in jewelry because of the technical difficulties of working with it. It has a melting point of around 1,770 degrees, and can also be brittle. Russian jewelers had found ways of working with it – they had developed an oxy-acetyline torch, or something similar, by the late 19th century.

There are varying stories of who actually invented the oxy-acetylene torch and where, but able to reach temperatures of 3000 degrees, it could be used to melt this seemingly intractable metal. By the beginning of the 20th century, many jewelers were experimenting with and perfecting its use. Why was this so important?  Because of its hardness and tensile strength, it could be very finely worked, allowing much more refined and less conspicuous stone settings.

This led to the development of  “pavé”  work in which the stones could be set so closely to each other as to create, literally a “paved” surface of diamonds in which the settings are all but invisible. The effect was a solid area of sparkle. Colored stoned could also be “pavé” set, creating an unbroken expanse of shimmering color, with no metallic intrusions to disturb the eye.

In addition to the above, platinum made possible an important new development in jewelry design – the ribbon bracelet. It’s broad. flat links were seamlessly integrated to appear as one surface – a “ribbon”, usually of small, pavé set diamonds, which provided the perfect foil for the pictorial images that these exotic influences inspired.

While platinum was important for creating strong, almost invisible settings, it is not an especially beautiful metal, , and white gold, warmer and more attractive, was usually used for the body of a piece.

Revolutionary developments in stone cutting also contributed to the excitement of Art Deco design. Colored stones were now being cut “en calibré”. This was a very painstaking technique in which each stone was carefully cut into rectangles, squares, triangles, and often odd shapes to fit perfectly next to it’s neighbor, thus creating an unbroken line of color. The tops of the stoned were polished, with either subtle facets or a domed cushion surface.

In this way, a jewelry designer could “paint” with stones on the bright, white surface of platinum and white gold with small sparkling diamonds as the background.. Delicate branches of blossoms in the Japanese taste, scenes of Ancient Egypt, and bold geometric designs could flow unimpeded across the surface of a bracelet or brooch.

This great diversity of styles that we lump under the term Art Deco often leaves people confused as to what “Art Deco” jewelry really looks like.  The most important hallmarks of Art Deco jewelry, however, and the ones that have continued to make Art Deco jewelry so sought after by collectors today, it the powerful simplicity of the Cubist inspired pieces, and the explosion of color and exotic influences, used in new, exciting and artistic ways.

By Audrey Friedman

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André Arbus was a decorator, furniture designer, architect and sculptor. Born in Toulouse, France, he went on to work in his father’s cabinet-making firm after graduating from the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts.

Arbus,-acajou-round-table-24 x 31.5 in

While Arbus was not himself a cabinet maker, he was interested in form and in good design. He believed in designing furniture that was comfortable and a perfect fit for the human form. His work changed the direction of his father’s firm, as Arbus designed furniture that was in opposition to the firm’s preferred style  –  very traditional and derivative of 18th century France. Andrè’s furniture, instead, was inspired by the Classicism of the French Empire. He also favored luxurious  materials, such as finely grained veneers, lacquer, parchment, and vellum.



Arbus showed his work for the first time at the 1926 Paris Salons, and shortly after was asked by the Parisian gallery L’Epoque to exhibit his work with them. In 1932, Arbus left Toulouse for Paris. The opening of his own gallery, in 1935, was a major milestone in the designer’s career. The gallery, located on the prestigious Avenue Matignon, drew many wealthy and influential people who became his clients. They admired his luxurious and distinctive but under-stated designs. During this time he collaborated with numerous artists. Perhaps the most important was Vadim Androussov (1895-1975), whose sculpted decoration in wood, gesso, and bronze added elegant sculpture to Arbus’s already beautiful designs.  These collaborations would lead to the creation of furniture which was elevated to the status of art.


Arbus mahagony and sycamore desk-w-Androusov-head c1940 29.5x63x33.25 inches

Arbus made a name for himself during the 1940’s, a decade that provided us with some of the most impressive talents in the French decorative arts, such as Leleu, Adnet, Poillerat, and Dupre-Lafon, to name just a few. Félix Marcilhac, a well-known expert in Paris in the field of early 20th century decorative arts, referred to Arbus as “one of the most inventive interior designers of the period.”  This period is defined by a renewed interest in the Neo- classicalstyle seen through the eyes of modern masters of whom Arbus was the leader.

Arbus-darkened mahogany -console c1940 35.5x70.8x12.6 inches


Arbus-Obelisk vitrines 87 x 20.5 x 14in

Throughout his illustrious career, Arbus won numerous awards. One of his first awards was the Premier Prix Blumenthal in 1934. This was a very prestigious prize, named after Florence Meyer Blumenthal (through the Franco-American Florence Blumenthal Foundation), which awarded young French artists with a monetary stipend. Other artists who received this award were Edouard Vuillard, Aristide Maillol, Paul Signac and Auguste Perret. This was an important honor for a young artist in the beginning of his career.


Arbus was entrusted with numerous significant commissions. In 1936, he designed an interior for the French Ministry of Agriculture. This relationship with the French Government would last his entire career. as they purchased many pieces from him and commissioned several interiors. Some of his work was even gifted to the heads of foreign states by General De Gaulle. In 1955 he decorated the rooms of the French Embassy in Washington. Like his colleagues, Arbus lent a hand to the decors of luxury ocean liners. Both the Jean-Laborder and the Provence, a cruise ship were outfitted with his furniture.  Amongst his commissions, one in particular  stands out. In 1950, he built a jewel cabinet for the then Princess Elizabeth of England. One of his last projects was for the Chapelle Saint-Augustin d’Eguilles, a chapel in Provence completed in  in1964.

André Arbus participated in the 1939 World’s Fair in the US, designing the French sections at the Expo in New York and in San Francisco. A recipient of numerous industry awards, he was also chosen as the head of the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in 1951.  Many of his pieces were chosen by the French government to be in the Mobilier National. The designer remained active until his death in 1969.

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By Audrey Friedman

The early 20th century was perhaps unique in art history with regard to the number of radical stylistic changes that took place in a very short space of time.  By 1925, we had gone from the organic, vegetal excesses of Art Nouveau to the geometric forms, sharp angles, bold colors and smooth, polished surfaces that characterize Art Deco — from maidens with flowing hair and dragonflies to machine parts in less than twenty years.

The term Art Deco was derived from L’ Expositions des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels, the famous trade fair held in Paris in 1925.  It was supposed to have taken place around 1917, with the aim of reviving the waning demand for French luxury goods. World War I, of course, prevented this; and the event was finally held in 1925. Because of this delay, the style that we call Art Deco came to encompass many diverse elements, and this can make defining Art Deco jewelry confusing for many people.


Ballets Russes COSTUMES

One major influence was the Ballets Russes, which came to Paris in 1909, and created a sensation.  The costumes were full of brilliant colors and exotic imagery.  This had an immediate effect on emerging styles in fashion and, of course, the decorative arts; and provided one of the earliest and strongest influences on the style that would become known as Art Deco.  There was general fascination with the “East”, which for Western minds, encompassed China, Japan, India, Persia, and, of course, Egypt, where the excavation of the Tomb of Tut-ankh-amun brought to light fabulous images that captured the world’s imagination.  This created a very different style of Art Deco jewelry, which I will cover in another blog.

The reds and purples, greens and oranges of the exotic Ballets Russes sets and costumes, and the bold color combinations and striking designs seen in Oriental and Egyptian art were a refreshing change from the muted colors of Art Nouveau, and the unrelenting “whiteness” of Edwardian jewelry.  Jewelry set with coral, amethyst, jade, turquoise, and lapis lazuli soon became associated with the new, modern style.  These strongly hued stones were used to create large areas of color and texture, and could be readily carved into a variety of shapes, perfect for interpreting the infatuation with geometry that was quickly becoming a defining hallmark of Art Deco design. Dusausoy opal brooch

While “naturalistic” subjects, such as animals and flower-baskets could still be found, they were subjected to the rigors of geometry to make them “modern”, but often this was fairly tame, so as to appeal to clients with more traditional tastes. The greatest and most revolutionary Art Deco design, however, owed nothing to either nature or history. It drew its inspiration from Cubism. Geometric elements have certainly been present in the decorative arts and architecture of earlier and other cultures, but never in the way that we see in the early part of the 20th century.

The geometry that derived from Cubism was not intended to be merely ornamental.  It reflected a new way of viewing and representing the world. The Cubist movement, which profoundly influenced every area of design, had its roots in philosophy, not in just another archaeological revival. Growing out of  Cubist geometry, and influenced by the inherently sculptural qualities of Machine images, a new jewelry vocabulary was forming that was very pure and minimalist.  Color was rejected in favor of the stark drama of black and white.

The taste for black and white jewelry was in place well before 1925. The earlier Edwardian fashion for “white” jewelry remained a highly important presence in Art Deco jewelry style. Edwardian style (named for King Edward VII of England) became popular around 1905. Much of the jewelry in this style featured diamonds in elaborate but delicate platinum settings. The development of this style was made possible by new and practical ways of working with platinum. Platinum is brittle, and must be heated to high temperatures, but it is extremely strong. The rewards of working with platinum were settings that could be delicate almost to the point of invisibility, but strong enough to hold stones securely in their settings.

With platinum, an entire new jewelry vocabulary was possible, and every-one wanted this exciting “white” jewelry. Cartier produced jewels that made extensive use of diamonds in platinum for their Edwardian “Garland” style jewelry. By 1910, diamond and platinum jewelry was being shown with black onyx or enamel accents, and these jewels were much admired and coveted for their austere elegance. Many of these designs, such as the much-used “Greek key” motif hinted at the geometric styles to come.

Jewelry set with black onyx, however, had its beginnings to serve as “mourning” jewelry. It was customary for the upper classes of “Society” to observe certain restrictions in dress and jewelry during a period of mourning. Bright color was forbidden for both dress and accessories. There were many occasions for public mourning at this time, among them, the death of King Edward Vll of England in 1910, and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.  Previously, jet and black enamel had served for mourning jewelry. Now, Cartier, and other jewelry houses as well offered the fashionable woman a whole new look in mourning jewelry. Cartier expended great efforts to promote their new black and white jewelry expressly for this purpose. The terrible loss of life during WW l fueled the market for elegant mourning jewelry, and by the end of the war, the black and white look had become a jewelry style in its own right. Black and white jewelry was now fashionable for any occasion.

Long, pendant earrings in black enamel, onyx, and diamonds were the hot, new fashion accessories, as were rings with a round diamond set on an onyx plaque. Long chains, or “sautoirs” of pearls, rock crystal or diamonds and platinum supported pendants with black silk tassels. Brooches in diamonds and rock crystal were given dramatic black-enameled borders to accentuate the design. For those who could not afford the real thing, similar costume jewelry was available using silver, enamel, and “paste”, or even marcasite.

Chromed or nickel-coated metal was a new and exciting development in 20th century jewelry. It was very effectively when combined with the new plastic materials, such as Bakelite and Galilite. These materials could be made to resemble semi-precious stones like lapis or coral, and especially onyx and ivory. They were perfect for the now highly fashionable black and white look.  They could be readily cut or molded to any shape, and polished to a high sheen. In the hands of talented designers, these non-precious materials were used to fashion affordable jewelry of distinction that was completely modern in design and materials.

Previously, silver had been used when a white setting was desired for diamonds, but the resulting effect was heavy.  White gold, a recent innovation, was also not strong enough to hold stones in delicate settings.  Both silver and white gold were nonetheless very important in Art Deco jewelry because of their white, metallic sheen. They were used where the color of the metal, and it’s smooth, polished surfaces were an integral part of the design. Yellow gold was quickly going out of fashion.

This infatuation with white metals would remain a defining characteristic of Art Deco jewelry. It is rare to find Art Deco jewelry in yellow gold, although it was sometimes used as an accent, but did not come back into favor until the mid 1930’s. David-gold-pendant-2

New techniques for cutting diamonds also contributed to the white look of Art Deco jewelry. Diamonds were new being cut into baguettes, squares, rectangles, triangles and half-rounds. It was possible to create a highly geometric piece of jewelry using only these stones in various geometric configurations. For the increasingly popular “black and white” look, onyx provided the perfect drama and contrast. Geometric design accents could be picked-out using finely cut baguettes and squares of onyx, set one right next to the other, in “channel” settings. Black enamel was a less costly and often more practical way of achieving the same effect, and was also used for larger surfaces, or where stones could not be used.

Black onyx does not occur naturally. Banded agate, which has black and white stripes, or chalcedony, a  pale, translucent quartz, was used to make black onyx by soaking it for several months in an inky black dye created by the combination of sugar and sulfuric acid.

Long soaking was required for the dye to penetrate evenly throughout the block of quartz and turn it black.  The resulting material could be carved into any shape. Round or rectangular plaques of onyx were the perfect “canvas” for Art Deco brooches, clips, pendants and bracelets, while small baguettes were perfect for accents. Black onyx was even more effective when carved into various highly three-dimensional geometric elements.

Stepped designs of concentric circles or squares provided dramatic dimension. Pyramids of onyx added a mysterious presence to a jewel. The most rigorously geometric jewelry made use of domes, circles, baguettes, triangles, squares and other geometric shapes.  These basic shapes were juxtaposed in many ways, creating strikingly powerful and original jewelry designs unlike anything previously seen.  The idea of bisecting a circle and offsetting the two halves created a dynamic tension, and was very effective, as was placing a triangle or rectangle on a circle. The possibilities were endless. The best Art Deco jewelry makes use of opposing shapes and masses to create a design of dynamic tension. Coral, lapis lazuli, jade or other colored stones were often used with great effect, but the most resolutely avant-garde jewelry was black and white – onyx, black enamel, pale chalcedony, rock crystal and diamonds set in silver, white gold or platinum were the materials of choice. Templier Art Deco brooch

It is the intensity of design that gives power and emotion to these otherwise austere combinations of shapes and materials. There is a delicate balancing act between mass and movement, and the proportions have to be perfect — there are no bright colors or surface decorations to distract the eye. Since one very important aspect of Art Deco jewelry design was the lack of actual color, rock crystal became a favorite material. It could It could be massive or delicate, carved into any shape, and given a polished surface or a translucent, matte finish.  It could be structural as well as decorative, and was often used as an architect might use a window – to let in light and provide a contrast of negative space without adding any color. Paul Brandt and Georges Fouquet used rock crystal to great effect in this way. Rock crystal could even be used as the basis for the entire piece of jewelry, and bracelets, rings, brooches and pendants were carved from this beautiful and useful material, and set with diamonds to bring sparkle and texture to the jewel.

Of course, only a white metal, such as platinum or white gold would be used.  The cool sophistication of the black and white palette combined with the strong designs, vibrating with energy, resulted in jewelry that was “icy-hot”. This most interesting and radical style of Art Deco jewelry was not for everyone. It lacked the romantic aspects usually associated with jewelry, and was not “feminine” in any traditional sense.  It found its audience among the new, modern and emancipated woman, who had thrown off the past along with her petticoats, and cut her hair short.

This jewelry was “avant garde”, and required a client with the same artistic sensibilities.  The “new woman” resembled images seen in the paintings of Fernand Legere.  His women are perfectly formed, as if themselves produced by machines — their hair is milled like sheet steel into perfect waves, and they look as if they own the future.  They seem to represent the aspirations of the new Machine Age generation. The Machine esthetic was, in many ways, as influential an element of Art Deco design as Cubism.  WW1 had brought about many technological changes. Machines and what they could produce played a major role in the outcome of the war, and changed the way people lived, traveled, dressed and communicated.

Templier Art Deco cigarette box After WW1, the machine came to symbolize two rather opposing ideas — the losers in the war were on the wrong side of the machine. They, naturally, saw it as the oppressor of the working class, and an instrument to crush and dehumanize the individual, as portrayed in the film Metropolis. The victors identified with the machine — machine images were powerful and positive. The “machine” expressed optimism, hope for the future, and the power to direct and mold that future. Cars, trains, planes and automobiles, industry and trans-Atlantic steamships all contributed to a wealth of new imagery, full of power and vitality. They were the new symbols of a new age, and re-enforced the ideals of order and progress. Streamlined geometry and highly polished white surfaces became the iconic expression of this “machine” esthetic. Two revolutionary Art Deco jewelry designers, Jean Fouquet and Jean Despres, used actual machine parts, such as ball bearings and gears as models for jewels. Jean Fouquet designed bracelets and necklaces made of chromed metal and rubber.

The Italian Futurist movement was also an important source of designs.  Futurist images were of things in motion – they were dynamic — hence the popularity of comets and fountains in Art Deco jewelry.

The various combinations of geometric elements provided a wealth of new and exciting possibilities for jewelry designers. Some of these designers were far bolder than others, and completely cast off the restraints of historical and natural influences. They were the “Bijoutiers-Artistes”, or Artist-jewelers, whose designs captured the essence of Cubist ideas, and translated them into something that could be worn. Raymond Templier, Jean and Georges Fouquet, Paul Brandt, Gerard Sandoz and Jean Despres are the best-known Art Deco jewelers who produced these pieces, and they are among the true pioneers of 20th century jewelry design.

These great artist-jewelers were not terribly interested in producing “precious” jewels in the traditional sense of the word. They were interested in stones for their color and textural contrasts. Where translucent color was needed, moonstone and pale aquamarine were perfect choices, complimenting the white look, but adding subtle tones and textures. When these designers used diamonds at all, it was more for their white brilliance than for their value. Enamels and carved hard-stones were more interesting and versatile than rubies, sapphires and other precious stones, and because these materials were inexpensive, they encouraged experimentation and innovation.  Strong colors were sometimes incorporated, red being a dramatic favorite – a touch of coral or jade could create a dramatic contrast.

Raymond Templier was an important figure in the Art Deco jewelry movement. He was fascinated by juxtapositions of forms and the interplay of light and volume. His explorations of these themes produced some of the greatest Art Deco jewelry. Templier used silver and white gold interchangeably, with lacquer or enamel, usually black. He also sometimes added a color to heighten the dramatic effect of the design. Templier liked diamonds for effect,






and used them for their sparkle and lack of color. He also designed some highly successful jewelry that is all in diamonds, such as a clever pair of dress clips that could form a variety of different geometric combinations.

Jean and Georges Fouquet were also among the most influential designers of their time.  Their necklaces, bracelets, rings and brooches were resolutely modern in design and of imposing proportions. Georges Fouquet expressed the opinion that  “ jewelry should be considered as works of art”.  Fouquet favored white gold, contrasting surfaces of polished metal and lacquer, and large stones, such as jade, aquamarine or pale turquoise. He was a master at juxtaposing geometric elements and strong colors to achieve a balance that was harmonious, but never static.

The Maison Fouquet also produced jewelry that was less rigorous, and that appealed to a more conservative client who wanted to be in fashion, but not to the extreme. One of their best-known Art Deco jewelry designs was a long rope of matte-finished rock crystal beads, sometimes hanging down to the waist, with a large, glowingly translucent pendant of frosted rock crystal set with a                                                                                           few diamonds and, perhaps, some onyx.

Jean Despres was a silversmith as well as a jeweler. His designs were in the same rigorously pure esthetic spirit as those of his contemporaries.  His training as an airplane mechanic during WWI inspired a fascination with machine parts. His early training as a jeweler gave him great technical skills. He actually fabricated his own designs, and this lends them great power and spontaneity. He worked almost exclusively in silver, semi-precious stones and enamel, and his jewelry is highly sculptural. Some of his best-known pieces actually incorporated small panels of reverse-painted glass by the Cubist artist Etienne Cournault.

Many of the important French jewelry houses, the “Bijoutiers-Joailliers” like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, Mauboussin, Boivin, Boucheron and Dusausoy also designed beautiful black and white jewelry. While most of them used more subdued Art Deco motifs, they did offer some highly stylized but very wearable jewelry that was faithful the bold new esthetic. VC&A-Cambodge-from-show

During the 1930’s, the look of jewelry changed. The angular stylizations of Art Deco became chunkier and more dimensional, and the proportions of jewelry were generally heavier and more massive.  White polished geometric surfaces were giving way to the sensual curves and volutes of polished yellow gold that would characterize 1930’s “Modernist” jewelry.  By 1936-37, Art Deco was essentially over, and yellow gold and colored stones , especially citrine, aquamarine and amethyst were now the fashion, but the sheer drama of black and white Art Deco jewelry continues to excite collectors today with its purity of design and ageless modernity.

By Audrey Friedman, Primavera Gallery

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It is a great art to die well and to be learnt by men in health…Place your coffin in your own eye: dig your own grave. -Jeremy Taylor, 1665

Death. It is an unavoidable aspect of all human life, but in our culture it is a taboo subject  – discussed only when necessary, and even then, usually in a whisper.  Centuries ago, however, the reality of death was embraced –  not surprising – considering that the average life span was around 45 years. Beautiful objects and jewelry were created to remind people of mortality. These objects of adornment, most often rings, are referred to as Memento Mori – a succinct term reminding us of our transience on Earth, and a warning to prepare ourselves for whatever other realm awaits us. Such jewelry graphically illustrates the transitory nature of life –  we will all meet the same end. The Latin translation of the term Memento Mori is, simply, “remember you must die.”

Only jewelry can convey  a harsh reality in such an elegant form. Its popularity lasted for over 300 years, and was in customary wear in some form until the early 20th century. While Memento Mori jewelry dates back to ancient times, most of the earliest examples we see are from the 15th century, with inscribed messages on the pieces that conveyed the warning of imminent death. Symbols soon became en vogue and replaced text, particularly the image of a death’s head: the remainders of life—bones and skulls—symbolize what once existed. Full length skeletons offered a different design option in the creation of Memento Mori jewelry. Many other symbols were also prominent: worms, snakes, graves and bats were all prevalent within the scope of Memento Mori iconography. Memento Mori jewelry has many variations in design, from the outright blatant expressions of death to the more subtle and beautiful implications of mortality through intricate details.

Victoria & Albert Museum

A great example of early Memento Mori jewelry is a charm from the 16th century of an enameled skeleton in a coffin from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Its literal symbolism conveys the importance of life and its beauty through the exquisitely detailed scrolling design of the coffin’s top. The inscription reads: THRONGH. (sic) THE. RESVRRECTION. OF CHRISTE. WE. BE. ALL. SANCTIFIED. Such a statement can only imply that the wearer believed that there is no need to fear death: through faith, peace can be found at the end of life. How can one not be intrigued by the skeleton in his coffin, resting with his hands crossed, prepared for the unknown?

British MuseumBritish Museum

The skull motif is the prominent icon of Memento Mori jewelry. Although there are many examples, it’s especially interesting to find a piece that is definitive in its statement of mortality. I’m quite partial to this watch from 1660 from the British Museum: a skull whose head opens to reveal a clock face. The style was a popular one, a representation of the societal celebration of both life and death. This example is both breathtaking and charming in its details. With engravings along the skull, the piece becomes much more contemplative.  There are four inscriptions:

“vita fugitur” – life is fleeting (engraved across the front temple)

“caduca despice” – look down upon a fallen thing (on the right side)

“aesterna respice” – look upon eternity (top left side)

“incerta hora” – the hour of death is uncertain (at the back of piece, engraved alongside an hour glass)

British Museum

The Latin phrases, the skull, and the depiction of time all translate to the constant reminder of the owner’s mortality. Time is precious, and should not be wasted.  A watch (tempus fugit) combined with these symbols was the perfect constant reminder.

Victoria and Albert MuseumVictoria and Albert Museum


Deceptively simple, this 18th century Memento Mori ring from the Victoria and Albert Museum is overflowing with meaning. I love this example because the understated style of the ring is heightened by the symbolism of the enamel and the rock crystal setting. On the black enameled gold, the word MEMENTO MORI is inscribed. Additionally, intricate iconographic symbols such as a skull and crossbones, a pickaxe and shovel, and  gravedigger’s tools are portrayed. The most interesting feature of the ring is the oval faceted crystal encasing a piece of black silk. The fabric is quite textural, as if a snake had shed its skin and the remains of the creature had been preserved and set underneath the clear rock in order to outlast decay. Made in 1719, this exquisite piece of jewelry is powerful despite its delicacy and grace.

Primavera Gallery

The skull rings, often with the skull set on crossed bones, was a popular and very graphic design. The skulls were usually realistically enameled, and often opened to reveal a message.  One English ring of this description, circa the mid 1660’s, opens to reveal the nude torso of a woman enveloped in flames, which might have been a reminder of the great London Fire of 1666 or of the Plague. Another quite similar skull ring opens to reveal the carefully enameled sentiment, in French, that Death is the end of remembrance.  One interesting ring I have seen is a gold band with an incised skull and bones filled with black enamel – it dates from the beheading of King Charles 1 of England in 1649, and bears the engraved inscription inside the band “Prepare to followe” (sic).

Close to the body and invaluable to the soul, Memento Mori jewelry offered a constant reminder of time and the fleeting gift of life. Decay of the tangible (the body) and the remainders of what once existed (the skeleton and skull) encompass the meaning of Memento Mori. Ultimately, Memento Mori jewelry remains as a lesson: remember you must die—the hour will not be known. Thus, every day must be lived as if it’s your last and cannot be taken for granted. Life and death are both beautiful and must be embraced.

Memento Mori jewelry can be easily confused with its first cousin – Memorial jewelry, which has a long history as well. Much of the same iconography was used for both, especially for the earlier Georgian memorial pieces. Dating from the 16th  – 19th centuries, skulls, skeletons, coffins and even cherubs adorned rings, which were the favored pieces of jewelry for this purpose. Pearls represented tears.

Memorial jewelry, however, differed from Memento Mori in that the pieces were made to commemorate the death of an important and/or beloved person. The band was usually in black enamel on gold, but is also found in white, usually for a woman. Often, the band had scrolled segments, with the name, date of birth, date of death and age of the deceased. More rarely, the band was solid, with an elongated skeleton in either black or white.  Often, the ring centers a faceted optical crystal in the form of a coffin, with a tiny enameled skeleton inside. Sometimes, just a skull, and I have seen one with a skull  accompanied by a cherub on each side. Occasionally, these could be rather humorous, such as one Stuart crystal ribbon slide I have seen with a skeleton lying jauntily on its side atop a coffin. Jewelers of the day must have kept a little supply of tiny skulls and bones, so that the client could design the piece to suit. The individual elements are sewn on with a single human hair – often, onto a background of woven hair of the deceased. Ornate gold wire work could be used for the monogram or crest of the deceased. This can best be seen with the Stuart crystal ribbon slides, which are larger than rings.

A serpent with its tail in its mouth symbolized eternity, and was popular both for memorial jewelry and as a wedding band, and remains popular for this purpose today.

The fashion for memorial jewelry reached a positive frenzy with the death of   Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert, in December of 1861. By this time, styles had changed, and popular motifs were urns, or painted scenes of weeping willows in sepia tones. Often, there was a compartment on the back for a lock of the deceased hair. I once had one with what looked like a tiny piece of pinkish fabric. I was later told that this  would have been a cornea from the deceased.

Today, we see a lot of jewelry with skulls and skeletons. This is now “edgy” fashion, and not meant to convey the earlier messages of remembrance, either of mortality or of the deceased.

By Andi Harriman  and Audrey Friedman

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FRENCH JEWELRY 1950’s – 1960’s

After the Second World War, many wealthy and style-conscious American women regularly went to Paris for their clothes and jewels, and important American jewelry houses opened offices or showrooms in Paris, both to keep their traveling clients faithful, and to keep up with the latest styles. In the matter of jewelry design, the French have always been regarded as leaders.


In fact, the adjective ‘French’ has, for centuries, been synonymous with the best and most luxurious in workmanship and design. Movie makers and advertising agencies have long known that just adding the adjective ‘French’ to a title or headline would make people perceive it as better, sexier, tastier, chic-er, more luxurious and extravagant. Pretty much throughout the 20th century, the French reputation for excellence in design, workmanship and that “je ne sais quoi” was richly deserved. French designers also took technical virtuosity to new heights, developing complex techniques for fashioning some of the most imaginative jewelry ever made.

Today, when you see vintage jewelry offered for sale at the most prestigious antiques fairs in New York, London and Palm Beach, the pieces are usually signed Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef and Arpels, Mauboussin, Boucheron, Suzanne Belperron, Sterlé, Marchak or Boivin.


There were also a number of smaller but very important houses that produced work of exceptional quality and original design – Marchak, Mellerio, Sterlé, and Chaumet, among others – jewelry that was often the equal of the bigger and better known houses.

Top dealers and knowledgeable collectors seek out these unique pieces, made decades ago when workshops could afford to spend an extraordinary amount of time and labor fashioning an individual piece.  I think too many people forget that a huge diamond rock, while beautiful, is not really a substitute for an intricately crafted, signed piece of period jewelry that possesses interesting design and timeless style.

Jewelry styles underwent a radical change as we moved into the 1950’s. The terrible war years were finally over, and both materials and skilled craftspeople were again available. It can be a bit confusing that a lot of jewelry from the early 1950’s still resembles styles from the late 1930’s. The reason is simple – jewelers put down their tools to go off to war, and when they returned, they continued where they had left off, but not for long. People wanted fresh, new styles, both in jewelry and in fashion, and major changes happened quickly.

The 1950’s and 1960’s were very creative periods for jewelry design. A number of great artists, such as Picasso, Braque and Dali designed precious jewelry. This was of great importance to jewelry design, as it contributed so many new and exciting images, shapes, textures and ideas.  

Texture was everywhere in the 1950’s – it was the new defining stylistic element.

Hardly a surface was left untouched. The sleek expanses of polished gold of the 1930’s and 40’s were gone. In their place were various kinds of textures. Various kinds of wire-work also became important elements of style.    


Hammered surfaces appeared, and thanks to newly developed methods of investment casting, it was now possible to create a variety of new, exciting textural elements. This technique also allowed for free-form pieces, first made in wax, and then cast in gold or silver. Stones could appear to have been pressed directly into the metal.




Arthur King, in New York City, was best known for this style, but it was also quickly adopted by Studio jewelers, who used the technique to create some very Avant-garde pieces, and Chaumet, a fine Parisian jewelry house experimented with this technique with great success. A lot of this jewelry was very new and a bit strange for many people – one either loved it or hated it.

Naturalism became a major stylistic theme, but now the creatures that had been sleek and stylized in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s were created anew, with great attention to detail. Fish regained their scales, birds their feathers. Branches were textured like bark, and flowers were exquisitely detailed.    

Jewelry with animals, fish, leaves, flowers and other themes from nature was enormously popular, especially as brooches and small “scatter-pins”, which could be strewn across sweaters, jackets, and even hats.

Not only were they realistic, they were fresh and amusing.    


Newly developed techniques for weaving gold so as to resemble fabric became another important design element, as did wire-work.            

Wires of gold, either polished or twisted, were used to create jewelry that was both airy and architectural. VC&A used this for their Angel Hair pieces, and the great French designer Pierre Sterlé became known as ‘the torturer of gold” for the ways in which he used twisted wire in his jewels.

Various types of chain were enjoying a popularity not seen since the early 20th century. Fox-tail – a square braided chain, has existed since ancient times, and was used in Victorian jewelry, but then disappeared for a while. It was now a great favorite. It could be draped into sexy swags, and made into great tassels,

or be used with great effect to suggest feathers, fish tails or flower parts that moved with the wearer.

Pierre Sterlé and Marchak both used fox-tail to great effect.


Color was now again very important. Jewelers used stones as an artist uses color, and precious and semi-precious stones were often combined for their visual effect rather than for their intrinsic value.  

Enamel was also becoming increasingly important for adding bright color and subtle textures to a jewelry design.


Going into the 1960’s, jewelry became bigger and even more colorful. One could wear jewelry in sizes and quantities that would have been considered vulgar a decade earlier.  Geometry re-appeared, but in a modified form, as seen in the newly popular sautoirs with large tassels being made by Bulgari, Boucheron, VC&A and Boucheron.  Long, heavy gold chains were also a hot new item, sometimes interspersed with stones.

Jewelers, particularly Cartier, were again taking inspiration for from India, and shapes such as paisley motifs were a popular design motif, as were the bracelets of facing animal heads last seen in the 1920’s.  The Cartier bracelet of facing elephant heads, set in the Indian taste with rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds is a great example.


Van Cleef & Arpels designed superb and highly original pieces, among them the amazing Zipper that could be worn as either a necklace or bracelet, and many of their iconic Ballerina brooches were introduced in the 1950’s. They also used the new woven gold in many chic and highly original pieces.

Van Cleef and Arpels

The house of Boivin’s designs were strongly reflective of what was happening in fashion and the decorative arts, but they were interpreters, not imitators.  Even in the 1930’s they were producing jewels with naturalistic themes. They devised many original and innovative designs in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, such as the “Quatre Corps” ring, designed by Baroness Caroline des Brosses, and introduced in 1950, with four tiers of diamonds.

Another ring, named “Pampilles”, demonstrates Boivin’s technical virtuosity.  Tear-drop shaped stones on tiny hinges, each topped by a miniscule diamond surround a central stone, and fall open and closed like a flower.


Marchak was smaller house but they produced wonderful, often humorous, and very original jewelry with superb workmanship. One charming brooch is a fruit slice. The rind is naturalistically textured, and the “flesh” is of color-graduated rubies with sapphire pits – it is so luscious that you almost expect to see juice flowing from it.

Marchak was inspired by nature, virtually capturing the essence of spring with jewels full of vitality and movement.


Pierre Sterlé is another name that became increasingly important in the 1950’s. He also enthusiastically embraced the new interest in Naturalism, and while he was not unique in using birds, flowers, animals, stars and other such imagery, he was very original in his interpretations. Sterlé’s jewels are often characterized by an intriguing dis-symmetry. This was a clever way of giving an even greater sense of movement to the piece. Sterlé’s jewelry is full of movement.

The pieces look as if it they are about to become airborne or are already in flight. His flowers, often with intricately carved petals seem to blow in the breeze.


It was also now popular to create diamond jewelry using combinations of round and baguette stones.

All the jewelry houses were doing it, but Sterlé was, arguably the master, creating pieces of pure, architectural simplicity.

Hermès, well known for their coveted leather goods and silk scarves, also produced very fine jewelry. Favorite motifs were nautical inspired pieces, with bracelets and necklaces of gold woven to resemble rope. There pieces remain chic status symbols, but, alas, a lot of it now is made in Italy or Asia, and not of quite the same quality.


One of the reasons for the superior workmanship of French jewelry was the apprenticeship system, whereby a person would begin to learn his trade at age 14. This gave rise to a class of jeweler who were skilled in all aspects of jewelry work to a degree almost unknown today, and it is one of the things that made French jewelry so special.”

Even unsigned pieces that were relatively modest were executed with a high degree of technical skill and quality up until the 1970’s, when the older craftspeople trained in the old way were dying off or retiring.  The pool of this type of highly skilled labor has thus dwindled and become much more expensive. Children no longer leave school at 12 or 14 to learn a trade.


Even in France, jewelry is being made more by commercial processes and less by hand.  We now hardly ever see the tours de force of workmanship that were commonplace in the past. Most jewelry houses are no longer owned by the founding families – they have become corporate, with more emphasis on that old bottom line. Jewelry designs have been simplified to require less intensive hand labor, making fine vintage pieces even more valuable and desirable.

Audrey Friedman for Primavera Gallery

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One of the problems with the contemporary “Design” movement is that quite a lot of the pieces are seemingly extreme just for the sake of being “different”. Many designers forget that a little originality goes a long way. Also, many of the new designs are far from being actually functional.  There are chairs that one cannot really sit on, tables that are too fragile for use, and bookcases that hold perhaps 10 books. They are really more sculptures than furniture, and one could argue that the creators of these pieces, in their quest for something new, have failed as furniture designers – they have forgotten, or ignored, the dictate of the famed American architect Louis Sullivan  – “Form follows function”.

Jules Bouy, Chair, ca.1931

While no one would suggest that designers should not be producing exciting new designs, exactly how many non-functional pieces does one really want in a room? If a piece of furniture cannot be used for its ostensible purpose, is it a chair, table, or sculpture? If it is really a “sculpture” why not call it that, and not pretend that it is something else? Is it not the responsibility of a really talented designer to create exciting pieces that can be used?  I know that many designers might consider my saying this as ignorance on my part – I would consider this arrogance on their part.

Mouille, Spiral Table, 1962

There also seem to be a number of young designers, fresh out of art school, who do not see why they should not enjoy instant success. I often see estimates in auction catalogues for unknown new designers with very high estimations. They seem to forget that the designers who are now famous have been working for a long time, and that many of them worked for furniture manufacturers, where they established their reputation, before going on to work independently. Also, quite a few of the new designers seem to be “one-trick ponies”. They have one good idea, and work it to death.

Max Ingrand for Fontana Arte, Table Lamp, ca.1955

I am certainly not suggesting that collectors should not be excited by new and original designs, quite a lot of which are excellent and worthy of attention. What should be remembered, though, is that the term “Design” has been co-opted, and has been so over-used as to now being essentially meaningless. Any new movement of any period, from Victorian Gothic through Art Noveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus, 1940’s Neo-Classicism, Danish Modern, 1950’s, can rightfully be considered Design, and many of these movements produced work that was truly revolutionary for their time.  There are outstanding works from any of these periods that rival, and often surpass much of what is being done today.

Gilbert Poillerat, Table, ca.1940s

I feel that it is important that the great designs of earlier periods should not be forgotten or ignored in the rush to have the latest “status” piece by a hot new designer.  There are wonderful things out there – in galleries and at antiques fairs that are waiting to be re-discovered and they work and play well with contemporary work – after all – it’s ALL design.

Wendell Castle, Abilene S Chair, 2009

Audrey Friedman for Primavera Gallery

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