Art Nouveau vs Art Deco Jewellery
The turn of the 20th century was momentous for jewellery’s evolution as an art form. In fact, it was the two art movements of Art Nouveau and Art Deco - which dominated Western cultural spaces during the late 1890s up to the late 1930s - that greatly influenced how jewellery was made.
Art Nouveau Enamel Copper Opal and Pearl Brooch, c.1901 Annie Noufflard, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
What makes both periods of jewellery design even more fascinating is how quickly they went out of style. With such a short time in the spotlight relative to other jewellery trends, genuine Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces that have survived through the years are rarities. This is one of the reasons that these pieces are favourites of collectors.
Despite the similarity in the names of these eras Art Nouveau and Art Deco have distinct characteristics that set them apart, and in some ways that run completely opposite to one another.
Art Nouveau Jewellery Defined
Art Nouveau Overview
The Art Nouveau movement began in 1890 in France and spread throughout Western Europe.
Artists broke free from the traditional aesthetic approach to nature of Naturalism and the elegance in structure of Neoclassicism. Organic subjects such as flowers, plants, and insects were portrayed in art with flowing lines and soft, earthy tones. The female form was uniquely highlighted, being front and centre in many pieces in the Art Nouveau style.
Its colourful, complex designs made each piece highly decorative, elevating the status of decor to the level of fine art at the same time.
Art Nouveau was seen as a response to the increasingly rigid assembly line designs and machine manufacturing that the Industrial Revolution brought to the world of art. Its abrupt end was largely caused by the outbreak of World War I in 1915.
Designs and Techniques
Art Nouveau jewellery is ornate in nature. Jewellers replaced single stone settings of the most precious gemstones with multiple materials of varying value.
Moulded glass and enamel were used with Gold and horn to create elaborate designs. Symmetry was not much of a concern. Butterflies, dragonflies, and wasps became iconic adornments, along with birds and blooms. Faces of nymphs appeared in rings and pendants, symbolising innocence and charm.
Georges Fouquet Brooch, c.1901, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Enamelling became the choice technique in jewellery making. Plique-à-jour, the enamelling technique that results in transparent designs with no backing, was the most popular method. The craftsmanship required to achieve the three-dimensional stained-glass effect is such that jewellery making started to be seen more as an art form in itself.
Art Deco Jewellery Defined
Art Deco Overview
In the wake of the death and devastation of World War I, Art Deco emerged with a positive outlook on technology and modernity.
It left behind the organic stylings and artisanal modes of Art Nouveau for a more geometric aesthetic and industrial-inspired production method. The promise of a bright future after years of bloody fighting reflected in the boldness of Art Deco designs. This ideal, in turn, reflected in the look of skyscrapers, automobiles, and ocean liners—all of which were considered the symbols of tomorrow.
The optimism of Art Deco was also realised in the opulence of many of the works created in the style. Streamlined patterns and sharp shapes burst with striking colours. Ebony, ivory, jade, and even zebra skin were heavily utilised as markers of exoticism. The use of Bakelite and vita-glass reinforced this art movement’s fascination for the synthetic.
Art Deco, as the name implies, celebrated the decorative aspect of art. Like Art Nouveau, the energising Art Deco movement was also cut short due to the outbreak of another global conflict—World War II.
Designs and Techniques
Art Deco jewellery is exemplified by bold colours and intricate abstract designs. Diverging from the dominance of Diamonds in previous eras, precious gemstones like Rubies, Sapphires, and Emeralds rose in prominence. Jade, Coral, and even dark materials like Onyx also gained in popularity. Yellow Gold gave way to Platinum and White Gold as the base metals to make the colours of the other materials pop.
Symmetry was back in style, as it complimented the geometric patterns of Art Deco jewellery. Thanks to innovations in machining, jewellers attained a level of complexity in the designs that were yet to be reached. The filigree work of earlier periods look basic compared to Art Deco versions of that style. Calibre cut stones are another hallmark of the period regarding jewellery design, as these precious materials were custom-fit to match the mosaic forms.
Ancient Egyptian, Aztec, and Native American art infused Art Deco jewellery with a historic, international flare. Jewellers such as Cartier, Raymond Templier, and Suzanne Belperron were some of the most sought after designers of the time.
The Key Differences
Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewellery both have memorable visual traits that serve as artful signs of their turbulent times and captivate collectors. Distinguishing the two should not be so difficult though, when all their characteristics are taken into account.
Art Nouveau looks to nature for inspiration, while Art Deco mirrors the works of man and machine. Art Nouveau flows; Art Deco zigs and zags. Art Nouveau breathes free through organic beauty, and Art Deco clashes colours, cultures, and complexities.