A Brief History Of Art Deco (Arts Decoratif) Jewellery
Inspired by the Paris “Exposition des Arts Decoratif” in 1925, the term art deco was formed. Designers and creators hurried to emulate the creations of Jean Dunand and Master Goldsmiths like Jean Despres. Women rushed to obtain pieces with a passion and started to wear art deco jewellery to show their freed androgynous appearance.
From its beginning in the 1920s and 30s art deco jewellery has been praised for its individual style with a touch of Hollywood flair. Prior to the great 1930s depression and the second world war Art Deco jewellery comprised of cocktail rings, long necklaces, bangle bracelets, cigarette holders, woven gold purses and evening bags, and they defined a generation, that allowed middle class women to taste luxury without noticing an astronomical price tag.
Designs were geometric and art deco jewellery consisted of squares, triangles, rectangles, circles and arcs; and paid tribute to this very creative period in American history. Famous names like Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli and many others combined gold, platinum and plastic with pearls, rubies, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, coral, jade, onyx and lapis lazuli giving birth to their distinctive bracelets, rings, necklaces, cigarette cases and holders to name but a few items.
The Duchess of Windsor, the widowed wife of the abdicated King Edward V111 was prolifically showered by the then Duke of Windsor with jewellery and in particular with art deco jewellery. Departing from England in a British destroyer to seek exile in France; the Duke had many pieces created by famous French Jewellers – for example Cartier, Boucheron, Van Cleef et Arpels. It is rumoured that prior to his exile the Duke removed valuable gems from the Royal household, and it was these gems that were fashioned into tutti frutti collars, sapphire and diamond collars, diamond earrings, bracelets and brooches, gold evening purses and cigarette holders. Following the Duchess’s death in Paris, most of these priceless items were sold at Sotheby’s Geneva in 1985 for huge amounts, not only because they were exquisitely art deco but also because of their English Royal provenance. The Duchess had bequeathed the monies raised from the sale of her jewels to the Marie Curie Foundation in Paris. The famous Prince of Wales Diamond feather brooch, the diamond, ruby and sapphire Flamingo brooch and one of the renowned Diamond and Onyx Panther bracelets were bought for huge amounts by the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor. The writer was fortunate to attend the invitation only, black tie evening auction which manifested itself almost as an international gala occasion, flowing with Champagne, caviar and canapés.
Even today, art deco jewellery is most highly prized. Wonderful examples are to be found all over the world. Such is the popularity of art deco jewellery there are many copies to be found and many far eastern copies of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewel were made. However, these copies are clearly distinguished from the originals by the heaviness of the metal work, the lack of the techniques and skills which gave great movement to the item, so prevalent in the art deco period.