The Art Deco Era 1920-1940
A Celebration of Geometric Design
The Art Deco era (1920-1940) was a short but intense period during which jewelry design reflected both new technology and the burgeoning machine age between the two world wars.  A direct reaction against the Art Nouveau era, Art Deco jewels tended to be angular and bold in color as well as shape.  Pastels were, for the most part, eschewed for bolder primary colors. 
Art Deco jewelry often combined classic colored stones, like ruby, sapphire and emerald, carved into leaves or fruit, and set with diamonds in jewelry inspired by East Indian art.  The Egyptian revival style, which drew on the 1922 discovery of the fantastically rich tomb of Tutankhamen, also was a popular theme and utilized scarabs, hieroglyphics, lotus flowers, and spread-winged falcons as design elements.  In particular, Van Cleef and Arpels utilized Egyptian themes in semi-flexible bracelets and bandeaux (band-ose) worn around the forehead. 
From about 1925 onward, polychromatic flower baskets depicted in hard stones, such as jade, rock crystal, malachite, or lapis, with coral and mother-of-pearl as contrast, were popular as brooches, modernizing the classic “Giardinetti” (jar-din-et-ee) brooches of the late Georgian period.  Coral and jade also were particularly popular, combined with black enamel or onyx in long drop-style earrings and jabot (ja-bo) or circle brooches.  Attractive boxes made of precious metal richly set with diamonds and colored stones served as cosmetic cases or cigarette cases for the newly modern “flapper,” a woman whose questionable habits and lifestyle were now deemed socially acceptable.  One of Cartier’s signature designs used natural carved, engraved and dyed mother-of-pearl in plaque-shaped brooches or cigarette boxes of Oriental inspiration. 
Linear abstract designs took precedence, but designs also could be based upon stylized naturalistic themes, such as flowers or animals.  Design was driven by new technology and the acceleration of the machine age.  Any connection to speed was envisioned in jewelry.  Airplanes, greyhound dog racing, cheetahs, and antelope, for example, were immensely popular motifs, particularly in the 1920s. 
Futurism, along with the Cubist and Fauve movements in pictorial art, also helped inspire jewelry designers in new directions.  The Parisian jewelry houses, such as Cartier, LaCloche, Van Cleef and Arpels, Mauboussin, and Chaumet were at the forefront of the Art Deco era.  These more traditional jewelry houses drew off of the more avant-garde themes put forth by artist-jewelers, such as Jean and George Fouquet, Raymond Templier, Jean Depres and Gerard Sandoz.  These artist-jewelers tended towards extremes, abolishing any extraneous decoration in favor of strong simple shapes and colors.  Large metal surfaces were decorated with lacquers or enamels in strong colors to help emphasize these simple shapes.  
The jewel most associated with the Art Deco period is the double-clip brooch, which was multi-functional.  Constructed with a flat spring-loaded back, the clips could be attached to enhance either side of a neckline, clipped to shoes, or worn together as a traditional brooch using a provided framework of precious metal.  Single clips also were popular and often appeared on cloche hats as circles or rectangles, combining diamonds or pearls with richly colored stones to provide contrast.  The early 1920s saw the development of the baguette cut for diamonds, and its variations (half-moon, bullet, and keystone cuts come to mind) shaped many pieces of the period.   
Around 1930, the look became chunkier and more monochromatic.  Necklaces or brooches featuring diamonds of various cuts with rock crystal or onyx were the proper fashion, especially for evening wear.  This monochromatic look was most often seen in straight-line bracelets, or fountain or arrow themed brooches.  The sautoir (“saw-twah”) necklace, with a tassel or pendant termination, had been very long in the 1920s, but became more incorporated into a collar-style necklace as the 1930s progressed. 
Jewelry design, in general, tended to be more flat and two-dimensional in the 1920s, and developed more curves and substance as the 1930s progressed.  What had been absolutely linear now became more three-dimensional and fleshed out.  The multi-functional aspect of jewelry in the ‘20s was now employed even more in the ‘30s, reflecting the need for economy as the Great Depression settled in.  Tubular chain necklaces decorated with clips or thick bangles, or cuffs fitted with detachable clip brooches, are examples of multi-purpose jewelry.  In the 1920s, double clips tended to be mirror images of each other, after 1935 fitted double-clip brooches became increasingly asymmetrical.
Van Cleef and Arpels adopted the revolutionary invisible setting in 1935, where gemstones are fitted together in such a way as to preclude the visibility of any metal from the top of the piece.  This technique was especially effective for their famous leaf and flower design brooches, usually accented with diamonds.  Yellow gold finally became popular again around 1937, after three decades of white metal preference.  In 1934, Van Cleef and Arpels introduced their “Ludo hexagone” – or honeycomb – bracelet composed of a wide band of hexagonal-shaped articulated links, often center star-set with diamonds or rubies and terminating with large buckle-shaped clasps.  As the 1930s wound down, yellow gold increasingly became the metal of choice, eventually eclipsing the white metal look.  This was fortunate, because platinum and its related metals would be rationed for military use during World War II.
Carlo Barberis
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