The Art Deco movement was one of contrasts—its designs characterized by both opulence and simplicity, modernity and antiquity, restraint and flamboyance—but contrasts which combined to create beautifully unified works of art. Very much a clumination of the preceding decades, its designers drew on a growing disallusionment with the rapidly changing world around them, grasping at both things of old as well as embracing the future, all in a time of unparalleled economic prosperity.
Perhaps the most distinctive design trend of Art Deco is minimalism. The minutia of naturalistic forms were paired down to their simplest shapes, inspired by the Cubist and Minimalist work of such artists as Picasso and Malevich. In jewellery there is a rejection of delicate floral and foliate swags and enamelling, replaced by bold, contrasting geometric forms, and a palatte confined to a few pure colours which rarely deviated from red, green, blue, black and white. In metals this meant a preference for platinum, and in stones for diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires in transparent stones and coral, jade, turquoise, lapis, matte rock crystal and onyx in opaque gems. Expense was an afterthought, as these were, and still are, amongst the most costly materials available to jewellery designers.
Another key influence was exoticism, and the Art Deco designers were primarily fascinated with the art of China, India and ancient Egypt. A rejection of Western aesthetics made way for an appreciation of Eastern artistic values, examples of which were being imported from these locals via trade facilitated by the Imperial powers of Europe. Chinese symbols abound in Art Deco designs, as well as carved hardstones, especially jade, in the Chinse style. India was another design influence, largely due to major commissions by the Maharajas carried out by top European jewelers such as Cartier, Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels. The discovery of King Tutankamun’s tomb in 1922 created a rage for all things Egyptian, a bold style of primary colours and abstracted natural forms which were easily translated into Art Deco designs. Cartier was one of the most devoted and successful jewellery firms to work in the Art Deco style, which they took to a new level by integrating antique gemstone articles, such as Qing dynasty coral and jade beads, carved emeralds from Mughal era India and ancient lapis scarabs unearthed in Egyptian tombs.
For more on the Art Deco style see the Design Periods section of our website.