A Celebration of Modernist Jewellery

A Celebration of Modernist Jewellery

twentieth-century jewellery

Cartier diamond honeycomb ring berganza hatton garden
Cartier diamond honeycomb ring, Paris, 1944.
Ref: 25734

Tuesday 4th October 2016

A previously overlooked area in the vaster field of twentieth-century jewellery, the Post-War period has in recent years benefited from a renewed appreciation amongst design enthusiasts and jewellery connoisseurs. Yet whilst we often associate Post-War jewellery with the flamboyant retro designs of the 1940s and 50s, it was also during this period that the Modernist movement emerged. In much the same way as their Art Nouveau counterparts had more than half a century before, Modernist jewellers sought to move away from traditional jewellery design, drawing inspiration from burgeoning artistic movements and, in many cases, prioritising the visual impact and craftsmanship of the piece over the wealth of the materials used to create it.

Characterised by unusual combinations of precious and semi-precious gemstones, the use of materials such as citrine, rock crystal and onyx in the Post-War period was initially borne out of necessity rather than desire. The disruption caused by the Second World War meant that stocks of diamonds and other precious gemstones were severely limited and consequently jewellers were driven to be more experimental in their choice of materials. For instance, famed American jewellery designer, Seaman Schepps produced a range of cutting-edge designs in rock crystal during the 1940s and again in the 1960s, whilst the French house, René Boivin carved rings and bangles entirely out of this material. Iridescent gemstones such as labradorite and moonstone were particularly popular during this period, notably appearing in the revolutionary designs of Cartier protégé Dinh Van in the 1970s.  

Whilst Cubism was a definite influence in the pre-war Art Deco movement, Modernist jewellers abandoned its rigid lines and strict linearity in favour of rounded, asymmetric shapes which reflected the biomorphic forms of contemporary sculptural works by the likes of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The natural world was also a source of inspiration, particularly for Anglo-Italian designer Andrew Grima, who produced textured, organic forms in which crystals took priority over faceted gemstones. It was also during this period that artists such as Man Ray, Salvador Dali and Georges Braque began to delve in to the world of jewellery, in a move that would reconcile fine art with the applied art of jewellery design. In turn, this would lead to a revival of individual craftsmanship and the re-emergence of the artisan jeweller during the 1950s and 60s.

In the wake of the Second World War a vastly changed society emerged, one which was fast-paced and defiantly opposed to many of the traditional aspects of pre-war life. Individuality was prized, thereby granting jewellers the creative freedom to experiment with shape, form and texture. Technological advancements and the dawn of space exploration led to futuristic designs appearing in jewellery and across the wider decorative arts, further reinforcing the vogue for unusual gemstone combinations and unconventional forms.  

Defined by its originality of design, Modernist jewellery was born out of a newly-found freedom of expression that thrived during the 1950s. Delve in to the exciting and highly original world of Modernist jewellery by browsing our extensive collection of Post-War pieces – all of which can be viewed online or in store. 

Fred of Paris yellow sapphire ring hatton garden berganza
Fred of Paris yellow sapphire ring, circa 1970.
Ref: 27499
 vintage diamond engagement ring hatton garden berganza
Solitaire rose cut diamond ring, circa 1950.
Ref: 26454
front Seaman Schepps rock crystal diamond sapphire berganza hatton garden
Seaman Schepps sapphire, diamond and rock crystal ring, circa 1940.
Ref: 14341
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Updated 8/06/2023 at 12:17PM

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