The Art Deco fashion era was both influenced and inspired by the technology of the day. Youth was prized due to its comparative rarity, as so many young people were lost in the First World War. This young generation of the 1920s worshiped all things ‘modern’, just as the current younger generation do today, and this infatuation with new, exciting ideas was apparent in the style of the time.
Jewellery manufacturers embraced emerging technological advances in their designs where symmetry and geometry were emphasized. So too were bright, bold colours and luxurious, intricate embellishments. The end result was a distinctive, instantly recognizable style that was a clear break from previous styles such as Art Nouveau, Edwardian, Victorian and the like.
Progressive social thinking was another modern concept embraced by the Art Deco movement. Designs of this era incorporate cultural aspects from China, India and especially Egypt. Art Deco fashions, particularly clothing, were easily duplicated, meaning it was accessible to more than just the upper class. Popular women’s magazines like Vogue gave the lower class access to images they not only aspired to but could copy from. And they did. This led to the upper class searching for ways to differentiate themselves with the use of luxurious fabrics such as silk, gemstones and pearls in jewellery. These rich materials have become synonymous with the Art Deco movement.
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However technology in the 1920s seemed to favour the underdog with inventions like rayon (also known as “imitation silk”) making silky stockings easily affordable; gemstones such as rubies and emeralds that were synthetically manufactured; and pearls made from plastic. Hundreds of pieces of filigree jewellery could be created in the time it would have taken a jeweller to handcraft just one piece and this meant the masses could wear the same style, but at a substantially lower price.
Jewellery manufacturing during the art deco period shows how quickly pieces were remade using alternative materials and techniques, allowing them to be accessible to the masses. Costume pieces varied greatly in value depending on the manufacturer’s choice of materials. Coco Chanel famously began creating fake pieces meant to be worn as accessories to her outfits. They were, in a sense, created to be disposable, only to be worn with the particular piece of clothing it was sold alongside. However many women kept the pieces and the ones that remain today can fetch thousands at auction.
Camphor Glass is another ingenious example of how Art Deco fashion borrowed from scientific advances of the day. This glass was used in everything from lampshades to candy dishes to necklaces, rings and bracelets.
Pearls are the quintessential gemstone of the Art Deco period. Long strands of pearls accentuated the drop wasted silhouettes of the time.
Bakelite, a plastic made from formaldehyde and phenol, was used to make bracelets, rings, and necklaces.
Cocktail rings were a fashion must-have in the 1920s. Rings usually had a large centre stone, either a diamond or other
gemstone, with embellishment around it. Hand created platinum pieces were the standard with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds; however moulded versions using rhodium plating or sterling silver with simulated gems or coloured glass gave an identical look for a fraction of the price.
Filigree work is intricate, detailed metal work that is reminiscent of lace. Hand filigree is an art in and of itself. It takes hours to create and must be wrought by a skilled hand. Moulded cast techniques used in mass production of jewellery became common during the 1920s. These manufacturing techniques resulted in such strong, well-made items that there are many cherished examples still in existence today.
Egyptian Revival came along courtesy of the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. This inspired a wave of Egyptian influenced art, furniture design, architecture and jewellery creation. Pieces from this style often show images of sphinxes, trees, pyramids and the like and jewellers sought to incorporate these ‘modern social events’ into their craft like never before.
The Art Deco era continues to inspire designers to this day and can be seen emerging in new furniture, jewellery, architecture and even cars. Long live Art Deco!
Penny Handley is the owner of Word of Mouth Jewels. Her love of vintage jewellery was ignited at age seven when her Grandmother let her spend hours playing with a box of her finest costume jewellery.
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