Art Deco jewelry continues to hold its appeal

| 29 Sep 2011 | 02:08

    Art Deco jewelry flourished in the early part of the 20th century because its graphic looks and geometric lines made sense to the public at large. Almost 100 years later, the style endures in both sought-after retro pieces and as inspiration for new collections. The roots of Art Deco were formed in the late 1800s but it is now largely defined as the period between the two world wars. It was as prevalent in architecture as it was jewelry — Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building and even the Empire State Building are all Deco style — and, in fact, the tall rectangular windows as well as the long elevator lines used in these structures seem to be replicated by precious stones. In her book “Masterpieces of French Jewelry,” Judith Price, president of the National Jewelry Institute explains that new jewelers’ tools became available at the same time the skyscrapers were going up, allowing hard diamonds to be cut into four-corner shapes with angled edges now known as the emerald-cut. Jewelers then began mixing stone shapes on the same piece: an emerald-cut here, a round-cut there, maybe toss in a baguette. The look also complemented the change in women’s clothing, moving out of restrictive and elaborate dresses into work-friendly skirt suits from Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret. Many Deco pieces also incorporate black onyx — especially striking when set against platinum and diamonds — that was a natural match for eveningwear often made from a shiny lame. Cartier was making Deco-style jewelry before it even had a name thanks to the house’s understanding that jewelry was an “extension of the body’s movement, that it should enhance the body of a woman,” says president and CEO of Cartier North America Frederic de Narp. At first, says de Narp, the favorite Deco pieces were tiaras and brooches, but bracelets eventually became a signature piece of the era. Her customers are most interested in clips worn on jacket lapels and bracelets. They’d love to have earrings but many didn’t survive the test of time because they were fragile, long, thin drop earrings, she says, while brooches are probably the easiest to find. She separates the two sub-schools of Deco: Classic is almost exclusively diamond and platinum with an emphasis on intricate designs with small stones. Modern might mix white or even touches of yellow gold in very geometric shapes. Not as many stones are used, but the pieces that do use stone might experiment with coral or lapis as well as more traditional diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. Greg Kwiat, of jeweler Kwiat Inc., says the long-lasting and permeating success of Deco would be hard to replicate now because there simply are too many distractions. In the 1920s and ‘30s there was a consistent design message across many mediums, a phenomenon rare — if nonexistent — today.