Art Nouveau, artdeco, bracelet, brooch, cartier, Diamond, dress clip, emerald, gemstones, industrialisation, International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, Jean Dunand, Jean Fouquet, jewellery, jewelry, Naum Slutzky, Paris, ring, ruby, Sapphire, Scarlett Johansson, watch
Celebrated actress Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Art Deco ring’ made headlines in newspapers, tabloid and web based media during later part of last week. The news of the engagement itself was perhaps out-shined by the glitterati of the ring.
But what is art deco and how a ring being ‘Art Deco’ is extra special?
In early part of 20th century Art Nouveau, the art movement roughly between 1895 and 1915, culminated into Art Deco. If Art Nouveau was more about sensuous curvature, undulating line with a syncopated rhythm (‘whiplash’ as Pan Magazine described, 1894), Art Deco was about form, order and geometry. While jewelleries of Art Nouveau period drew inspirations from nature and the craftsmen were enthusiastic about Japanese art, Art Deco introduced same stringency of geometric shapes that pervaded painting, sculpture, architecture and interior decoration.
The term Art Deco is believed to have been first coined by architect Le Corbusier. While penning a series of article in his journal L’Esprit nouveau, he used the heading as 1925 Expo: Arts Déco. He was referring to the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts), 1925. But the term became widely popular and had its followers among artists, sculptors, architects and craftsmen of the time. Art Deco (1915 – 1935) was influenced by the rapid industrialisation of the era post World War I. However, no movement can be based on a singular ideal. And, as more and more artists embraced the philosophy they also continued adding their own expressions finding inspirations in neo-classicism, modernism, cubism, dadaism and even the pre-modern era of Egyptian and Mesopotamian art. With German Bauhaus movement and the belief that the artists and craftsmen should not have any barriers between them, Art Deco let itself permeate into the world of fashion and jewellery making.
Art Deco period saw introduction of plastic and aluminium into the world of jewellery for the first time. Naum Slutzky’s designs did set the tone in this regard. Technical wizardry became more important than the material. The straight-line bracelets with square cut diamonds became fashionable in Paris and such cushion cut diamonds were named ‘French cut’ diamonds.
Sautoir or long necklaces with tassels had their ropes replaced with diamond or pearls. With sleeveless and backless dresses in vogue, long strings of pearls became a fashion statement for women. Ruby, sapphire, emeralds were used to accentuate the jewelleries. Those who could not afford the real ones depended on faux gemstones or coloured glasses. Cultured pearl became a rage among the middle class due to its affordability. Cropped hair style paved the revival of earrings. Hair accessories and clips were also glamorised with precious stones.
Brooches had their image and styles both redefined and were worn on hat, lapel, belts, jacket, purses and even shoes! The metal of choice of the period was platinum followed by white gold and silver. The white colour complimented the diamond encrusts and was thus preferred. Cocktail watches, diamond encrusted dial and diamond setting in strap or bracelet, became fashion items to splurge on.
In Europe designers such as Cartier, Mauboussin, Lalique, Jean Fouquet, Frederic Boucheron, Jean Desprès, Jean Dunand and in US jewellery houses like Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, Marcus & Co., Black, Starr & Frost, and Spaulding & Co produced some of the finest art deco pieces of the day.
But faltering economy with looming war cloud on the horizon meant that the grandeur of Art Deco was short lived. For some the pomp of Art Deco jewellery was too much to bear and they felt the display to be inappropriately luxurious bordering on gaudiness. In US Great Depression of 30s exposed the humbling reality and the craze of Art Deco jewellery eventually fizzled out. But the aura around the craftsmanship of this period remained. Such designs continue to be recreated to this date and authentic Art Deco jewellery fetch highest prices in auctions around the world.