Jewelry History

18th & 19th Centuries

Jewel Splendor of the Age of Enlightenment

The century of Queen Marie-Antoinette sees jewelry soaring to heights of splendor, the luxury and beauty of jewelry then taking precedence over their practicality. Pink cut diamonds (inherited from the 16th century) and cushion as well as colored gems then adorn the body and outfits, sparkling in the light of the candlesticks. Unlike current usage, the stones of the time are lined with gold, or even mounted on gold in the case of colored stones. This is done to prevent tarnishing of their support and to accentuate the depth of their shine.

 

The XIX or prolific eclecticism

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, we are witnessing an explosion of styles which seems to alternate as quickly as the seasons. Nineteenth-century jewelry eclecticism will thus go from

Napoleonic neoclassicism to “Renaissance” inspirations which will in turn give way to an exotic naturalism of Asian influence. It is this latter trend that will illustrate the numerous animal and plant motifs favored in the middle of the century. Crowned heads and fortunes of business then constitute the rich clientele of jewelry houses such as Chaumet or Boucheron, to whom they place orders for sumptuous creations.

 

A prolific end of century

At the turn of the 20th century, jewelry only shrank in size to emphasize the delicacy of their design. In the trend of a fashion seeing the fabrics lighten and the colors lighten, the jewelry promotes new colored stones which, associated with those coming from the dismantling of old pieces, enrich future creations. Luxury houses, from perfumers to dressmakers, come together in elegant districts such as rue de la Paix in Paris where Boucheron and Lalique rub shoulders. The art of jewelry diversified by decorating a number of supports, like Fabergé’s productions.

 

“La Belle Epoque” or The Pre-War Innovative Current (1895-1914)

The ethereal naturalism of Art Nouveau is one of those avant-garde trends that dot the early 20th century. New, less precious materials, such as the rock garden, then serve original creations freed from rigid supports and allow drawings rich in interlacing and interlocking circles. They are found in particular on the many tiaras characteristic of fashion at the time.

In addition to platinum, which will serve these fluid forms in jewelry, glass and enamel will constitute essential contributions to this French Art Nouveau, of which René Lalique and his creations will be the perfect illustration. Alongside the many small neo-Louis XVI objects (subjects, pendulums, imperial eggs and other frames), the pre-war period will thus see the apogee of this kind; mixing exotic materials (glass, wood, enamel) and revolutionary iconography inspired by fauna and flora.

In parallel with an evolving clothing fashion, it is the use of platinum, then erected in precious metal, which will revolutionize jewelry creation, flexibility and resistance perfectly suited to geometric shapes and openwork, characteristics of the Belle Epoque. The garland style thus triumphed from the first years of the century with scrolls strongly inspired by Japanese art.

Discovered from the 1860s, it will influence many arts.

This “japonism” will in particular irrigate many of Cartier’s creations such as its “Branches de fougères” with a millegrain setting highlighting the round diamonds that compose them. The diamond was then associated not only with other precious stones but also with pearls, particularly in the spotlight at the turn of the century in the Cartier, Chaumet and Tiffany Houses. Their value will not fall until after the crash of 1929. The Exposition of “Paris 1900” and the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 will constitute the high points of this period when the progressive liberation of the female silhouette, illustrated by the Fauvist and Cubist currents, will only increase, in the aftermath of the first world war.

18th & 19th Centuries
18th & 19th Centuries

Early 20th Century

Art Deco between the Two Wars (1915-1935)

The refinement of the straight line

If Cartier has approached “modernism” since the pre-war period, the 14-18 conflict and its repercussions confirm this trend where simplified and geometrical forms see the birth of a jewelry production favoring the straight line.

 

Whether it is long necklaces, bracelets or headbands that came to replace the old tiaras, the jewelry of the 1910s is indeed strongly influenced by a feminine fashion favoring light and fluid fabrics and long symmetrical lines. Alongside long necklaces replacing now too heavy bodice ornaments, head jewelry, sometimes crowned with an egret, highlights hair worn short.

Sublimating the delicacy of the necklaces they accompany, these thin bands thus complete the androgynous allure typical of women of the interwar period. Their bare arms are highlighted with baguette diamond bracelets, often four or five worn at a time.

Audacity will go so far as to touch the recently appeared wristwatches enriched with cabochon stones as well as various accessories such as compact compacts and cigarette cases encrusted with enamels with exotic designs.

It was at this time that the “mysterious setting” of Van Cleef & Arpels, allowing edge-to-edge paving without claw, came to perfect the geometric movement typical of Art Deco.

 

The Art Deco style of the 1930s

These symmetrical combinations of horizontal and vertical lines will soon be accentuated by the pre-eminence of the use of black in jewelry, which the use of enamel allows

black and onyx. We will witness in particular the revival of mourning jewelry of Victorian inspiration, in vogue after the sinking of the Titanic in New York high society. This early trend is the prelude to a duotone in black and white. This contrast will become one of the main trends in Art Deco jewelry, named after the International Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925, where the modernist originality of the Maison Cartier pieces will be acclaimed at the “Pavilion of Elegance” . This duotone will be enriched by other colors thanks to the influence of the Russian ballets of 1909. These will bring stamps of more flamboyant colors, such as the association of blue and green through sapphire and emerald, but also of less precious materials like turquoise, jade or lelapis-lazuli.

These exotic preludes will be confirmed by the invitation to travel to which modernization of the means of transport and communication of Europe, with its colonies, now makes it possible to succumb.

Jewelers and other couturiers thus draw their inspiration from the cultures of India, Persia or the Far East. Their ornamental and decorative richness will have a lasting influence on the shapes and colors of the jewelry and ornaments of such rich objects from the 1920s and 1930s.

 

White jewelry and semi-precious stones

The 1930s were mainly centered on diamonds and pearls with

so-called “white” jewelry. Elegance will be symbolized by baguette-cut stones allowing a rendering of lines and sharp edges, perfectly suited to geometric fashion

of the time. However, the pre-war period also saw the appearance of new “fine” stones adorning jewelry, including fine jewelry, such as aquamarine, citrine or peridot, on the sidelines of the traditional emerald. The interwar period was also prelude to costume jewelry with the appearance of so-called “cocktail” jewelry, of which Coco Chanel’s prized toiletries are the main illustration.

 

The retro (The 1940s) or the revival of gold

Reserved for the war effort through the arms industry, platinum was rare at the end of the Second World War and at a consequently prohibitive cost.

The jewelers find in gold and its variations of pink and white alloy a perfect substitute. It is now with gold that they apply proven know-how and technical innovations, allowing them to give the material a suppleness reminiscent of that of a fabric. Shiny gold and its alloys are thus worked in herringbone, twist, braid or serpentine mesh, knotted around the wrist or neck. A large clientele was then won over by these creations, often enhanced with precious stones such as rubies or semi-precious stones, a sign of the relative democratization of jewelry.

The post-war period (The 1950s) or the return of naturalist inspiration worked in mobile elements, gold allows the creation of articulated frames and allows all fantasies. It allows the flourishing of a naturalistic jewelry illustrated by the leaves, flowers and other feathers of Maison Mauboussin. Pearls and diamonds also returned to fashion in the 1950s and enriched the creation of flamboyant bestiaries. Often worn as a brooch like the famous three-dimensional panther, which has become emblematic of the Maison Cartier. The death knell of Art Deco geometry is definitely struck with the advent of Dior’s New look style and the growing influence of the stars of the seventh art and the glamor that characterizes them and now competes with that of crowned heads in the collective imagination.

 

below, jewelry by Cartier

Early 20th Century
Early 20th Century

Contemporary Jewelry

The 60s and 70s or the iconoclastic wave

The Thirty Glorious see perpetuate creations of high jewelery radition like the “grand style” jewelry of Harry Winston. Commissions or associations of leading characters and actors with large houses continue such as Audrey Hepburn with Tiffany or Elizabeth Taylor and Wallis Simpson with, among others, Cartier.

But the years before the oil shock also reflected a certain craze for avant-garde through more popular inspirational creations like David Webb’s frog earrings. The designs and creations of jewelers thus show an interest in new subjects.

The zigzag patterns mimic the first electronic circuits and the representation of fragmented shapes evokes planets and stars, served by the use of crystals in their raw state. Cartier even created a gold piece representing the lunar module and inspired by modern commercial techniques adopted by its New York headquarters.

In 1973, he founded his famous “Must” range, the beginnings of an announced democratization of jewelry art. A popular jewelry culture thus emerged in the 1980s, in favor of creations of pop or ethnic inspiration, when it was not downright “hippie”. one discovers diamonds mounted on yellow gold or “Jaipur” influence enamels, matching with the pants of elephant legs typical of the 1970s.

Contemporary Jewelry