December 26, 2012

Jewelry in the Early 20th Century

1920s Egyptian Revival Necklace Set
1920s Egyptian Revival
From the Egyptian Revival jewels of the mid-1920s and early 1930s, to the gold chain necklaces of the 1940s, the fashioning of jewelry to accommodate modes of dress in the 20th century certainly mirrored political, social, and especially artistic trends. The excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 spurred the incorporation of Egyptian and stylized Oriental motifs in earrings, brooches, and necklaces. This exceptional necklace offers an idea of the exotic Egyptian-inspired works meant to grace the body with unique and eye-catching decorations. 

Miriam Haskell Pendant
The theme can also be observed in the following Miriam Haskell piece, which connects the 1940s draping gold chain motif design to a pharaoh’s mask and a carved scarab pendant. Fashions fluidly adapted to the times throughout the decades, and costume jewelry provided an affordable way to follow the changing styles when precious stones were not within one’s means. 

Edwardian Amethyst Glass
Another early 20th century movement which produced remarkably ornamented pieces of jewelry was Art Nouveau. The sensuous elements and the intense elaboration of the designs varied by country, yet the characteristics of the Art Nouveau style are unmistakable. Curls, coils, and romantic, symmetrically curved designs marked many of the unconventional necklaces, brooches, and pins produced throughout this period. Semi-precious stones also experienced popularity within the ornate designs. This was naturally dependent on consumer preferences and was also arguably proportionate to the growth of the Art Nouveau trend. The following two pieces demonstrate the primary facets of Art Nouveau’s signature distinctions. In the first, sinuous flowers and leaves connect to a lattice motif and frame a rectangular amethyst glass stone. The size of the pin suggests a versatility of use for a variety of dress styles and accessories. 

Edwardian Stone Trio Brooch
The second piece provides an example of three carved stones set within gracefully curving flowers and leaves. This intricate circular design rests on an ornate geometric background. The similarities and differences between these pieces illustrate the diversity of Art Nouveau jewelry.

Art Deco designs were also quite popular in the 1920s and 1930s, with their staged, geometrically sharp lines and the controlled, formalized motion of the jewelry’s focal point. Travel and exoticism were widespread themes for the designs, some of which included symbols of speed, transportation, and luxury, or alternatively, ancient historical motifs. ­ 

While this greyhound pin is from the 1960s/70s, the trend to use greyhounds or gazelles to signify fast and nimble animals dates to the 1930s. Pins and brooches in particular were produced to characterize the excitement of victory and speed on the racing track, often times with precious stones set within the geometric background. This motif is present on the rhinestone-studded blanket which has been placed on the greyhound’s sharply pronounced back.
Racing Greyhound

Brooches made in chrome and enamel, or plastic, were widely produced as well. In the United States, Art Deco jewelry was greatly shaped by Hollywood style, with artificial replacements for precious stones, and often restrained in color but glamorous in choice of background metal.

Although these artistic trends had unique characteristics, they continued to influence designs throughout the latter part of the 20th century. The rise of abstract, geometric patterns contributed to the emergence of a strikingly distinctive modernist style. Less ornate jewelry, with a more simplistic emphasis, became available in many materials, which provided increased accessibility to these trends for the general public. Modernist jewelry would come to be defined by soft abstraction, forgiving geometry, and understated sophistication. Perhaps this was an amalgam of complementary details, inherited from its diverse early roots. 

 -Blog post contributed by Ivayla Ivanova


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