Interpreting Art Deco in Current Jewelry Designs

The concept of “Art Deco” has been running as an undercurrent through fashion over the last several months, continuing into the fall as a “what’s in” significant trend noted in the August 2011 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Some jewelry designs are immediately recognizable as Art Deco in style, and yet, there’s a lot of stuff going around these days being described as “Art Deco” that might cause one to wonder why that term is being used.  

Photo courtesy of Christie’s

Illustration: From a June 9, 2011 post on, here is a photo of an unmistakably Art Deco style Cartier 1928 Tutti Frutti bracelet that sold for $1.8 million on June 8 at Christie’s Important Jewels sale in London, setting a world record price for a Cartier Tutti Frutti jewel at auction.

The January 24, 2011 issue of the celebrity magazine OK! reports that “Deco bling is having a moment!  Add Old Hollywood glamour to any outfit with retro baubles like Molly Sims.” Sims is pictured wearing “her own deco designs” consisting of a Grayce by Molly Sims pendant necklace, shown in close-up, which reflects an Art Deco influence, and a multi-strand chain and crystal necklace, which does not. About Art Deco jewelry OK! Magazine adds: “Classic deco has geometric lines and lots of sparkle.” The other jewelry shown in the Deco bling feature includes a stretch bracelet from Forever 21, drop earrings from Tinley Road, an “estate ring” from Lia Sophia, a Lucite hinge bracelet from Alexis Bittar, and “button earrings” from Monet.

In the complex mix of patterns from the March 2011 issue of Elle is included what is described as an “Art deco necklace” from Mawi. The Mawi web site identifies the piece as the stacked tube and spike necklace from Mawi’s “Deco Rocks” collection: “The clean deco inspired lines are complimented beautifully by clusters of crystals, whilst the spiked centre pedant instantly makes this an edgy and on trend piece.” 

The June 2011 issue of Vogue comments, “Hollywood takes its cues from the Art Deco twenties with graphic lines and bold chevrons.” The Miu Miu heels and the dresses by Versace on January Jones, by Vionnet on Hailee Steinfeld, and by Chanel Haute Couture on Blake Lively do incorporate such design elements, but the jewelry worn to accompany the ensembles is quite another thing. Steinfeld wears a simple bracelet and Lively wears an elaborate floral style ring, neither of which designs incorporate an obvious Art Deco influence.

The June 2011 issue of Lucky highlights a photo of a style icon nominated by the founders of Benefit Cosmetics – their mother, shown at age 23 in 1945. Along with fashions reminiscent of the styles she wears, the magazine pictures 18K white and yellow gold fan earrings that “have a glamorous art deco sensibility” from Heirloom by Doyle & Doyle. Further explanation  of the Art Deco reference is not provided.

The accessories editor for InStyle magazine describes this Lanvin necklace of metal, stone and crystal shown in the June 2011 issue:  “A little deco, a little industrial, and positively glam!”

Harper’s Bazaar reports in April 2011 that oversize chain links are out (and I hasten to note that they are very much back “in” as the fall fashion issues come to press) and that retro accents are in, specifically Art-deco-inspired pieces including Jack Vartanian drop hoop earrings.

Four months later, in August 2011, Harper’s Bazaar asserts that tough-girl extras are now out and that “Art-Deco Accessories” – vintage-influenced finishing touches – are in, including earrings from Bulgari. The earrings, set in yellow gold with yellow gemstones, are not of a color palette typical of the Art Deco period, although the bold accents of black and turquoise fit the bill.

Earrings that seem to be Art Deco-inspired but are not labeled as such include these long drops from Ralph Lauren, running in an ad in that same issue of Harper’s Bazaar. One can almost imagine these earrings complementing a short bobbed hairstyle typical of 1920’s flappers.

I referenced Christie Romero’s third edition of Warman’s Jewelry for the history and description of Art Deco jewelry. Romero describes how the all-white look of diamonds and platinum that began with the Edwardians at the turn of the century persisted into the 1930s, with geometric forms gradually replacing, the Edwardian garland style. Diamond cutting advanced to include unusual shapes, such as the half-moon, the bullet and the triangle, to add interest to all-white jewels. Romero continues: “At the same time, color was injected into some jewelry designs in the form of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, jade, coral, lapis, onyx, and enamels, as the style which later came to be known as Art Deco exerted its influence.”

Romero notes that the term “Art Deco” was not applied to what was then called “modernistic” or “moderne” designs until 1968, with the publication of the book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s by Bevis Hillier. “This probably explains why there are several different interpretations of what the style really is,” she writes. She continues:

“In jewelry, too, one often hears the term Art Deco applied to everything from slight variations on Edwardian pierced platinum-and-diamond plaque brooches to starkly simple abstract metal and enamel pendants or bangles. The tendency is to call any piece from the ‘20s or ‘30s Art Deco—a matter of subjective interpretation.”

Illustration:  From my file archives, here’s a photo of extraordinary Art Deco bracelets offered from Fred Leighton, James Robinson, Stephen Russell, Demner (the Cartier wristwatch) and Neil Lane that dazzled readers of the January 2003 issue of Town & Country, with photos by Gabriella Imperatori-Penn.

The one common element in the fashion and celebrity press in identifying Art Deco-influenced jewelry seems to be clean, graphic, geometric lines. If someone is looking for “Art Deco” jewelry in your store, be mindful of the expansive view taken of Art Deco influence in jewelry design.

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