Vintage jewelry is hotter than ever—at the collector and connoisseur level, it’s all about these eras: Victorian (1835–1900), Art Deco (1920s–30s), and the 1960s/1970s. Meanwhile, we’ve noticed a number of present-day designers reimagining the iconic metalwork, motifs, and palettes of the past in ways that feel entirely au courant.
Contemporary designers, such as the ones showcased on these pages, might be responding to what they’ve seen at jewelry exhibits at major museums (like “Jewels by JAR,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013–14, or “Set in Style,” the Van Cleef & Arpels retrospective that debuted at New York City’s Cooper Hewitt in 2011). The popularity of period TV shows such as Downton Abbey, Mad Men, and The Crown may likewise be exerting an influence. Or perhaps these designers are heeding a consumer demand for jewels imbued with romance and nostalgia, as is often the case during times of economic and political uncertainty. Whatever the reason, the timing feels just right.
Get to know what distinguishes Victorian, Art Deco, and 1960s/1970s jewelry, and the 21st-century torchbearers who are blurring the lines between past and present.
“It’s a very broad period encompassing a huge range of styles and influences,” says Jessica Peshall, associate jewelry specialist at Christie’s UK. “The most desirable items among collectors are chandelier ear pendants, tiaras that convert to necklaces, botanical and insect brooches, and archaeological revival jewels.”
Defining characteristics: Small colorful gemstones were the rage, but when large deposits of diamonds were discovered in South Africa in the 1870s, a proliferation of jewels featuring larger diamonds emerged. “Flowers, serpents, leaves, and scrolling shapes were also favorites,” says Mia Moross, owner of online estate jewelry retailer The One I Love NYC. Look for garnets, seed pearls, rose-cut diamonds, sapphires, opals, rubies, jet, and sentimental jewelry (e.g., lockets, portrait miniatures, memorial rings).
The originators: Bapst, Castellani, Chaumet, Falize, Garrard, Giuliano, Lalique, Mellerio, and Paulding Farnham (Tiffany & Co.). “A series of world exhibitions in the second half of the 19th century for the first time allowed jewelers to showcase their wares to a global audience,” Peshall notes.
The torchbearers: Le Vian, Blackbird and the Snow, Tanya Farah, and Temple St. Clair, among others
(Top image) Serpent brooch with demantoid garnets, diamonds, and a natural pearl in 14k gold, circa 1870, M.S. Rau Antiques, 888-557-2406, rauantiques.com; floral en tremblant brooch three-piece set with Burma rubies, pink sapphire, and diamonds in silvered gold, circa 1865, M.S. Rau Antiques; hinged floral bangle in gold with colored sapphires, pearls, rubies, and enamel, signed Froment-Meurice, circa 1870, Christie’s, 212-636-2000, christies.com; gold and cloisonné enamel medallion necklace, signed Alexis Falize, circa 19th century, Christie’s
(Above, photograph by James Wojcik) Garden of Eden fire opal ring with wrapped snake in 18k yellow gold with 0.5 ct. t.w. champagne diamonds, $7,200, Tanya Farah, 212-682-5188, tanyafarah.com; coiled serpent ring with rhodolite garnet and diamonds in 18k yellow gold and sterling silver, $1,670, Anthony Lent, 646-745-6831, anthonylent.com; Designs by Kristina 18k yellow gold snake ring with a triangular natural translucent green jade stone and cabochon ruby eyes, $1,670, Mason-Kay, 303-393-7575, masonkay.com; 18k white gold wrapped snake cuffs with 0.5 ct. t.w. pavé black diamonds, $6,990, with 0.5 ct. t.w. pavé white diamonds, $7,800, Borgioni, 310-849-9050, borgionis.com; ring in 18k black gold with 3.5 cts. t.w. diamonds, $9,000, Sutra, 713-984-4987, sutrajewels.com
“The Art Deco period is defined by geometric and linear design creations,” says Susan Abeles, director of U.S. jewelry at Bonhams. “At first jewels were flat, but within 10 years, the jewelry became more sculptural.”
Defining characteristics: Clean lines. Sharp angles. Egyptian, Asian, Russian, and Indian influences. Platinum. Step-cut and marquise diamonds. Precious colored gemstones plus onyx, coral, jade, and rock crystal. Tassels. Stylized botanicals. Fan shapes, zigzags, chevrons, and other geometric motifs.
The originators: Belperron, Boucheron, Cartier, Després, Fouquet, Marchak, Mauboussin, Oscar Heyman, and Van Cleef & Arpels. “Each designer and house contributed and had its own distinctive style; they were greatly influenced by applied arts and music as well as politics,” Abeles says.
The torchbearers: It’s difficult to name a jeweler that hasn’t been influenced by the Art Deco era. A short but invariably incomplete list includes such historic-but-still-operating firms as Boucheron, Cartier, and Oscar Heyman, as well as hordes of contemporary designers, including Christopher Designs, Deborah Pagani, Mastoloni, and Stephen Webster.
(Top image) Onyx, coral, diamond, and enamel brooch, signed Cartier, circa 1925, Bonhams, 212-461-6526, bonhams.com; Egyptian revival ruby and diamond necklace, signed Cartier, circa 1925, Bonhams; brick-link cuff bracelet with emeralds and diamonds, signed Cartier, circa 1925, Bonhams
(Above, photograph by James Wojcik) Platinum bracelet with 12.74 cts. t.w. sapphires and 1.85 cts. t.w. diamonds, $42,000, John Buechner, 800-541-2675, johnbuechner.com; platinum ring set with 1.77 ct. red spinel, 2.57 cts. t.w. diamonds, and black enamel, $14,600, Pampillonia, 214-503-7272, pampilloniadesigns.com; ring in platinum with 4.48 ct. Sri Lankan sapphire, 1.43 cts. t.w. round diamonds, and 1.28 cts. t.w. baguettes, $50,000, Jye’s International, 415-621-8880, jyescorp.com; platinum necklace with 2.09 cts. t.w. Crisscut Asscher-cut diamonds, 1.4 cts. t.w. Crisscut baguettes, and 17.22 cts. t.w. round diamonds, $75,675, Christopher Designs, 800-955-0970, christopherdesigns.com; Signature tassel with 3.5 mm–5 mm white cultured pearls and 1.06 cts. t.w. diamonds in 18k white gold, $4,400, Mastoloni, 800-347-3275, mastoloni.com
“This era gave us very bold looks via large brooches and cocktail rings,” says George Peralta, sales consultant for New Orleans–based M.S. Rau Antiques. “The silhouettes were large and exaggerated, and the metalwork was softer and rounder than that of previous decades.”
Defining characteristics: “The most easily recognizable pieces are long, fun earrings, bold bracelets, and big chunky chains and necklaces,” says Kurt Rothner, owner of Excalibur Jewelry in Los Angeles. Also look for graphic floral motifs. Semiprecious gems like citrine, amethyst, and especially turquoise. Multicolor stone combinations. Textured metal. Egyptian references, thanks to the Tutankhamen exhibit, which debuted in 1976 at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
The originators: Bulgari, David Webb, Piaget, Van Cleef & Arpels, Andrew Grima, and Salvador Dalí.
The torchbearers: Bulgari, David Webb, Piaget, and Van Cleef & Arpels continue to produce contemporary jewelry that evokes the 1960s and ’70s. They are joined by scores of designers whose work harks back to the era’s bold, swinging style. Think Buddha Mama, Erica Courtney, and Victor Velyan.
(Top image) Yellow diamond rose brooch in 18k yellow gold, signed Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1960, M.S. Rau Antiques, 888-557-2406, rauantiques.com; David Webb clip-on earrings in 18k yellow gold with two greenish-blue turquoise cabochons and 74 round-cut brilliant diamonds, circa 1960s, Craig Evan Small at 1stdibs, 310-550-7895, craigevansmall.com; 18k yellow gold link bracelet by Cartier, circa 1970s, Fred Leighton, 646-759-9668, fredleighton.com
(Above, photograph by James Wojcik) Extremely Piaget Lace Decoration pendant in 18k rose gold with turquoise pearls and 5.69 cts. t.w. brilliant-cut diamonds, $48,000, Piaget, 877-8-PIAGET, piaget.com; turquoise and pink zircon earrings in 18k yellow gold with diamonds, $18,440, Jordan Alexander, 646-745 6831, jordanalexanderjewelry.com; 24k gold Olivia necklace with 57.72 ct. Sleeping Beauty turquoise, $6,380 (handmade chain: $3,800), Lika Behar, 201-933-7200, likabehar.com
Cheetah at top, photograph by James Wojcik: Red Carpet 18k Honey Gold bracelet with 18.93 cts. t.w. Costa Smeralda Emeralds and Passion Ruby and 7.72 cts. t.w. Vanilla Diamonds; $55,000; Le Vian, 877-2-LEVIAN, levian.com