Nouveau Period - 1890 to 1910
The Art Nouveau design movement
emerged in fin de siecle Paris, during the final years
of Victoria's reign, and was showcased at the Paris Exposition
Universelle in 1900. It blossomed for a brief time into
the twentieth century, during which Queen Victoria died
(1901) and Edward VII ascended the throne. Like the concurrent
Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau was based on a return
to craftsmanship, and an emphasis on design over material.
Turn-of-the-century fashion emphasized
the figure with lightweight materials and a feminine S-shaped
silhouette. The soft curves, sinuous lines and pale colors
of Art Nouveau jewelry complemented the fashion of its
day. It was popularized by the patronage of actress Sarah
Bernhardt. As part of a larger stylistic movement, however,
Art Nouveau jewelry bears more relation to the architecture,
furniture and textile design, than to the clothing, of
aesthetics of design were considered more important than
the intrinsic value of the materials. Accordingly, semi-precious
stones like moonstone, opal, amethyst, citrine, peridot
and freshwater pearls were widely used.
18K Art Nouveau watch chain.
Emphasis on the designer as artist motivated the use of
beautiful enameling techniques in jewelry, such as cloisonne
(in which gold wire forms partitions into which the enamel
is poured); champleve (in which the enamel fills recesses
cut out from the background metal; basse-taille (in which
an engraved design in the metal is covered with, but still
visible through, a transparent enamel); and plique-a-jour
(in which the backing metal is removed from the translucent
enamel after firing, resulting in a stained glass effect).
jewelry materials that were popular during this period
included horn, bone, copper, shell, ivory, and carved
The Victorian interest in the natural
world continued into this era. Butterflies, dragonflies,
snakes, poppies, orchids, irises and waterlilies were
Organic motifs were not rendered
realistically, but rather in a more stylized manner characteristic
of the Asian arts. The world had become more familiar
with Asian design from the international exhibitions of
the latter nineteenth century. Sinuous, free-flowing lines
were integral design elements.
The representation of a female
head with long flowing hair is prevalent in Art Nouveau
jewelry. It was also an important motif of the concurrent
Symbolist movement in literature and painting, which used
images to present ideas.
fostered a sense of mystery and fantasy in design. Accordingly,
Art Nouveau jewelry often features mythical hybrid forms
and near-colorless translucent stones like moonstone and
Several motifs and
themes are common to Art Nouveau Jewelry. Natural motifs
such as butterflies, dragonflies, poppies, orchids, birds,
reptiles, orchids and irises were very popular.Snakes
symbolized life, eternity and sexuality. Remarkable Art
Nouveau bracelets, rings and pendants depicting writhing
serpents were created by Rene Lalique and Georges Fouquet.
Beautifully rendered bats, owls and vultures lure us into
some eerily haunting Art Nouveau pendants. Peacocks were
perfect for showcasing both the elaborate enamel techniques
utilized during the period and the narcissism that often
defined Art Nouveau jewelry. The dream-like quality of
swans was also a favored subject for Art Nouveau brooches
and pendants. There was a sense of mystery and fantasy
which took on a surreal and mythical form. Grotesques
and winged hybrids had a nightmarish quality that was
counterbalanced by their overwhelming beauty.
The female form was one of the most popular themes for
Art Nouveau jewelry. The femme-fleur could represent either
virginal beauty as depicted in the renderings of Alphonse
Mucha or an emaciated, dark eyed temptress common to the
graphics of Aubrey Beardsley or Gustave Klimt.
This is very typical Art Nouveau.
Non traditional materials
such as horn were often used in Art Nouveau jewelry. It
is thought that Rene Lalique was the first to incorporate
horn into his work. Its translucency created a mood that
appealed to the designers of the time. It was used along
with ivory to create Art Nouveau pendants, brooches, hair
ornaments and general accessories like letter openers.
Glass was commonly used in jewelry of the period. Popular
gemstones were opals, amber, garnet and agate. Diamonds
were used sparingly, usually as a subtle accent or to
bring emphasis to a linear element. Cultured pearls made
their first appearance as long necklaces during the period.
The most important material used during the Art Nouveau
period was enamel! Techniques for plique à jour
were perfected during this time. This technique produces
an effect like stained glass windows. It is similar to
cloisonné, except it is done with transparent or
translucent enamels without a backing. Plique à
jour was known to Byzantine craftsman as early as the
6th Century AD but it had become a lost art. Extensive
experiments were carried on in France in the second half
of the 19th Century to recreate this technique. Champlèvè
and basse taille engraving techniques were also commonly
incorporated into designs.
Art Nouveau left
a great legacy to jewelry design. It was responsible for
creating jewels that were works of art reflecting the
revolutionary cultural and social changes going on at
the turn of the last century. Unfortunately after 1900,
the Art Nouveau style became so fashionable that the motifs
and themes were often poorly and cheaply copied. The commercialization
of the original style eventually caused its down fall.