ART NOUVEAU LATE 1800s – 1910
Every prevailing aesthetic has a counter-movement, and so it was with Art Nouveau, a revolt against the industrial age and its classical, formulaic designs. The movement took hold in Paris, with sensuous, organic forms shaping decorative arts and architecture—most famously, the Paris Metro entrances.
In Art Nouveau jewelry, the female form was a recurring theme and beautiful women were often depicted as enchanted nymphs, fairies or mermaids—an outright scandal to the prevailing Victorian and Edwardian sensibilities. Natural themes were also important: butterflies, dragonflies and beetles flitted about pendants and earrings, while peacock feathers, orchids, water lilies and ferns wound their way around bracelets and rings.
Art Nouveau championed hand craftsmanship and naturalism over precious materials and overt displays of wealth. Less expensive materials, such as silver, moonstone, horn and other natural elements were widely used. Colorful enameling techniques, such as plique-a-jour and cloisonné, reflected the artisan’s skill. In fact, this was the beginning of the jewelry designer as named artist. The great makers of the period, including Rene Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Karl Faberge, are renowned for advancing the new style, and their work is highly collectible today. In the mid-1960s, Art Nouveau jewelry found the ideal moment for revival when the era’s dreamy, psychedelic motifs swirled across posters for rock music festivals.