Art Deco: 1920 - 1930

Art Deco Ring
  photo courtesy of Sandra Smith

The economic and social pressures that immediately followed the First World War brought with them a new mood for a rigorous and clean-cut look. Art Deco was an innovative design style popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Its sleek, streamlined forms conveyed elegance and sophistication. It was the age of the Flapper, the Jazz and the Machine Age. Materials used ranged from rubies, gold, and pearls to plastic, chrome and steel. Platinum was the new luxury metal used with opaque stones like coral, jade, onyx and lapis lazuli. Costume jewelry became even more popular and outrageous. Trend-setting couturiers were Coco Chanel6 and Elsa Schiaparelli. Influences were Pharaonic Egypt, the Orient, tribal Africa, Cubism, Futurism, machines and graphic design. However, jewelry of the 1920's and 30's was in thrall to geometry: circles, arcs, squares, rectangles and triangles and so on. René Lalique, who created glass jewelry in the 1920's and 30's, created romantic designs from nature.

May 1928 Advertisement from Harpers Bazaar
  photograph courtesy of Pat Seal

The art jewelers of Paris  

Paris was the source and the trendsetter of Art Deco, which was later named after the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Moderns held in Paris in1925. The Swiss born designer, Jean Dunand (1877 - 1942) whose hammered metal, lacquered vases, furniture and screens were greatly indebted to non-western  styles, also designed a small but stunning body of jewelry. They were made largely of silver lacquered with red and black. Dunand's dangling earrings and earclips, brooches and bracelets, assumed geometric shapes containing equally strong motifs - interwoven and superimposed lines, zigzags, openwork squares and triangles.

Art Deco Diamond Clips
  photo courtesy of Richard Whitehouse

Gérard Sandoz (b. 1902) came from a family of jewelers and began to design starkly geometric pieces for the Sandoz firm while he was still a teenager. His output is significant within the realms of the Art Deco period. Another gifted goldsmith was Jean Després (1889 - 1980), whose industrial-design training in the First World War is reflected in his strong pieces. His machine age aesthetic may be interpreted as unwieldy and masculine, but it was well suited to the Jazz Age, to the increasingly strong image of the liberated and androgynous woman. Després' modernist, industrial derived pieces are some of the most desirable for collectors of vintage jewelry today.

1920s Silver and Diamond Bracelet
  photo courtesy of Cathy Corday

Raymond Templier (1891 - 1968) came from a family of Parisian jewelers. His designs were boldly  geometric, but sported geometric stones, brooches with scattering of diamonds against dark platinum fields. He was especially fond of precious white metals such as platinum and silver, and paired them with onyx and other dark stones in stunning pieces. Paul Emile Brandt was a Swiss born jeweler who began working in the Art Nouveau style but evolved into a highly admired Art Deco jeweler. His cocktail watches are richly bejeweled but strictly geometric. The Cartier firm, founded in 1847, reached dizzying heights of Art Deco splendor under the direction of Louis Cartier (1874 - 1945). His fascination with exotic motifs led to the creation of diamond, ruby and platinum earrings from which hung jade rondels carved with elephants, and a gold and enamel bangle with two carved-coral chimera7 heads facing each other in the center.

French Art Deco Silver &Paste Clip & Pin photo courtesy of Patrick Kapty

1920s Chromium plated base metal & paste pendant and chain
  photo courtesy of Elaine Kula

Wood & Bakelite Indian profile brooch
  photo courtesy of Warman's Jewelry 2nd Ed. 
by Christie Romero and Krause Publications

In the 1930's figurative clips and brooches, featuring ornate blackamoor heads, even American Indian squaws and chiefs, were marketed by Cartier and spawned a whole wave of cheap imitations, especially in plastic and base metals.

The glass jewelry of Réne Lalique and Gabriel Argy Rousseau deserves special mention. By the 1920's the master goldsmith Lalique had become the premier glassmaker of France. He created lovely glass jewelry pendants; some inspired by openwork Japanese sword guards, or tsubas, and molded with stylized  leaf or animal design. Others were insects and female figures, all hanging from silk cord terminating in rich tassels.

Lalique Brooch
  photo courtesy of Shai Bandman Collection

Lalique Pendant
  photo courtesy of Shai Bandman Collection

Motifs: from the sublime to the ridiculous

1920s Theodor Fahrner Earrings  
photograph courtesy of Ramona Tung

Art Deco style in other European countries was largely derivative, like the Italian G. Ravasco's diamond studded geometric creations or Theodor Fahrners' later jewels. Some London jewelers, like Asprey and Mappin & Webb, produced Art Deco Style confections, but these are largely unsigned so the designers are unknown.   Some British design jewelers however, like Sybil Dunlop, Harold Stabler and H.G. Murphy, known primarily for their Arts and Crafts pieces produced decidedly moderne jewels.


Georg Jensen's firm in Copenhagen continued to produce silver jewelry in the Art Deco era adding sharp geometric forms to it's repertoire of stylized motifs, these in turn were imitated by a host of European jewelers.

Georg Jensen Tie Bar
  photo courtesy of Patrick Kapty

William Spratling Brooch  
photo courtesy of Phyllis Goddard

The indigenous Mexican silver industry was highlighted in the Art Deco period by the talents of an American architect designer teacher, William Spratling, who settled in Taxco in 1929.  He opened a shop dealing in traditional crafts and also started a school where he trained natives to work with silver and other substances. A whole community sprang up in Taxco around Spratling.

Several significant jewelry manufacturers like New York's Oscar Heyman & Brothers, the Bonner Manufacturing Company and Walter P. McTeigue, Inc, provided Saks Fifth Avenue and other exclusive department stores with their creations. Even the mail order Sears Roebuck catalogue featured moderne jewelry.

German Silver Art Deco Clip & Pin
  photo courtesy of Patrick Kapty

Bakelite Lobster Brooch
photo courtesy of
Patrick Kapty

1930s Plastic Dog Brooch With Moveable Eyes
  photo courtesy of Elaine Kula


The motifs of Art Deco jewelry range from the sublime to the ridiculous: from stunning geometric configurations of paste to silly cherries dangling from a wooden bar. The former has borrowed its subject from deluxe jewelry of the time, but the latter, a joke, has come about more or less on its own. Animals and people inhabit the world of 1920s and 30s costume jewelry, from gentle playful fawns and playful plastic Scotty dogs to paste, turquoise and marcasite Chinese fantasies, and elegant, gilt metal cloche hatted vamps. Flowers in every possible color, combination, and variety, sprouted on gilt metal or silver brooches and pendants, their paste petals glittering shamelessly.


Click on boxes below to view pages
 Copyright 1999 MODERN SILVER magazine