Georgian, Victorian, Belle Époque, Edwardian – most antique styles are named after English Kings and Queens, some of which played a big role in fashion worldwide. Queen Victoria’s jewelry reflected her love for her husband King Albert, and later on she wore jewelry that reflected her mourning over his passing. She created real jewelry crazes with this. To make things easy, let’s call our jewelry from before 1900: antique.
Antique jewelry is rare. It has detailed hand-work, and to find pieces in good condition is fabulous, not to mention very romantic. If you like history, then jewelry that holds a love story (or two) from times long gone, is for you. What is more charming than a piece of romantic history on your hand to muse about? Antique jewelry can touch your heart when you find the piece that strikes you because it has good design, wearability and authenticity. Fine craftsmanship and elegant detail will never grow old.
Art Nouveau (“new art”) existed just a short time period, but it had a lasting impact on jewelry design and many other arts. This poetic movement based on nature, took over Europe from 1890 until World War I. It was a completely new style. Art Nouveau jewelry is inspired by plants and flowers, the gentleness of butterflies and dragonflies, and the female body. It was an artistic movement for the intelligentsia of Paris. In response to machine-made, mass-produced jewelry, Art Nouveau wanted to emphasise originality and the jewelry designs often have symbolic meanings.
The mood of Art Nouveau is soft, mystical and romantic with pale and muted colours and flowing curves. Hand-craft was at a very high level and they used organic gem materials like ivory and tortoise shell, besides softly coloured gemstones like moonstone, pearls and opal. Not to mention all kinds of beautiful (see-through) enamel. You’ll never forget it once you have seen pieces by Lalique, Vever and Fouquet, the most influential Art Nouveau jewelry designers.
Art Deco is probably the most recognisable style of jewelry in history and it keeps coming back into fashion. The Art Deco style originated in Paris and covers all the visual arts, from architecture, painting, and sculpture, to the graphic and decorative arts. Art Deco jewelry is symmetrical, geometric, with clean lines and an almost industrial feel. It is pleasing to the eye. It really started a few years after World War I when the mood became luxurious and glamorous. A generation of young women became independent and embraced a free lifestyle. Their jewelry and accessories symbolised wealth and sophistication.
Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels made some of the most iconic jewels in history, with the magic combination of onyx, jade and coral, and mainly set in platinum. Small coloured gemstones – mostly rubies, emeralds and blue sapphires- were set tightly spaced together to accent a bigger stone. We’re not done gushing over Art Deco jewelry: the art of filigree work was also perfected during Art Deco, so the pieces have super stark, stamped edges. And last but not least, we have Art Deco to thank for another timeless favourite: aquamarine engagement rings. Fresh, elegant, sleek and sophisticated – how could this style ever go out of fashion?
Retro jewelry is bright, bold and fun. Retro refers to jewelry created in the late 1930s and 1940s, spanning World War II through the early 1950s. Colourful and eye-catching jewelry took people’s minds off the war. Coloured gems were everywhere: huge citrines, amethysts, topaz and aquamarines, sometimes surrounded by small diamonds in pavé or invisible settings because diamonds were not widely available. Necklaces, brooches and bracelets were big and three-dimensional – think of the famous tank bracelet, inspired by the tracks of army tanks on the ground. When precious metals became scarce, designers made the most of what they had and invented things like the snake pipe (or gas pipe or tubogas) necklace, which is incredibly light but has a heavy appearance.
Women in wartime wore modest, practical clothes, so they preferred strong jewelry to enhance their femininity. A true Retro favourite is the cocktail ring – a statement ring, drawing attention to your finger while sipping a cocktail. Floral and animal motifs were very fashionable; realistic birds were a specialty of many fine jewelry houses, and not to forget: lions, tigers and panthers! The first La Panthere jewel by Cartier – a gold and enamel panther brooch set with a cabochon emerald – was crafted for the Duchess of Windsor in 1948.
The 1950s – when shopping became part of a lifestyle! And jewelry looked fresh and amusing. After World War II, people wanted different new styles, and that is exactly what they got. The working class had money to spend. Women of all classes had their dresses tailor-made – thanks to Christian Dior’s famous collection named “New Look” from 1947. New technologies brought new trends: texture and wire work became the defining style in jewelry. Enamel was also used to add bright colours and more subtle textures.
The 1960s is the glitz-loving decade in which Hollywood starlets set the trend. Elizabeth Taylor established herself as a jewelry legend, collecting eye-popping jewelry sets. The trend for rings changed to clusters, with a large central stone raised above a cluster of other gems. In jewelry from the 1960s you will find lots of cabochon cut turquoise and coral surrounded by brilliant, round cut diamonds, but also pear and marquise cut diamonds. Also typical of this era: fun brooches with flowers, starbursts and leaves, set with the Big Three gemstones.
The jewelry style of the 1970s is loud, proud and designed to make a statement. Jewelry had to be bright to stand out from the loud prints and patterns in seventies fashion. Popular gemstones were turquoise, coral and lapis lazuli. For style, you could either go ethnic – with patterns made from natural materials like stone, wood and shell – or disco, which was all about the bling. And then came the hedonistic 1980s: big hair, big shoulders, big jewelry. Wall Street was booming, women went to work en masse and bought fine jewelry for themselves. Jewelry was a good way to express one’s individuality. In this decade, designer jewelry took off.
A whole generation of creative and beautiful quality fine jewelry was created. Iconic collections by Bulgari, Tiffany’s, Piaget, Marina B, David Webb and Paloma Picasso, are still known and loved today. Cartier made a master move by creating ‘Les Musts de Cartier’ which is the reason that the ‘Juste un Clou’ and ‘Love’ bracelet, and the ‘Trinity’ rings and earrings are still popular today. It was the era of playful jewelry, designed to stand the test of time. When I think of the 1980s I see big cabochon cut gemstones (including blue topaz, amethyst, and citrine), cultured pearls, 18K gold ropes, and lots of volume.
The 1990s was an exciting era in pop culture. Jewelry, like fashion, was inspired by music genres and brought us grunge, glamour, and retro-hippie looks. Remember body chains, choker necklaces, mood rings and anklets? Rings took a turn for the traditional, with platinum and white gold – the solitaire ring was totally cool again. The three stone ring design was back with a new romantic symbolism attached to it: the three stones are said to represent a couple’s past, present, and future together.
The jewelry world was ruled by big names AND small designers. The famous “old” jewelry houses on Place Vendome, like Cartier, were once again the trendsetters, while there was also room enough for the rise of smaller names and new designers and artists who make unique, very distinct and special jewelry – think of Wallace Chan, JAR and VHERNIER.