Famous Jewelers of the 1920s

January 4, 2024 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

For several reasons, the 1920s is considered one of the most critical periods in jewelry design. The surge in the standard of design and craftsmanship was enormous. It coincided spectacularly with the emerging Art Deco period that has remained incredibly popular up to the present day.

Another reason the “Roaring Twenties” is so important in jewelry history is due to the famous Art Deco jewelry designers who made their mark on the jewelry design business and whose names still resonate among dealers and collectors. Some, even despite their creations being out of the price range of most people, have gone on to become household names worldwide and always bring admiring nods when mentioned.

To browse our rare collection of vintage jewelry from the 1920s, click here.

  1. Cartier
  2. Tiffany & Co.
  3. J.E. Caldwell
  4. Bailey, Banks, and Biddle
  5. Buccellati

1. Cartier

House of Cartier Building from New York City 1920s

Cartier is, without a doubt, one of the most important jewelry houses in the world.

History of Cartier

Cartier Timeline detailed milestones in history of Cartier Jewelry

Although by no means the oldest name in jewelry circles, Cartier is one of the most famous Art Deco jewelry designers. The Cartier company itself has its origins in clock and watchmaking. The company was founded in 1847 when Louis-Francois Cartier took over the workshop, his place of employment. Cartier’s grandsons Louis, Pierre, and Jacques turned the well-respected Parisian company into a global brand two generations later. Thus, the Cartier name became synonymous with quality and excellence in design and production.

The jewelry design ran alongside the watchmaking business for several years. In the early 1900s, Cartier’s designs, particularly the vintage Art Deco rings, started to attract the attention of the rich and famous. Perhaps even more importantly, Cartier became appointed jewelry maker to many of the world’s royal families, particularly those around Europe. At the time, these families were still the world center of royalty and crown princes.

Cartier’s Ascent in Fame

Cartier store on 5th Ave in NYC

This increased recognition and demand came when Art Deco started dominating the hearts and minds of designers everywhere. Maison Cartier was no exception, with connections in very high places, Cartier-designed rings, tiaras, and other pieces to be seen in every newsreel and every paper. More importantly, their jewelry was visible in the ever more publicity-driven world of the movies. Suddenly, Cartier was everywhere a movie star could be found, with designs being worn by any Hollywood actress who was anybody, from Gloria Swanson to Grace Kelly, from Marlene Dietrich to Brigitte Bardot.

If you mention Cartier nowadays, no explanation is needed for who Cartier is or what they do.

It is probably less well-known that Louis Cartier pioneered the dominant use of platinum in jewelry making. This innovation has made the metal the go-to material for engagement ring settings.

Despite probably now being associated with jewelry of the rich and famous, the Cartier tradition of watchmaking lives proudly on as a core part of the company’s product lines. History has its place; for some names, that place is still here today.

2. Tiffany & Co.

House of Tiffany building of Tiffany and co from 1940s in NYC

Tiffany & Co. (never “and”, always “&”), founded in 1837, is one of the most famous Art Deco jewelry designers and is one of only two companies in the global Top 100 Companies list along with Cartier.

History of Tiffany & Co.

Opening the first store on Broadway, Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young set about selling stationery and fancy goods to up-and-coming New Yorkers in a city expanding faster than the supply of such items could keep up. It wasn’t long before the men branched into jewelry design. They focused on the new money, gravitating towards the massively expanding metropolis. Their reputation rose after they were awarded the grand prize for silver craftsmanship at the Paris World’s Fair in 1867.

Within five years, Tiffany’s establishes itself as the premier jewelry house for quality jewelry, vintage Art Deco diamond engagement rings, and silverware. In the next two decades, the company opened branches in London, Paris and Geneva, employing over 1000 people. During this period, the Tiffany Setting for rings came into being when Charles Tiffany had the idea to raise the diamond from its traditional bezel setting to show off the current brilliant cut diamonds to the best.

It is this design that still dominates the world of engagement rings today.

Tiffany’s Fame

Where Cartier, one of Tiffany & Co.’s primary rivals among famous Art Deco jewelry designers, often preferred to set design trends rather than follow them, Tiffany & Co. embraced stylistic and societal changes in their designs and came to dominate the landscape of interior decoration including being the official supplier of china to the White House for state dinners. Tiffany’s also became the jewelry supplier of choice to several presidents, starting with Abraham Lincoln in 1962.

Apart from wearable pieces such as vintage Art Deco diamond engagement rings, football fans will be delighted to know that The Vince Lombardi Trophy, presented annually to winners of the NFL Super Bowl, was designed and made by Tiffany & Co. in 1967. The company continues to be responsible for producing the trophy to this day.

3. J.E. Caldwell

House of JE Caldwell Store inside with jewelry

It may seem unusual that we include in this list a jeweler who died in 1881, long before the period of famous Art Deco jewelry designers we are discussing. But such was the impact of James Emmot Caldwell on jewelry design. His legacy can’t be overlooked.

Although Art Deco is very important to the design trends of the 1920s, the earlier Art Nouveau was very much dictated by jewelry designers in the Caldwell workshop on the corner of Juniper and Chestnut in Philadelphia. Already leaders in their field, when Art Deco came along, the design and quality principles set in place by JE Caldwell came alive, leading to the Caldwell name being synonymous with superior Art Deco pieces. This reputation has continued to this day despite the company officially closing its doors for the last time in 2003.

In the “china and pottery boom” period of the late 19th century, major English pottery makers such as Spode and Minton still made the finest chinaware, which carried the Caldwell name. This willingness by prominent designers and manufacturers of all manner of products to be associated with the Caldwell brand indicates the esteem in which JE Calwell and his legacy were regarded among famous Art Deco jewelry designers worldwide.

As with the old art masters whose works have long outlived the lives of their creators, pieces made by the Caldwell company are highly sought after and very much in demand by collectors worldwide. Rare vintage Art Deco diamond engagement rings and other pieces can fetch up to $120,000 on the open market, and their quality rivals anything produced by much bigger and better-known names in the world of fine jewelry.

4. Bailey, Banks, and Biddle

House of Bailey, Banks, and Biddle Store 1920s

Considered the nation’s oldest jewelry company, BB&B started life in 1832, pre-dating more famous Art Deco jewelry designers such as Tiffany and Cartier by several years.

By the late 1860s, this firm was considered to be the finest jewelry maker in America, and the company is indelibly linked with the American military, producing many medals, swords for prominent Union commanders during the Civil War and even the proposed currency for the envisaged Confederacy-led nation during the same period.

Where Tiffany & Co. became the choice of presidents when buying jewelry for their wives, many of those wives chose Bailey, Banks, and Biddle, with whom to do their shopping, including Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. The link to the White House was settled forever when BB&B was asked to do a design for the Great Seal of the United States, which is still in use today.

The Bailey, Banks, and Biddle name is still renowned among famous Art Deco jewelry designers. Their status within the ranks of the military for their designs on medals is unparalleled.

Sadly, as time progressed, the original BB&B company eventually dissolved. Having changed hands several times in the early 21st century, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Rescued by new owners from the terms of the bankruptcy agreement, the company is now a high-end jewelry retailer but no longer a designer and manufacturer of vintage Art Deco diamond engagement rings.

Interestingly, both BB&B and Tiffany lay claim to being the ones who introduced the 925 Sterling Silver to the US, bringing silver quality in line with the British standard used in the rest of the world. Officially, the award goes to Tiffany’s, but BB&B makes a strong case for the honor.

5. Buccellati

House of Buccellati Mario Store Front Italy 1819

Mario Buccellati opened his first store in Milan in 1819. It didn’t take long for him to become an in-demand designer for the wealthy residents. He also became a trusted confidant to those requiring jewelry for lovers under the most secretive circumstances.

With a growing reputation and orders worldwide, Buccellati rose to prominence among famous jewelry designers. He expanded his string of stores to include two in NYC and has established a global presence.

Famously Milanese in style, the Buccellati name is considered one of the best for quality vintage rings. Buccellati is one of the only jewelers presented in a dedicated exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute.

Buccellati took a somewhat back-to-front route to their product line compared to many other famous Art Deco jewelry designers. Most established jewelers started as watchmakers and expanded into jewelry design as demands changed. Buccellati, on the other hand, only introduced watches to their catalog in 2001. Their watches soon joined the ranks of the likes of Cartier.

Contact our Jewelry Experts

Benjamin with ring at Estate Diamond Jewelry Showroom in NYC

Do you have any questions about jewelry history or want to buy Art Deco Jewelry from the 1920s? Feel free to reach out to our jewelry expert. We will respond within one business hour.