What is Art Nouveau Jewelry?

Written by: Benjamin Khordipour, Jewelry and Gemology Expert
February 26, 2014 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Jewelry fashion tends to reflect the changes in the overall style of a certain period. For this reason, professionals can easily identify the era a jewelry piece belongs to. Art Nouveau is a comparably short yet remarkable period. Therefore, jewelry from the era is rare but easily recognizable. Jewelers of the era pushed boundaries and broke the established rules. Art Nouveau masters used new materials and created revolutionary techniques. 

In this article, we will reveal what Art Nouveau is and what the defining features of the Art Nouveau style are. Read on to discover how to differentiate Art Nouveau from Art Deco jewelry and who the most famous makers of the period were. 

What Is Art Nouveau Jewelry? 

Art Nouveau Engagement Ring on Paper
One of the Art Nouveau Rings from our Vintage Cocktail Collection

Art Nouveau is a style inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement that originated in England in the 1860s. William Morris, a textile designer and poet, strived to get away from the utilitarian design that became popular due to the Industrial Revolution. He created ornamental floral designs and emphasized the use of craftsmanship rather than machine production. 

In the 1890s, the Art Nouveau movement emerged. One of the main goals of the movement was to blend the distinction between fine ad applied arts. Therefore, Art Nouveau was widely used in design, typography, and architecture. The style affected jewelry, marking the transition from the Victorian Era to the modern period. Art Nouveau jewelry first appeared in France and Belgium, where architects were already designing buildings in this new style. 

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What Are the Defining Features of the Art Nouveau Style? 

8016 Dragonfly Brooch from Art Nouveau Era
A very rare Art Nouveau Dragonfly Brooch from our collection. Contact us to get more information.

In general, Art Nouveau emphasized the use of curvilinear patterns, floral and animal-inspired motifs, female depiction, and asymmetry. The style can be commonly found today in the architecture of European cities such as Vienna, Brussels, Barcelona, Prague, Riga, and others. Architectures used colorful tilework, ornaments cast in stone, and sculptures on facades. The color palette has also changed. Architects started to use bright or pastel shades and shade combinations instead of plain, natural colors. The style has affected building interiors just as much as exteriors. Carved wood, fine handcrafted details, and mosaics were common in the period. 

Graphic designers used new chromolithographic techniques that appeared in the Art Nouveau era in advertisements. Promotional posters of that time resembled fine art. The era also had representatives in non-commercial painting and sculpture, however, most Art Nouveau artists didn’t leave followers. Furthermore, the gap between fine and applied arts has narrowed down during that time. 

How to Recognize Art Nouveau Jewelry? 

Art Nouveau Style

Many famous jewelers and glass artists exploited the Art Nouveau style. Art Nouveau has changed the jewelry design perception and introduced innovative materials and techniques. The defining features of Art Nouveau jewelry are asymmetry, textured surfaces, floral and animalistic motifs, a mix of precious metals, and striking color combinations. Brooches shaped like insects, seashell earrings – natural shapes are in the spotlight of the Art Nouveau style. However, not any piece shaped like a flower is from the Art Nouveau era. This shape is common in Victorian and Edwardian jewelry too. The difference is that the flowers in Victorian and Edwardian jewelry pieces are perfectly symmetrical. 

The techniques that emerged during the Art Nouveau era were focused on bringing back craftsmanship. Therefore, many jewelry pieces of the era were one-off creations. Plique-à-jour is a technique of enamel treatment. This technique creates the illusion of a three-dimensional image and translucence. Basse-taille, often used in addition to plique-à-jour, is an engraving technique where low-relief patterns are created on metal. Guilloche is another engraving technique of the time that allowed the production of repetitive patterns. 

Jewelers of the era have focused on settings more than on gemstones. Most Art Nouveau jewelry pieces feature some kind of openwork. Artists often experimented with materials that weren’t common in fine jewelry, such as horn, glass, copper, and enamel. Revolutionary materials helped to add dimensions to jewelry pieces. Colorful gemstones were in the spotlight during the Art Nouveau era. Garnets, peridots, opals, and pearls allowed for the creation of brighter designs than diamonds. 

The Most Famous Makers of Art Nouveau 

Art Nouveau Butterfly Brooch
A genuine Art Nouveau Brooch from our collection. Price $78,000 . Contact us for more information.

Tiffany lamps are, perhaps, one of the most recognizable objects of the Art Nouveau era. They are made of stained glass mosaics that most often showcase natural motifs such as plants and feathers. However, some Tiffany lamp mosaics are abstract. The lampstands are just as beautiful, featuring delicately carved wood. The brand is still producing these lamps today. 

Rene Lalique, Henri Vever, Georges Fouquet, and Macel Wolfers are among the most famous jewelers of the era, along with Louis Comfort Tiffany. Lalique emphasized the use of semi-precious stones, base metals, glass, and tortoiseshell. Lalique often used insect shapes in his works. Georges Fouquet used to collaborate with Alphonse Mucha, creating exquisite jewelry of textured gold with the addition of mother-of-pearl and enamel. Art Nouveau jewelry was often showcased in the “Maison de l’Art Nouveau” art gallery amongst fine paintings. 

Art Nouveau artist list includes well-known Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha. Klimt used layers of metallic gold leaves, female figures, and geometrical ornaments. Mucha commonly pictured women too, but the shapes in his works were more flowing and the colors less saturated, often with symmetric ornaments that serve as a frame. 

How to Differentiate Art Nouveau Jewelry From Art Deco? 

Art Nouveau Diamond and Gold Ring

Although by timeline, the Art Deco era followed Art Nouveau closely, the styles are noticeably different. The easy way to distinguish them is to remember that shapes used in Art Nouveau are most often natural, while Art Deco emphasizes geometry. Art Deco era jewelry is most often perfectly symmetrical, with more angular shapes. The materials of the Art Deco era are also different – jewelers of that time used traditional precious metals and gemstones. Art Deco jewelry is much more common and looks more contemporary. 

To still have Art Nouveau jewelry that’s in perfect condition is rare today due to the materials used. Jewelers of the time often used silver and copper, which are less durable than gold or platinum. Glass and enamel are extremely fragile. Opals and pearls are some of the softest gemstones. For this reason, most of the Art Nouveau era jewelry is stored in museums. However, pieces made of gold and diamonds are still available. Unique shapes and asymmetric designs help to identify them. 

Hunting for a Rare Piece 

Art Nouveau Pearl and Enamel Ring

Art Nouveau is a spectacular era when fine art has descended to everyday things and blended with applied arts. Architecture and paintings of the period still please the eye today. Unfortunately, original Art Nouveau jewelry is extremely rare. This makes the pieces that are available even more valuable. Knowledge of the core features that define the Art Nouveau style can help to identify such items. If you want to own a jewelry piece in Art Nouveau style, check out our catalog to spot new items or order a custom piece. 

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