The end of the nineteenth century was a period of increased mechanization and mass-production. Movements like the arts and crafts movement were founded as a protest against this. What followed was a revival of craftmanship and aestheticism in art, and the start of the Art Nouveau era of jewellery. A major inspiration for jewellery design came from the fear of what would happen in society if women gained equal rights. Sounds intriguing, right? Read our blog below to find out the details!
Events that inspired Art Nouveau
The Art Nouveau era is shorter in duration than previous eras, but therefore not less interesting. When speaking about the Art Nouveau era, one often refers to the last years of the 1800s and the first years of the 1900s. Although there are no strict boundaries, the period most often referred to as the Art Nouveau era is 1880-1905. Art Nouveau can be seen as a ‘total art style’, which influenced not only jewellery design, but all other forms of art as well. The Art Nouveau era is closely linked to the arts and crafts movement which existed during the second half of the nineteenth century. The arts and crafts movement was in fact a protest against the increased mechanization which resulted in mass-produced jewellery with rather rigid designs. The movement wanted to revive the craftmanship an aestheticism in art. This was also the case in the field of jewellery, which resulted in a revival of handcrafted jewellery. During the same period, the roles of women in society were changing. At the time, women fought for equal rights, for example by getting a job or education. What followed, was a fear of what would happen with society if women would actually win these rights. People often feared that this would result in dropping birth rates, leaving the country with not enough men to go to war. As a result of these events, women were a huge source of inspiration for jewellery design. Another event that inspired the Art Nouveau movement, was the reopening of the trade routes with the East during the second half of the nineteenth century. Jewelers got inspiration from the way the Japanese mixed nature and design, their use of colour, and their way of mixing metals, resulting in the new decorative style called Japonism.
Eventually, a combination of the abovementioned events created the foundation for the Art Nouveau movement. The name of the movement came from an art gallery called “L’Art Nouveau”, which was re-opened by art dealer Samuel Bing in Paris. To celebrate the opening of the gallery, Bing organized an international exhibition, where many artists that would later form the core of the movement came together. While the name ‘Art Nouveau’ is obviously French, it is interesting to know that Art Nouveau existed in other countries as well. The Art Nouveau style in Germany was called Jugendstil, in The Netherlands it was called Slaoliestijl, and in Italy it was called Floreale.
Popular designs and motifs in Art Nouveau jewellery
If one would have to choose one main theme to describe Art Nouveau jewellery, ‘flora and fauna’ would definitely be a good answer. Jewellery designs at the time often featured free-flowing, curving lines that suggested movement, inspired by the moving things that occur in nature. Therefore, nature is the most common theme in Art Nouveau jewellery. Motifs of flowers, butterflies, insects and birds were abundant and even the Victorian snake made a comeback. The general style of the era was soft, elegant, and maybe even a bit mystical or sensual. This effect was achieved by the use of delicate curves, light colours and designs that represented sensual movements.
Like explained before, women also formed a major inspiration for jewellery designs during the Art Nouveau era. While the Victorians were against the decorative use of the female figure and face, Art Nouveau jewelers combined it with elements from the natural world which were popular at the time. This resulted in designs containing female fantasy figures, like nymphs, mermaids, and fairies, which were often depicted in a romantic and sensual manner.
Materials and techniques in Art Nouveau jewellery
Unlike in other eras, in the Art Nouveau era more emphasis was placed on the design above the used materials. Like mentioned before, there was a revival of aestheticism and jewelers were seen as artists rather than just craftsmen. But even during this art-centered period, there were some preferred techniques and materials. Plique-à-jour enameling was by far the most popular technique at the time. Plique-à-jour is a type of enameling that has no backing, allowing light to shine through the pieces. This technique was perfectly suitable to provide colour to the animal-themed pieces that were so popular at the time. When it comes to the use of gemstones, Art Nouveau jewelers also broke with traditions. Unlike during the eras that came before the Art Nouveau era, faceted gems did no longer play a key role in jewellery design. Pearls, moonstones, and opals were the most popular stones during the Art Nouveau era. Since the emphasis was on settings rather than the gemstones themselves, they were often used in creative and innovative ways. Other ‘unusual’ materials also gained popularity, like for example horn and carved ivory. Diamonds were still used, but they served more as accents rather than the eye-catchers of the pieces.
Finding Art Nouveau pieces
We can imagine that you’ve become enthusiastic to get your hands on an elegant and feminine piece of Art Nouveau jewellery. What’s good to know, though, is that there are unfortunately not a lot of good-condition pieces available today. The main reasons this are the use of fragile materials, like enamel, and the relatively short duration of the era. This of course makes Art Nouveau pieces that are in a good condition highly desirable! So, if you manage to get your hands on a unique piece and you can buy it for a good price, we’d say: go for it!
“Enjoy your search for your perfect Art Nouveau piece and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions!” -xxx- Sophie