Distinctly modern, Art Deco jewelry was in vogue from 1920 through the 1930s. It is popularly known as the style between the wars. Jewelry of this period is known for its departure from earlier styles and its innovative use of new materials. Designs for jewels were often geometric and streamlined. Today Art Deco jewelry is remembered for its bold elegance and astounding variety.
The jewelry of flappers and the Jazz Age, Art Deco jewelry, unlike Art Nouveau jewelry, was in harmony with the machine age and made much of new materials like plastics and metals such as platinum. Incorporating new materials, Art Deco designs were flamboyant and relied on art of the era for inspiration. Cubism and graphic design had a strong impact on jewelry designs for this period. The strong geometrical component of Art Deco jewels was directly related to the modern art produced alongside it. Straight lines, squares, triangles, rectangles, arrows, but also circles and arcs combined in stunning designs that might be formed with rhinestones or possibly bakelite, an early plastic that is extremely collectible today.
The motifs of Art Deco jewelry range from geometric shapes to whimsical designs of poodles, cats, or even lobsters. Egypt, also an inspiration for Art Nouveau jewelry, influenced Art Deco jewelry designs. Jewelry designers took advantage of a large palette of precious stones, semi-precious stones and many other materials to embrace the freedom of expression that came with postwar prosperity. Some of the most popular Art Deco styles were long ropes of pearls, dress clips (made from bakelite or showcasing precious stones), and a wide variety of brooches. Some designs were reflective of innovations of the times and featured airplanes and automobiles. By merging historic motifs with futuristic designs, Art Deco jewelry created a unique style.
Jewelry designers who had a profound effect on the development of Art Deco jewelry were Rene Lalique (also famed for Art Nouveau styles) and Gerard Sandoz. Lalique was important for his contribution of glass; by blowing glass into prescribed shapes, Lalique created an innovative effect that influenced other Art Nouveau jewelry designers. Sandoz was known for his highly industrialized pieces that seemed to embody the machine age. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and brooches were all stamped with Art Deco transformations.
Although Art Deco jewels could be high-end fashion and created with precious stones and materials, they could also be duplicated with more affordable materials so that more women could actually buy jewelry. And since more women could afford to buy jewels, designers broadened their range of styles and designs so that women could truly find jewels that were reflective of their personalities. It would not be uncommon to attend a dinner party and witness one woman with carved bakelite bangles, another with a marcasite choker, and yet another with a silver brooch featuring a Native American motif. The sheer variety of design is what makes Art Deco jewelry so memorable today.