Jewelry of the Art Nouveau period was popular between 1890 and 1910. The Art Nouveau movement influenced the fine arts, architecture, and decorative arts as well as applied art. Characterized by such elements as curving lines, motifs of flora and fauna, and materials like enamel, Art Nouveau jewelry was also inspired by design artists as opposed to jewelers that simply set precious gemstones. For this reason, the artistic features of jewelry from this period are unique and remain utterly captivating today.
Nature was the essential inspiration for Art Nouveau jewelry and many jewels are fashioned after plants such as irises or orchids and creatures such as dragonflies or birds. And so, while the jewels were highly-stylized, they were also incredibly earthy. Jewelry of the Art Nouveau movement also demonstrated a departure from the most commonly featured gemstones; diamonds and sapphires were used, of course, and featured in many designs, but there was a strong emphasis on metalworking elements and the use of materials like enamel, shell, and semi-precious gemstones. Glass, opal and cultured pearls were also often components of the jewels.
There is a strong undercurrent of the exotic in Art Nouveau jewelry. Many of the metalworking designs were inspired by Japan, for example. There is also a segment of jewels that are inspired by Egyptian motifs like cobras, scarabs, and papyrus. In part, the influence of historic civilizations and the timelessness of nature was a reaction against the highly industrialized times. As evidenced by many Art Nouveau jewels, artists were interested in the interplay between the grotesque elements of nature as well as the beautiful. In this way, insects and bats might be elaborately fashioned with sinuous lines and beautiful materials like garnets or agates as an example. Mythic subject-matter also had an influence on jewelry design.
Art Nouveau was greatly motivated by the artists of Paris and Brussels, though it was influenced by the artists of other European countries as well and became well-known throughout the world. Some of the best-known Art Nouveau jewelry designers were Rene Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Their jewels inspired countless imitators over time. Today their jewels are among many of the world’s most collectible and sought-after jewelry. Lalique was one of France’s most important jewelry designers and his unrivalled creations could certainly be described as sensuous in nature. Tiffany was an influential American designer who became especially noted for his floral motifs and Etruscan influences. The movement began to wane with commercialization and, eventually, WWI. Its artists and designs, however, continue to influence jewelry design today.