Want to learn more about Art Nouveau jewelry? Learn about the history, how to identify, materials used, popular designers, and where to buy.
What is the Art Nouveau Period?
The Art Nouveau period was a short-lived era of design that occurred from the mid-1890s to the early-1910s. From Wikipedia, “Art Nouveau is a total art style: It embraces a wide range of fine and decorative arts, including architecture, painting, graphic art, interior design, jewelry, furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass art, and metalwork.”
The movement had its roots in Britain, in the floral designs of William Morris, and the Arts and Crafts movement founded by the pupils of Morris. “Japonisme” had essential influences to the elegant beauty and flowing lines of Art Nouveau.
Art Nouveau artists rejected traditional design rules and sought to create a whole new style of visual art. The intention was to stand out against industrialization and the mass-production of the Victorian era.
The philosophy of Art Nouveau included the belief that everyday objects could be made beautiful, and that there was no separation between the fine arts (painting and sculpture) and decorative arts (ceramics, furniture, and other practical objects).
Advertising and graphic art was a common use of Art Nouveau style, the movement coincided with a more global society, capable of mass production and printing.
What is Art Nouveau Jewelry?
Natural forms and curving lines are the foundation of Art Nouveau jewelry. Animal and nature motifs, light and airy colors, and whiplash lines that flow and curve characterize the style. The female form is a favorite theme to be featured on jewelry pieces, especially cameos.
Art Nouveau jewelry moved away from diamonds as a central stone and instead featured stones such as garnet, citrine, peridot, amethyst, pearls, agate, opal, and moonstone. Techniques such as enameling were common, materials such as horn, shell, ivory, and copper offered new textures.
Much of the jewelry made during the Art Nouveau period was not made with precious metals, but rather with silver, low-grade gold, and even steel. Because of the fragile glass and enameling techniques utilized during this period, fully intact Art Nouveau jewelry is rare to find today.
The History of Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau is a French term meaning, ‘new art”. This style earned publicity and got its name when a German-born art dealer named Siegfried Bing opened the art gallery, “Maison de l’Art Nouveau” in Paris, France in 1895. In addition to paintings, the gallery also showcased jewelry by René Lalique and glass from Louis Comfort Tiffany and Emile Gallé.
In the jewelry design periods preceding it, the emphasis in fine jewelry was on creating dramatic settings for diamonds using precious metals. During Art Nouveau, diamonds were used as accents rather than a central focus and silver and yellow gold were the metals of choice.
Jewelers experimented with new materials such as ivory, horn and shell, and alternative stones such as agate, moonstone, and opal. New techniques in enameling created stunning effects. Pearls were favorited by jewelers, especially baroque pearls, for their large size and irregular shape.
Although it had a short life, Art Nouveau was highly influential. It was most popular in the United States and France, but countries such as Britain, Germany, and Scotland also embraced the style. Art Nouveau was eventually overtaken by the Arts and Crafts style that preceded it and the Art Deco movement that followed it.
The 1960s saw a revival of Art Nouveau jewelry, and today you can see Art Nouveau techniques utilized by the Russian designer, Ilgiz Fazulzyanov.
Artists and Jewelers were revolutionary in their styles and techniques. Art Nouveau was all about pushing boundaries. A rebirth and reinvention of enamel allowed jewelers to add color and dimension to their work. Gold and silver were cast and manipulated to create soft forms, gems such as opal and moonstone had a faint glimmer that suited the new style.
Enameling was probably the single most important technique of Art Nouveau jewelry. Artists pushed the limits and used enamel as it had never been seen before. Plique-à-jour enameling was rediscovered and used to create translucent, stained-glass-like effects. Champlevé enamel was applied in new ways to add depth. Basse-taille and guilloche enameling were also popular techniques. Jewelers would often use a variety of different enamel techniques on the same piece.
Famous Art Nouveau Jewelry Designers
- Notable French designers of Art Nouveau jewelry include Louis Aucoc, René Lalique, Jules Brateau, and Georges Henry.
- In the United States, the most famous designer was Louis Comfort Tiffany.
- In Britain, the most prominent figures were the Liberty & Co. designer Archibald Knox and C. R. Ashbee.
- Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh made jewelry using traditional Celtic symbols.
- In Germany, the style of Jugendstil jewelry was done best by Theodor Fahrner.
- Henri Vever and Georges Fouquet of Paris.
- Lucien Gaillard was a French goldsmith and jeweler who made hair combs, pins, and pendants.
- Eugène Feuillâtre is considered one of the best enamel artists of the Art Nouveau period.
- Léopold Gautrait was highly skilled at creating bird pieces using enamel.
- In Austria, the most popular jewelry was created by the Wiener Werkstaätte under the design supervision of Josef Hoffmann.
- Vladimir Soloviev designed jewelry for Peter Carl Fabergé in Russia.
- Fuset Grau of Spain
- Karl Rothmuller of Germany
- Phillipe Wolfers of Belgium
Because Art Nouveau was a brief design period and enamel is susceptible to chipping and breakage, pieces in excellent condition are not abundant and are highly collectible. Many of the best pieces are in private collections and museums, but you can still find some Art Nouveau jewelry for purchase.
If you want to collect Art Nouveau jewelry, familiarize yourself with the above famous designers and keep an eye out for the chance to purchase some of their work.
Make sure that the piece you are buying is in excellent condition, with no cracking or chipping and no missing gemstones. Buying from a reputable dealer is the best way to know you are getting a good quality, genuine piece.
How to Identify
Jewelers sold their pieces in jewelry boxes embossed with their names and often didn’t sign the actual jewelry, so finding a signed piece is difficult.
French makers required certain kinds of marks but not the maker’s marks. The French marks referenced the metal the piece was made of, for example, they used symbols such as an eagles head to show a specific karat of gold. In the USA, there were no requirements for stamping jewelry.
Because so much is unsigned, identifying Art Nouveau jewelry requires an eye for stylistic hallmarks. Spending time looking at genuine Art Nouveau jewelry online and in person will give you a good feel for the style.
Art Nouveau vs. Art Deco Jewelry
Art Nouveau fought the industrial revolution, while Art Deco embraced it. Streamlined, jagged forms characterize Art Deco jewelry. Platinum, diamonds, and colored gemstones set in bold geometric designs were used. Contrast was everything, so black enamel was set against the stark white of diamonds.
Art Nouveau vs. Edwardian Jewelry
Art Nouveau embraced fluid, flowing lines, while Edwardian jewelry was geometric and formal, with rigid designs persisting from the long Victorian period preceding it. Diamonds, pearls, and platinum were central materials of Edwardian jewelry.
Where to Buy Art Nouveau Jewelry
I buy my vintage jewelry on Etsy. I have found there to be exceptional vintage jewelry shops and sellers on the Etsy marketplace. Check out my list of the best Etsy shops for vintage jewelry and start browsing!
My Favorite Shops for Art Nouveau Jewelry
Art Nouveau is a style that still influences jewelry today. The movement aimed to break away from machine-made, mass-produced jewelry, and instead offer skillfully crafted art pieces, each embodying emotion and soul. Art Nouveau brought art to everyday objects and created an aesthetic not seen at any other time of history.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, I always answer. And tell me, what do you like best about Art Nouveau jewelry?