There’s a lot of misconception out there as to what Art Deco style is. It gets especially bungled when it comes to jewelry and ends up becoming a catchall term for any vintage style engagement ring. The most common victim of the Art Deco generalization is the time period that came before Art Deco: the Edwardian era.
The Edwardian era was named after Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, who reigned from 1901 to 1910. However, when it comes to jewelry, the Edwardian style really can be found anywhere between the late 1890s and 1915. The reason the style emerged at this time has one answer: platinum.
Platinum was not new to jewelry, but it had never been as popular as gold because it was challenging to work with by comparison. Technological advancements resulted in the creation of a platinum and iridium alloy, which is the perfect combination of easy to work with and durable.
At the end of the 19th century, Cartier began to showcase this fabulous new alloy by creating incredibly intricate and romantic jewelry. Delicate bows, flowers, and scrolls became very popular as jewelers could now put much more details into their work than they had previously been able to with soft gold and silver.
My own Edwardian engagement ring is a classic example of the style. Circa 1910, my ring is platinum with a bow motif on either side of the sapphire. The platinum was carefully pierced out and mill grained (the notches along the edges) to give the diamond set bows a sense of life and movement as if tied from velvet ribbons. I emphasize these characteristics because they are crucial to telling the difference between the bold, Oriental influences of Art Deco.
Many of the intricate platinum engagement rings that feature delicate motifs are Edwardian through and through, but they frequently get labeled as Art Deco, which couldn’t be more wrong. Art Deco is everything that Edwardian is not. It is hard versus soft. Sharp lines versus curves. To bring pop culture into the mix, it’s Titanic versus the Great Gatsby.
To make matters more confusing, during the transitional period from Edwardian to Art Deco, sometimes the styles were mixed. In this star ruby ring, you can see the geometric design of the baguette diamonds surrounded by the softer influences of the Edwardian era.
As an artistic movement, Art Deco was something of a push against the styles of the period that came before, the Belle Epoque. Though the style had begun to emerge much earlier, the term Art Deco was coined in 1925 in Paris at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The movement found its popularity while France fought in World War I. Life as people knew it had changed forever, and this called for a dramatic change in style.
In jewelry, the Art Deco movement once again was showcased to its fullest by Cartier. Other very influential Parisian jewelers of Art Deco style include Georges Fouquet, Mauboussin, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet, Boucheron, and more.
Modernization during the early 20th century had many designers embracing a more global view. They became inspired by the East and the aesthetics of the ancient world. Geometric designs were borrowed from China and Japan. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art reemerged not in paint but diamonds and gemstones.
We had the good fortune to attend a wonderful exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt in New York, which had a great selection of jewelry displaying the wide range of global influence on Art Deco. You can still explore the Jazz Age exhibit online here.
The extraordinarily wealthy maharajahs of India also contributed to the style as makers like Cartier took their carved rubies and emeralds and crafted new pieces that blended classic Indian style with French Art Deco. Many of these fabulous pieces can be seen in Christie’s recent Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence auction.
The influence of the East brought color to jewelry. During the Edwardian era, many pieces had been entirely diamond or accented by small gemstones. By the 1920s, designers weren’t just using sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. They were using exotic jade, lapis lazuli, coral, and onyx.
This Cartier piece of ours is an excellent example of the blending of East and West. The jade was likely carved in China during the 19th century and then used by Cartier to create a new platinum, diamond, and sapphire brooch.
In engagement rings, platinum was still the metal of choice as its hardness and malleability was just as excellent for the delicate beauty of the Edwardian era as it was for the boldness of Art Deco. Art Deco engagement rings frequently feature accents of emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and brightly colored enamel. The most common Art Deco elements for engagement rings are the geometric styles of the Far East.
This Art Deco engagement ring features French cut sapphires and an emerald cut diamond center. Diamonds themselves also became more geometric during this period. During the Edwardian era, center stones were typically round, oval, cushion, and pear-shaped. Emerald and Asscher cuts became very popular during the 1920s and continue to be very desirable.
I hope that this article was helpful in clearing up some of the difference between these two fabulous styles. Which style do you prefer? Do you like the romantic beauty of the Edwardian era or the unique architectural styles of Art Deco? Anyone who has spent time shopping for a true antique engagement ring, not a reproduction, knows that it can be very difficult to find these rings. At Austin Jewelry & Diamond Buyers, we love helping vintage jewelry lovers find their dream antique engagement ring without the headache of trying to find it by yourself. If you’re looking for a vintage engagement ring, make an appointment with us so that we can find you the perfect one! Learn more about our private buying service for antique engagement rings.