In my earlier blogs, telling you about Art Nouveau jewelry style in general and their fascination for female figures, I cannot leave one very important source of inspiration out and that is nature and its associations of femininity and fertility.
Art Nouveau jewelry is one amazing explosion of birds, insects, clouds, and water. Some elements return in the jewelry designs and a great thing is that the jewelry designers break with every rule concerning the use of gemstones, expensive gemstones! Their design was more important than the price of the gems.
But let me take you into the beauty of Art Nouveau jewelry and its designers.
Motifs in Art Nouveau jewelry
The Art Nouveau style as a movement was a protest against Industrialisation and mass production. According to the artist it only produced bad quality and very ugly utensils and art. As a result of that, jewelry designers but also other artists like painters used motifs from nature in their work.
They loved to use birds, like swans, peacocks, snakes, owls, and bats. But also insects like dragonflies, butterflies and a lot of flowers. Orchids, irises, poppies, chalices, and roses were very popular, especially with long stems.
And don’t forget the female figures with long wavy hair. Jewelry designers loved to combine all these motives, like pendants with a naked female figure surrounded with flowers, branches like garlands, and the wings of a butterfly. Read my blog about that aspect of Art Nouveau jewelry.
The Whiplash Line
The Art Nouveau Jewelry designers did not like straight lines, that looked too much on machine-made objects. They were in favor of handmade, so no straight lines but asymmetric lines. And the flowing whiplash line was their trademark.
The whiplash line symbolized movement, passion, and vitality. You can see undulating lines in plants, in the hair and curves of the female figures. According to Robert Melville, the whiplash line was a ‘visible wave of erotic vertigo’.
Before the time of Art Nouveau jewelry designers made expensive pieces of jewelry filled with faceted huge gemstones, not the cheap ones but the precious gemstones, like a diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald.
The Art Nouveau jewelry designers wanted to design jewelry for the middle class, cheaper jewelry, but handmade. They started to use opal, amber, pearls, ivory, horn, enamel, and less expensive gemstones in their designs. The idea was that the design was the most important and you look for materials that expressing the design. And not the other way around.
Techniques used in the Art Nouveau jewelry
In the period before Art Nouveau, there were great artists and jewelry designers that stayed at the well-known techniques and motifs. They did not dare to go any further or innovate. This art was very traditional. The Art Nouveau jewelry designers overcome the fixed art ideas and break free of these shackles.
The Art Nouveau jewelry designers wanted to bring originality and creativity back into the design, together with craftsmanship. And that craftsmanship was needed to make a perfect surface decoration mostly using the enameling technique.
There were three enameling techniques: the plique-à-jour, the baisse-taille, and the Guilloche. All three of them needed excellent jewelry makers to make the enamel as stunning as demanded by the clients. The techniques were extremely difficult and time-consuming, and therefore extremely pricy. Which was not the intention of the jewelry designers at the start of Art Nouveau.
Besides the enameling, the technique in casting and carving of gold needed high craftsmanship too. But the most important technical innovation was the enameling and then especially the plique-à-jour.
Plique-à-jour is also called the backless enamel, since it allows the light to come through the rear of the enamel and it looked like three-dimensional, creating an effect of translucence and lightness.
Plique-à-jour means ‘letting in the daylight’ in French and that is what it should do; allow light to pass through, just like a stained glass window does. The jewelry makers were able to make a butterfly, so real, that you might think it is flying away any moment.
To feel the touch of movement of those wings the parts were often set ‘en tremblant’, which means that lose parts were set on wires or springs and could move, together with the movement of the bearer of the jewel.
The hidden parts were carefully finished. It was very important that the piece of jewelry (especially the larger pieces) felt well on the body.
Basse-taille and Guilloché techniques
Besides the plique-à-jour technique two other techniques were frequently used; the baisse-taille and the Guilloché technique. Working with the baisse-taille technique means that you engrave a lower part in silver or gold. The Guilloché technique works with a machine that produces repetitive patterns into an underlying material.
The famous jewelry designers of the Art Nouveau jewelry
There are some awesome jewelry designers designing and making Art Nouveau style jewelry. I’d present to you some of my favorites.
René-Jules Lalique (1860-1945)
Lalique combined the craftsmanship of making jewelry (goldsmith) and the art of designing jewelry and grew into a phenomenon. Studying in London he got acquainted with the Arts&Crafts Movement. Returning to Paris he noticed the public started to gain admiration for handmade jewelry and he tried to fulfill that need.
He was a kind of jewelry visionary and in his designs, he looked for the best material to create his idea. And those materials are different, cheaper, but they must respond to the realization of his designs. Like horn, instead of turtle, semi-precious gems instead of precious gemstones, enamel.
There was a great risk that society might consider his work as ‘bijou’ instead of jewelry, because of the cheaper material. But the designs were so popular and stunning that the clientele bought his pieces anyway.
First, he worked for large jewelry houses and his jewelry was sold under their name, quite soon he got his own orders. Some of his clients were so well-known, like the actress Sarah Bernhardt, that working for her was an advertisement on its own.
His reputation as a jewelry designer and maker was at his peak at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, but after that, he wanted something else and started working with glass.
Henri Vever (1854-1942)
Henri Vever was a jeweler operating his family business started by his grandfather in Paris. His company made a lot of the most gorgeous Art Nouveau jewelry you can imagine.
Georges Fouquet (1862-1957)
He is the son of a Parisian goldsmith and jeweler and he started in his father’s jewel shop in 1895. A few years later he designed and produced Art Nouveau style jewelry made of opal, gold, and pearls mostly.
His enameling technique was exquisite and he gave his jewelry a number, so it is easy to recognize and date his jewelry. Also, Alphonse Mucha was often his partner in designing and making jewelry.
The clients of the Art Nouveau jewelry
There was a very special and dedicated group of women who had the money and the guts to wear Art Nouveau jewelry. First of all, a lot of jewelry depicted nude female figures and that was very shocking in those days. And they could be large and extravagant.
Knowing that these pieces of jewelry were unique or one-of-a-kind, time-consuming to make and the used technique (enameling) had a tendency to break easily, the result is that the Art Nouveau jewelry was not really for the middle-class ladies.
These expensive pieces of jewelry were purchased by unmarried women, with wealthy lovers. They stood on the fringes of the accepted society. Like actresses, dancers, and muses of a famous artist. But the ladies who dared to wear this extravagant jewelry were followers of the woman’s emancipation movement.
And be frank… the Art Nouveau jewelry designers also designed quite a lot of jewelry, that was a little less remarkable and could be worn for the less courageous women.
The decay of the Art Nouveau Movement
The Art Nouveau jewelry became so popular that it was copied in very cheap material. The clients of this type of jewelry did not want to be seen with jewelry that had a very cheap variant. At the beginning of World War I the money and attention for Art Nouveau jewelry stopped.
The similarity of the pieces of jewelry made by FlorenceJewelshop and the pieces made by the Art Nouveau style jewelry designers is that we both regard the design as most important. We use unique designs and use precious and semi-precious gemstones. Not the price is most important but the design that makes you beautiful.
No matter how beautifully the piece of jewelry is designed and made, a piece of jewelry must also make you beautiful. It helps if you know which jewelry suits you best. Therefore FlorenceJewelshop produced a free PDF loaded with tips & tricks to give you all the information you need to make the right choice. Just let me know where I can send it to.
Hug, Florence of FlorenceJewelshop