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Art Nouveau Jewelry

Updated on December 10, 2011

Organic design

Of all 20th century design movements Art Nouveau is one the most interesting and certainly in its day, one of the most revolutionary. Oft described as the bridge between neoclassicism and modernism, Art Nouveau (new art) emerged in Europe in the 1890s and made a tremendous splash at the beginning of the century. The style flourished until around 1910 and finally petered out with the advent of the roaring twenties and the more assertively modernist philosophy which accompanied that decade.

Unlike it's successor, Art Deco,which favoured the linear and geometric, Art Nouveau was organic and flowing, reflecting the intricate arcs, shapes, patterns and free-flowing lines of nature. More than design, Art Nouveau was a philosophy and its exponents believed art should be a way of live and even utilitarian objects could reflect an aesthetic value. The movement produced some spectacular examples in fashion, architecture and the decorative arts and its influence was far-reaching. Forms of Art Nouveau emerged in different parts of the world. In Barcelona for example, the Modernisme movement, was a uniquely Spanish reflection of organic art, the most famous exponent of which was architect, Antonio Gaudi.

Antonio Gauidi's Casa Batlló in Barcelona
Antonio Gauidi's Casa Batlló in Barcelona
Detail of the roof of the Casa Batllo
Detail of the roof of the Casa Batllo

Antonio Gaudi's fabulous Casa Batlló in Barcelona dramatically displays the organic modernism of Art Nouveau. The building overflows with earthy, bulging curves, as though Gaudi wanted to eliminate straight lines altogether and this, together with the rich golden orange hues, subtly interspersed with glistening colours, makes the whole thing seem less a formal structure than a natural formation. These same organic themes would be reflected in the unique jewelry of the Art Nouveau period.

Nature in Art

Art nouveau jewelry is spectacularly beautiful, with delicate, curved patterns, intertwining lines and rich, natural colours. At the time, Art Nouveau revolutionised and revitalised the jewellers art, which had fallen into a predictable rut.

Jewellers had traditionally concentrated on precious stones and their designs were chiefly concerned with showing the gems to advantage. By contrast, Art Nouveau didn't demand a concentration on any one aspect of a piece but rather the organic whole, making the setting just as significant as the jewel it surrounded.

Nouveau designers also introduced new materials and methods- opals, semi-precious stones and rich enamels, which became one of the defining features of Art Nouveau jewelry.

René Lalique dragonfly brooch
René Lalique dragonfly brooch
Modern Art Nouveau
Modern Art Nouveau

René Lalique

Art Nouvea jewelry designers were influenced by Japanese design and it's nature motifs, particularly the French glass-maker and jeweller, René Lalique, who was at the forefront of the jewelry design revolution. Lalique's pieces reflect the Nouveau obsession with the glorification of nature and he introduced new motifs such as dragonflies, grasses and seed pods.

Lailque avoiding using traditional, large precious stones in his pieces, believing that the painterly-like beauty of a well-designed piece was spectacular in it's own right.

Free Expression

Many Art Nouveau jewelry pieces suggest a kind of mystical charm and an elevation of the biological, natural world. Like Gaudi's mesmerising Casa Batillo, there'a a fundamental recognition of the forces of nature at work through the creative hands of people, where a dragonfly can appear as beautiful as a diamond.

The essential philosophy of the Art Nouveau movement was about freedom of form - it's adherents broke away from the conventional design 'rules' of the past toward a free expression of ideas and the life form - of nature,with its trees, grasses and flowers..animals, insects, the human face and body, became the chief inspiration for that expression.

Although the movement itself was relatively short-lived - a mere twenty years, it's after effects have been long lasting and influential on jewelry design to this day

Art Nouveau Jewelry on ebay

Bracelets, earrings brooches, necklaces....


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