A Guide to Art Nouveau Jewellery
The Art Nouveau style of jewellery design had its origins in the aesthetic movement that arose in Europe at the end of the Nineteenth century.
Translating from the French as “New Art”, it was also known in Germany as “Jugendstil”- Youth Art, as a reference to its fresh approach to naturalistic forms and materials.
The movement was founded around 1890 and continued until around 1915 and its influence spread around the world, spanning both the end of the Victorian and Edwardians eras.
Its central tenant of that was of a return to the forms of nature and a rejection of the industrialised world that was rapidly developing at the time.
Taking inspiration from flowers, plants, insects and the female form, and using materials such as glass, organic jewels such as pearls and even horn, the value of the piece shifted from its intrinsic components, to its interpretation and the purity and artistry of its of design and manufacture.
Prior to this, jewellery had been made by adapting the design around the stones being used, whether they were precious or semi-precious, and the increasing use of industrial practises such as stamping had been introduced to create cheap mass produced items for the working classes, with Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter being the centre for this kind of production in the Victorian era.
The artisans of the movement concentrated on traditional hand manufacturing techniques, but the one which stood out most however, was that of enamelling; not the standard form, but a translucent enamel used without a metal backing. This method enabled the craftsmen to produce a stained-glass effect known as Plique-a-jour.
The technique allowed for the creation of beautifully rich and diverse colours mirroring those of nature, and the most famous, and most copied exponent of this technique was Rene Lalique.Such was the elevated level of his artistry and interpretation, the name Lalique became synonymous with the Art Nouveau movement.
Using the Plique-a-jour technique he often created winged creatures, typically blending nature with mythical creations from his imagination, sometimes part human and part animal such as his famous “Dragonfly Lady”.
His fabulous works of jewellery art soon became sought-after, and his success lead to the establishment of his own jewellery house in Paris in 1885. It was from there, in later years he turned his attention to the making of his equally famous glass pieces.