American jewelry history is our
subject this month.The reader's question that prompted this article
was... "Is Art Deco an American jewelry motif?"
My immediate thought was that Art Deco is
probably of European origin, but I did some research to be sure. I found some
The middle to late 1700s was the beginnings
of an American society with enough people of means to create a modest market for silver
tableware and fine jewelry of the period. Most of these items appear to have
been imported from France, Britain, and neighboring countries. This means that
early American jewelry was of European design.
The jewelry styles produced in Europe were
greatly influenced by three factors:
The taste and whims of the kings and/or
queens in power during those early times
The themes present in the works of
European painters, sculptors, and other artists
The technical status of the jewelry
trades of the day
American jewelry history eras are discussed below. We will
see these factor's influence in the various periods listed.
Top - Famous Art Nouveau brooch by French
designer/artisan Rene Lalique.
Above - Art Deco diamond and platinum brooch.
Below - Old Mine Cut diamond. This faceting
style was developed in the 1700s.
Also below - Two examples of micro-mosaic
The Georgian Period covers the reigns
of Britain's King George I, II, III, and IV. (1714 - 1830)
Pearls were the height of fashion for both
men and women. Pearls were rare, beautiful, and exotic, coming from mysterious
places such as Persia and the Orient.
By this time in history, faceting of diamonds
and colored gems had progressed to where multiple facets were accurately placed
in relation to each other, and were well polished.
Faceted diamonds, emeralds, sapphires,
rubies, and many other colored stones were used extensively in American jewelry
(as well as European jewelry) from this era onward.
Incised (intaglio) and relief carved (cameo)
stones, cabochon stones (amethyst, garnet, quartz) set in jewelry depicting
natural objects such as birds, flowers, leaves, and insects were also hallmarks
of this period.
The nature themes undoubtedly existed before
British colonists became Americans... and the nature theme has continued through
all subsequent periods.
Jewelry fashion changed slowly during the
Georgian Period, due in part to the traditional nature of these Royal Courts, and in part
to the rudimentary techniques of gemstone manipulation.
The Victorian Period covers the reign
of Britain's Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901). This period is divided into three
parts by the experts, due to changing fashions.
Early Victorian Period (1837 -
Flowers, birds, and insect themes continued
into the Victorian Period. These themes were combined with multi-colored
metalwork and scrollwork.
Mosaic and enameled jewelry came into vogue
toward the mid-1800s.
Mid Victorian Period (1860 - 1885)
Bridging the Early and Mid periods was a
delicate and beautiful style known as micro-mosaic.
The event that ushered in the Mid-Victorian
Period was the death of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert in 1861.
This is when mourning jewelry set with black
stones became the fashion. Mosaics in subdued colors and set in metal frames
were also popular.
Towards the end of this period, larger
jewelry pieces such as multi-colored enameled brooches and heavy chains with
heart-shaped lockets became fashionable across Europe and in America.
Late Victorian Period (1885 - 1900)
Delicate earrings, necklaces, and pendants
(on cords or chains) featuring a mix of diamonds, colored gems, and pearls are
the hallmark of this era.
Jewelry pieces paved with diamonds became
very popular and widely available to those with wealth in the late 1880s. It is
not a coincidence that the diamond fields discovered in South Africa in 1861
came into robust production around this time.
Arts and Crafts Period (1894 - 1923)
The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was
formed in 1888 by artisans "rebelling against the mass production of the
Their jewelry features one-of-a-kind silver
or copper metalwor pieces with rough gem crystals and cabochon stones.
This period coincides with the ascendancy of
political movement in Europe and America. The Arts and Crafts Period seems
to have ended soon after self-described Progressive President Woodrow Wilson
Are you noticing that some of these
periods overlap? I think this indicates that not everyone was marching to the
Art Nouveau Period (1890 - 1915)
This period is typified by flowing lines and
nature themes. Birds, flowers, and human figures in enamels, or diamonds,
colored gems, and pearls.
In America, Louis Tiffany is famed for his
flowing and beautifully feminine designs. Jules Lalique was the recognized
leader in France.
Edwardian Period (1901 - 1910)
Edwardian designs were very delicate and
feminine. Most jewelry of this era was wrought in platinum or 18 karat yellow
gold, and encrusted with small diamonds. In many pieces a larger diamond was
used to draw the eye to the focal point.
Here again, the South African diamond fields'
abundant yields fueled the extravagant use of diamonds.
Art Deco Period (1920 - 1935)
This was the era of cubist art. Straight
lines, geometry, on canvas... often with vivid colors was sweeping the European
and American "art scene."
Art deco designs in jewelry and consumer
goods quickly followed the trend. Diamonds and colored gems were used in
abundance, while platinum was the preferred metal. We suspect white gold was
also widely used.
American jewelry designers Harry Winston and
Tiffany were prominent purveyors of art deco pieces.
Even the Great Depression could not stop the
art deco frenzy... but a World War did.
Retro Period (1935 - 1949)
Europe was soon at war, and America would
follow. Mining and industry were turning to the production of war materials.
Precious metals were needed for the war effort, with little or none to spare for
Most war era jewelry was made from older
pieces... where the gold and gems could be recycled into pieces with a decidedly
patriotic or faintly military look.
Modernism Period (1950 - 1999) The experts don't seem to have a good label
for the second half of the 20th century. Some have settled on the label of
In the 1950s World War II was over,
and things were changing in America. The austere years of depression and war
were over for average Americans.
It was now the age of new prosperity. It was
also the atomic age... and the jet age.
Many American jewelry designs reflected this
modernism. Abstract designs vaguely depicted speed, jet planes, or
atomic themes, in white gold with diamonds.
Colored gems and diamonds in the
always-popular natural themes of flowers, leaves, and birds were also well
The 1960s are called the Anything
Goes Period in the USA. Natural was the other dominant theme of this era.
Platinum, yellow, white, and rose gold, silver, and copper were
employed. Mineral crystals, natural gem crystals, moonstone, turquoise, and
coral were used in jagged, abstract shapes.
The 1970s saw more women joining the
American workforce... and they became more of a consumer and economic force.
Women were demanding affordable jewelry with a unique look to fit their
This demand further fueled the use of
non-traditional materials and a variety of themes, many of them
This was also the period when Native American
Jewelry regained popularity for a time. Silver pieces with turquoise, and some coral
in traditional designs were all around.
When this trend died, it took white gold and
platinum with it. Yellow gold was the rule.
This period also saw a shift in designer
influence. American designers seem to have gained more influence... at least in
The 1980s continued the trend of women
buying their own jewelry... as an integral part of their wardrobe and their
Yellow gold, colored gems, colored pearls,
heavy chains, and large earrings and pendants are what I remember from the 80s.
The 1990s saw the introduction of
tanzanite and several lesser known colored gems. Contemporary designs
incorporating a colored gem center stone accented with small diamonds were
Tennis bracelets and journey pendants with
white diamonds gained popularity, as did pearl strands.
American jewelry history accurately reflects
"Western Civilization" as does European jewelry from the same periods.
Asian, African, and Middle Eastern jewelry influences are only faintly
A Google search using keywords such as american jewelry jewelry or
period jewelry can return some very interesting
information and artisan websites.
Gem Industry News...
What's Hot For Fall, 2010
Several jewelry industry publications have recently predicted
trends for the fall season...
A single strand of pearls worn with pearl studs for that
understated elegant look is returning and welcomed by many.
A contrasting trend is expected to be large, bold, single strands
of green gems such as tourmaline, chrome diopside, peridot, apatite, or jade.
The small multiand layered look is predicted to be replaced
by single strands of individual stones of a single color.
diamonds will be promoted in custom jewelry pieces.
A 2008 article in a JCK
newsletter focused on the importance of keeping your customers.
The article made the point that you can reduce expenses
by selling (again) to those you have done business with
A snippet from the article bears
"Keeping your best customers
loyal to your store can be a cost-effective way to increase
business when compared with the expense and effort of
attracting new customers, said Kirsten Darrow, marketing
director of Fred Meyer Jewelers."
The point is just as valid for dealers that do not operate a
While many of you develop new customers and thereby grow
your business through referrals from existing customers, other
methods that entail more out-of-pocket expense are used by many.
Jewelry parties, exhibiting at flea markets, and traditional
advertising can be effective ways to recruit new customers, but
they all carry a cost.
New sales to your existing customers can sustain you in
business... and provide the funds needed to recruit new
customers and grow your business.