Though only around for a brief period (1890-1910), Art Nouveau left an ‘in-your-face’ time-stamp on the history of design in antique jewellery. We often see similarities or development in themes throughout different pieces, especially in the same eras, Art Nouveau jewellery is an exception to this.
Art Nouveau originated in France and is thought to have been created as a reaction to a number of things occurring in French society at the time. One of these issues was the fight for women to gain more rights in society. The French considered this as a potential threat to society. It was also created by artists in part reaction to the growing industrialisation across Europe and an increase of poorly made mass-manufactured jewellery.
One of the major influences on the style of Art Nouveau was the Symbolist movement; an aesthetic that was highly varied and asymmetrical; a reflection of the era’s political unease. Bold Japanese art, otherwise known as Japonisme; a French term to describe the Western interest in Japanese art also influenced the style. In a time of growing wealth and a flourishing art scene, it was particularly common for artists to experiment with new materials and techniques. Art Nouveau jewellers used materials such as gold, silver and ivory coupled with specialist techniques, such as enamelling and adorned with gemstones.
Generally, Art Nouveau style incorporated depictions of nature, such as insects and flowers, and nymph-like female forms. The mood denoted by Art Nouveau pieces was mystical and romantic with its pale colours and free-floating forms, symbolising the era’s fin de siècle. The female forms were portrayed as highly idealised and seductive with flowing hair and slender figures. Showing women in this light was seen as scandalous and outraging by the respectable women of the time. Art Nouveau jewellery was mostly worn by unmarried women who were supported by wealthy lovers, considered to be on the fringe of society. These pieces were so over-the-top that people quickly lost interest in them and World War II soon approached.
Perhaps, in a time where women have more equal rights, these Art Nouveau pieces can be worn as a symbol for a time when we had to fight for our rights and how far we've come. We're still not quite there, however we're getting close!