Find the most beautiful traces of the past in jewellery’s varied periods

Jewellery has always held a particular fascination for us. Jewellery and fashion adorn people anew, again and again, mirroring developments in society – with changes in the language of form, fresh motifs or new approaches. In certain periods artists concentrated on shapes or colours, later they came to place greater emphasis on materials or certain techniques. Here you can learn how jewellery has developed over time since the mid-18th century. Perhaps you will even recognise the origin of one of your pieces.

Historicism (1780–1890)

This era in the transition from the 18th to the 19th century is noted for its playful designs. Naturalistic flower motifs were particularly favored, their leaf and floral shapes stamped, rolled, beaten out mechanically or by hand and then further chiseled. Women wore short, close-fitting necklaces. Historicism saw the rise of the famous Cannetille technique. Goldsmiths used twisted gold wire to form tendrils and bends that they decorated with blossoms and leaves and sometimes also granulated. Amethysts and turquoise were the preferred stones of this period. It was during this period as well that Tiffany & Co. made a name for itself with the Tiffany setting for diamond solitaires.

Belle époque (1884–1914)

The period between 1884 and the outbreak of the First World War is often described as the belle époque or “beautiful age”. Jewellery of the period was designed in the so-called garland style. The noble designs in highly symmetrical shapes were inspired by rococo patterns from the 18th century. The stones – predominantly diamonds – were often placed in a millegrain setting of the finest technique, intended to give the piece a feeling of scintillating lightness.

Art nouveau (1890–1920)

Art nouveau, also known as Jugendstil, took its name from the weekly artistic journal “Die Jugend” (“Youth”). In Paris the jewellery artist René Lalique started creating new worlds of form and color, finding his inspiration in symbolism and natural forms such as lilies, dragonfly wings, butterflies or waves. His preferred materials were glass, enamel, mother of pearl, ivory and horn. Glassmaking artists such as Louis Comfort Tiffany or Josef Hoffmann from the Vienna workshops perfected their craftsmanship during the art nouveau period as well. In doing so, they emphasized hand-crafted workmanship and the originality of the subject. In Russia, Peter Carl Fabergé became famous for his “objets d’art”, and especially for the magnificently decorated eggs which he made for the Czar. He was a master of the art of enameling.

Art déco (1920–1940)

This style marked the era between the World Wars. Its name comes from the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts held in Paris in 1925. Conventional forms were abandoned as the language of form went over to a sober objectiveness with cool colors and clear outlines. The so-called double clip was created in the 1920s and remained popular until the 1950s. Women wore it as a brooch or as two identical clips on hip-long sweaters, lapels, belts, hats or on handbags. White jewellery was also typical for this period, mainly of platinum. The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen also made Egyptian motifs popular again. The most important representatives of art déco were Fouquet, Cartier (tutti-frutti style), Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels, Slutzky, Gropius, Moser and Jensen.

The 1940s

With the outbreak of the Second World War jewellery production in Europe came to a standstill. As a result the so-called retro or cocktail style from the US was only adopted in the late 1940s. It combined stylistic elements from art déco, modernism and the machine age to create striking forms and dramatic effects; for example, the combination of red gold and rubies in an opulent setting. During this era, gold jewellery and wide bracelets - in a web-shaped pattern - came into fashion. In 1935 Van Cleef & Arpels developed the “invisible setting” – an invisible and costly setting in which the stones are given a calibrated cut and invisibly attached to a screen grating. Ballerina brooches were also a big hit from this famous studio.


This decade was characterized by a more refined and delicate look with a tendency toward naturalism. Typical for the 1950s is a combination of yellow gold and turquoise. Jeanne Toussaint, the artistic director at Cartier for many years, early on found inspiration from the furs of big hunting cats. With a panther brooch created for the Duchess of Windsor in 1948, the panther style was born, later becoming the symbol of the Cartier brand. Pierre Sterlé designed jewellery in the form of supple interwoven and twisted necklaces or gold bracelets decorated with fringes and pearls, contributing to the artist‘s international renown.


This decade experienced a revival of white jewellery, this time with white gold, often in combination with pearls, onyx or diamonds. This gave the jewellery the typical cool charm of the era. The language of forms grew strict and geometric. The Dane Georg Jensen made a name for himself with his clear, abstract forms. Fashion creators such as André Courrèges designed accessories for their collections. Hippie culture brought with it an increased interest in jewellery from India.


The 1970s were dominate by a soft, diffuse style originating in Scandinavia (Lapponia), which was oriented towards abstract natural forms and the uneven surface structures of various kinds of wood. Jewellery of this period displays asymmetry and unique surfaces with irregular striations and a seemingly random roughness reminiscent of tree bark. The Bulgari style adorned objects with structured, symmetrically and compactly aligned gold as well as the play of colors generated by multifaceted combinations of gems.


This decade saw the return of a lush, ostentatious style in which yellow gold, diamonds and colored gems combined to create pieces of jewellery of great effect.

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