AC Silver

Art Deco vs. Art Nouveau

Art Deco Architecture by Elvira Butler on Unsplash, CC BY CC0 1.0
Art Nouveau Interior Design by Rafael AS Martins on Unsplash, CC BY CC0 1.0

The Art Deco and Art Nouveau design movements both evolved from France in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Both of these artistic movements led to a bastion of beautiful jewellery pieces. Their timelines overlap considerably, and so establishing a clear history and distinction between the two styles takes a little doing. With that in mind, today we’re going to dive in to the Art Deco vs Art Nouveau debates.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was the movement to come first, sitting somewhere between 1895 and 1910, symbolising the evolution from the Victorian style to the more futuristic styles which came in the 20th century. Art Nouveau translates to ‘new art’ and all elements of design from this time represented a leap forward in many artistic fields.

Art Nouveau jewellery is usually very ornate and over-the-top, inspired by French high society of the time. The free-flowing line that is seen again and again in Art Nouveau jewellery represents an interpretation of the shapes found in plants, flowers, and the female physical form; this brand of jewellery takes a lot of inspiration from the natural world.

Going beyond the natural world, various fantasy creatures were also prominent and ‘Plique-à-jour enamel’ was used to provide bright colours to the pieces. Gold and silver were manipulated, and gems such as moonstone and opal were used. Bone, horn and ivory were also worked into flowing lines and different kinds of enamel and glass was key to adding bright colours. Overall, this jewellery was very romantic and elaborate, with long swooping lines and asymmetrical designs.

Art Deco

Art Deco jewellery is easily identified by its geometric patterns using gems in complementary colours. The term Art Deco is actually a shortened form of the name of an event held in Paris in 1925, named ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts).

Art Deco is considered one of the most popular antique jewellery styles of all time, often made with white metals like white gold and platinum. The style is largely made up of old European cut, antique cushion cut, transitional cut and/or Asscher cut diamonds, creating a mix of angular and round shapes to follow the appropriate aesthetic.

One of the most stand-out features of the jewellery is its complex geometric designs that are usually symmetrical. The gemstones are often tightly packed against one another, giving the jewellery a unique and complex look. A distinctive feature of Art Deco jewellery is its use of filigree. Back in the 1920s, most rings were produced using wax molds which resulted in almost perfect filigree designs compared to the softer filigree designs we see today. Moreover, most of the filigree was made with either 10k or 18k white gold.

The jewellery made in the Art Deco period tended to be made from very strong metals up until the Second World War, when metals like platinum especially were redirected to help the war effort as much as possible.

The Difference Between Art Deco and Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau jewellery involves elegant curves and long lines and has a more feminine look to the designs. Art Deco has sharp angles and geometric shapes and intricate designs such as filigree. Art Nouveau is softer and more mystical while Art Deco is harsher and more industrial looking. You can see the difference in designs in the images below.

You can see the key elements of an Art Nouveau ring here on the left. The soft curves and yellow gold used is a distinctive Art Nouveau feature, as well as the natural pearl – another common material used in Art Nouveau jewellery. The asymmetric design with the pendulous terminal is typical of this era, imitating the sloping lines of the natural world.

Here on the right you can see the geometric designs of an Art Deco piece. Featuring a typical Art Deco old European round cut diamond and embellished with further diamonds to create the symmetrical, highly industrial and architectural aesthetic that was critical to this era. Both styles are highly dramatic in their appearances, but each strikingly visually different as well.

Art Deco and Art Nouveau Silver

Now that we’ve covered the jewellery side of these styles, let’s discuss Art Deco and Art Nouveau silverware. As you might expect, the key differences between silver from the Art Nouveau era and silver from the Art Deco era is in the shapes employed in each style. The Art Deco silver is usually angular and sharp in its appearance, as can be seen in this example of an Art Deco silver photograph frame on the left.

The shapes are simple, but the expansion of the frame towards its centre leaves us with a truly striking piece of silverware that manages to stand out whilst having no further decorative elements. You can see a truly stark difference when you compare it to the Art Nouveau photograph frame that is only slightly more than a decade older.

The level of ornamentation on this frame is astonishing, featuring natural imagery such as trees as well a Native American figure taking centre-stage at the bottom right corner of the image window itself. This frame is such a statement piece, it could easily be displayed without a photograph and still be the centre of attention.

While the differences between these two distinct types of silver are not always as clear as they are in this example, it is not easy to mix up whether an item is Art Deco or Art Nouveau. In the example below, we’ve taken two silver mugs which are each more subtle in the way they express their different design styles. Can you tell which one is the Art Deco mug and which is the Art Nouveau mug?

Even though Art Deco and Art Nouveau jewellery have been regarded as very different stylistically, they have been utilised together in a way that highlights the individual beauties of both sides.

Mixing the geometric design of Art Deco with the curves of Art Nouveau creates an interesting and eclectic look. You could combine the feminine, colourful designs of Art Nouveau such as the common animal designs featured, with the industrial geometric designs of the Art Deco period to create a colourful and intricate look.

The same applies to silverware and interior décor. The contrast created by pairing Art Nouveau silver with a more angular, Art Deco-themed interior is very visually striking and appealing. Equally, the curved ornate features of Art Nouveau furniture are complimented by a prominent piece of sharp Art Deco silver, whether it’s a small feature like a candlestick holder or something more central like a bowl or tray. The two families of design harmonise surprisingly well despite their differences.

Ultimately, the Art Deco vs Art Nouveau debate is a highly subjects one, with no wrong answers. Both design styles are very unique, with lots to love about them! Which one is your favourite?

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