Art Deco was an artistic, decorative and architectural movement born in the 1910s, which knew its height in the 1920s and slumped in the 1930s. Generally speaking, it is the inter-war period (1918-1939). Besides, “Les années folles” was a part of the Art Deco era ; it began in 1920 and ended with the great depression in the United States in 1929.
It was a worldwide movement ; it concerned particularly France, Belgium, Anglo-Saxon countries (England ,United States, Canada, New Zealand, India and Australia) and Chinese cities (Shanghai and Hong-Kong). Morocco (especially Casablanca) was also influenced by Art Deco.
The Art Deco movement concerned all types of plastic arts (design, architecture, painting, illustration, sculpture…) but also cinema, fashion and jewelry. Art became decorative ; art was applied everywhere (buildings, home decorations, fashion, accessories…). The focus was on the art of lifestyle.
The Art Deco name was given retrospectively in the 1960s by the art critic Bevis Hillier in reference to the name of the “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes“ (International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) of 1925 in Paris. The name “Art Deco” appeared in 1966 when an exhibition took place in the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris. The term was reemployed everywhere after the publication of the Bevis Hillier’s book (“Art déco des années 1920 et 1930”). The exhibition of 1925 was dedicated to many forms of art ; jewelry was largely highlighted. This exhibition celebrated the collaboration between Art and modern Industry. Technology was seen as a progress and modernity was the leitmotiv. Art Deco was characterized by symmetry, straight lines and geometric shapes.
In 1902, there was the First International exhibition of Decorative Arts in Turin, Italy. With this exhibition, Italy took the lead of the promotion of modern decorative art. In France, the Society of Decorative Artists (SAD ; created in 1901) picked up the strict rules of the 1902´s exhibition : “We will only accept original pieces showing an aesthetic renewal of the design” ; “The imitations of old styles and industrial products without an artistic inspiration won’t be admited”.
Besides, organizing an exhibition of decorative arts was an old idea of the jeweller Gustave Roger Sandoz. In 1908, he had the idea to create an international competition about the decorative arts. In 1911, René Guilleré resumed the project and then the jeweller Mr Dubret (president of the association of the ancient students of decorative arts) had the desire of a collaboration between the artists and the manufacturers. It became a social and economic matter. Before the exhibition of 1925, there was an exhibition in the United States in May 1924. Through Cartier, Mauboussin and Boucheron, Americans discovered French High jewelry. Egypt was a main source of inspiration. Bracelets, clips, jabot pins, brooches were exposed.
In opposition to the excesses of Art nouveau (“Noodle style“), Art Deco brought to jewelry, some sobriety with geometric shapes. Precious materials and gemstones were used but with a more discreet crimp. Fine gemstones like topaz, aquamarine of amethyst were appreciated for the subtle colours. Less precious materials were also used like Bakelite (first plastic made from synthetic components and invented by the Belgian-born chemist Leo Baekeland in 1907). Art Deco was born in reaction to the excesses of Art Nouveau. There was the willing of a return to order and sobriety. It was a time of novelty and rupture with the previous decades. The Art nouveau, Arts & crafts, Edwardian and Belle époque‘s jewels were complicated, flowing, intricate, dramatic with excessive designs. Jewelry became simpler, sober, graphic and geometric. The painter Charles Dufresne said “The art of 1900 was the art of the fantasy, the one of the 1925 was the art of the reason“.
The “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” took place in Paris, between April and October 1925 around the Invalides esplanade, the “Petit Palais” and the “Grand Palais”. The exhibition gathered pavilions of regions of France and pavilions of invited nations. 4 000 persons assisted to the inauguration on the April 28th. Thousands of people visited the 1000 exhibitors everyday during six months. The exhibition lasted until 30 November 1925. There were 150 pavilions and galleries (textile, clothing, jewelry, Galeries Lafayette, tourism, “pavillon de l’Esprit nouveau”, French embassy…). 21 countries participated to the exhibition (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Great Britain, Italy…). The exhibition of 1925´s goal was reviving the French artistic power and promoting French art and French luxury craftmanship. It was a huge success (6 millions visitors). The exhibition had a worldwide impact ; it gave its name retrospectively to a style : the Art Deco.
Fashion had a huge importance in the exhibition with two major sites : “Le grand Palais” and “le Pavillon de l’élégance” (Cours-la-Reine). At the “Pavillon de l’élégance”, 70 designers and couturiers like Worth, Jenny, Sisters Callot and Jeanne Lanvin showed their work. Jeanne Lanvin, the president of the jury of the class 20 (clothing) created embellished dresses (straight sleeveless dresses with fluid fabrics and embellished with metallic and glass beads). She had an important role ; she was responsible for the selection of the exhibitors and the choice of the architectural decor (The architect Robert Fournez and the decorator Armand-Albert Rateau).
Art Deco jewellers looked for contrast, with the use of black and white and the use of bright colors. Jewelry was influenced by foreign civilizations such as China (patterns and use of jade), India (tutti frutti) and Egypt (patterns). Jewels had to be adapted to the new look of the women ; sautoirs and pendants became fashionable. Bracelets and cuffs adorned bare arms. The young creators like Raymond Templier, Jean Fouquet, Gérard Sandoz, Jean Deprès or Paul Émile Brandt had an artistic approach ; the jewel was designed as a sculpture.
In the 1925´s exhibition, among the thirty jewellers exposing, there were Suzanne Belperron (designer for the jewelry house René Boivin between 1919 and 1932), Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron (member of the jury), Maison Janesich Ostertag, Paul Emile Brandt, Raymond Templier, Dusausoy, Gérard Sandoz, Linzeler, Lacloche Frères and Georges Fouquet. The exhibition was also an opportunity to show the collaboration between the couturiers and the jewellers. For instance, Worth and Cartier collaborated. The sisters Callot, Jeanne Paquin, Madeleine Vionnet, Jeanne Lanvin and Worth get associated with jewelers. The president of the jury was Georges Fouquet. Eric Bagge was chosen by Georges Fouquet to decorate the jewelry pavilion (class 24), called “La parure”. The general secretary of the exhibition Yvanhoé Rambosson wrote “the jewel of the 19th century was compact and conspicuous, significant of a bourgeois taste which was not yet raised to the perception of elegance”. New jewels appeared like accumulated bracelets, cuffs and sautoirs (long and fluid necklaces).
Cartier exposed “Bérénice”, a shoulder jewel without fastener. At the center, there was an emerald of 141 carats from Colombia.
During this exhibition, Mauboussin won the gold medal with a diadem in platinum and diamonds (baguette cut, popular in this era).
Van Cleef Arpels used diamonds, rubies, onyx and emeralds to represent Egyptian figures. It was inspired by the discovery of the Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Thus, jewellers were inspired by ancient civilizations ; they renew jewels with new shapes, different stones and technics.
Besides, Van Cleef & Arpels won the main prize for the bracelet adorned of roses (rubis, emeralds and diamonds).
By 1925, two groups coexisted in the Art Deco movement : The Traditionalists (Society of Decorative Artists ; Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Jean Dunand…) and the Modernists (rejection of the past, mass production, simplicity, cheaper materials, absence of decoration…). The Traditionalists conceived Art Deco as a luxury style for wealthy clients. The Modernists founded their own organization in 1929, the French “Union of Modern Artists” (UAM). Le Corbusier and Sonia Delaunay (“Orphism“) were members.