Art Deco jewelry : Inspirations from Foreign countries and ancient civilizations

Far East (countries of eastern and south-eastern Asia such as China and Japan) was an important influence for Art Deco jewelry designers with the use of their materials (jade, coral, pearls and lacquer) and traditional designs and patterns. Far East was an inspiration for art in general (illustration, cinema, fashion, architecture…).The Chinese artist Liu Jipiao designed the Chinese pavilion (decorated with dragons and clouds) at the exhibition 1925 in Paris (“Exposition Internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes”).

Chinese pavilion at the exhibition 1925 in Paris

Chinese pavilion at the International exhibition in Paris of 1925

China was also an inspiration with its traditional patterns (pagoda, dragon, clouds, geometric patterns, cherry flowers, Chinese masks…) and materials (jade and lacquer).

Cartier earrings (1926) and 1920s Boucheron pendant (center, below)


Europeans admired the elegant and simplicity of Japanese art (ceramics, prints, enamels, metalwork and lacquer ware). Typical Japanese patterns were used by Art Deco jewellers such as clouds, bridges, pagoda, mountains, bonsai, sunrise, cherry blossoms…

Japanese influence

Egyptian patterns (scarabs, eye of Horus, lotus flowers, pyramids, Ancient Deities, palmettes, obelisks, hieroglyphs…) seduced Art Deco jewellers namely Cartier and Cleef & Arpels. There was a growing interest for Ancient Egypt with the discovery by Howard Carter of the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, in November 1922. Pierre Cartier wrote in 1923 that “the discovery of the tomb will bring some sweeping changes in fashion jewelry.” In 1924, the bust of Nefertiti was exposed in Berlin.
Bright colours and contrasts were praised such as the combination of lapis lazuli, cornelian, gold and turquoise. New calibre cut coloured gemstones appeared with the Egyptian revival during the Art Deco period. Intricate patterns of nature needed new calibre cuts. Jewellers incorporated archaeological artefacts to their Egyptian revival jewels (Cartier boxes).

Ancient Greece has also inspired Art Deco artists. The Greek key and the palmettes were popular patterns during Art deco period.

The movement was influenced by Central America, the Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations (Pre-Columbian civilizations). “The stepped pyramid structures and bas relief carvings of the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica” have inspired Art deco artists. In the 1920s and 1930s, buildings and monuments inspired by the architecture appeared in the United States  (Mayan revival). The ziggurat (“a large rectangular structure with several levels of different sizes and steps leading up it and usually forming part of a Temple”) was an inspiration. We can find during Art Deco period, patterns like masks and scrolls.

India influenced Art Deco jewelers, especially Jacques Cartier. Three days after the exhibition of 1925, Maharadjas came to Paris with their colorful gemstones (sapphires, rubies, emeralds…). They wanted to mount these stones into platinum with griffes. Besides, jewelers used traditional Indian techniques such as Kundan. They added Indian designs and elements into broochs, necklaces and hair ornaments. For example, the Sarpeh (” feathered and jeweled piece worn by noblemen on their turbans”) was added into an Art Deco jewel.

Sarpeh, 1925

Inspired by India, Jacques Cartier used a blend of colored gemstones (rubis, sapphires and emeralds) to create “tutti frutti” jewels, representing leaves and flowers.

Cartier, 1930

Art Deco jewelers reemployed Indian patterns like topiary, elephants, deities, paisley…
Islamic Art was also an influence. Islamic patterns (flowers, plants, geometric patterns, fountain, cypress trees, birds, garden, “jardinières”…) and oriental stylised forms (arabesques…) were used by Art Deco jewelers (Van Cleef and Arpels, Tiffany & Co., Mauboussin, Boucheron…) but especially Jacques Cartier. Colorful gemstones were associated with jade or lapis lazuli. Turquoise was also often used ; Muslims believed it was a stone protecting from evil. The association of blue and green was popular. Persian carpets with exquisite flowers were an inspiration.52483258-79D5-4FBD-ABD8-A5C292ECD124
Africa had also an influence on Art Deco jewelry with the use of materials like ivory and ebony and African patterns (geometric patterns and animal fur). The Art Deco period was an era of the jazz and the rebirth of Harlem. The dancer Josephine Baker was very popular and one of the emblems of the Afro-American culture in the 1920s. The Art Deco jeweler Jean Dunand was very interested in African culture. One of the ambassador of the African culture was the rich heiress Nancy Cunart who published an anthology of 150 Afro-American authors. She was photographed by Man Ray with ivory necklaces and the arms full of wood bracelets. French artists like André Derain and Picasso were very fond of African Art and culture.
Besides, Africa was also an influence because of the colonial Empire of France. French government encouraged Art Deco designers to get inspired by the country colonies in Asia and Africa. Exotic materials were used by jewelers like ebony, exotic woods, ivory… In 1931, the colonial exhibition (Exposition Coloniale) took place in Paris (Palais de la Porte Dorée).

P. Bosse’s illustration

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