Art Nouveau jewelry, popular from the mid-1890s until the early 1910s, is characterized by soft, curved shapes and lines, and usually features natural designs such as flowers, birds, and animals. The female body is a popular theme and is featured on a variety of jewelry pieces, especially cameos.
A close cousin of Arts and Crafts jewelry, whose motifs tend to be stylized and controlled, Art Nouveau jewelry favors stones such as agate, garnet, and opal, and techniques like enameling. Long necklaces made of pearls were common, as were sterling-silver chains punctuated by glass beads or ending in a silver or gold pendant, itself often designed as an ornament to hold a single, faceted jewel of amethyst, peridot, or citrine.
In general, the Art Nouveau style was less popular in the United Kingdom than France or the United States. In fact, the style got its start in Paris, when a German-born art dealer named Siegfried Bing opened Maison de l’Art Nouveau, giving the genre its name. In addition to paintings and fine jewelry, Bing showcased the work of Frenchman René Lalique and American Louis Comfort Tiffany, who helped popularize the style on the other side of the Atlantic.
Which is not to say England ignored the style completely. Liberty & Co. designer Archibald Cox produced Art Nouveau pieces such as silver belt buckles, C. R. Ashbee produced pendants in the shapes of peacocks, and numerous artists employed a transparent-enameling technique called plique-a-jour. In Glasgow, Scotland, the multi-talented architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh borrowed traditional Celtic symbols for his jewelry.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Art Nouveau was called Jugendstijl and championed by an architect and artist named Henry van der Velde, who designed Bing’s Paris gallery. Naturally, jewelers at Theodor Fahrner and other firms working in Pforzheim, the center of Germany’s jewelry industry, pivoted to Jugendstijl to meet the demand.
Though highly influential, Art Nouveau was relatively short-lived, overtaken by the Arts and Crafts style that preceded it and the Art Deco look that would follow. Both emphasized graphic impact over the more illustrative details of Art Nouveau, while Art Deco in particular would usher in an aesthetic that seemed perfect for the Jazz Age.