Eric Knowles Eric Knowles, Antiquarian

Art Deco Jewellery

The demand for Art Deco jewellery is as great today as it was back in age of Jazz and The Silver screen. I recently paid the princely sum of £6 for a 1930s bow shaped brooch inlaid with a profusion of diamante stones into a black enamelled mount. What's more I was spoilt for choice with no end of thoroughly 'Glitzy' baubles, bangles and beads to add to the dilemma of what to buy and what to leave alone.

My new found interest in costume jewellery begged the question is it still feasible to buy good quality Art Deco dress jewellery? I decided that here was a subject of further investigation, despite an inbred aversion to the very mention of the word jewellery.

The inter war years witnessed the emergence of a new breed of emancipated woman who above else wanted to be 'modern', remember 'Millie'?. As a result, jewellery design began to explore pastures new and kissed goodbye to the over sentimental themes of previous years. The 'cubism' of Piccasso was cutting edge and was reflected in the geometric and abstract motifs that found expression in all manner of jewel design.

This was also the great age of experimentation that led to the incorporation and use of non-precious materials such as marcasite, glass, bakelite and other early plastics.

The moulded glass jewellery of Lalique from the 1920s and 30s is in a league of its own with his stamped signature visible on the gilt metal mounts. £400 gets you a small brooch.

I have to admit that I still have problems telling the difference between paste stones and the real thing. This became only too apparent a few years ago when a lady came along to Bonhams auction house (my day job) with what I took to be a piece of dress jewellery. Here was a bow shaped brooch, not too dissimilar to my £6 bargain, but hung with a large blue glass pear shape pendant. My jewellery colleague thought differently as far as he was concerned he was looking at a 1930s diamond encrusted brooch. His advice, stick to pots Eric! The one and a half inch blue glass pendant was in fact a rare and massive Kashmir sapphire the combo later sold at auction for £360,000. Ever since then I have steered well clear of offering an opinion on blue glass pendants unless marked R Lalique.

The inter war years also witnessed a growing preference for the use of Platinum as a choice for mounts due to its untarnishable properties. Platinum however equals pricey. The 20s and 30s were above all else The Machine Age and mass production techniques allowed for a diverse output of topical themes. Deco jewellery regularly featured sporting subjects such as golfers, tennis players and waterskiers. Other popular imagery included Amazons and sleek leaping gazelles. The same applied to transport featuring streamline, yachts, racing cars and aeroplanes, this was also The Age of Speed of Bluebird and Blue Ribbons.

As with a fair number of collecting pursuits the market is not without its share of reproductions which given time eventually become obvious. Until you build up enough knowledge of Art Deco jewellery it's probably best to buy from a reputable dealer or auction house.

I was fascinated to receive details and photographs from Mr Peter Andrews of Perthshire showing a silver enamel and paste brooch clip and dating from about 1930. I am reliably informed that it is very much in the style of Cartier and worth in the region of £80. Its now down to Mrs Andrews to keep folks guessing!


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