How jewellers can tap into the 1920s trend flooding 2012 pop culture.

By Juliet Hutton-Squire & Maia Adams

It has been nearly a century since flappers were looking ritzy doing the Charleston, but the enduring appeal of that look holds sway to this day. Juliet Hutton-Squire and Maia Adams of Adorn Insight look back at the influences shaping the trend and cast their minds forward to how these design aesthetics can be transformed into modern jewellery.


There are key eras of 20th century design that continue to appeal to consumers to this day, and the decade known as the Roaring Twenties is undeniably one of them.

Coming to prominence after the First World War, a new hard-edged, clean-cut Modernist aesthetic replaced the organic, often elaborate, swirls of Art Nouveau and the Rococo filigree of Edwardian style, reflecting the advances of the machine age and a forward-looking mentality.

In 1925 the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs gave the new movement its name – Art Deco – whilst simultaneously propelling it into the consciousness of a global audience. Further enriching the decade’s aesthetics, the clashing palettes of the artistic sets and costumes of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, and the uncovering of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, fuelled a fascination with the exotic that was to have far-reaching consequences on jewellery design and technique.

Whilst architecture and industry led the way, fashion became more streamlined and reflected new opportunities for women that were emerging socially, politically and professionally. The likes of Chanel appealed to this newly liberated post-war consumer by offering affordable jewellery to adorn clothing in the form of covetable costume styles. Espousing the idea that women should mix fake and real, it was Chanel’s pioneering techniques in costume jewellery that influenced its design and pushed boundaries in the fine jewellery sector during the Depression.

Fast forward to 2012 and the status quo is not dissimilar to that of almost a century ago. With fashion pundits already getting excited about the return of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic, The Great Gatsby, to the big screen later this year, 1920s glamour dominated the SS12 catwalk, most notably in Gucci’s scene-stealing Art Deco dresses.

Elsewhere, Topshop Unique’s Cleopatra-inspired Egyptian detailing and the lavish trims of Marchesa and Etro’s flirty flapper-style confirmed our fascination with the 1920s is still going strong, the allure of this bygone era are set to linger a little longer.

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb prompted a flood of Egyptian-style articles whose motifs – papyrus, scarabs, temples and lotus flowers – dovetailed beautifully with the geometrical shapes that prevailed in design. Almost a century down the line, the symbolism and aesthetics of these pieces continue to appeal, as proven by a rise in Egyptian-themed jewellery.

New for 2012, Cairo-based Azza Fahmy’s Pharaonic collection evolves concepts from Egypt’s history with a focus on love and wisdom.

Nothing if not dedicated, it has taken Fahmy eight years – and the help of former Christie’s Egyptologist Christine Green – to research and authenticate each and every design feature, weaving motifs that date back millennia into bold statement necklaces, multi-layered collars, bracelets and cuffs of sterling silver and 18ct gold.

Exploring similar ideas, but with a pared back approach, Zoe and Morgan’s jewellery concentrates on outline only, resulting in pieces such as scarab beetle hoop earrings that are graphic, modern and lightweight.

Running in parallel to rampant Egyptomania, a fascination with the exotic was another 1920s preoccupation with Russia, China and Japan in particular holding sway. Noteworthy were Cartier’s orient-inspired enamel-work pieces, which have a modern day equivalent in Matthew Campbell Laurenza’s flamboyant jewellery. Professing to a fascination with “the use of vibrant colours throughout Asia”, Campbell Laurenza’s eye-catching USP lies in combining kaleidoscopic enamel finishes with richly gem-set surfaces.

Moving away from fine jewellery, Giambattista Valli’s vintage-style articulated dragon bangle plucked from the designer’s SS12 catwalk collection, Topshop’s face stud earrings and Oscar de la Renta’s quirky face mask necklace from his SS12 collection demonstrate that, as was the case in the 1920s, costume jewellery with a taste of the exotic packs as much of a punch today as it ever did.

The 1920s were a time of sartorial revolution. Having thrown off the shackles of the corseted figure and its emphasis on feminine curves, women adopted elongated, sporty silhouettes and boyish looks. Inevitably, as changes in fashion gathered pace, the way women wore jewellery also changed to reflect the new mood.

Short bobs and gamine crops demanded shoulder-grazing earrings that drew attention to the neck. Ca & Lou’s tassel curtain earrings for SS12 are the perfect contemporary evocation of this look, which was all about movement and display.

Cropped locks and drop-waisted dresses with low necklines prompted the introduction of long, colourfully beaded necklaces that were often worn layered together, much in the style of US-based fashion maven Tory Burch’s coral-coloured beads this season.
With exposed arms and bare wrists coming to prominence, diamond bracelets – and their increasingly popular paste equivalents – were another essential part of the fashionable flapper’s wardrobe, as were plastic bangles. Not content with one or two pieces however, young ladies showed off their svelte limbs with towering bangle stacks that jumbled costume jewels together with fine.

Once again, one needn’t look far for contemporary evocations of this approach. Where Nadri’s gold and rhodium-plated bangles have a retro feel with crystal-studded surfaces and elaborate Art Deco patterns, Monique Péan’s carved ivory-tone bangles, made from fossilised mammoth tusk, tip a contemporary nod to the tribal look that held sway in the 1920s.

Last but by no means least, pearls – which boasted enormous post-war popularity – are once again enjoying a moment in the spotlight. Jersey Pearl recently unveiled its Twenties collection in homage to the decade that saw culturing techniques bring pearls to the masses. Alice Cicolini, meanwhile, has created a stunning black pearl lariat, which has gem-tipped golden tassels and hand-painted enamel beads that show how – when expertly done – creating unorthodox combinations of materials, colour and pattern can lead to a really standout piece.

Architecture during the 1920s was characterised by a radical simplification of form led by advances in new machine and streamlining technologies, and the development of new materials like plastic, steel and concrete. Interiors were given a makeover and boasted decorative details such as ornamental-style lacquer finishes, Bakelite and inlaid wood for a sense of sleek sophistication.

It wasn’t long before the ergonomic principles associated with the Modernist movement, in which industry was revered as the utopian ideal unifying form and function, infiltrated the world of jewellery. For the first time, industrial-inspired chrome-plated brass tubing was used by designers to create pared down statement jewellery. Award-winning designer Henriette Lofstrom’sGold Symmetry collection supports the same aesthetic almost 100 years later. She mixes 22ct gold plated metal tubing with crystal clear rods to create a sleek, fresh look. Fine costume designer Mawi’s Deco Rocks collection draws inspiration from architecture, sculpture, industry and futuristic forms; her gold-plated earrings made up of stacked tubes are set with pearl-effect beads and electric blue cushion-cut crystal.

In the 1920s, new advances in machine cutting opened up a numerous possibilities through which designers could explore new opportunities. The introduction of more linear cuts complemented the Deco settings and paved the way for a new type of jewellery that celebrated the gem and made the stone the hero. Taking Van Cleef & Arpels’ contemporary Abstraction ring, it is clear that this approach remains popular today. The alternate rows of black spinel and white diamonds flow out from the cushion-cut centre stone over the rounded edge of the gallery in rays of jewelled monochrome cascading down the side of the shank.

Solange Azagury-Partridge’s 24/7 jewellery collection incorporates her favourite geometric elements: the cube, pyramid, sphere, creating a graphic silhouette of statement jewels that shout out Art Deco.

Symmetry and repetition underpinned the Art Deco movement with elements such as stepped forms, chevron patterns and sunburst motifs amongst a range of forms that became synonymous with new found optimism.


This article was taken from the January issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.