All about Art Deco

March 3, 2021  |  Preeta Agarwal

Among those who know their jewelry history, Art Deco is often one of the top three favorites when it comes to style. Originating about 110 years ago, Art Deco is still standing tall with its straight lines, minimalist arches, geometric patterns and functional aesthetics.

“I love how unisex the design aesthetic can be and how universally appealing Art Deco design principles are,” says Michelle Berlinger, designer and founder of Berlinger Jewelry.

London-based jeweler Tomasz Donocik was initially drawn to the Art Deco movement because he was keen on expressing himself through shapes and lines. “It is a more abstract way to communicate with my audience,” he remarks. “To make Art Deco relevant in 2021, one needs to keep to the same core principals of fusing craftsmanship with contemporary forms/shapes, but more than ever, enhancing it with innovative techniques and materials.” At his eponymous label, he opts for sustainable materials such as agates and crystals, along with innovative production methods.


Universal appeal, individual touches

For many creators, it is the architecture from that era that provides the greatest inspiration. “Because architecture has always been core to us, it is hard not to be drawn to the clean lines and geometric motifs that dominate the Art Deco style,” says designer Prerna Sethi of Sethi Couture. “There is a certain element of repetition and symmetry that coincides with an Art Deco design that we are drawn to.”

Taking a cue from furniture as well, Berlinger’s 5mm Art Deco notched band ring uses a floral pattern she saw on an Art Deco chair at her grandmother’s home.

While some may call Art Nouveau a feminine style due to its curves and ornate forms, Art Deco’s unisex nature gives it a global appeal. In fact, it was an important inspiration for Berlinger’s men’s collection.

“I believe you can take a shape that feels Deco, like an octagon or elongated diamond shape, and design a diamond ring around that, and it will feel simple, elegant and universally appealing,” she says.

Most step-cut diamonds — like princess, emerald, Asscher, and the popular baguette — make perfect choices for this style. “It’s almost taking the cuts of the diamond and honoring their form,” says Sethi. “We utilize diamond baguettes [and] princess cuts with geometric motifs and make it feel new through the unexpected use of different colored diamonds.” Recently, she has even begun incorporating her signature rose-cut diamonds into her Art Deco motifs.

For a minimalist like Berlinger, Deco has the added advantage of not demanding too many elements. “I work with one or two principles at a time. I’ll use geometry to articulate the shape of a piece, but then leave the polish and setting sleek and modern. Or I’ll use an Art Deco engraving pattern but keep it on a simple band ring. This allows me to combine themes and make my Art Deco-inspired work feel modern and updated.”

Indeed, one can often spot singular Deco elements that individual designers have handpicked because they resonate. Touches of black — as in Donocik’s emerald- and black spinel-studded Electric Night collection, or Sethi’s use of black rhodium in her Silhouette line — evoke the edginess that the era demands. Form-wise, the scallops that appear in New York-based brand Cadar’s gold jewelry make the cut, as do the square-cut gemstones in designer Yael Sonia’s pieces. Metal finishes like milgrain or the hand-engraving that Berlinger uses emulate the more decorative aspects of the period.


Outside the box

Color also plays an essential role. While the most common gem choices are emeralds, black onyx, rubies and sapphires, Donocik doesn’t believe in limiting his choices. “My take on Art Deco was always to infuse a fresh, uncommon color palette, [as well as] mix and match innovative materials,” he says. While this approach is “not necessarily respected by the traditionalists,” he sees it as a way “to make Art Deco-inspired jewelry mine.”

He also feels that Art Deco needs injections of fluidity. “When working with shapes and forms that are linear, and which are set with channel-set baguettes, I tend to bend and twist them, giving them a three-dimensional depth. Art Deco patterns can easily look outdated when kept flat, but when stretched/pulled and opened up, [they create] a negative space, an empty void, which to me is just as important as the form itself.”


Minimalist design

As a style statement, Art Deco is not for the loud and overly ornate; it’s more for those who prefer subtle, sleek and chic.

“I find that this style of jewelry attracts people who are looking for heirlooms,” says Berlinger. “It’s a discerning customer, interested not only in the durability and fabrication of the piece, but also someone who wants to be able to pass it down in their family.”

Her collections of men’s engagement rings are all minimalist and Art Deco-inspired, as the theme really resonates among her male customers. “Not only are there a ton of great examples of men’s diamond rings from the era, but also, some of the specific Deco design principles can really lend themselves to a more masculine look,” she comments.

Because Art Deco also complements most outfits, it attracts a broad spectrum of fans. “Those who don’t necessarily relate to popular cultures like the punk movement or the rock ’n’ roll styles of the ’90s find their expression in Art Deco jewelry,” says Donocik.

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