Straight Up

August 1998

From the Vault

Straight Up

The Art Deco straight line bracelet roars out of the '20s

Platinum's high melting point kept it from being used in jewelry until the late 19th century, when the introduction of the oxygen torch made it possible. Before this, diamonds and pearls were traditionally set in silver backed with gold to protect a woman's skin and clothing from the inevitable tarnish. Platinum is a non-tarnishing metal, so jewelers began to use it instead of silver as a setting for diamonds and pearls. As they worked with it, jewelers realized how ideally suited platinum is to fine jewelry use. Platinum's strength and ductility allow fabrication into jewels that appear as fragile as frost crystals yet durably maintain their shape. Techniques for working platinum became increasingly refined and, by 1900, jewelers produced lacy confections of platinum set predominantly with diamonds and pearls in the garland style fashionable until the outbreak of World War I.

After 1920, platinum jewelry staged a big comeback, but it was of a different character. The women of the 1920s replaced the long hair, corsets and long skirts of prewar fashion with bobbed hair, dropped waistlines and shorter skirts. Femininity gave way to an androgynous look that downplayed womanly curves, emphasized the vertical line and showed more skin. Jewelry was designed to emphasize the long line and flatter the uncovered expanses. The straight line bracelet, worn in multiples to complement bare arms and slender wrists, was a favorite.

Jewelers demonstrated virtuosity with platinum by producing bracelets of ingeniously linked box mountings set with diamonds and colored stones that were as supple and smooth as a ribbon. The best examples were additionally embellished with millegrain work with exquisitely hand-engraved thin sides. These early Art Deco bracelets were flat and sleek and usually under an inch wide – some only as wide as a single gemstone. These thin bracelets were the fore-runner of today's "tennis bracelet." The wider bracelets, however, were patterned in a variety of continuous geometric motifs that fell into two categories: those with the pattern picked out in contrasting gemstones cut and calibrated to fit the design, and those where the metallic structure provided the repeating geometric pattern, usually in a series of linked sections that were completely pavéed with gemstones.

Gemstone cuts were geometric to be in sync with the prevailing Art Deco aesthetic. Gem cutting advances introduced the shield, trapezoid, baguette and emerald cuts for diamonds, while colored stones were frequently calibré cut, French-cut or cabochon cut. When figurative motifs began to appear around 1925, they were highly stylized rather that realistically depicted. As the Art Deco style drew inspiration from the exotic eastern cultures, jewelers incorporated patterns from Islamic tilework, Persian rugs and Chinese or Japanese artifacts.

By the end of the decade, straight line bracelets began to exhibit more texture and volume, leaving behind the delicacy and simplicity of the early 1920s. Judging by the number that exist in the current estate jewelry market, however, these lissome line bracelets from the '20s must have been an exceptionally popular piece of jewelry. It's understandable on close examination – the subtle beauty of design and superb quality of workmanship is timeless. They are as desirable and wearable today as when they were first made.

These bracelet types were popular in the early '20s. The top one has a continuous geometric motif, its linked sections set with pavé diamonds. The bottom has a continuous geometric motif picked out in rubies, French- cut black onyx and diamonds. Courtesy of Neil Lane Inc., Beverly Hills, CA.

– by Elise B. Misiorowski


Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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