From the Vault
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
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,
by Elise B. Misiorowski
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.