Professional Jeweler Archive: Simply Silver

April 2001

From the Vault

Simply Silver

Combination of factors opens door for strong, fluid jewelry designs in silver

It’s remarkable how seemingly unrelated events can combine to bring change. Simple silver jewelry made around 1900 by German manufacturer Theodore Fahrner is a case in point. The softened geometric designs found in many of his pieces are early evidence of the budding modern style that went on to blossom in the 1920s as Art Deco.

The roots of this style go back even farther – to the mid-19th century – when a combination of Japanese cultural arts, the discovery of silver in the U.S. and the Aesthetic Movement stimulated growth in Western decorative arts. Here’s a closer look at each factor:

  • Japan opened its doors to trade with the outside world in 1853 after centuries of feudal isolation. Japanese art and artifacts were soon displayed in Europe and the U.S., with a profound effect on Western society. Spare and elegant, Japanese interpretations of the natural world demonstrated an underlying reverence for every form of life, every season and every object no matter how mundane. Almost immediately artists in Europe and the U.S. began to emulate this aesthetic, directly incorporating elements or interpreting Japanese design in some form.
  • About the same time, the Comstock Lode was discovered in Nevada and additional silver deposits were subsequently found in other parts of the U.S. Southwest. This provided an ample and affordable supply of silver for tableware, novelties and jewelry.
  • Meanwhile, in England, a faction voiced a philosophical rejection of mass production brought about by the Industrial Revolution. These “Aesthetics” denounced the machine and its dehumanizing effects on society and advocated a return to a more modest lifestyle with furnishings and ornaments made completely by hand. Craft guilds, patterned after those of the Middle Ages, were formed in the 1880s to produce a variety of handcrafted items, including jewelry. The Arts & Crafts movement rapidly gained followings in Ireland, Scotland, the U.S., Denmark, Germany and Austria. Jewelry in the Arts & Crafts mode was made predominantly of silver set with cabochon gems and baroque pearls, often accented with opaque enamel in primary colors.

A New Form of Expression

The combined impact of the Aesthetic Movement and Japanese art prompted a gradual shift away from the obsession with ancient classical ornament toward a new form of expression, one that wasn’t completely steeped in the past. Some of the earliest manifestations of this shift emerged as silver jewelry that was strong and fluid, with controlled linear movement, in softened geometric or abstract biomorphic forms.

This brings us to jewelry produced by Theodore Fahrner between 1899 and 1906. Sensing the trend away from symbolism and historicism, Fahrner turned to the Darmstadt Colony for new designs. The Darmstadt Colony was an artist’s enclave in the Arts & Crafts tradition founded in Germany in 1897 by Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, Queen Victoria’s grandson.

Fahrner’s collaboration with artists in the Darmstadt Colony provided him with cutting-edge, modern designs for jewelry and gave the artists a conduit for the manufacture and sale of their pieces. Exceptional among jewelry manufacturers, Fahrner allowed the artist/designer’s name to appear on their pieces along with his own “TF” trademark. Fahrner’s jewelry manifested the new trend for streamlined, modern design in affordable silver jewelry, a culmination of the new philosophical approach to design and the greater availability of silver.

– Elise B. Misiorowski

Silver and turquoise pendent in the emerging modern style by Fahrner circa 1905. Pendant courtesy of a private collection.

Photo by Christie Romero.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications