Art nouveau jewelry was popular during the late 1800s to early 1900s and featured many of the same characteristics of its counterparts in art, furniture, and sculpture. Popular themes in art nouveau jewelry were organic, curvilinear patterns that were based on natural forms and often featured flowers, plants, insects, or birds. New and alternative media and techniques were also important, and jewelry made from bone, wood, brass, and enamel were popular.
The art nouveau movement began in the late 1800s and continued through the early 20th century. It was popular in both the United States and Europe. Art nouveau stressed the idea of functional art and encouraged making everyday items into artwork. For example, furniture and cookware were decorated in the art nouveau style. Art nouveau jewelry as well as stained glass windows were also very common.
Characteristics of the art nouveau style included organic figures and curved lines. Floral patterns, vines, and leaves were widely used, and common themes included stylized, curvaceous images of women. Animals, including birds and insects, were also common in the movement's imagery. Colors were often bright and clearly defined.
Much like the artwork, art nouveau jewelry also focused on organic, natural figures. Butterflies, bees, and other insects were common themes in work from this time period. Often these creatures would be incorporated into necklaces or brooches.
Due to art nouveau's concern with artistic craftsmanship and beauty in everyday objects, art nouveau jewelry stressed the inherent beauty of the piece rather than the value of its materials. It was not uncommon for non-traditional, inexpensive materials to be used in these pieces. Wood, bone, and semi-precious metals or stones were often used.
Another often used material in art nouveau jewelry was enamel. Enamel is a type of paint that dries very hard and may look like a jewel or piece of stone in a finished work. It is typically brightly colored. Enamels may have been used to fill channels in gold jewelry or to create a stained-glass appearance on certain pieces.
Jewelry of the art nouveau period differed greatly from the jewelry that came before it. Victorian jewelry was often heavy and designed using early classical or gothic styles. Art nouveau emphasized lightness in both look and feel and was first adopted by some of the era's movie stars, which quickly made the style popular.