Collecting Guide

Style Periods

A George III diamond,
emerald & ruby brooch,
circa 1830
Sold for £61,250 ($95,300)
December 2010, Christie’s London

Antique (over 100 years old) Elaborate bodice ornaments, stomachers, chatelaines and earrings that almost reached the shoulders showcased luxury and display, which was very much the fashion style of the 18th century. Cushion and rose-cut diamonds glittered under candlelight and were mounted in silver to maximize whiteness.

This insatiable demand for jewelry continued into the 19th century and prompted experimentation in design and the introduction of a variety of new styles, ranging from the austere neoclassicism of the Napoleonic era to the exuberant mid-century naturalism and later revivalist trends. Toward the end of the century, the jeweler's palette softened to the more delicate shades of fin de siècle designs.

Ornate parures, or matching sets of jewelry, and hair ornaments such as tiaras with ostrich plumes were very popular in the late Victorian era (1837-1901). Large bracelet designs, often with portrait miniatures at their centers were also common. And, of course, the large expanse of cleavage afforded by the then highly fashionable evening gowns provided the perfect backdrop for elaborate necklaces.

Colored stones also began to feature in fine pieces such as velvety Kashmir sapphires, grass-green demantoid garnets from the Ural mountains in Russia and precious black opals from Australia.

It was common to remodel pieces into the latest designs so few original jewels predating the mid-19th century are sold at auction. Whenever these rare pieces do appear at auction, they are avidly pursued for their design and historical importance.

John Brogden
Alexis and Lucien Falize
Fortunato Pio Castellani
Marcus and Co.
Mrs Phillip Newman

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An Art Nouveau diamond,
ivory & plique-à-jour enamel
‘Belle de Nuit’ brooch, circa 1900
Sold for $230,500
October 2009, Christie’s New York

Art Nouveau Art Nouveau existed for a brief moment but left a lasting impact on jewelry. Pieces from this era are treasured for their original design rather than intrinsic value.

Named after Siegfried Bin's (1839-1905) avant-garde Parisian shop La Maison de l'Art Nouveau, this style followed an amalgam of new design principles and innovative materials. The world of nature flowed in sinuous curves inspired by the asymmetry and economy of line of Japonism. René Lalique, the master of the genre, used exotic, fragile materials such as molded glass and enamel for aesthetic value. Designs featured dreamy flora and fauna such as lilies and lotus blossoms, serpents, swans and the female in the guise of a dragonfly. The style's free-flowing forms were a deliberate reaction to the rigidity of machine-made and mass-produced jewelry.

Eugène Feuillâtre
Georges Fouquet
Lucien Gaillard
Lucien Gautrait
René Lalique
Henri Vever

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A Belle Epoque diamond brooch,
circa 1910
Sold for EUR 10,625 ($13’130)
May 2011, Christie’s Paris

Belle Epoque (1895-1914) Around the time of the Art Nouveau school (1895-1910), another movement of artistic refinement spread to greatly affect the creation of mainstream jewelry. Platinum, malleable yet strong, was used to create jewels of unequaled technical excellence and put the unrivaled craftsmanship of the House of Cartier at the forefront.

The light-hearted start to the new century inspired lavish yet delicate jewels to complement the fashion of the hourglass silhouette and pale-colored fabrics, with diamonds and pearls reigning supreme. Flowers, bows and ribbons with a lace-like quality featured in what came to be known as 'The Garland Style'. Neck ornaments were most popular: delicate chokers with necklaces worn below, simple strands of natural pearls, lavalières (with pear-shaped drops) or négligé pendants (with two drops of unequal length).


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An Art Deco sapphire &
diamond brooch,
by Dusausoy, 1930s
Sold for CHF37,500 ($42,675)
May 2011, Christie’s Geneva

Art Deco (1915-1935) The excesses of the Art Nouveau and Garland styles (1895-1914) gave way to the bold, simplistic stylization of Art Deco. The new woman was emancipated: sporty, active, heavily made-up and smoking in public. She left the pastels of the Belle Epoque behind for tunic dresses in bright, opulent colors inspired by Fauvist artists and Orientalism. Those vertical lines were echoed in elongated jewels—sautoirs and pendant earrings swung to the new rhythm. Bandeaus worn low on the forehead and bare arms adorned with band bracelets completed the androgynous look à la garçonne.

Gemset wristwatches, cigarette cases and power compacts, the latter two considered so-called nécessaires de soirs, became pieces of jewelry decorated with inlaid hardstone, diamonds or enamel on lacquer. Abstract geometric compositions and vibrant colors matched the innovative use of colored gemstones carved as flowers and leaves in the Indian style, thus fusing East and West, form and color, in a synthesis of pure art and lasting luxury. The period also saw a major technical innovation—Van Cleef & Arpels' invisible setting allowed gemstones to be closely set together without the use of prongs, so that no metal could be seen on the surface.

The 1930s saw the sublime perfection of white Art Deco, as the 'functional' approach and angularities of the machine age crystallized into stark, sober statements of inflated size and scale. Abstract and industrial shapes became almost architectural in form and highlighted white expanses of platinum, diamond and rock crystal or allowed for just one color contrast such as ruby or sapphire. Sleek geometry gradually softened into more sculptural, three-dimensional shapes displaying the beginnings of volume and movement to complement the returning curves of femininity.

Black, Starr & Frost
JE Caldwell
Paul Flato
Raymond Yard
Van Cleef & Arpels

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A Retro gold & diamond
necklace/bracelet combination,
by Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1945
Sold for $104,500
October 2010, Christie’s New York

Retro (1940s-1950s) Wartime austerity curbed the whims of fashion and taste, as materials were hard to come by. Masculine, square lines were counterbalanced with bold 'cocktail' jewels, which were striking and dramatic. Designs substituted small and sparse precious gems with large semi-precious alternatives such as aquamarines and citrines. Broad expanses of polished gold in all its colors replaced platinum. Diamonds were very rare. Jewelers revealed a fresh approach to themes of flora and fauna and created naturalistic fantasy amid the devastation of war.

John Rubel
Trabert & Hoeffer - Mauboussin
Van Cleef & Arpels

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An amethyst, diamond & turquoise necklace,
by Cartier, circa 1960
Sold for $110,500
October 2008, Christie’s New York

The 60s and 70s Miniskirts and hot pants signaled the rebellious mood of the time and the use of unconventional materials. Although classic, sumptuous jewels were still in demand, now contemporary pieces were inspired by events like the first man on the moon. Color contrasts and bright opaque materials like turquoise and coral echoed fashion, while jagged contours, such as marquise-cut diamonds and prominent claw settings, challenged the flow of traditional lines. Uncut crystals appeared in jewels in organic sprawling forms.

Harry Winston and Laurence Graff set the "grand luxe" approach that concentrated on superb stones. This approach was in response to the growing interest in the quality of gemstones prompted by the introduction of diamond grading certificates in 1957.

In the 1970s attention turned East. Designs of the major houses had a distinct Indian flavor. Gold was very popular, particularly the intricate designs of Buccellati.

In view of an increasing demand for more casual jewels, the great jewelry houses responded with "boutique" lines, offering seasonal collections to reflect the fashionable styles, shapes and colors of the time.

Donald Claflin
Le Must de Cartier
Andrew Grima
Elsa Peretti
Seaman Schepps
David Webb
Harry Winston

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A pair of sapphire & diamond earrings,
by Bhagat
Sold for CHF267,000 ($303’850)
May 2011, Christie’s Geneva

Contemporary Polished gold and sleek lines complemented 1980s power dressing epitomized by Bulgari. Colored diamonds came into high demand with concerns about quality and origin of gemstones peaking in the 1990s. Daniel Brush and JAR reached new levels of excellence in design and technique. As contemporary jewelers continued to push the limit of their craft, antique and rare designs from the past became highly desirable and more collectable.

Daniel Brush
De Grisogono
Barry Kieselstein-Cord
Marina B.
Paloma Picasso

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