How to Choose the Perfect Art Deco Engagement Ring
There’s something so exquisite about the Art Deco movement, wouldn’t you agree? What makes Art Deco so incredible is that it’s not a single style, but a collection of styles. Encompassing sleek lines of modern industrial design, bright colors reminiscent of the glamor of Hollywood, a global influence of past and present and complexly layered patterns and shapes - it was really an era of bold experimentation. Choosing an engagement ring from this era is making a commitment to a life full of wonder and exploration, of romance and passion. It’s the perfect way to find a ring that celebrates the uniqueness of your beloved and the distinction of your love. Today we’re going to talk about how to choose the best Art Deco engagement ring for you.
Let’s take a step back here and explore the history of this movement before we really get into details of the jewelry. When you choose a piece of jewelry from a specific era, sometimes it’s nice to understand its cultural context as well. Art Deco (short for the French, Art Decoratifs) first emerged in France in the 1910s shortly before World War I and really came alive in Europe and the US in the 1920s and 1930s. Art Deco was one of the first movements in which textile and furniture designers (collectively known as Decorative Artists) were held in the same regard as their peers in the more traditional arts, largely because of the founding of the Societie des artistes decorateurs in France in 1901, which gave these decorative artists not only the same respect, but also the same rights of authorship as their peers.
All movements come as a response to something, and Art Deco is no different. With the impact of the Industrial revolution in full swing and people excited about the progress of society therein, Art Deco is a movement that celebrates progress and modernity through beauty. By utilizing new technology to create more accessible machine-made objects of desire, Art Deco pushed back on the handcrafted, more organic forms of both the Art Noveau and Arts and Crafts movements that came before it. Because of this accessibility to machines, The Art Deco style was used in a wide range of applications, including buildings, furniture, jewelry, and other decorative objects.
But we’re here to talk about jewelry - so let’s talk about jewelry. Specifically, let’s talk about engagement rings.
Though the movement emerged in the 1910s and lasted through the 1930s (some say the 1950s, although the 30s - 50s is a much more somber take) though much of what we really think of as Art Deco, especially when it comes to jewelry, comes from the 1920s. Art Deco jewelry is characterized by clean lines, symmetry, and the use of geometric shapes. It also often features colorful gemstones, such as sapphires, rubies, and emeralds, set in platinum or white gold. Another characteristic is the layering of shapes and stones to create intricate designs. Perhaps the biggest characteristic of them all is that Art Deco jewelers were masters of detail and paid close attention to every single aspect of their work to create something unique every time. Unlike so much else in the Art Deco period, jewelry was still hand crafted - not machine made.
Master jewelry houses such as Cartier, Paul Brandt, Fouquet, and Van Cleef and Arpels dominated the era with their designs that towed the line between form and function - these designers didn’t necessarily create simpler designs, but they did become more streamlined and linear. Like the evolution of women's wear, jewelry became something that needed to be worn on the move, not solely in a sedentary lifestyle. You can see the global influence in jewelry design through the use of jade, coral, enamels, lacquer, and pearls - coming from Asia - and bold color combinations like emerald and sapphire or lapis and jade and motifs from Persian carpets and miniatures.
When it comes to engagement rings, one of the most iconic features of Art Deco engagement rings is the use of the Old Mine Cut diamond. This type of diamond has a rectangular or cushion-shaped cut with rounded corners and a small table. It was popular in the early 20th century and is still sought after today for its vintage charm. In addition, the way diamonds and gemstones were used in the era is fairly iconic - set in intricate patterns like a “step” setting that features stone set in a series of small, graduated steps, giving the ring a sleek appearance. Another popular feature of Art Deco engagement rings is the use of intricate filigree work. Filigree is a type of jewelry-making technique in which the metal is twisted and bent into intricate patterns. It adds a delicate, lace-like quality to the ring and can be found on both the band and the setting.
When searching, you don’t have to limit yourself to Art Deco, there are a lot of related periods to choose from as well. Though more romantic and organic than Art Deco, the Edwardian era is full of the detail of filigree, milgrain and the otherworldly sparkle of diamonds, diamonds, and more diamonds. If the glamor of the Art Deco era is what draws you in, we recommend expanding your search to the Edwardian era as well. If you prefer the sleek lines of the Art Deco period, you might expand your search to the Retro era, which began after WWI and is the birth of the modern engagement ring as we know it today. The Retro era found DeBeers coining the phrase “A Diamond is Forever” and suggesting that men use 3 months’ salary to buy their beloved a ring. The rings in The Retro Era tend to have a larger center stone and baguette side stones - very chic, elegant, and simple. A ring from this era was also categorized by the use of mixed golds - people were banned from using platinum for non-military purposes during WWII, so rose and yellow golds started making a comeback.
The first thing we suggest you do is determine the type of style you like. Because the era was so full of differing influences, there are so many styles to choose from - each as exquisite as the one before it. The most common styles from the height of the Art Deco era are solitaire (Ascher cut and Navette are the most common shapes), three stone or Toi et Moi (which have recently become quite en vogue again). You also must decide if you want a filigree or milgrain setting and if you want any accent stones and if you want those accent stones to be colored gems or diamonds.
However, every Art Deco engagement ring is a truly unique work of art and sometimes the task of defining what you want without seeing it is overwhelming. We recommend starting with what you do know - do you have a budget in mind? Start there! Do you know you want a specific carat weight? Great, start there! A specific shape of the primary stone? Easy - start there. Another way to tackle this? Start a Pinterest board - any time you see something that catches your eye, pin it - and when you’re ready to seriously start thinking about purchasing a ring, you’ll have a great inspiration board to start from.
Which brings us to our next step - finding an expert to help you through the process. We recommend looking for a trusted dealer with a decent inventory of Art Deco and associated era rings. It’s always nice if you have a friend or family member who has an existing relationship with a dealer, but if not it’s important to do your homework. Read reviews and make some phone calls. This is a large and important investment, and you should feel extremely comfortable with whomever you choose to guide you through the process. Here at Jack Weir & Sons, we believe in relationships, not transactions and would be happy to help you begin your process at any point.
Whoever you choose to engage with for this very important process - it’s important to be diligent in your conversations - request photos, videos, ask questions - and absolutely book time, either online or in person. Most places will also be happy to give you references if you’d like.
Here at Jack Weir & Sons, we pride ourselves in the vast inventory of Art Deco pieces we keep in stock and are always looking for more treasures to add to our (and ultimately your) collection. Please take a browse through our collection here or peek at a few below - if there’s something that catches your eye, don’t hesitate to reach out. These pieces are all unique, so once it’s been purchased, it’s gone.
We offer in-person and Virtual Appointments and are happy to answer any questions about your favorite jewel.
Leave a comment