What Are Characteristics of Art Nouveau Jewelry?

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  • Written By: B. Koch
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 13 January 2020
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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.


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Post 3

Art Nouveau jewelry is just so beautiful. I love putting the term into a Google search engine and just looking at everything that comes up. I hope I'll one day be able to start a collection of this stuff from antique stores or something.

Although I think I would be afraid to wear it. The combs in particular always look so delicate and are probably impossible to wear with modern hair styles.

Post 2

@MrsPramm - Well, with art you want it to last as long as possible, so using tin in jewelry isn't the best way to go. Gold and silver and precious stones will usually all last longer than their less expensive substitutes.

But in the case of art nouveau I imagine it would have been pretty expensive even if they were using relatively cheap materials. Decent, original art is expensive and art created in such a miniature style is going to be even more so.

Post 1

I wish the art nouveau period had lasted longer. I just love the aesthetic and the idea of beauty being more important than the worth of the materials used to make the piece.

One of the things that really annoys me about modern jewelry is that it seems like artists will insist on only using the very best materials, like genuine gemstones and precious metals, which drives up the price.

Often I just want something that looks beautiful and I don't want to pay the augmented costs associated with the materials. I'd rather it was made out of tin, because it would look just as good and be a lot cheaper.

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