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Art deco jewelry regains popularity

During the art deco period (1920s-1930s), flapper daughters of affluent fathers bought $2,000 diamond headache bands at Tiffany's. Movie stars dazzled fans with the splendor of art deco crystal and platinum pendants and Moorish-styled, pave-set diamond earrings. And the fashion-conscious emulated "the stars" and wore copies of their jewelry, or, if they could afford it, "the real thing."

Today, there is revitalized interest in art deco jewelry. Examples of it are eagerly being collected and worn, especially by young people. They feel that the concise, well-defined lines of this jewelry (inspired, in part, by the spirit of liberation after World War I, cubism, and the art of Egypt, Africa, and the Orient) are highly compatible with the elan of modern living.

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This resurgence of interest in valuable and lesser pieces of art deco jewelry is partly due, according to Henry Polissack, an established Amherst, Mass., antique and collectibles jewelry dealers, to its "wearability" with current fashions. He says, "It was concieved as jewelry of the future, reflective of the progress of the 20th century."

Mr. Polissack has deeply researched art deco jewelry, and recently told me, "Another reason for the increasing demand and intense popularity of art deco jewelry is that it represents some of the finest designs and craftsmanship in American and European jewelry. Young people really appreciate its styling and workmanship. Fine pieces of it -- those designed by such as Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Lacloche, and Tiffany -- often included rubies, diamonds, sapphires, platinum, and gold. They were expensive when made for the wealthy and, as may be expected, now are costly to collect."

As a dealer, Mr. Polissack keeps in constant touch with the activity at eminent auction houses and galleries. "The price of art deco jewelry has risen dramatically over the past several years," he says. "Doubtless, it will continue to escalate as art deco jewelry becomes less available in future years. However, good pieces of it are still highly worthy of investment."

Because the hunt for premium pieces of art deco jewelry is so widespread, Mr. Polissack has daily telephone calls at his Amherst stop (Henry Polissack Antique Jewelry) from collectors throughout the US and Europe.

In the February 1981 issue of their newsletter to antique dealers and collectors, Ralph and Terry kovel reported that art deco jewelry was a 1980 best seller collectible in both New York and Canada.

Art deco, which describes the forms taken by sculpture, architecture, and art as well as jewelry during the 1920s and 1930s, derives from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925 . It made abundant use of natural and man-made materials and was spawned by the rebellion of designers who felt stifled by lavish Victorian embellishments and art nouveau free-flowing flamboyance. They rejected languid ladies with streaming tresses, writhing snakes and preening peacocks for Egyptian motifs and favored geometric harmony, straight lines, and angles intersected by circles and curves. And they daringly combined bright colors (apple green with red) and such bold innovative combinations as platinum and onyx set with baguette-cut diamonds.

Among designers of this jewelry, the French were the creme de la creme and included Jean Despres, Rene Lalique, Georges Fougeut, and Raymond Templier. Lalique delighted his patrons with transparent colored- glass pendants to hang on silk cords; Templier enjoyed using silver with enamels. And scores of other designers of talent captured the spirit of the Jazz Age, Scott Fitzgerald's stories of the 1920s, and the mechanization of the 20th century in everything from precious metals and gemstones to durable plastics, fake pearls, and rhinestones. Little watches with diamond bracelets, strings of pearls, double clips worn as brooches, dress buckles, long drop earrings, and huge cocktail rings featuring single stones became hallmarks of those years.

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Couturiere Coco Chanel saw the advantage of accenting her creations with art deco costume jewelry, and introduced it to her chic clientele. And in the 1930s , heavily carved plastic and ivory bracelets were seen everywhere worn over the era's ubiquitous white gloves.

Testifying to the continued wearability of art deco jewelry are the chunky chokers of bright beads, the fake tinted pearls, and the molded plastic bangle bracelets now being reproduced and featured in prestigious department stores and boutiques. Seen, too, are pieces of art deco-styled jewelry reflecting Egyptian designs inspired by jewels found in King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922 and recently exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Art deco jewelry of the 1920s and 1930s can be found at antique shows, auctions, and shops, and estate sales. The aware buyer, however, may find inexpensive pieces of it (mass-produced plastic bracelets, glass beads, belt buckles, earrings, and so on) at flea markets. Before buying costly pieces it is wise to read about the art deco period and its designs, to visit museums where art deco jewelry is exhibited, or to attend antique shows for up-close inspections. At an antique show a reliable and informed antique and collectible jewelry dealer can serve as an excellent guide in buying art deco jewelry by pointing out its best characteristics and suggesting fine examples of it for acquisition. And, as with most antiques, it is prudent to invest in the best quality art deco jewelry that one can afford.

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