Wrought by the French Revolution, late 18th century Europe lost interest in the extravagant lifestyle and in jewels as luxury. Fashion steered toward neoclassicism, becoming less excessive and more simplistic. Much of the high-end, elaborate jewelry was sold and modified. Surviving unchanged pieces are today easily dated based on style and more specifically, on the cut and setting of the stones. Diamonds from this time were often mounted in silver with closed backs, allowing for very little light refraction and return. The popular "rose-cut" (similar to a faceted bead) did not lend itself to the stone’s most impressive and notable asset: its brilliance.

Several important technological developments in the 19th century significantly modernized the jewelry industry. Expert stone cutters designed the “brilliant-cut,” making diamonds of any size much more impressive through their return of more light and spectral colors. This directly changed the type of settings stones were mounted in, and faceted gemstones were now left open-backed. The new pronged outfit for stones suited the dramatism of the now highly contrasted colorless diamonds. As resources became more widely available with the discovery of gold in the Americas and diamonds in South Africa, the larger supply and updated technology meant mass production by means of industrialization was inevitable.

A diamond solitaire centering a cushion-cut diamond weighing 4.79 carats, accented by single-cut diamonds, mounted in platinum; A diamond solitaire centering a round brilliant-cut diamond weighing 4.96 carats, flanked by tapering baguettes

Marketing these new innovations was greatly helped by the World Expos, where inventors and makers could exhibit their work to a vast, global public. The explosion of multicultural influence blossomed mid-19th century, when European artists were inspired by the ancient workings of the East, South America, and Africa. Utilizing updated machinery, jewelers were able to produce large amounts of highly desirable pieces that mimicked the time-consuming crafts of other cultures. In response to this industrialization, many artists became enamored with the newfound value of hand-fashioned objects. 

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, flora and fauna were common themes, inspired by the naturalism beautifully preserved by less industrial cultures. While the turn of the 20th century still embraced the romantic, natural aesthetic of the Art Nouveau, the following Edwardian era was marked by the intricacies of craft and the introduction of platinum. Unfortunately, the eruption of World War I made platinum scarcely available, halting the mass production and consumption of jewelry once again.

The ebb and flow between structure and nature (practical versus superfluous) traditionally correlated with socio-economic and political changes; this differed in the 20th century. Immediately after the war, women entering the workforce were less interested in material possessions, though this was short-lived. Driven heavily by consumerism, the economic boost of the 1920s gave way for marketing to a new degree. Major jewelry houses, such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier, began branding themselves through iconic designs and motifs recycled either from their own regional past or from other cultures. Makers’ marks also began to appear on jewelry, generating a sense of exclusivity and importance.

While the world unraveled during the Great Depression, jewelry manufacturing somehow remained unscathed. Despite global economic woes, diamond-set jewelry of the 1930s was designed and produced by the most influential artists and craftsmen and made with the highest quality material. The bigger and more opulent, the better—a trend that remains to this day.  

As history has shown us, nations may rise and fall and social structure may change, but the jewelry industry will remain as solid and beautiful as the diamond.


Jewelry & Watches

Auction | May 21 | 2pm

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