Hollywood in the 1920s gave the world a new kind of heroine. Black and white film relied on two key visual elements to bring her to life: bone structure and dazzling jewellery. Stars such as Greta Garbo rarely appeared on screen without diamonds at their wrists and throat: exquisitely crafted art-deco gems that captured the glamour of the age. While fashion and art diffused this new heroine’s charms through Vionnet gowns and Tamara de Lempicka paintings, for many women, jewellery’s new geometric shapes and patterns were the most splendid manifestation of the new aesthetic.
With Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby hitting our screens this week, 1920s and 1930s style has influenced several recent designer collections. Art-deco jewellery is in great demand – ever with her finger on the fashion zeitgeist, Kate Moss’s engagement ring is inspired by the era’s very own “It” girl, Zelda Fitzgerald.
Bentley & Skinner has an exquisite collection of original art-deco gems, including a fine pair of La Cloche drop earrings (pictured, £52,500) and a diamond, onyx and coral brooch by Cartier (£25,750). One of its more unusual items is a gentleman’s 1930s dress set: cuff links, shirt studs and waistcoat buttons made from rock crystal and diamonds (£15,000). I can almost hear Duke Wellington playing in the background...
Beyond diamonds and pearls, art deco is responsible for creating some of the most stylish accessories of 20th-century fashion. Look to the recent resurgence of the minaudière, a bantam evening clutch that holds little more than a lipstick and a set of keys. Contemporary fashion brands, including Diane von Furstenberg and Bottega Veneta, have reinterpreted this box-like purse in recent collections; signature art-deco materials such as enamel and Bakelite-style plastics have appeared in trimmings on Miu Miu accessories and Charlotte Olympia shoes.
Grays Antique Market is an excellent hunting ground for original art-deco accessories. Nestled among dealer Gillian Horsup’s treasures I found a 1930s powder compact that comes in its original blue fabric pouch (£120). Inside the blue and white enamel box was a bevelled glass mirror, revealed by pulling on a blue silk tassel. Charming.
Another dealer with a keen eye for vintage pieces is Devon-based Hannah Peters, whose online boutique has a carefully edited selection of art-deco costume jewellery. She sources dress clips made by Knoll & Pregizer and Ciro – which had a store inside London’s Burlington Arcade in the 1920s – although she warns that these “heart-stoppers” fly out of the shop. My eye was caught by a pair of 1930s dress clips in an unusual seashell pattern with a brooch mount (£70). This versatile piece of jewellery can be worn as an ornamental pin, a hair slide or as two separate dress clips.
Jewellery is always the loveliest of flourishes – never more so than when chosen from one of the most stylish periods in design history. An art-deco ring on a half-moon manicured hand, wrapped around a gin gimlet cocktail... Now that sounds like a good start to an evening.