In the decade before 1900 exceptional artist jewelers sought a break with the traditions of the past. Finding inspiration in nature, distant cultures, and their own fertile imaginations, these innovative jewelers created stunning jewels that were known collectively as the "Art Nouveau."
Different nations contributed unique interpretations to the Art Nouveau style. In France artists like Rene Lalique created jewels with fantastic woman-insect hybrids and other exotic forms. In Germany the new art found expression in the sinuous, tendril-like curves of the Jugendstil ("youth style"). And in Great Britain Art Nouveau jewels and objects reflecting elements of Celtic and Arts & Crafts design were created by Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co.
In America jewelry and cufflink makers were quick to follow the emerging fashions in Europe. Krementz & Company was an early adopter of the the Art Nouveau style. The above Krementz cufflinks recall the flowing curves of the German Jugenstil and the dramatic illustrations of the British artist Aubrey Beardsley. At the top of this note is a beautiful pair of Link & Angell cufflinks likely inspired by the exotic Art Nouveau jewels created in France and the posters of Alphonse Mucha. The face and cascading hair of the woman are enveloped in the narcotic vapors of a poppy flower - a classic Art Nouveau motif.
However, Amercian Art Nouveau cufflinks did not just imitate of the latest European fashions. A unique style of Art Nouveau emerged in the United States. Louis Comfort Tiffany (son of the founder of Tiffany & Company) was a leading proponent of Art Nouveau design. Inspired by trips to Europe and participation in international exhibitions, he contributed a distinct American Art Nouveau style - one emphasizing nature and the imagination.
The above cufflinks created by Tiffany & Company are a wonderful example. The flowing, rich curves and organic forms of the cufflinks have the appearance of seaweed or aquatic plants floating serenely in the water. Voluptuous, flowing curves and tight swirls are emblematic of American Art Nouveau design.
A second pair of American Art Nouveau cufflinks featuring gently flowing borders with tight swirls. The gold borders are subtly textured to create a vine-like, or possibly reptilian, appearance. The swirls at each corner are reminiscent of shimmering stars on a slightly overcast or foggy night. The overall organic shape and drama of the borders is heightened by black Onyx centers and the natural patination of the gold. Created by George O. Street & Sons in 14kt gold, circa 1900.
Tiffany's work with art glass undoubtedly influenced his approach to Art Nouveau design. Indeed, the design of many American Art Nouveau jewels show a strong affinity with the voluptuous curves and curls that Tiffany created in glass. The Favrile glass punch bowl exhibited by Tiffany at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 is a wonderful example.
The affinity between the jewels and the art glass of the period is not surprising. One of the tenets of Art Nouveau design was to create a unified environment in which all elements - architecture, furniture, decoration, objets d'art and jewelry - followed consistent design principles and themes. A movement away from the cluttered eclecticism of the Victorian era.
To view these and other elegant cufflinks from the past,
please visit the Antique Cufflink Gallery.