The Art Nouveau movement lasted from around 1880 until the start of the Great War. Although short lived, it had a tremendous international influence in the worlds of art and design, including jewellery.
In many ways, it had strong parallels with the Arts and Crafts movement, and some makers were active in both worlds. Some of the best known followers of the Art Nouveau style were Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha.
Like the Arts and Crafts style, Art Nouveau looked to nature for much of its inspiration. In jewellery, birds like owls and peacocks, and insects such as dragonflies and butterflies were all employed. Stylised flowers and foliage were also common motifs, and an idealised vision of the female form was much used.
Japanese art exercised a powerful influence on Art Nouveau jewellers who used a similar approach to line and composition as that seen in Japanese paintings. Designs were supple and graceful and often displayed symmetry. Well-known designers included Georges Fouquet, Charles Desrosiers and Philippe Wolfers, although the most renowned of all was René Lalique.
Art Nouveau jewellers tended to use semi-precious stones like moonstone and citrine rather than diamonds, and these were used to complement rather than dominate designs. Enamelling was also a favourite technique, especially the cloisonné method which involved dividing areas of enamelling with thin wire, akin to the technique used in stained glass windows.
Plique-à-jour was another common enamelling technique employed by Art Nouveau jewellery makers. This involved making the basic design and structure of the piece with metal strips or wires, held together with solder. The gaps between the metal strips were then infilled with enamel without backing, giving the jewellery a translucent quality.
A sub-genre of Art Nouveau jewellery was the Garland style which did make full use of precious metals and diamonds. The style often involved very intricate work and large numbers of diamonds to create stunning pieces which sparkled brilliantly in artificial and natural light.